Sunday, March 2, 2008

Meditation Class

So I took this meditation class. It was the Buddhist style of meditation where the underlying method is to note everything. When you see something, you note this; when you observe anything with the senses, you try to note that as its own. When you make a particular movement, you note it. When you intend to do something, you note it. For a less butchered explanation of the exercises and their reasoning behind them, check out
an introduction to Insight Meditation as taught within the tradition of Theravada Buddhism.

I interpret this exercise as one that helps the practitioner to try and discretize the input of senses. Instead of looking around with that glossy look and having all your senses meld together, you really focus on that instant that you realize you sense one thing. Similarly, you really focus on the exact moments you have a new thought, becoming aware of the existence of that thought.

One of the first exercises you practice is becoming aware of your breathing. You note the movement of your stomach, and focus on the moments that you are breathing in, the moment your breathing in stops, your breathing out, and the moment your breathing out stops. This wasn’t that helpful or new for me, and I doubt it would be for any athlete, although I think it’s valuable for those who aren’t used to listening to their body. However, I think that this exercise revealed their hopes in getting the practitioner to discretize their experience of time.

Because of these two, I think the result of this discretization of time and space is that the person gets a better handle on the interface between their consciousness and “reality.” They are better able to grasp this smaller number of inputs on their consciousness and deal with it in the moment. (Whether this reality is embedded within consciousness or whether consciousness is embedded within reality is still a point of contention between Sam and I, but outside of the scope of this discussion.) I think this is helpful in some ways, but more than anything, it feels kinda cool. Lots of nothing, but a better grasp of the thing you’re concentrating on. The problem I see is that these exercises, as well as the teacher, seem to support that good-ol’ Cartesian mind/body dualism. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I need to do some more reading on that stuff.

On the other hand, I do like how this doesn’t interfere with any science whatsoever. Of course, when she was explaining the act of hearing and listening, to explain how one might note this event, she said something to the effect, “You speak and the energy of your words travel through the air and hit my hear and I have energy burst at my ear and I can hear those at that time.” And I thought to myself, “Well, in my day-to-day life it seems a more accurate explanation has been provided by science, where my vocal cords create a vibration that creates a compression wave of molecules in the space between you and I, and your eardrum … but then again, I guess your explanation works just fine for our purposes right now.”

So two of their stated goals of all this: to live in the moment and become removed from the pain of life, and this reportedly coincides with discovering truth and reaching nirvana. I agree that improving your ability to conceptualize the reality around you would help you gain more footing in the present, and yeah I agree people who do this might be happier than those who dwell in the future (which I often do) and in the past (which I do too little of). And I agree that these exercises help separate you from reality (and pain I guess – maybe that could have helped with bike racing!) because all of sudden reality is just this little items entering your experience for a moment, then vanishing and being replaced by other infinitesimal snippets of reality.

Now is this getting any closer to discovering any truth? I’d say no at first, nothing more than some personal realizations. But then again, what if spacetime is at least partially discrete? This is definitely not impossible; time’s a weird thing/illusion. What if these exercises do help you conceptualize your experience in a way more in tune with the-way-things-are? That’d be kind of cool.

But there’s something about being firmly embedded in the whirlwind of life that’s kind of fun, so why give it up? It’s kind of like that wisdom thing. It just doesn’t sound as fun as being young and thinking that everything matters and having no responsibility.

So that’s my current take on Buddhism thought. The religion part of these kinds of systems I usually don’t like, and I haven’t often seen a more streamlined religious process than in Bangkok. You can get your prayer incense and flowers at the door; there are security cameras and ceiling fans and a voice on a speaker system once you enter the big building with the monstrous statue of Buddha; entire neighborhoods survive by producing the little buddha icons people carry around. Taxi drivers bow slightly as they drive by some of the wats (temples) at 100km/hr, taking their hands off the wheel to execute that palms-together-at-the-chest move, whatever it’s called. Even the calm meditation exercises look like mindwashing to the outsider with all the cult-like chanting and glossy looks.

Yeah, the buildings don’t impress me a huge amount after a while. The big artifacts are cool, but they all fit in the category of “What humans have done in the name of religion” which encompasses plenty of other great things, and plenty of other stupid/bad things. So seeing things in that category gets tiring after a while.

What doesn’t get tiring? Seeing 100 Asian girls dancing up and down screaming along with a live Asian punk band at one of the bars down the street. Wow. Needed another beer after that one – after walking a good kilometer as quickly as possible to get away from the sound.

1 comment:

chelsea said...

chris, i'm glad to see you're doing things besides writing programs for stock market records (or whatever it was)! hope you're having a good time though. you would have liked this event emma and i went to this weekend...full of super nerdy computer conversations!