Meditation Blog : January 2005 Archives



Returning to the Source

In a recent issue of Kyoto Journal, a well-regarded English-language publication based in Kyoto, William Stimson writes of his experience at a meditation retreat in upstate New York.

While Stimson has been meditating for twenty years, he has a discomfort for the trappings of institutionalized meditation. When his wife and a student in his meditation group sign up for a three-day retreat at a Catskills meditation center he used to visit, he ends up joining them. During the retreat, he comes to several realizations. At first he is inspired by the architectural windows of the meditation hall:

It struck me, seated there on the cushion in meditation, that I was also a window. The light would flow in to the extent the window was clean. The only thing I could do from this side was to keep that window clean.... I immediately saw that cleaning the window entailed relaxing the body, stilling the mind. Keeping the window clean was surprisingly difficult. A thought arose. I saw that thought as dirt. "It's getting in the way of the light," I told myself. The moment I did so, the thought vanished.

He continued these efforts over the course of the next day, until realizing:

Then, in a flash, it occurred to me that this idea of the window that I was imposing upon myself was only another thought. It too had to fall away.... I knew at that moment, the body had to be left alone. Not tampered with. The mind, the same. I had no idea what would happen. I began doing this. This wasn't the window anymore; this was beyond the window. This was no window. Immediately I found myself seated there in the most blissful peace — mind and body totally stilled.


Later in the retreat, Stimson re-experiences strong memories and feelings from times past. He reflects on and reappraises the thwarted hopes of his younger self for an education and career in botany. Hopes which were nurtured by the desire to recapture his experience of innocence and simplicity as a child in Cuba.

In my youth I'd tried to go to Harvard and study under Dr. Schultes as a way of getting back to the earlier magic of Cuba that the Communists had deprived me of. I had tried to use one illusion to chase after another. It never could have worked. I felt life had defeated me and left me behind — only to discover now, during these three days of seated meditation, that it had led me by the nose straight to the real source of what I'd always been trying to find.

January 31, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink



Martin LeFevre on Meditation

I hadn't heard of Martin LeFevre until last night, when I came across several of his articles at the New Zealand web site Scoop. A biographical note describes him as "a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher." In his writing, LeFevre comprehends and conveys the essence of meditation. Here's an excerpt from his article "A New Theory of Human Nature, Pt. 2":

Humans are creatures of words and images, and mediate experience through symbols. In the meditative state however, words fall silent and symbols fall away. In complete awareness, the brain is simply still and awake, and thought assumes its rightful place.

That is to say, when the brain becomes deeply aware of and attentive to the movement of thought, undivided observation acts on thought, halting it. The entire cognitive apparatus in the brain falls silent, and remembering, associating, and even recognizing cease. One sees anew, and there is a restoration of innocence in the 'immaculate perception,' which is deeply regenerative to the brain and body.

In awareness, thought can become still, but not because of any effort to silence thought. Notice that any intention to still thought is a product of thought itself. The meditative state is not a goal to be achieved, but is simply the brain resting in an open and aware wholeness.

January 28, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink



Love Story

Writing in The Japan Times, Rowan Hooper discusses an evolutionary take on love. A recent study makes the case that romantic love has evolved from maternal love:

What researchers at University College London have now found is that romantic and maternal love activate many of the same regions of the brain. The implication is that maternal love is the evolutionary basis, the foundation, for romantic love.

The researchers, Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki, of UCL's Laboratory for Neurobiology, also found that love leads to a suppression of neural activity associated with critical social assessment of other people and negative emotions: The brain is told to go easy on people. The findings suggest that once you fall in love, the need to critically assess the character and personality of that person is reduced. The work could provide a neurological explanation for why love makes us blind.

January 26, 2005 | Science | Permalink



It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

For those of us with low spirits in the snowbound Northeast, worry no more. The most depressing day of the year has come and gone.

January 25, 2005 | Health | Permalink



Kyoto Story

Tokyo resident Jeff Eager makes a meditative visit to Kyoto, and takes some nice pictures.

January 21, 2005 | Culture | Permalink



Gaming Meditation

Two weeks ago, Doug Brien, kicker for the New York Jets, made a crucial field goal in overtime to win a playoff game for his team. Acclaim followed, along with the New York Times article, "Thinking Man's Kicker Tries Not To," about Brien's approach to the game:

As the big moment neared and Doug Brien was called upon to kick the game-winning field goal in overtime for the Jets last Saturday, he disappeared into his bubble.

With nearly 70,000 spectators roaring at the wild-card playoff game against San Diego, he walked to one end of the sideline as his teammates moved aside like the parting of the Red Sea. Standing alone, he began breathing deeply. His face went blank as he tried to empty every thought from his brain.

Suddenly, the objects and people in front of him became a blur. Then the deafening noise in the stadium cut out with the quickness of a snapped finger.

From then on, Brien cannot remember what happened. But millions of people who watched him can.

Brien walked onto the field and calmly and instinctually kicked two 28-yard field goals - the Chargers called a timeout before the first one - giving the Jets a 20-17 victory.

"I can't tell you anything about it because my mind was completely blank," Brien said. "Thinking is always a problem when you're a kicker. I know that makes me sound a little crazy, but it's true."... Every day, Brien wakes up at 6 a.m. and sits cross-legged on his bed. Then he closes his eyes, and for 45 minutes to an hour he meditates, trying to stop his brain from working. He is more than happy to explain how alpha and beta waves in your brain are flat when you are in "a zone" or meditating, but is sure to say that he is "not some guy from Berkeley who sits at home and burns incense."

Speaking as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, it's fortunate that meditation doesn't create the perfect kicker. The following week in Pittsburgh, Brien missed two game-winning field goals in the final minutes of game. The Steelers went on to win in overtime and end the Jets' playoff run; Brien was transformed from hero to goat in the press.

From the above article we get the impression that meditation is a form of concentration that consists of blanking the mind and blocking out the world. What's more, the writer describes Brien's goal as "trying to stop his brain from working."

It's fortunate that meditation doesn't stop the brain from working, as without a functioning brain we wouldn't be alive. The brain coordinates all activity in the body-mind from the "voluntary" to the autonomic. Had his brain been incapacitated, Brien wouldn't have been able to walk on the field, let alone kick a field goal.

As to the questions of how meditation relates to thinking, concentration, and whether it is a device to shut out the world, we'll continue the discussion in future entries. In the meantime, here are some words on the subject by J. Krishnamurti:

Meditation is not concentration, which is exclusion, a cutting off, a resistance, and so a conflict. A meditative mind can concentrate, which then is not an exclusion, a resistance, but a concentrated mind cannot meditate.

January 20, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink



When Time Stands Still

A refreshingly clear article on meditation by an unattributed author in The Times of India. The Times of India, incidentally, is the daily newspaper with the world's highest English-language circulation. An excerpt:

When we meditate, we do not allow our impulses and thoughts to translate into actions. We simply watch our thoughts. Looking at the thoughts, we realise that all these impulses arise in the mind. They have a life of their own. They arise even without conscious effort. By not reacting to impulses, we come to understand their nature.

January 19, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink



The Brain on Politics

In "This Is Your Brain on Politics" in the New York Times, Joshua Freedman discusses politics from the perspective of neuoroscience:

...recent neuroscience research suggests that Democrats and Republicans are not nearly as far apart as they seem. In fact, there is empirical evidence that even the fiercest partisans may instinctively like both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, although they struggle against this collaborative impulse.... In the case of this past election, while we witnessed an electorate that seemed irreconcilably divided, using f.M.R.I. [functional magnetic resonance imaging], we could see that the Republicans and Democrats we tested liked both candidates. The initial reflex toward allegiance is easy to explain: people rise through the ranks to run for higher office because they are able to evoke in others a powerful impulse to join their cause. Voters sense this attraction, and to keep from succumbing, they dredge up emotion-laden negative images as a counterweight.

This speaks to the problems of identification. When we identify with a particular candidate, party, or country, our capacity to look and think with an open mind is diminished. Despite the seeming security of a black-and-white perspective, we must struggle to maintain it when the inevitable contradictory facts and feelings emerge. Freedman continues:

Will an awareness that we are conning ourselves to feel alienated from each other help to close the political gap? It is unknown, because neuroscience has advanced only recently to the point where humans can begin to watch themselves think and feel. If we are going to solve the nation's complicated problems, it is important to close this gap because in a setting where emotions run high, careful thoughts have no chance against intoxicating ones. In divisive politics, as in highly spiced dishes, all subtlety is lost.

While neuroscience may have only recently advanced, "to the point where humans can begin to watch themselves think and feel," we don't need magnetic resonance imaging to watch ourselves think and feel. Meditation itself is simply a name for the open, unbiased awareness of what is going on. Without effort, we can see the impulses, attractions, thoughts, and emotions arise within ourselves from moment to moment. And in that open seeing, there is a freedom from the struggles of identification.

January 18, 2005 | Science | Permalink



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