Mandalas to Order

An idea has come to me lately that, perhaps, the problem I have with meditative practice has to do with not having an appropriate focus to immerse myself in to. I’m pretty sure that if I’m ever to build regular periods of meditation into my daily goings-on I’m going to need a more meaningful target on which to concentrate.

As much as I love the Buddhist mandalas, I find it difficult to fully appreciate the iconography. The multiplicity of various Buddha manifestations and bodhisattvas and their relationships and stories, although colorful and interesting just don’t work for me from a meditative stand point.

But, the idea of sitting before one of these large circular structures, concentrating on ‘entering’ and moving through the various protective layers to reach a meaningful center has a lot of appeal. So, I’m thinking that maybe a more appropriate mandala for those of us not steeped in a religious tradition might contain aspects of our familiar environs: imagery that we non-religious can relate to. Those of us desiring a regular time of introspection who happen to live in rural areas might relate better to landscape elements; city dwellers in need of times of reflex ion might appreciate urban elements in their mandalas.

Well, I’ll see what I can come up with; let me know what you think.

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Delusions of Well-Being

According to the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran a person would be better off not to have been born. He determined suffering is the rule in life and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. All actions, he says, are or will be cause for regret.

The notion of well-being for Emil is an illusion that many people will harbor off and on during their lives but will in the end be unable to sustain. Apparently Emil thinks it would be better to be, now, where he was before he was born-which is where he must be since he died in 1995.

I guess Emil spent most of his life under a dark cloud; his mother told him at one time, had she known he was going to be so unhappy she would have aborted him. The notion of the accidental nature of his existence seems to have been somewhat of a lift, leading him to the idea that, potentially, suicide is always a possibility.

Emil’s lack of empathy for his fellow man led him to embrace the totalitarian politics of World War II Europe; no doubt he has to be seen as the quintessential misanthrope. Still, he had good friends, companionship and wrote quite beautifully in a lyrical style. He was an artist, really.

It makes me wonder if there wasn’t a certain Stoic resignation in Emil’s behavior; perhaps writing all those negatives provided the opportunity to not have to think about them so much.

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The Absolute

I’ve been thinking lately, about the idea of the Absolute, you know, in an abstract sense: the Origin of all, the monad, the axis mundi, the metaphysical first cause; God, if you will.

I have this notion that if one embraces the idea of an existing absolute with enough conviction they may very well realize the presence of such an entity, perhaps, even, on a daily basis. In which case, one questioning such an existence would have to concede that for the believing individual the Absolute does, indeed, exist.

I suppose if I were to assume the position of the doubter, I could argue our believer is mistaken and has deluded herself into believing something that isn’t real, that simply doesn’t exist. But, since proof of such a position is not to be obtained, the ensuing argument would be futile, because the fact is the believer believes absolutely in the Absolute. And, as vehemently as I might point out the lack of empirical or logical justification for their belief in an Absolute the more vehemently I will become absolutely convinced I’m right in my denial of the Absolute.

But, then, doesn’t my belief that absolutely there can be no Absolute become a belief in an Absolute?

I wonder if that’s the game the pre-suppositional apologists play.

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The Inadequacy of Language

There is a certain philosophical perspective I’ve been reading about lately that maintains language is the basis of all thought. Not only can one not think without a language structure, but, on this view, one experiences in terms of language; to know the empirical truth before you is to be able to formulate what you see, hear, smell, and taste in language. In fact, on this view, all cognitive activity of any value is language based.

I have no doubt there are nuances to philosophical thinking that are beyond me, but this view seems just wrong. I don’t know how, exactly, these thinkers determine what is valuable but it seems to me there are plenty of thoughts and experiences that precede language and to my mind are pretty significant. For instance, if I tell a story about an experience I have, if I tell it well, it may provide insight, even be elegant but the story will never be the experience or get at all the experience, whatever it may be, means to me. In any experience I, and I would think anyone else, has beside the sensory input from all of my senses occurring simultaneously, memories, relationships, and various connections come into play. My story, being necessarily linear can do little more than summarize.

And, as far as thoughts go, when I’m making a sculpture or painting the thinking I’m doing having to do with structure and color or whatever certainly precede any language that may later be applied to them. I think this is true for most people; consider how inauthentic, ridiculous even, artistic statements made after the fact often appear.

So, I will continue to enjoy the complexities and depth of my experiences and activities, and, although there will be much I experience of an ineffable nature I will always know of the reality they hold.

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Winning and Losing in the Material Realm

I’ve been getting caught up in winning and losing lately. The politics, these days,is getting pretty cut-throat and the pressure to take sides, whether regarding sports activities, political discussions, philosophical positions, religious notions, you name it, is increasingly intense. It almost seems as if winning or losing is more the issue than thoughtful reasoning about issues. Winning, it seems, becomes synonymous for many with success.

I read an article recently that suggested one was less likely to succeed if she was overly optimistic. I guess the idea is too much optimism inhibits the drive to compete; to strive for the head of the line, for the promotion or the big raise. The optimist, the writer suggests, assumes good things are in store regardless of how hard she works for them.

It seems to me the whole idea of winning presupposes a common desire which will be satisfied by material reward resulting in an enhanced sense of well-being. This ‘success’ will never be more than temporary which means additional winning will be required to not simply sustain it but to avoid the debilitating depression of ‘failure’, the result being a vicious cycle of competing egos egged on by media hype and recognition. Then, one day I awake to the realization someone else is determining my values for me; my well-being is no longer in my own hands and has become embedded in the competitive, material realm.

Well, I’m not having any of it. I really don’t care how popular success is measured. I’m staying positive and optimistic. I’ll look past the material realm and embrace the purity of beauty and truth. I understand this may require some disassociation.

Zombie Apocalypse

There sure is a lot of negativity in the news these days: gun violence, terrorist threats, economic inequality, ecological degradation; the list goes on and on. Some think the situation is so dire the collapse of civilization as we know it is immanent: apocalypse on the horizon, I guess.

In order to preserve the way of life we’ve come to know, the thinking goes, we must take these world-threatening issues and deal with them. We’re bombarded daily with ideas advocated by the powers that be or would be on how disaster might best be avoided. The solutions offered vary considerably but the goals are the same: to preserve our way of life as we’ve grown to love and tolerate it.

There are other thinkers, however, that believe the harder we try to solve the problem, to prevent the disasters we anticipate, the more quickly we move toward their realization. The suggestion is, I guess, that these dire problems we face are inherent within the paradigmatic social, economic and cultural structures that define our lives. If these innovative thinkers are right, I suppose we might as well suck it up, embrace the imminent demise of the world as we know it and prepare ourselves for a great leap into the unknown, remain open to the unimaginable and to seek a dramatically different reality than the one we now know.

I must admit I’m at a loss as to how to think about all this: if working toward solutions to potential disasters will only hasten the consequences they portend, I suppose I could just ignore the issues of the day all together, but that seems pretty irresponsible. I’ve been reading a lot about zombie infestations lately that I’ll bet have to do with glitches in bio-genetic engineering. Maybe this will be the new reality. I think I’ll start reading apocalyptic sci fi more seriously.

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Qualia

I’ve been making paintings, lately, as foci for meditation. The images in the paintings represent places in my familiar environs that have personal significance for me. What the bases of the deep feelings I have for these places is, is hard to explain.
I suppose reminiscence might be part of it. I’ve visited most of the places depicted in the paintings many times, so one might assume some of the significance the images hold for me has to do with remembered experiences, you know, feelings of nostalgia for an innocent past, even though I’m quite cognizant of the fact that past experiences are often stripped and cleansed of their reality.

Maybe the emotional responses I experience upon viewing the images in these paintings are a result of the physicality of place, the natural beauty, the richness of a supportive environment so favorable to my well-being. Or, perhaps, the significance of these represented places is due to my considerable imagination, whereby I bend the environs to suit my fantasies of an idyllic Shangri-La.

Or, maybe these images are important for no other reason than that they were selected by me and therefore received more attention than I usually pay to the world around me.

As I think about it, no one of the above explanations seems to capture the essence of the deep feelings the places depicted in my paintings elicit in me. The feelings I experience seem to be beyond rational explanation-ineffable, really; a result of my peculiar phenomenal consciousness. Which makes me a unique, special and, dare I say, magical individual.

But, perhaps the significance of these images for me is all explainable in terms of a combination of sensory input, memories, introspection and habit; not one but parts of all the above thoughts are involved; maybe it’s all about mind, not magic.

As much as I might like to recognize my individual uniqueness, it seems much more likely that I, and everyone else, might better be analogized in computational terms rather than thought of as metaphysical curiosities.

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Where am I (now)

I learned recently that modern science views the notion of ‘now’ as nothing more than an illusion.

Due to the lag time our sensory apparatus requires to acknowledge occurrences around us, along with the finite speed of light, what we are experiencing at any given moment has already happened. So, if the past is no longer and the future is yet to be and there is no ‘now’ then where, exactly, do I exist? If where I am, I only was I must have to anticipate where I really am.

I must say I find this a bit unsettling as I’ve been operating for some time under the assumption that ‘Eternity is Now’ given the nonexistence of past and future. So if ‘now ‘ is ‘past’ then I’m inclined to discount the idea of eternity.

But, cosmologists make matters even more confusing suggesting we may exist within an eternal multi-verse within which the ‘Big Bang’ that created our universe happened and who’s to say, they hypothesize, this big Bang thing hasn’t happened all sorts of times.

Apparently the ideas is that there are passage ways, ‘worm holes’, between these various universes that if we weren’t limited by our vision and movements due to the finite speed of light we might be able to find.

So, between not being here ‘now’ and being a minute speck within one of countless universes I’m thinking I may have to start again from the beginning and agree with that great thinker Rene Descartes that at least I know I’m thinking.

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Altered States

I’ve been having these flashes lately of another time and place. Small things: certain smells and sounds, plays of light, will bring to mind thoughts, sometimes remembrances of earlier experiences, sometimes images of times and places I’ve never been.

Most often these ‘flashes of memory’ elicit almost euphoric feelings in me-a sense of idyllic existence, that, when I think about it, are hard to explain. I say most often because sometimes there’s an ominous foreboding which accompanies these forays into the fanciful.

These experiences are like visions into another reality. They occur with varying degrees of strength and fade and disappear fairly quickly.

Now, I’m no scholar, mind you, but as far as I can tell Martin Heidegger speaks of ‘being’ as a field, an extension of the physical/mental self to include one’s sensible environs. Our extended being can accumulate a lot of the detritus of daily life.  The ever increasing weight of familiarity and of the efforts and energies required to simply exist can be overwhelming. So, by altering one’s being, that is physically relocating, one becomes new and fresh-at least momentarily.

But, rather than actually physically moving, my mental sojourns into past and fanciful places might serve to offer a similar sort of relief.

I’m glad I got this figured out. Now if only I can extend these fantasies and keep them mostly positive.  Maybe I’ll be content to stay put physically while I travel far and wide mentally. I think meditation may be helpful.

 

Mindfulness Overdone

My daily meditations have me focusing, lately, on mindful attentions. Today, as I arise from my nocturnal slumbers to the feng-shui of my bedroom, I inhale deeply, exhale, and mindfully absorb the world around me. As I turn to the closet I wait, patiently, for the day’s wardrobe to present itself. Today I embrace change; I will become the plaid shirt and striped pants.

In the kitchen I am enveloped by the silence. I inhale the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee. Staring down into the dark, amber liquid I deliberate on the space between my thoughts. Mindfully, I lift the cup and contemplate the anticipated feel of the warm liquid on my palate and dwell for a time on the importance of observation in place of determination.

The tamarack tree outside my window beckons. I feel myself becoming one with its gnarly branches lightly swaying in the breeze and find myself becoming rooted to this place. As the wind begins blowing harder my back twists, fingers bend painfully, needle-like leaves detach. I am aware of the impermanence of existence and I share the suffering and pain of the fragile Larch for whom I shed tears in empathy. I pull away, release my embrace. Life is process not a state of being.

Well, at this point I’ve pretty much killed most of the day as far as doing anything productive goes; my painting languishes, I’m behind in my reading, the sidewalk needs shoveling and forget about the groceries for supper. Maybe part of the discipline of mindfulness needs to be being mindful of what is necessary for basic functioning.

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