Monday, 23 June 2014

So what are we trying to do when we meditate?


Do not try to become anything. 

Do not make yourself into anything. 

Do not be a meditator. 

Do not become enlightened. 

When you sit, let it be.

When you walk, let it be. 

Grasp at nothing. 

Resist nothing. 

    Ajahn Chah


Thursday, 19 June 2014

the sense of self, now and back then - part two

The temporary dislocation of the continuity of my ordinary self (see last post) may relate to what neuroscience seems to be telling us: that the ego, the strong sense of myself as a continuing presence, is re-constructed "as we go along," continuously. There is no solid place inside all this flux and change that is "me." "Me" is part of the flux. But that's OK, because out of the flux comes a pretty useful thing: the illusion that "I" is separate from everything else. Well - useful in a social sense, but not actually accurate.

(I don't know what the pretty patterns mean either, but it shows different areas of the brain lighting up, as different patterns of neurons fire, re-making "me" by the moment.)

I think that's what the unusual, alienating, dislocating state of mind I referred to in the last post comes from. Without any analysis on my part, and certainly with almost no understanding, my mind sets aside the usual clatter and chatter and exists in the present.

Although mindfulness meditation methodology has no doctrinal, religious content, it derives from Buddhist meditation practice. And maybe that's because it was Buddha who had the insight (revelation, nirvana, whatever you like to call it) that the self is an illusion - at least, the self as we usually inhabit it.And he did so once he'd given up starving himself and pursuing asceticism and bodily denial because it proved futile. He just meditated, and out of that came his enlightenment, his insights into human suffering and the nature of the self.

Understanding that the self as we usually think of it and feel it - i.e. as a constant entity - is an illusion, and living with that understanding, in the reality of the present moment, seems to yield great benefits. Even the NHS recognises that now. 

So there you are - from 12-year-old oddness through Buddha and neuroscience to the NHS. I have linked it all up for you.

 Is that my Nobel Prize you're holding? Oh no, it is Nurse Ratched with my medications....

the sense of self, now, and back then - part one.

When I was quite young, maybe 12 or 13, is I think about when I began to note, occasionally, an unusual feeling, or state of mind. Being a state of mind, I find it almost impossible to describe, but I'll try.

The usual flow of thoughts and feelings seemed to have stopped, quite suddenly but for no particular reason. In its place was the feeling that my prior experience had been de-coupled from where I was at that moment. I felt newly-arrived in the present. If I thought back into the immediate past, the feeling disappeared as quietly and quickly as it had arrived, and that's what I used to do at first, because the feeling was disturbing. I felt slightly remote, a little alien to my usual self.

As I grew older and I guess busier with the world, family, people, work, it happened less often. If anyone spoke to me, it vanished, as I turned to engage with them.  But in the last few years, I've felt it more often, and it's a welcome guest; it helps me to exist for a while in the present moment.

I can't hang on to it - it disappears, if I try to keep it, or assess it, or "do" anything else to it. All I can do is be in it for a while.

Does this make any sense to anyone else, at all, I wonder?

(I expect Nurse Ratched and the ambulance will be here any moment...)

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Way of the Panda

Those who have absorbed the wisdom of that enlightened being, Po, the Kung Fu Panda, transmitted as it is via the blessed vehicle of DVD, will remember two key moments.

The first one: his dad (OK, his dad's a goose and he's an overweight panda, but that's explicable in the follow-up movie) has told customers at his noodle stall that there is a Secret Ingredient to his delicious noodles. Eventually, he finally admits to Po that there is no secret igredient. (i.e. he just makes noodles his own way and they're very good.)

The second moment (spoiler alert) is when Po finally gets his hands on the Dragon Scroll, source of wisdom, power and general Awesomeness, unrolls it, and finds...the scroll is blank,  except for a surface sheen, reflecting his own face. The only real Awesomeness (as you will have guessed, it's an American film) we can find is within each of us.

We love the idea of exclusivity, a secret only we know, the source of in-crowd power. But to engage fully with reality, to be ourselves, now, this minute, we have to realise, and to internalise, the fact that there is no Secret Igredient, the Dragon Scroll is blank. There is just each of us, in the present moment. Living that truth is the only way to be enlightened, whatever that means to you in your own life.