So, since my last post, I have lost my password to log in to the administrator area three times and forgotten my user name twice. Sigh. What is more impermanent? My memories or passwords and user names?
Hmmm…the brain is often referred to as a neural network. The computer is a network. Therefore, a computer is a brain? How well I rememberinformation in my brain depends on how well I encode it in the first place (which is subject to variables such as attention, emotional salience and amount of competing information); if I enter that same information into Excel and choose “Save” it’s there whether or not the computer was paying attention.
Sure. I could drop orange juice on my computer and fry it. BUT if I thought to back it up before frying it, I could still retrieve the information and access it. If I clonk my head, no such luck.
If I die, my Facebook profile can be memorialized indefinitely, while my thoughts and memories disperse.
What is impermanence any way, if it exists only in contrast to permanence?
In the Buddhist life view, the acknowledgement of suffering as a part of life is central. BUT equally as important is to look at those things that are causing the suffering and see if they can be neutralized. That desirecauses suffering can be difficult to wrap your brain around. After all, some kind of desire or another is much of the basis behind any action we take and any goal we achieve. The desire can be purely selfish (I want to own a Porsche) or ostensibly selfless (I’m going to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity). It doesn’t change the nature of that it is desire and in desirous fervor we can quickly lose our perspective.
This is a lesson I will likely still be learning for many lifetimes to come…<sigh>
My contemplation of this, however, led me to examine boredom. What is boredom? Is it possible to actually be bored if you are fully engaged in living life in the Now? What does boredom represent? This all started when I realized that I am bored with my iPhone cover. Plebeian, I know. Perhaps if I was a nun or abbott I could present you with something more exciting.
So, any way…I’ve started randomly taking off the cover on my iPhone and using it without a cover. Then I’ll put it back on. Then take it off again. Passing through Borders a few weeks ago, I saw some cute looking covers and boom! What hit me? Craving. Craaaaaaaaving. Ooooooh, I waaaaanted that new iPhone cover. But it was made for an iPhone 4 and mine is only an iPhone 3. So, I couldn’t plop down my $15 to soothe my soul.
The lack of compatibility with my device offered me the opportunity to examine the source of my craving though. And that is when I could see the circular connection between the boredom I had been feeling with my old case and the craving I felt for the new case. Here’s the catcher question though: do I crave the case because I am bored with my old one, or am I bored with the old one because I crave a new case? Hmmmmmmm…
Brief connection with “don’t know” mind.
This visceral connection with the pain that desire causes was a wonderful educational experience for me. I needed to tolerate some uncomfortable feelings. To sit with them. To see how they relate to ego clinging. After all a new iPhone case will not actually improve my life. Would it make me more cool? Not really. After all, not too many people actually see it. So, what is it? What would it mean to me to have a new iPhone case? In the short run, the craving would be assuaged. That uncomfortable place of want would be filled – temporarily. I would feel comfort. I might even take joy in whatever new characters or colors adorned my new case. If that were the end of the story, I could just go online and find a cute case for my “obsolete” iPhone.
The problem is that I know the moment I get it home the whole cycle will begin again. I will enjoy it for a while. Feel fulfilled. Feel that little piece of giddy joy. Then it will fade. There will be a period of neutrality – neither craving something new, nor truly appreciating what I have. Then the boredom will begin again. I have no doubt that there will be a plethora of retailers waiting for the agony of my craving to boil over again. And it will never stop.
I see all of this.
I recognize it.
I am practicing sitting with the uncomfortable feelings that this craving generates.
I’m still bored with my iPhone cover.
My evolving understanding of meditation is that it is supposed to remove you from your every day mindset and sort of clear the decks for being alert to the things that you may have become numb to. The formal instructions I have received in meditation to date usually involve sitting quietly in proper posture and maintaining focus on the movement of your breath while looking down calmly.
Anyone who’s spent even one moment meditating will soon see the problems inherent in the ideas of even just sitting quietly in proper posture, forget about focusing on the breath. But looking down…maybe no so much. I’ve started examining the ways in which traditional instructions in meditation may actually reinforce the structure of our current lifestyle in a way that it did not centuries ago when the instructions were formulated.
In terms of movement, people used to move a lot more in their daily lives, working making things happen. Sitting still would actually take them out of their typical environment to a different place. Today, most people sit at desks all day or drive in cars. We sit at the computer or by the television for our entertainment. For the modern human, it is energetic movement that is the challenge, not sitting still.
Eye gaze is something that I’ve thought about extensively in this regard. When I think about my typical activities, I realize that I actually spend a great deal of time with my eyes cast downward and close. Reading the music of my students, typing on the computer, reading my email on my iPhone, reading a book for pleasure. Similarly to the movement issue, I believe that the modern person spends so much time with our eyes cast downward, that for us it is looking up and around that is the challenge.
Try this. Keep your head straight forward and just pivot your eyeballs up. Feel the pull at the bottom of your eyes? Those are muscles stretching; muscles that have been in a static contracted state for too long. The more intense the stretch you feel, the more contracted and tight they are.
Again, look back in history. As people moved around they looked around. When there was social interaction, it was live and in a room where there is variable focal distance. To listen to one person or another, your head and eyes would pivot around to guide your attention. Not true for Skype or Facebook chat. It’s not that I think these things are bad, but I do believe that when it comes to meditation, we should be challenging ourselves to do something that is different from what our every day conditioning makes us do.
So, in meditation I look up. Then part of my practice includes not fearing the fact that I am doing things differently than the way in which I was instructed – which is also counter to my every day conditioning and brings me to that place of discomfort from which I can examine life.
It’s funny that the first post in a blog about Buddhism isn’t going to talk about Buddhism at all. I’m not going to talk about how much I love Pema Chodron or expound on my insights into life. Instead, I’m going to honor the spirit of a man who recently passed away and who was for me one of the most inspirational people I have come into direct contact with – Arthur Lessac.
For those of you who don’t know of him, he is one of the great voice/movement/expression teachers of our time. And “our time” is expansive in this sense. Arthur Lessac died at age 101, only a few days after teaching an extensive course in Croatia.
Arthur Lessac (see URL below)
I met Arthur Lessac last year at a course with speech-language pathologists and singing teachers (of which I am both). One hundred years old at the time, he bench pressed a 200 pound man, led us in movement and dance exercises and spoke in a voice as clear and strong as anyone I’ve known. He exuded a joy in the exploration of life that was both genuine and inspiring.
Walking to work this morning, I thought about him and remembered how he used to encourage us all to walk as if we are dancing. Energy (NRG) will carry you in a way you wouldn’t expect. I thought about his demonstration of that last year and some clips of him in memorium that I watched yesterday. So, I started to dance to work, copying his bouncing and circular arm and leg motions and I was instantly consumed by joy.
This was the most intensely genuine emotional experience I have had in quite some time. It was akin to my experience in sitting meditation with a Zen group, when they asked us all to turn around and face the wall – WHITE. That was it. Today; JOY. That was it.
So, that is why I decided to write about everyday Buddhism. See you soon!
To learn more about Arthur Lessac’s work, visit: http://www.lessacinstitute.com/index2.html
Now buy the Book!