Entries tagged with “meditation”.
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Fri 7 May 2010
Posted by Michael under Buddhism
Could you imagine being someone on the other side of the palace walls, watching as Siddhartha climbed over with his friend, Channa, in nothing but a beggar’s robe, stealing into the night? What would an ordinary man think, walking in the night, trying to figure out how to procure a fraction of the wealth the prince had in order to provide for himself and his family, seeing Siddhartha throw it all away?
I think that I would be frustrated, probably a little angry too. I spend more and more time these days counting coins, keeping track of my spending, mitigating debt, questioning purchases- all to afford a rather basic life, as Western first-worlds go. So to see a man with everything just up and walk away, if I was older, had kids, had a wife, a house? Damn right I’d be annoyed.
But that only lasts until you consider what he went out to do, and what he went through. His studies and investigations led him to do one of the most difficult things that any one person may attempt.
This is meditation’s first requisite, and it’s most basic form. Just sitting, that is what it is, and that is what Siddhartha Gautama, who would one day become the Buddha, set out to do. Now to be fair, there is significantly more to what he did than this. He went through all of the major schools of Hindu thought at the time- spoke with many gurus and sages and anyone who thought they may have a cure for… well, life. Eventually he left all of these intellectuals behind, with their yogic practices, and hung out with some hardcore ascetics for a while- guys who would eat only a few grains of rice a week, and would stay standing for days without sleep, all in an attempt to break their minds from the here and now.
But in the end what Siddhartha did was sit under a tree. Sat, thought, and breathed.
A typical introduction to meditation goes something like this- sit comfortably, back straight, eyes either closed or half-closed, hands folded in your lap with thumbs together, focus on your breathing. Counting breaths helps, or focusing on a point just in front of your nose, or in the center of your chest. Basically you want to try to focus on that and nothing else.
No, don’t think about meditating, or about that annoying guy at work, or about what you had for dinner, or that movie you just saw, or about how you’re not focusing. Eventually you will forget about your breathing, your mind will default to what it normally does in this situation. When it is left idle it will wander- it will ruminate, reminisce, wonder. And then you will remember what it was you were trying to do, and come back to your breathing. No, not that song you have stuck in your head, not about your plans tonight, not about how terrible you are at this.
And not that.
Don’t worry, it’s impossible. No one gets it right the first time, our heads aren’t built this way, were aren’t trained to be this way, they really, really really don’t want to be left with nothing to do. Yet this is the kind of thing that Buddha did, for days.
And it isn’t like it remains impossible. Yesterday I had my first meditation session, at a local Buddhist centre. Not my first one ever, but my first in a while. We meditated for about 20 minutes, had a half-hour talk, and then another 20 minutes of meditation. It was guided meditation, so the monk leading us would drop little reminders to relax and let go of our thoughts, or to think about the topic at hand, but the overall goal was the same- to clear and focus the mind.
All it took was those brief sessions to remember why I like meditation. It makes me feel good. I rode a steady wave of contentment and clear-headedness for at least an hour after that. I was zen as a mother fucker. And all it took was sitting and meditating poorly for less than an hour. At one point I’m pretty sure I dozed off.
That is one side of the spectrum of meditation, one side of a tradition and practice that existed before the Buddha, and continues on, enriched thanks to his teaching and the experience of all the Buddhist monks, nuns and laypeople that came after him. On the other side of this spectrum, we have Thic Quang Duc. He was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, who died on June the 11th 1963 while protesting the persecution of Buddhist monks in Vietnam under the Ngo Dinh Diem government. You will probably know him better as “the burning monk.”
This is one of my favourite images, because it demonstrates, totally, and without question, the results of the Buddha’s mission. This monk burned himself to death, and during the process, which lasted about 10 minutes, he did not move and he did not cry out. Thic Quang Duc made no sign that he was in any pain whatsoever. He was able to completely bypass how any normal person would react to such a situation, close his mind from his body, control exactly how he would react.
These are the fruits of meditation. From the briefest of encounters, you can leave feel elated and contented, and if you give your life to it, then you can burn to death and be fine.
All from just sitting.
Fri 26 Feb 2010
Posted by Michael under Uncategorized
I know, I know, I haven’t been updating like I said I would. This is mostly due to the bad emotional state I’ve been in for the past week. I go through these ups and down pretty naturally, actually. Call it manic-depression, call it being moody, I just know that every once in a while shit gets put on hold while I deal with myself for a few days. Taoism helped initially, but as my belief in my own abilities and in the project failed during the week, I just retreated into myself like I usually do.
Having a retail job hasn’t helped either. As my fellow “sales associates,” past and present are sure to tell you, customer service exposes you to some of the most aggravating human beings on the planet. I had to carefully consider my words there, because I don’t want to make it seem like I am involved in The Worst Thing Ever. It doesn’t take much to imagine someone who would have it worse off than myself, living in the first world with a full time job and enough time on my hands to write a blog, and badly at that. It’s tempting to make my plight seem terribly important, because I’m angry and frustrated and still a little depressed, but it really isn’t. I just hope you understand that when you work in a store that is called “The X Shop” and people, day after day, walk in and say, with complete and bloody sincerity,
“Do you sell X?” Yeah, you get a little loopy. Taoism has really helped with this. I must say that I am a whole lot more tolerant and patient with people, especially at work. Well, I was. Like I said, this last week was a bit of a write off, and I’m not proud of that. Losing that kind of time when I only have a month to experience these ideas is hardly… um, ideal.
Anyway, I’ll be writing up a summary of my thoughts on Taoism during the weekend. I will also be trying to figure out how to best spend my free time so that I’m in a good state of mind going into the Baha’i Faith in March. I get to start with a 19 day fast heading into the Baha’i New Year, so I have that to look forward to.
But on to the meat of the post. Ridiculous news stories mean I get to vent and feel superior for a little while longer. Science Daily ran a story a few days ago about how researchers in Montreal found evidence suggesting Zen meditation helps to mitigate pain.
Which isn’t really news. Like, not even slightly. The point, surely, is that these researches have figured out how this works, that the methods involved in Zen meditation help, “thicken certain areas of [the] cortex and this appears to underlie their lower sensitivity to pain.” But to me this article reads more along the lines of, “We have found that there is a positive correlation between meditation and pain management,” not, “Thích Quảng Đức must have had a brain as dense as a neutron star.”
I just wanted to make sure everyone knew this. Self-immolation is one of those things that kind of interests me (wow, that was a weird thing to write) and it bugs me when someone implies that people aren’t smart enough to draw these kinds of connections. It doesn’t take much to see a man with a history of intense meditation set himself aflame without so much as twitching and realize that there is something special going on here.
Alright, I think I’m done being self-righteous.
Wed 17 Feb 2010
Posted by Michael under Taoism
Sunday and Monday was my weekend. No work, and only a few chores to do, it was great. I like having free days like that, and it’s a chance to partake in my favourite pastime- video games. I could spend days at a time with a controller in my hand and a decent title in the box. It’s becoming such a passion that you might be seeing a post on religion and video games here in the near future. But with the Year of Faith project underway I feel like I need to be spending every moment in Taoism, or whatever religion of the month I will be in. There’s a lot of books to read, a lot of people to meet, things to do, etc. I’m constantly feeling like I’m missing something. But on the other hand, I need downtime. I hate it when I have no time during the week that is devoid of anything, a happy little blank expanse that is totally and completely mine to deal with. So little of my time is my own, I get very protective of it. So this weekend I realized that I need a day or two where I can leave my life behind and just unwind. To this end I think the best schedule for me, writing wise, is to have a post up every weekday that I’m at work. That means at least four during the week, maybe one or two on weekends.
I realize the futility of trying to shoehorn myself into a schedule, but I really do see the success or failure of each day in the Year of Faith project in terms of how much I update the site. Updating means I had something to write about, having something to write about means I had a new thought, or a new experience, and that means I learned something new about the religion. Or I just had a funny story. Either way, I think it works as a good mechanism to keep me on task.
Next week I might have yet another plan of attack. I’m definitely still playing this by ear.
I’m meditating regularly now. Honestly it is getting kind of addictive. It’s not that I’m craving it, rather I’m more and more curious about how it will progress. Every time I come away calm, peaceful and focused and I can maintain that mindfulness for a few hours afterwords. It makes interacting with people easier and feels more genuine, makes food taste better… no, that isn’t right. Meditation has, so far, made it easier to focus. That’s it. Nothing else is really changing, I’m just better at being in the moment, isolating things and experiencing them one at a time.
This is why it feels like I’m high. When you’re stoned, you become more sensitive, more receptive. Similar effects, different causes. And this is only from a few sessions no more than half an hour long. People in monasteries do this for hours. I could also be completely on the wrong track, I don’t really have any idea right now. Could just be all in my head.
Heh, “All in my head.” What? I thought it was funny.
Sat 13 Feb 2010
Posted by Michael under Taoism
Meditated for the first time this year yesterday. Did about fifteen minutes, and it felt like I was reading the Tao-te Ching, only more so. Calm, focused, and… well, slightly odd. Without any external stimulus, without any distractions or movement, you only have one place to go- inside. It felt much longer than fifteen minutes, and I would have done more, but I was antsy to eat something after getting home from work. Will do more meditating after this post, I think.
I was planning on meditating at work, before I opened the store. It’s dark and quiet and there are plenty of cushions, but the Olympic torch was heading through downtown, waylaying my transit plans, and making me late for work even when I left early. I tried meditating on the way over, which was still calming, and certainly made the commute go by faster, but it wasn’t the same. Harder to focus, harder to center.
I’ve started to read the Chaung-Tzu, a compilation of stories and Taoist wisdom from a man of the same name and a few other Taoist teachers. It is considered one of the central texts of Taoism, alongside the Tao-te Ching, but it is very, very different. Much like how Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is praised because of it’s timeless wisdom in the art of conflict, the Tao-te Ching is timeless in it’s easy to understand advice and observations on the human condition. If The Art of War is good for battle, then the Tao-te Ching is good for the soul.
But the Chaung-Tzu is an enitrely different kind of animal. Instead of simple allegory and common sense sayings, it relies on word games, paradoxes, and strange stories to convince the reader of the uselessness of words and definitions to work your way through the world. Better just to be and let the world in unlabeled, without expectation. To show you what I mean, here is how the Tao-te Ching begins:
As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way. As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name. The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousand things. The named is the mother of the ten thousand things. Therefore, those constantly without desires, by this means will perceive subtlety. Those constantly with desires, by this means will see only that which they yearn for and seek.
Alright so maybe that doesn’t seem as straightforward as I thought it would, but it’s a walk in the park compared to what you find in the Chaung-Tzu:
In the northern darkness there is a fish and his name is K’un. The K’un is so huge I don’t know how many thousand li he measures. He changes and becomes a bird whose name is P’eng. The back of P’eng measures I don’t know how many thousand li across and, when he rises up and flies off, his wings are like clouds all over the sky. When the sea begins to move, this bird sets off for the southern darkness, which is the Lake of Heaven.
That’s how this book starts. It hasn’t drawn me in the same way to Tao-te Ching has, but it’s still good.