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Archive for the ‘Mind’ Category

The other day I had an opportunity to notice once again how easy it is to get hijacked by one’s own mind, how the process of identifying with the mental noise inside one’s head can be unfolding and what it costs.

A dear friend had given me a “friends in real life” award that was added to my profile on that particular site. I was touched by what the person wrote even though I already knew we shared this wonderful connection I call intimacy, where one can completely relax with another human being. I experienced this exchange  (giving and receiving of the award) as if both of us were givers and receivers at the same time.


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Natasha Mitchell of ABC Radio National and Radio Australia had another interesting guest on All in the mind show – German philosopher of mind Thomas Metzinge spoke about his research of the self as well as the first hand accounts of out of body experiences and lucid dreaming. Metzinge published his conclusions in the book “The Ego tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self” and needless to say I am quite eager to engage my brain cells with it. As I understood from the interview,  not only it brings the light on the mechanics of the process of selfing (right, Metzinger views the self as not a thing, something solid that exists somewhere – where? – but the ongoing process, the construct) but also discusses how and why it evolved. Why do I so badly need to believe into my self ?

Glad to hear more scientists are catching up on what Buddhism saw already two thousand years ago – there is no self, but rather a set of experiences and our memory that connects them. (Metzinger is actually a long time meditator himself).

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During the last Webinar we were looking into the following passage from Genjokoan:

Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot turn back into firewood again. However, we should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and it has its own before and after. Although there is before and after, past and future are cut off.

As part of the homework we are to read the passage before zazen and reflect on the question:

When doing one thing, is there anything else? (i.e., is today just today?)


For starters, I came to appreciate reading the text before the sitting even though at first the words did not make much sense to me.  Soon I started noticing how doing that opened up my mind to the passage and to Dosho’s question in the activities of everyday life (living practice).  Now I did not have to remember the question itself;  it was following me everywhere. All of a sudden I would come up with the answer after I have dealt with the situation at hand.

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The door makes no promise

Have started listening to the  program “Meditations that can change your life” by Rick Hanson and Rick Mendius that they recorded for Sounds True. Both are interested in neurology and Buddism. It appears our brain is biologically biased towards negativity to ensure our survival and we tend to remember and overestimate the importance the negative experiences over the positive ones.  This brain of ours proved to be invaluable when we lived close to other species that could be a threat to us. We separated ourselves from nature and chose to live behind the walls so we would feel safer yet are we more relaxed today about our lives? The same incredibly smart and complex tool that served us now contributes to our suffering: while very seldom our physical survival is under threat the biological programming remains the same. We tend to react (overreact!) to many life situations and even just thoughts about them as if we are under threat which costs us a lot of energy, not to mention that it diverts our attention from experiencing life.

“Hope undermines efforts because it takes us away from the present. By coming back to what is right here in front of you right now, you see that meditation and internal transformative work are the best and most direct paths toward being present in life. Energy flows into practice because you see that you have no choice”.

Ken McLeod, Wake Up To Your Life

As the initial enthusiasm fades after a couple of months of meditation (once again, the mind tends to bring to focus the things I have not yet accomplished rather than a noticeable and positive shift in attitude towards life experiences – also a result of biological conditioning), the question arises: “What is the point of all this?”. But as Ken points out, what choice have I got?

I’ve been run by those habituated patterns for most part of my life and missed a huge chunk of it fighting the monsters in my head so I am pretty determined to try a different path for a change like finally getting real about life. Being at war with myself and the world costs a lot of energy and never ever made things better anyway. Yet even if there are no assurances in the practice itself  I see no other choice but to keep going.  At the very least it will keep me busy for the rest of my life – am blessed with the enough internal material for a few lifetimes.

The door makes no promise

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.

Prospective Immigrants Please Note, by Adrienne Rich

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In my short life as a meditator I’ve noticed that when the mind finally settles down it gets into a creative mode and generates insights. The temptation is then strong to allow myself to stay with those ideas for fear of forgetting or because they appear to be more exciting that just sitting. Wouldn’ that be a waste to let those ideas show up at the door and do nothing about it? What difference would it make if I did explore those ideas during meditaiton?

Ken McLeod in the chapter on cultivating attention in Wake up to Your Life explains how we can reaffirm the old habituated patterns by succumbing to those creative insights:

“Calm and peace in the mind allow you to see things more clearly. When you sit in meditation, insights into interactions with people, business affairs, or personal problems arise spontaneously. Creative ideas and images arise from nowhere. Thoughts and thinking don’t really disturb the quality of attention. Instead of only resting with the breath, you feel that you can use meditation to be more creative, to solve problems and generate insights, and that you can do all that without disrupting attention.
You are wrong.

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So what was happening in my brain that night?

The picture gets clearer as I read about how information my brain receives through eyes and ears travels inside the brain. It is first transmitted to the auditory and visual thalamus and from there it takes two different paths. The first one goes to the cortex, where it till be integrated with other data and associations, the word “attack” and  memories I have of a similar situation, possibly a scene from some horror movie.

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Anyways, what all this brain science talk is good for on the day to dy level? How can learning about my brain mechanics help me better understand myself or why I act the way I do?

In “Mind wide open: Why you are what you think” Steven Jonson embarks on a fascinating trip inside his own brain and shares how the insights helped him see his behaviour from a different angle.

mind_wide_open

In Jonson’s opinion, brain sciences “…can help us see our interactions with a new clarity, to detect ling-term patterns or split-second instincts that might otherwise go unnoticed, sometimes because they operate below conscious awareness and sometimes because we’re so familiar with them that they’ve become invisible to us”.


It was the “below conscious awareness” stuff that got my attention. We don’t even know how little we know of ourselves or how little we actually decide on the conscious level. The question of free will is hovering on the horizon but I leave it for now…

While reading an account of a terrible accident in Jonson’s house I remembered a rather unsettling episode my friend and I shared about 15 years ago. We were visiting my parents who at the time lived in the Republic of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Once we decided to we leave town for a long week end and went up to the mountains to relax and cool off. Within the next two days I learnt what drowning in the fast mountain river could feel like (not knowing how to swim), we were close to being traded for a box of vodka by a few local men and on our last night at the hotel…

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