Mindfulness

I’ve been engaged for the last eight minutes or so maintaining awareness of the reality before me; not focusing on anything in particular, just contemplating the here and now. Thoughts occasionally enter, generally from the left, and pretty much pass right through and out to the right. Sometimes a thought gets stuck on its passage through so I have to give it a nudge so as to bring myself back to the here and now.

Traveling, as I am, down the road right now, the here and now is changing by the second; probably not an ideal situation for meditation; kind of distracting, really. And, having traveled this road numerous times before familiar objects come suddenly into view that bring thoughts to mine; thoughts that need to be ushered out stage right, lest I be drawn into thoughts of past circumstances and lose the here and now. Even as I concentrate on the here and now ‘veneers’ of association supervene adding layers of meaning that I gently, lightly erase without disturbing the here and now.

I’m up to about ten minutes now and my concentration is kind of fading in and out. With effort I know I can bring it back, aware, as I am, of the enormous benefits of mindfulness.

 

Easier Answers

According to the 19th century psychologist William James, man creates the world he inhabits. The path one takes, says Mr. James, may focus on ugliness or beauty, a man may choose to concentrate and relate to the Good or the Bad. The idea here is that faith is required: an acknowledgment of that which is beyond the empirical, outside the domain of scientific certitude: the realm of God and immortality.

Which seems to imply the need for perspective: that the natural world isn’t all there is, suggesting those in the ‘natural world only’ camp will have a much harder (impossible?) time maintaining an optimistic view of things, of remaining positive, of retaining and maintaining a high moral outlook.

On a personal level, to my mind, there is no doubt considerable energy is required, as our daily travails weigh upon us, to stay upbeat all of the time; even most of the time. Still, if it’s perspective it takes to stay on one’s preferred path I wonder if the only play is the metaphysical one. Mr. James suggests unless one is oblivious, we’ve already made our choice: skepticism in moral matters is an ally of immorality; who is not for is against, he says.

Answers to the big questions must have appeared much clearer back then.

Evolutionary Ethics and the Contemptible

There’s thinking these days that Biological evolution, natural selection, will result in ever increasingly capable survivors, generation after generation, better suited to exploit and thrive within their changing environment than were their ancestors in theirs. From the perspective of increasing prosperity alone, there appears little need, biologically, to embrace any sort of ethical stance. Cooperation between these increasingly fit beings will likely occur only in so far as personal interest is concerned. So, I’m wondering, is our evolutionary destiny to be increasingly inundated with assholes?

Yet, altruism does exist. Clearly humankind does embrace certain ethical standards. Generosity toward others certainly occurs; empathy is a true emotional response for many. There are those among us who make for a kinder, gentler society where cooperation means lifting everyone to a state of reasonable well-being. I have to wonder, in the next millennium, assuming humankind is still around, where the emphasis will lay; I have a feeling Friedrich Nietzsche would have had thoughts on this.

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Moral Constructivism

I’ve been reading, recently, something that has me thinking about how morality might be most effectively approached these days. The book, which I would categorize as apocalyptic Sci Fi, tells a story of societal breakdown in the not too distant future. Those who can live in gated enclaves as a means of protection against gangs of homeless riffraff without moral qualms of any sort intent on theft, murder and mayhem. As the situation deteriorates and the enclave is over run, our protagonist, a teen age girl of significant capability, is forced to flee.

Our heroine is no ordinary teenager. She has, over her few short years, compiled a book of verse, a spiritual system, defining god in terms of the realities she faces as civilization collapses. Her notion that ‘God is change’ addresses the primary needs of the people who face disruption and displacement in this dark future world. Survival, she understands, will require flexibility.

As the story moves toward resolution, a small group has banded together and seems to have arrived at a moral understanding based on mutual needs and respect. Coexistence demands an ongoing exchange regarding moral priorities; change is the rule and openness to change must always be on the table: God is change.

The reader is left uncertain as to what the future holds for our small group, but, as I think about it, it seems to me their thinking about morality gives them a much better chance of survival than had they latched onto either a moral absolute or a relativist position.

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Neuroses and Evolutionary Survival

It has occurred to me lately to wonder how we, being survivors of countless generations of evolutionary perfection, having obtained the genetic wherewithal to be alive at this point in time, can be so prone to suffering from various psychological malfunctioning.

I wonder this because it has come to my attention that a significant number of us suffer from a neurotic emptiness attributable to inadequate nurture. That, while physically healthy, more or less, psychologically many experience a profound emptiness (which, I suspect, may explain, to some extent, the prevalence of religious involvement.)

Anyway, there’s a concept the German’s call sehnsucht, defined as the inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what, which seems apropos to consideration of a malady which is likely to again lead to religious involvement, and seeing as how we evolutionary survivors have a predilection to belief in the supernatural anyway, it’s pretty hard to deny some sort of spiritual investment.

My particular inclination is to cultivate a deeper engagement with nature. There’s nothing as spiritually uplifting, for me, as a contemplative walk in the woods.

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Taking Advantage

I’ve been wondering how natural it is for those who are able to take advantage of others. Beside the moral imperative to do to others what one would have done to one’s self and the often stated acknowledgment of the appropriateness of equal rights there seems to be a strong impetus for factions to separate along ideological lines and when those ideologies gain sufficient support, to find in others’ actions and beliefs a corruption deep enough to find those others undeserving of any respect for their contrary views.

So, the factions struggle for political dominance in order to impose their particular values in a way which will be, pretty clearly, disadvantages to the opposition. And, since it’s also pretty clear there will never be full consensus about much of anything, someone will suffer at the hands of the other, which makes me think the potential for discontent and even violence is in the nature of our society. And, the vulnerable minority or passive majority may find their very being twisted and tortured in most inhumane ways.  A benevolent overseer, Plato’s philosopher king maybe, might deal fairly with the most egregious of impositions of one on the other but it seems, ultimately, human nature will prevail; the strong imposing it’s values and beliefs on the weak.

Maybe a good solution, a means of avoiding the discomforts associated with factionalism, would be to remain apolitical, avoid the news of the day, and even, if necessary, maintain one’s being outside of the social milieu.   It’s not an unprecedented move after all; Buddha did it and by all accounts ended up in quite a favorable situation.

evil me

haiku mantras

So, I’ve been thinking, as I continue to pursue my meditation practices, that perhaps, in addition to mandalas as primary visual focus, haikus could be used sort of like mantras as additional mental foci:

Generally, a haiku might emphasize one’s meditative intent:

Be undistracted
Clear, open, alert, focused,
Perfectly present

Or:

Past is no longer
Future remains to be seen
Now is eternal

Or, possibly:

I must be conscious
Enveloped in thought, knowing
What it’s like to be

Sometimes, though, I get caught up in irritations that interfere with my goal of achieving some sort of enlightenment. Perhaps an appropriate haiku might ease or erase the problem:

Cultivate mindful
Compassionate responses
To those you despise

Or:

Inhale deeply, breathe
Expose the fallacies of
Acquired dogmas

Although, I’m not sure if this tact might not exacerbate the problem:

Mean words, hurt feelings
Hypersensitivity
Empowers the weak

Well, you get the idea. I’ll try these out; see which ones help me get nearer my goals. Actually just writing these haikus is quite enlightening.

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Beyond the Grave

I see by the calendar All Soul’s Day and with it The Day of the Dead is here. Death isn’t something most of us want to think about very much but at this time of the year, with nature racing toward dormancy, the topic tends to come to mind.

In medieval times death was on everyone’s mind daily. The Black Plague invited Death to be a regular visitor if not a live-in house guest. She became so well-known she starred in a regularly performed play called the Danse Macabre. In the play the black Angel would appear and, along with her spirit helpers the psychopomps, invite victims to accompany them beyond the grave; the beyond being, I guess, a promised land of paradise.

Throughout history (and even earlier than that I bet) people have sensed an existence beyond the grave: The ancient Egyptians conceived of a Ka or immaterial double that would live on after the demise of the physical body so the deceased would be able to keep doing the same fun things they had always done when alive.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was inclined to believe that, upon death, an individual’s will or essence of being would be reunited with its Cosmic origins from which it originated, which is a pretty cool idea of togetherness even though one wouldn’t really be aware of it because one’s memory and ego would cease to exist.

The Hindu people understand the universe to be eternal and that rebirth will continue to happen until enlightenment of the soul propels a leap into the infinite, which, I guess must be a bit like Arthur’s cosmic origins.

Contemporary Trans-humanists anticipate a situation in which one’s brain activity is downloaded to a computer and since the brain is where one’s being resides one can expect to live on forever provided someone is around to keep the batteries charged.

I’m sure I’m like everyone else in hoping the Black Angel stays away for a while but when it does come time for me to leave the realm of the physical, wherever I end up, I can always look forward to new experiences.  Or, perhaps, oblivion.

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Contemplation

I read the other day about a study done recently that found that a lot of people have a really hard time being alone with their thoughts.

Apparently, researchers had asked volunteers to sit alone in a room for fifteen minutes. The room contained nothing but a table and chair and a machine that would produce mild electrical shocks if one chose to use it. The study found that a fairly large number of the research subjects chose to administer shocks to themselves rather than be alone with their thoughts for even fifteen minutes.

Letting one’s mind wander to past occurrences or future possibilities seems to me pretty natural so I guess I don’t understand what the problem was. Focusing on the eternity of now, I must admit isn’t always easy but my mind is pretty good at wandering.  In fact, I was just thinking about the movie, Altered States, in which the protagonist, William Hurt, submerses himself in a sensory deprivation chamber, which is essentially a tank of warm water in a totally darkened cubicle, for hours on end, day after day. His idea was that by doing this he could get in touch with his primal inner self. I guess he succeeded because he ends up developing simian characteristics.

So, I’m wondering if the reason most people are unable or unwilling to be alone with their thoughts is that they fear glimpsing their innate animal natures. If this is the case it sure explains our inclination to constantly be distracting ourselves.

meditation device2

Mindfulness

I’ve been engaged for the last eight minutes or so maintaining awareness of the reality before me; not focusing on anything in particular, just contemplating the here and now. Thoughts occasionally enter, generally from the left, and pretty much pass right through and out to the right. Sometimes a thought gets stuck on its passage through so I have to give it a nudge so as to bring myself back to the here and now.

Traveling, as I am, down the road right now, the here and now is changing by the second; probably not an ideal situation for meditation; kind of distracting, really. And, having traveled this road numerous times before familiar objects come suddenly into view that bring thoughts to mine; thoughts that need to be ushered out stage right, lest I be drawn into thoughts of past circumstances and lose the here and now. Even as I concentrate on the here and now ‘veneers’ of association supervene adding layers of meaning that I gently, lightly erase without disturbing the here and now.

I’m up to about ten minutes now and my concentration is kind of fading in and out. With effort I know I can bring it back, aware, as I am, of the enormous benefits of mindfulness.

meditationdevice1