Friday, 30 July 2010

Guru allergy and DIY meditation failures

Here's a grossly simplified view of where my ramblings have got me, and I'm afraid, you too, if you're still with me. Me, the undersigned, hold these sketchy half-truths to be, if not self-evident, then at least worth a try:

1. It's for most of us, most of the time, a natural biological, instinctive reaction to seek to preserve our lives. This reaction can be over-ridden, for example by suicide or self-sacrifice, the latter either to the point of self-destruction or very close to it (heroic acts under fire, in crashes and accidents etc. And when people with a terminal illness say they have had enough and want to go - which I wouldn't call suicide, would you? But they probably really do mean it..)But we shouldn't be surprised by our efforts to save our own skins.

2. Does this mean we are, in advance of the event,scared of death? Not necessarily. We may be scared at the moment, we may fear the mode of death when we know it is imminent, but that doesn't necessarily send a long shadow back over our lives.

3. So what does? I think the fear of the extinction of our identities does, or at least I think it can do.The end of consciousness, of ego, of what a little while back I was calling ME-awareness. There are the stoics, the witless hedonists, the philosophers and mystics, but for most of us, with the usual mix of attitudes towards our mortality, it seems to me it is that fear that troubles us.Less the fear of death as a fact, more a dread of not being a ME.

4. So, does this matter? Seems to me it does. It's often observed that we live in an age in which a truly spiritual religiousness seems to be in retreat. I don't mean the sort of frantic, theologically ignorant and spiritually empty evangelical enthusiasm one sees on the TV in the USA (is it really like that?) - that seems to me an assertion of noisy egotism, not a diminution of it in spiritual awareness. May help some people, but it isn't what I'm looking for. I don't mean religious fanaticism put at the service of social and political ideals, like Islamism at its worst. (Er, I do realise I'm scattering generalisations with reckless abandon, I'm not looking at cause and effect, and I'm taking on rather a lot, but I'm only sketching, the oil painting comes later- perhaps..)

5. Whatever good or bad things religion has done and is doing (see no. 4 above)it has encouraged, or at least it can encourage, a transcendence of the ego, an escape from ME-awareness, that people found rewarding in the here and now (never mind whatever else they believed it was storing up in the alleged afterlife.) Perhaps that lay behind Bob Dylan's restless trawl around religions - "You gotta serve somebody," maybe that's why Richard Thompson became a Muslim for a while. Anyway. One way of weakening the hold over us of ME-awareness, at least for a while, used to be spiritual observance - prayer, meditation, contemplation. Still is, but not for so many of us.

6. I don't "believe," I don't "follow" a religion, though they can be intensely interesting and rewarding areas of enquiry and thought, let alone their cultural riches. But - I don't think it's likely that there is any full-blown supernatural world up there. So - I'll try meditation, see if that helps bring me some calm and coherence. But -

7 The Beatles nip off to India to meditate, followed by a lot of hippies - although not yours truly. Then it turns out the Maharishi, along with some other westward-facing eastern gurus,stands accused of having a very unspiritual interest in a goodly share of his disciples' incomes. One guru was remarkably interested in saving his female followers. For himself, that is. And he needed to protect his spiritual insights with armed guards and flash cars. Cults proliferated. One or two friends seemed to be driven well off their rockers by a cult or two. The Dalai Lama often seems to make a lot of sense, a good-humoured, patient, compassionate man. The reverse of a cult. But I don't actually believe in re-incarnation, nor in any literal sense in karma. I can't be a full-on Buddhist, not of his sort, anyway.

7. So, I think I'll have to go it alone, meditation in a non-religious conext free of cults fashions and fads. I open the meditation book,two or three decades ago. You know, "Teach Yourself Enlightenment," "Satori for Dummies" etc. Generally, the first chapter tells you to sit in the Lotus Posture, or at least sit cross-legged, and empty your mind. Do what? Have you ever tried it, from a cold start? The mind says very firmly "Unless you are asleep and whilst you are alive, my job is thoughts. I am continuously and always recreating your sense of self-awareness, your precious ego. Now, you do tend to lose self-awareness when you are consumed by lust, red wine or loud music, but that's not what you're after, is it?. By the way, you've left the iron on, and the Lotus Posture hurts like hell. Move. Now."

8. I can't join a Zen retreat - too chicken/embarrassed/British/atheistical, whatever. Can't do it on my own. WTF do I do now for enlightenment?

Gentle reader, that will be the subject of my next set of ramblings. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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