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Posts Tagged ‘Meditation’

Just before my last meditation retreat in mid-August, I was fortunate to see off my dear friends Uma and Sriram¬†with a dinner and sleepover ūüôā on the eve of their big move back to India. ¬†They were so lovingly persistent and curious in asking about how my retreat went that the answer below finally flowed out over email. ¬†The long story and ‘play-by-play’ still hasn’t found time to come out, so I thought I’d share this semi-concise note to them in a more public forum.
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I’ve been grappling with the right way to share my Vipassana experience because I suppose I’m simultaneously concerned about people thinking I’m crazy, and not being sure myself that I’m sane ūüôā ¬†I’ve mentioned it before, but this last retreat was the most difficult and profound sit ever. ¬†To people who have asked thus far, I only shared the difficult part of the story without the other side (which was equally challenging, but not as negative). ¬†Suffice to say that I remembered things, and saw connections, and experienced insights that the rational part of my mind can’t explain. ¬†Greater aspects of the work I have to do in this lifetime, both on the personal, family, and community level became clear to me though I still find my courage in integrating all of that to be less than the seemingly large task. ¬†Perhaps most importantly, it was clear to me that all the identities I/we create for ourselves are false (by virtue of being only partially and superficially true). ¬†They’re just stories, but the extent to which we cling to them is the extent that we take away from the scintillating mystery of who we are in this very moment. ¬†Prior to the retreat, I had this growing and very uncomfortable problem of not knowing who I was–something I had never really felt in my life prior to the last year or so. ¬†After the retreat, I still don’t know the answer, but I’m no longer afraid that I don’t know (and so its not a problem that I can’t explain who I am to people who try to size me up). ¬†That alone has felt liberating. ¬†And I’m less locked in to any story about “me” from any part of my past. ¬†I feel more free, and more fearless, and more committed to staring down my weaknesses and owning up to my mistakes. ¬†
In short, things will never be the same.
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People buy iPhones to be universally connected and have a ton of cool functions and features at their fingertips.¬† But as Rev. Heng Sure once said, everything we create in silicon already exists in carbon.¬† I’d add that the silicon technology is a poor facsimile at best.

So how exactly do you tap into the wonderful carbon technology you carry around with you all the time?

Meditation is a phenomenal tool to do just that.

Here are five areas where meditation beats an iPhone.

1. Connectivity

The truth is that you can’t really connect to anyone else unless you’re in touch with yourself.¬† The iPhone allows and encourages you to be marginally present when physically absent, and marginally absent when physically present.

Meditation gets you back in touch with yourself and helps you be present.¬† Period. Sometimes meditators are so present, they’re even present when absent!¬† And that makes their ability to connect way beyond what the iPhone allows!

2. Social Networking

Let’s face it: Twitter is often mostly random bits of irrelevant thought that you cursorily follow from people you don’t always know.¬† That Facebook’s popularity surpasses porn suggests that there is certainly something sexual about its magic, as 400+ million people compete for collecting more friends and appearing to have the most fun while waiting for the next ‘serendipitous’ connection.

Behind their popularity is the myth that quantity makes up for quality. 

How many of your Facebook friends could you call in a jam at 3am?  How many tweets will you ponder longer than a 160 character attention-span?

The truth is that quality is what counts, and meditation eases the disease of a random mind to add increased quality and relevance to ‘mental tweets’.¬† Random thoughts get slowly recycled into the mental soil, fertilizing the thoughts worth nurturing as attention stabilizes and intensifies.¬† The growing relief felt from all the chaos sloshing around in your head starts building sympathy for other people’s struggles.¬† You yourself start becoming a person willing to dash to the rescue at 3am, or just helping to make people around you a little bit happier, and that starts earning you deeper friends willing to respond in kind.

Cooling down with meditation

Suddenly you’re having real fun wherever you are, with no time left to tweet about it, snap pictures for facebook, or passively stalk other people’s lives.¬† Birds of a feather flock together, so you’re soon surrounded by like-minded people, paving the path for serendipitous connections that give you goosebumps in ways that connecting to your 2nd-grade-best-friend or unrequited-secret-lover-from-prom on facebook never can.

3. Features and Functionality

Is the iPhone’s 2-megapixel camera not enough for you?¬† How about the 324-megapixel equivalent of the human eye?¬† Not enough storage on your iPhone for those kinds of pictures?¬† Nobody knows a good way to calculate the storage of the human brain, but credible guesses say it can hold 1 to 1000 terabytes of information.¬† Can’t remember that much, you say?¬† Meditation improves memory, reverses memory loss, and delays or prevents Alzheimer’s and dementia.¬† How about GPS?¬† Meditation really grounds you and helps you figure out where you’re at and where you’re headed.¬† What about apps and games?¬† Meditation starts unlocking the games you play best and opening you up to more productive applications.

4. Environment

When 3G turns to 4G or 6F or whatever is next, your smart iPhone gets closer to becoming e-waste, full of toxic chemicals that California consider to be hazardous waste.¬† Be sure to¬†recycle it when you’re done playing, and remind the other kids to do so too.

Meanwhile, meditation doesn’t add to your footprint on the planet, but might just soften it.¬† There isn’t much research on this, but a lot of anecdotal evidence that shows that you’ll start feeling the need for fewer material things.¬† And that’s great for the planet!

5. Cost

After all your fancy data plans and minutes, you can spend $5 or more a day on your iPhone.¬† Meditation is free, barring what you pay to learn or attend a course.¬† If you decide to try Vipassana, a past student who benefited will pay for your course!¬† And if you’re serious about practicing, meditation starts paying you, as all of that focus makes you more productive, creative, insightful, and energetic.¬† I’d call that a fantastic investment in any economic climate¬† ūüôā

In short, meditation is an unparalleled technology that surpasses the iPhone by leaps and bounds.  In fairness, any technology simply amplifies the will you place behind it, and its possible to use things like iPhone, Twitter, and Facebook while minimizing their downsides just like its possible to misuse meditation.

Yet playing with our silicon technology seems to have a much more slippery slope than figuring out our carbon technology, and that will keep me away from iPhones for a while.

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Read the text in the bottom right corner.Chinese Man Survives Live Burial With Meditation

If only the thousands trapped during the recent Chinese earthquake knew how to meditate.

Read the full story via the Times Online.

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Imagine hardened criminals breaking down in remorse for their crimes, and hugging the guards that they hated just a week earlier. That kind of transformation began when mediation was introduced into India’s most notorious prison near New Delhi, India.

Today most of our prisons are just “prisoner schools” where convicts get together and learn how to be better criminals, while taxpayers ironically spend more to keep them locked up than what it would have cost to send them through Harvard University. Most prisons are simply not set up for rehabilitation, much less transformation.

A tough decision indeed

Enter Vipassana.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana is the decade-old documentary film made about Vipassana meditation’s first introduction into prison. While the film definitely has its agenda and makes the transformation seem easier than it is, it’s honest about the technique not being magic and is worth a view if you are interested in progressive prison reform.

Critics argue that prison meditation isn’t possible in America, but a small number of facilities have added 10-day silent meditation courses, and a new film called Dhamma Brothers shows was happens when ‘East Meets West in the Deep South’.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

part 2, 3, 4, 5

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Time magazine publshed an article on Christian yoga, the latest yoga trend that tries to pull Hindu elements out of the ancient practice to make God-fearing Protestants and Catholics feel better about doing it. Instead of saying ‘Om’, one might say ‘Amen’ and instead of surya namaskar or ‘Sun Salutation’, you do a ‘warm-up flow’ or a ‘Son Salutation’. The latter part of the article discusses tensions and concerns raised by this latest of trends, with one camp of purists arguing the inseparability of yoga and Hinduism, while another worrying about the commercialization and co-option of yoga by Christians. All interesting questions which beg another: are we getting stupider as a nation or are we dumber than I thought?

For starters, the very notion of having to de-Hindu yoga to make Christians feel better about it is rooted in the narrow-mindedness and guilt (and stupidity) which are commonly (and needlessly) bundled as part and parcel of Christian doctrine. People like present Pope Benedict XVI have warned that yoga “can degenerate into a cult of the body” whatever the hell that means, and urged people not to confuse the “pleasing sensations” of yoga with “spiritual well-being”, creating the impression that Ratzinger gives himself pleasing sensations in other ways– more spiritual ones of course. Others like Rabi Maharaj, a formerly confused Hindu who is now a freshly confused Christian, go a step further and publicly decry that yoga and meditation are evil and will land you in hell, if not turning you into an anti-Christ first. Call me Beelzebub, but it seems that in this modern era where my laptop doesn’t need a wire to be on the internet that Christians should be able to see past the he-died-for-my-sins, get-into-heaven-free-card mentality for the medieval rouse or archaic mistaken-thinking that it is. Debunking flawed theology isn’t the scope of this blog entry, but pointing out that far too many unthinking people are falling victim to third hand notions of what they should feel guilty about, especially in the absense of any scriptural basis, is. People, you won’t go to hell if you say ‘Om’ and I’m not Mephistopheles.

Meanwhile, well-preserved (by yoga) and tantalizingly bendy Patricia Walden express the edict that yoga should not be used to sell stuff to students, voicing the concern that this latest development might begin us down the slippery slope of commercializing yoga. Wow Patricia, I don’t know what cave you’ve been practicing in, but yoga has already become commercial-o-riffic. Wait, you don’t practice yoga in a cave, you do it on the cover of this magazine, and on this one, and this one. Did I mention this one?. You’ve even on the cover of a magazine that questions the karmic value of commercializing yoga. In your spare time, you can also be found commer… I mean practicing yoga in your book and your videos when not doing so at your lovely studio. Let’s be fair here: commercializing yoga isn’t your fault. It’s Bikram Choudhury’s. While Paramahansa Yogananda is generally regarded as the ‘father of yoga in the West’ (and incidentally Bikram’s guru’s guru), Bikram is undoubtedly the pimp-daddy o.g. yogi makin’ dat dolla. Yet if Bikram in the Anakin-cum-Darth of yoga purity, then Shirley MacLaine is certainly his Darth Sidious as it was she, and not his guru Bishnu Ghosh, who convinced him to start charging the kind of ‘astralnomic’ fees that have allowed him to purchase his multiple Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Now that Bikram has started to patent, trademark, and copyright elements and routines of yoga practice and litigate against violators, I would have to say that yoga in America is now offically, undoubtedly, inescapably commerical. Let’s not try and blame that on some wacky, prudish Christians.

Meanwhile, Subhas Tiwari of Hindu University is quoted as saying “Yoga is Hinduism.” Whoa, cowboy! Come again? While giving Tiwari the benefit of the doubt through the assumption that his comment was taken out of context, that’s an awfully hairy soundbite for a Professor of Yoga and Meditation to be caught coughing up. If you ask the billion-odd people in India if they are Hindus, a good 800 million or so will say yes. If you ask them if they practice yoga, as in hatha yoga, I’d say that more than 95% would say no. That certainly demonstrates that Hinduism has plenty of scope and breadth to entirely avoid the postures that the western world considers to be yoga. In reality, the Sanskrit word means ‘union’, and Hinduism encompasses many paths to achieve such union outside of the kind of yoga that the author of the article was asking Tiwari about. More precisely (or perhaps diffusely), Hinduism could be better described as the rituals, practices, and beliefs that have developed around the experience of yoga by various paths. Yet in its pure form, most closely described by raja yoga of which hatha yoga is a subset, yoga is a creedless path that requires no set of beliefs or faith from its practitioner. Rather, the experience of the practice itself creates a knowing that is absent untested belief and faith, while paradoxically also becoming the basis for faith that builds and accelerates the momentum of the practice. That last sentence would certainly never make it as a soundbite, and given that the mainstream news just wants soundbites, one has to wonder whether Mr. Tiwari knowingly fed them something sexy so he could get quoted in Time. His clumsy and inappropriate quote will only give Time’s largely Christian readership more reason to unnecessarily hallelujah-ize yoga even more. He did Hindus and Christians a disservice by opening his sloppy pie-hole.

Yet none of these things are the most disturbing aspect of all this. Ranking at the top of distressing elements is how Christian yoga and some quotes from the article, contrary to the spirit of yoga, only serve to divide us. Behind the confusion of what Christians understand to be Christianity and what Hindus understand to be Hinduism, there’s a common yogic experience of Oneness that both religions are built around (a mindful reading of the Bible can demonstrate this). The increasing popularity and practice of hatha yoga is one of the most practical tools that helps both Hindus and Christians (and anyone else who gives it a shot) break past the fog of silly religious beliefs and begin to taste the Oneness of humanity wherein we’re all brothers and sisters. No longer must one person hate or condemn another because of variations in traditions and cultures. Creating something like Christian yoga allows Christians to continue to “otherize” Hindus in a way that still leaves the door open for them to hate, condemn, or evangelize Hindus with the belief that they are heathens headed to hell in need of salvation.

We’ll just have to hope that they practice yoga long enough for their experience to break them past this narrow, sectarian mindset. After all, wouldn’t the truly narrow-minded and ignorant ones (read: Pope Ratzinger) never even try yoga at all?

Bring on the hate mail.

(migrated from my original Livejournal post)

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