2010.09.09 01:00 - Thinking About Meditation

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    The Guardian for this meeting was Zen Arado. The comments are by Zen Arado. Present were Archmage Atlantis and Calvino Rabeni

     My retreat last week and the purpose of retreats:

    Zen Arado: Hi Arch
    Archmage Atlantis: Hello Zen, late at night for you,,...or may be earliy moning.....
    Zen Arado: 9 am for me
    Archmage Atlantis: I aee and subtract so randomly
    Archmage Atlantis: Ah, yes 5 hours later
    Zen Arado: you wouldn't see me around at 4am :)
    Archmage Atlantis: How in N Ireland
    Archmage Atlantis: "How is life"
    Zen Arado: fine thanks
    Archmage Atlantis: fumble fingers
    Zen Arado: me too :)
    Zen Arado: I was at a zen retreat last week
    Zen Arado: wed to Sunday
    Archmage Atlantis: Tell me about it, if you would.....I am interested
    Zen Arado: what do you want to know?
    Zen Arado: Hi Cal :)
    Archmage Atlantis: Your impression of it's value,,,,,did you get any revelations">,,,,,that sort of thing
    Calvino Rabeni: Hi zen and archmage
    Archmage Atlantis: Hi Cal
    Zen Arado: hmmm....nothing outstanding
    Zen Arado: think it has long term value though
    Zen Arado: when I first started doing rereats I expected some great enlightenment experience
    Zen Arado: but you just do the practice and see what happens
    Archmage Atlantis: Thinks a moment
    Zen Arado: I used to feel so calm after a retreat but I don't really notice that now
    Zen Arado: perhaps my general level of calmness is greater now
    Archmage Atlantis: That was my thought
    Archmage Atlantis: But not all of it
    Archmage Atlantis: My second thought
    Archmage Atlantis: is that there is a learning beyond the calmness
    Zen Arado: it's the same way we start meditation practice - we think 'what am I going to get out of doing this'
    Archmage Atlantis: agree
    Zen Arado: there is a learning process but I think it is very long term and subtle
    Zen Arado: it's funny but I don't think you always notice that you have awakened to an extent
    Archmage Atlantis: When I go into the garden each day, the plants and animals have changed,,,,I think it may be subtle in that way,,,,,sane gardern, different composition

    About 'mental chatter':

    Zen Arado: yes - if there is less mind chatter we notice things around us so much more
    Calvino Rabeni: I think one notices more if one is receptive
    Archmage Atlantis: Mayy persons have told me of tjhe chatter in the mind
    Zen Arado: I'm reading a book about awakening experience at the moment
    Calvino Rabeni: A dull mind may be relatively free of chatter, yet notice very little
    Zen Arado: yes Cal - a different kind of switching off I guess
    Calvino Rabeni: What's going on other than noticing, and other than "chatter", I wonder?
    Archmage Atlantis: For me, there is no chatte,,,only ovservation
    Archmage Atlantis: Thatt was a difficult sentence
    Zen Arado: don't know Cal
    Zen Arado: you are fortunate then Arch
    Zen Arado: I think most of us suffer from it
    Zen Arado: you don't see it until you start to meditate
    Archmage Atlantis: Since my hearing has been going in thelast few mohts, I have to ask ppl to repeat with my ears turned toward them
    Calvino Rabeni: What different kinds of mental phenomena do you label as "chatter", Zen?
    Zen Arado: just the usual churning over things that are important to me in my life
    Zen Arado: I say 'churning' because a lot of it is repetitive and useless
    Zen Arado: worrying about things
    Zen Arado: or thinking about what I did or said in the recent past
    Archmage Atlantis: My eX-partner would sometimes say that there were conversations in hin head'
    Calvino Rabeni: what is it like as content, is what I am curious - words, feelings, images, movements, sounds, random shifts in attention?
    Zen Arado: mostly words I think

    The 'language of thought' hypothesis:

    Zen Arado: we have a 'language of thought' don't you agree?
    Zen Arado: but the words also stir up feelings as we relive incidents
    Zen Arado: and of course these is visual imagery associated with reliving incidents from the past
    Calvino Rabeni: A language of thought? No actually I don't agree with that idea
    Archmage Atlantis: Let me see if I can say this correctly
    Archmage Atlantis: I have no language of thought in my head
    Archmage Atlantis: I only have imprssiions
    Calvino Rabeni: I think the word business is more like (for analogy) the words in this chat window, and that the real "thought" is more like what the computer is doing in its chip.
    Calvino Rabeni: I understand that Arch
    Zen Arado: well, how do you think about things without using word labels you have for them?
    Calvino Rabeni: No problem
    Calvino Rabeni: Hardly any of my thinking uses words, Zen
    Zen Arado: it's a debate in philosophy
    Calvino Rabeni: words might just be a kind of commentary if I think I might need to explain something verbally to other humans
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes I know, and I think the philosophy is mainly of the armchair variety
    Zen Arado: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/language-thought/
    Calvino Rabeni: sad to say
    Archmage Atlantis: gestaltn isnnthen best word I have... a knowing and seeing of the whole and the parts withought analysis
    Archmage Atlantis: *gestalt is the
    Calvino Rabeni: It doesn't make sense from an evolution or "design" standpoint, any more than thinking the computer *really* operates using the stuff the pixels show on the screen
    Zen Arado: words are an abstract representation of reality
    Calvino Rabeni: Inside the processor, no one quite knows yet, but the words haven't been found in the brain, for instance
    Zen Arado: but you have to have the words in your own brain before you can convey a meaning to others
    Archmage Atlantis: Reality is more abstract than words, images, and song can capture.....for me
    Zen Arado: they will never find words or consciousness in the brain I think
    Zen Arado: to me it is like arithmetic
    Zen Arado: you have four oranges in front of you and take away two and you see there are two left
    Archmage Atlantis: we will learn the mechanics, think the math, speake the words, and be the thing,, imo
    Zen Arado: so you abstract from the situation by using numbers so you can do the same calculation on paper and then in your head
    Archmage Atlantis: Not reallly
    Archmage Atlantis: The calculation on paper is ab approximation
    Zen Arado: mental arithmetic?
    Archmage Atlantis: No
    Zen Arado: yes - like words aren't the real thing, only an abstraction - but a useful one
    Archmage Atlantis: arithmatic is a reductrion
    Zen Arado: trouble is we start to treat words and concepts as if they were real
    Zen Arado: yes of course Arch
    Archmage Atlantis: Best we can do for now

    The desensitizing process:

    Zen Arado: the author of book I am reading (Waking From Sleep by Steve Taylor) says we 'desensitize' ourselves to reality
    Zen Arado: to reduce the psychic energy needed for perception
    Calvino Rabeni: What does that mean, exactly?
    Archmage Atlantis: Reality is another quite large topic
    Zen Arado: to conserve energy we can use for mind chatter
    Calvino Rabeni: Why would perception take a certain amount of psychic energy that might happen to be in short supply?
    Zen Arado: we 'get used to things' - don't notice familiar things any more
    Calvino Rabeni: Wouldn't evolution supply an adequate supply of that psychic energy to get the perception to work?
    Calvino Rabeni: :) Archmage, I'd say *rather*
    Zen Arado: yes - but it's as though the self-survival mechanism wants more energy for thinking
    Archmage Atlantis: I hvw ro insert thishere, enery is unbpunded
    Archmage Atlantis: *unbounded
    Zen Arado: so it diverts it away from the present moment and the beauty of all that is around us
    Calvino Rabeni: I guess the "machine" is pretty messed up, is that ie?
    Zen Arado: if we go to a new place we look all around and really notice everything
    Calvino Rabeni: If we are a machine, these theories seem to say it is broken and jammed
    Archmage Atlantis: No, Cal, only the machine operators are messed up[ :)
    Zen Arado: it just seems as if the ego survival mechanism, though important, has become too dominant
    Zen Arado: hence the idea of 'not knowing ' Cal
    Zen Arado: we do too much thinking

    Cal asks how this relates to dreams:

    Calvino Rabeni: So how does the "chatter" theory relate to the studies of the purpose of dreaming?
    Zen Arado: don't know -
    Calvino Rabeni: Is dreaming "chatter", or is it a processing activity of the brain, arranging and finding patterns?
    Zen Arado: not sure if he deals with that in this book
    Calvino Rabeni: And if it is processing, then wouldn't that possibly be going on all the time?
    Zen Arado: maybe it is just random activity though
    Calvino Rabeni: Just?
    Zen Arado: well - it may not have any purpose
    Calvino Rabeni: A certain precentage, or mainly, is what I meant to ask

    I changed to talking about consciousness:

    Zen Arado: was reading that consciousness may not be confined to the brain
    Calvino Rabeni: If it isn't then is it somewhere else, or does that mean it doesn't make sense to say it is "somewhere" ?
    Zen Arado: it may be an 'a priori' reality
    Zen Arado: there ia a fundamental gulf between matter and conscious experience
    Zen Arado: don't know - but it may not be as simple as just assuming that the brain produces consciousness
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes
    Zen Arado: there are reasons to suspect consciousness is not confined to the brain
    Zen Arado: consciousness is the 'hard' problem of philosophy of mund
    Zen Arado: mind *
    Calvino Rabeni: I think it's a categorical error - the question about what it is contained in, makes sense only if you think consciousness refers to an object, or a substance, as if it were matter
    Zen Arado: yes - but it seems to have some relationship to the brain
    Zen Arado: you ever thought about 'the headless way'?
    Calvino Rabeni: It's a little unfortunate that Chalmers coined that term "the hard problem" - a way of focusing research in unfruitful directions - a little like daring ecologists to find "forest-ness"
    Calvino Rabeni: IMHO that is :)

    On 'The Headless Way':

    Calvino Rabeni: The headless way is I think basically another flavor of transcendental phenomenology, close as I can tell
    Calvino Rabeni: What do you think it is, Zen?
    Zen Arado: he also says 'consciousness should be seen as a fundamental feature of the world alongside mass, charge, and space time'
    Calvino Rabeni: Sorry, remind me who you mean, please?
    Zen Arado: the HW is an interesting way to think about consciousness to I think
    Zen Arado: I mean - there is this vast space of....what....sitting on our shoulders
    Zen Arado: Chalmers
    Zen Arado: I have the quote in the book I am reading atm :)
    Calvino Rabeni: RIght thanks, I thought you meant - forgot the author of "On Having No Head"
    Zen Arado: Douglas Harding
    Calvino Rabeni: Do you think this headless theory offers insights relevant to other perspectives on mind?
    Calvino Rabeni: I guess I mean, does it "play well with others" ? :)
    Zen Arado: I think it's more a practical technique
    Zen Arado: a different way of seeing than the conventional way we are conditioned to think
    Calvino Rabeni: So, on par with visualizations, or other mental techniques?
    Zen Arado: the practical experiments he gives are very important
    Zen Arado: he he
    Calvino Rabeni: Or perhaps like a form of meditation practice ...
    Zen Arado: you got me there Cal :)
    Calvino Rabeni: Sorry for the endless questions :)
    Calvino Rabeni: But, what would "important" mean in this context?
    Zen Arado: I am not against vizualization thechniques
    Zen Arado: but I prefer to meditate using zazen or shikantaza
    Calvino Rabeni: Posture is said to be important in Zazen practice
    Zen Arado: oh yes very
    Calvino Rabeni: How do we know that is so?
    Zen Arado: if you sit all day you soon find out
    Zen Arado: if your spine is erect and balanced you don't get back pain
    Calvino Rabeni: So, for mechanical advantage, to start with
    Zen Arado: yes
    Zen Arado: walking meditation is important too I think
    Calvino Rabeni: I think it might also be to form a distraction from mentation - that is, to replace one kind of chatter with another, the activity of being aware of the body, to keep it in position.
    Zen Arado: hard for me to get the idea of it but I found a way to concentrate on slow movements with a wheelchair
    Calvino Rabeni: :) Nice
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, I believe one can find an analogue of walking meditation for different circumstances

    Awareness/mental chatter distinction:

    Zen Arado: I see coming back to the breath and the body as an object of concenration as a way of coming back from mental chatter
    Calvino Rabeni: But isn't that another kind of chatter?
    Zen Arado: you could say just coming back to being or awareness
    Zen Arado: non - how could it be?
    Calvino Rabeni: With the breath or body serving as a different content than the mental activity
    Zen Arado: a sensation isn't chatter
    Calvino Rabeni: I would call it chatter
    Zen Arado: chatter = thinking, to me
    Calvino Rabeni: Not really - but I'd class sensation, perception, etc, along with the kind of thinking you call chatter
    Zen Arado: only if you think about the sensation, perception
    Calvino Rabeni: All different forms of mental activity in the field of awareness
    Zen Arado: a concentration on a sensation is a form of mental activity I guess
    Calvino Rabeni: I go along with that
    Zen Arado: but not a stream of thoughts
    Calvino Rabeni: suppose I'm meditating, and I am not thinking, but I'm restless, and feel like I'm sitting on an anthill
    Zen Arado: that leads to more thoughts and then more feelings
    Zen Arado: to me 'not thinking' is almost impossible
    Zen Arado: it's more a continuous process of drawing the mind back to the object of concentration over and over again
    Zen Arado: though the mind does (through that process) become quieter
    Calvino Rabeni: Is Zazen considered a concentration practice?
    Zen Arado: and I would investigate the feeling of restlessness
    Calvino Rabeni: So by investigate, that doesn't mean "think about it" I guess?
    Zen Arado: not sure if that fits it
    Calvino Rabeni: OK
    Zen Arado: more like noticing it
    Zen Arado: just seeing it - not thinking about it
    Calvino Rabeni: Same as with thoughts and feelings and sensations and perceptions - just notice them?
    Zen Arado: a lot of zazen practice is 'just seeing'
    Zen Arado: yes
    Zen Arado: becoming aware of them
    Calvino Rabeni: Ok, then to zazen those varieties of mental phenomena are treated equivalently?
    Zen Arado: shining the light of awareness on them
    Zen Arado: these are only rough guidelines Cal
    Zen Arado: you can't analyse what's going on in a philosophical way I think
    Zen Arado: if you do you are into more mental chatter
    Zen Arado: you can't 'figure it out' that way
    Calvino Rabeni: Not if you make a description between description-of-method and application-of-method
    Calvino Rabeni: I think that is frequently a source of confusion
    Zen Arado: your experience would be different to mine and anyone elses anyway
    Zen Arado: but you use what method works for you
    Zen Arado: even using the breath - some concentrate on tip of nose, others on abdomen
    Zen Arado: description is explaining what you do - application is doing it
    Calvino Rabeni: Right that's what I meant
    Calvino Rabeni: quite different
    Calvino Rabeni: so doing isn't a philosophical analysis, once practice is learned, the philosophy disappears
    Zen Arado: exactly
    Calvino Rabeni: I was at a friend's house today, and saw a booklet titled "44 Ways to Breathe"
    Zen Arado: it's a process
    Zen Arado: :)
    Zen Arado: some schools really go into things you should notice about the breath
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, apparently that book was published by such a school
    Calvino Rabeni: And it went beyond "noticing", as far as I could notice
    Zen Arado: but to me it starts to make you start thinking again too much
    Calvino Rabeni: Well if you learn the practice - this is the assumption of those approaches - then it isn't thinking anymore, it's variations or refinements of practice
    Calvino Rabeni: So the thinking is during the learning stage
    Zen Arado: it's certainly better than thinking about your life problems
    Calvino Rabeni: heheh
    Zen Arado: in Zen we have a practice called Skikantaza
    Calvino Rabeni: Tell me a little, please
    Zen Arado: you just notice whatever comes up and allow it to go again
    Zen Arado: like' the blue sky does not interfer with the white cloud that appears and disappears'
    Zen Arado: just an open awareness
    Zen Arado: that's as best as I can explain it
    Zen Arado: anyway I have to go now Cal
    Zen Arado: and Arch if you are still there :)
    Calvino Rabeni: Do you believe there's a separate witness that does the awareness, or is it a "not knowing" thing?
    Calvino Rabeni: Ah, yes, thanks Zen for enggaing with all my questions
    Zen Arado: it's just our 'true self' basic awareness' 'being' whatever you like to call it
    Zen Arado: np
    Calvino Rabeni: Take care, namaste :)
    Zen Arado: it helps me to think about these things too
    Calvino Rabeni: :)
    Zen Arado: gassho
    Zen Arado: bye

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