Wednesday, May 25, 2011

From a missive to a friend

If you can avoid having some unpleasant thought ever enter your mind, then by all means do so. Once it's there, if you can gently escort it out, that also sounds fine. These are instructions regarding the contents of awareness. The suggestion to be "clear" is about the quality of awareness. Merely recognizing the existence of anxiety ("the sensation of anxiety is perceived") does not compound it. Claiming ownership of it ("I am anxious"), and then narrating it ("therefore I'm in trouble"), does, and leads nowhere good. The former is clarity, and the latter is clinging (or what I call "distraction"). Some thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are very easy to not "own" (e.g., looking at a neutral object). Others are very good at stealing clarity, and they all go about it in distinct ways.

I think meditating in a quiet place is primarily meant to show you what clarity and its attempted robbery look like in a sandbox environment. Some emotions are harder to observe quietly than others, but in the end none has the intrinsic power to steal your clarity. Getting better at maintaining clarity requires practice. If you treat it like an adventure or game, and practice just at your threshold, it might be less of a chore and perhaps quite edifying.

What I haven't figured out is how the change in quality affects the change in contents: Mingyur rid himself of panic attacks by clarity, and it seems to be my experience too that contents are changed by clarity. I guess my hypothesis is that by addressing an emotion clearly ("hello anger, I see you, please pipe down"), you can retrain the relevant circuits with greater precision. The other thing to notice is that the elaboration ("therefore I'm in trouble") slowly becomes revealed as false, so it happens less and less. I'm told even the ownership can go away entirely (the subject / object distinction vanishes), but that's pretty advanced :)

Monday, May 2, 2011

A complicated machine

With a Swiss Army Knife, you notice 15 different tools immediately, even if it takes some time to understand how to use them properly. If you spend enough time using it, you'll master all of its functions.

The mind is similar, but has an added twist: most of its layers of complexity are hidden until you start looking for them. If you haven't spent a lot of time introspecting, you may not even realize that there exist many knobs and dials that subtly control your emotions and behaviors. Once you start getting your hands dirty, not only do you notice that there's a lot more going on in there than you thought, but the controls you found earlier start looking different.

I think this is partly why meditation is not more popular: if you haven't spent some time trying it, the claims of its value may sound exaggerated and perhaps mundane. Many people seem to think of it as just another form of relaxation, or as a crutch to avoid the difficulties of the real world. The idea that perception and experience can be fundamentally changed by "just sitting there" is, admittedly, pretty strange on the surface.

But I guess that's what makes it so fascinating. I can't think of another machine I'd rather tinker with.