Friday, August 22, 2014

Dharma Talk 013: Waking Up

This is an essay that came out of the Atlanta Soto Zen center, circa 1993, author unknown.

Waking Up

You won't experience God, or Truth, sitting in a church on Sunday listening to a man talk about a book written hundreds of years ago, my friend.  Go spend a few days by yourself in nature, or look into the vast, silent eyes of a child, or sit still a very long time and look deeply into the eyes of your lover or a very dear friend.

True spiritual practice is not something we do once a week on Sunday or only once a day by sitting in silent meditation or prayer.  It is a deep commitment to keep our "consciousness" alive, to stay Awake, to the never ending, ever changing, present moment.

Just because our eyes are open does not mean we are Awake.  Anyone who really starts to observe this deeply conditioned mind we have, notices how often we are like "sleepwalkers" dreaming our lives away, lost in thought.

There is nothing wrong with thought, but if you are always thinking, you are not aware.  As I write these words, it is difficult to stay aware, or awake, to the present moment as I am concentrating, or limiting my awareness.  But as I slow down and take notice of the feel of the pen in my hand, the posture of my body and any tension it holds, the sounds of birds outside my tent (arkk-arkk), a plane (burrrr), and feel the exhilaration and inhalation of my breathing, I expand my awareness or wake up to the present.

To read or write an article, to build a house or work a computer one needs to think, but the overwhelming majority of thoughts spinning through the mind have nothing to do with Reality - this NOW moment.

From the moment of awakening in the morning until sleep at night, the mind is constantly churning out memories, plans, opinions, judgments and fantasies, and our attention to "what-is-actually-happening-this-moment" is slim at best.

There is no need to believe this!  Belief has nothing to do with being Awake.  Pay attention to your own life and ask yourself these questions.

How often have you been driving down the freeway and realize you've been daydreaming, asleep to Reality the past few miles?

Are you truly conscious when you eat food, tasting each bite, or are you also reading something or lost in worries or plans?

Right now, are you aware of your body posture and any tension it is holding, sounds in the background, your exhalations?

The simple fact is we are rarely awake to the present moment.

NOW is the only time there is, my friend.  The future is never here and the past, whether one minute ago or one thousand years, is just a memory trace residing in our brain cells and body tissues.

When we deeply explore the question of "Who am I?", all we come up with are memories of experiences we've had in the past.  As the teacher Krishnamurti was fond of saying, "If you get a good grip on yourself, you are holding on to nothing but a memory."  And these memories are always occurring in the present moment!  It is not that there is a "self" that has memories but that our "self" is memory.

We can say the set of thoughts we call ego is built upon time, in a way is time.  All our problems are in time.  All guilt or regret is a state of mind lost in the "past" and worry and anxiety is being lost in the "future".  This present moment, however, is timeless and whole, and contains absolute peace.

Slow down, my friend.  Let go and rest in the silent, peaceful, heart-space of this moment.  After centering ourselves, the question remains of how to keep our consciousness alive, or stay awake to the wonder of the present.

Truly experiencing our breathing will help.  Not trying to control, but just feeling our inhalations and exhalations.  Breath always occurs in the present and can be used as a wake-up tool throughout the day whenever the mind wanders.

A Big step would be to cut out the noise we surround ourselves with, such as the radio and television.  We need to confront boredom, our fears, and loneliness, sooner or later.

Maintaining a spirit of silence is important too.  We cannot notice the subtle layers of thought if we are constantly chattering.  Also, notice how often we talk about people not present with us, or plans for the future, or memories of the past.

A daily silent spiritual practice will help tremendously.  Perhaps Hatha Yoga, or Tai Chi, or Aikido for those who are body oriented, or a sitting practice such as Vipassana (insight) meditation.

In Vipassana, one sits still and gives "bare attention" to whatever is arising, externally and internally, without judging it, following after it, or avoiding it.  One simply witnesses it and then lets it go.  One begins to notice how awareness clings to thought and brings the mind over and over again to "what-is-actually-going-on-in-this-moment".

A practice like Vipassana is difficult at first, and for a beginner, just sitting still for twenty minutes is an accomplishment!  Also, many people have much repressed material to work through, and perhaps, would gain more insight through a cathartic meditation or combining meditation with therapy.  Growth takes place on many different levels and insight into our conditioning may occur through a variety of experiences.

There is no stopping point in this life, my friend.  To be aware of every thought, feeling, and contraction throughout this deeply conditioned mind-body is true meditation and a never ending process.  A sense of humor is essential!  To giggle instead of becoming frustrated when realizing one has been asleep, lost on a "thought-train" of memory or fantasy is important.  At that moment you awaken!

Growth also occurs as we slow down and simplify our lives. As we simplify what we talk about, what we "feed" our consciousness, and what we do, we learn to let go and surrender to the healing peace of the present moment.

To be truly alive as a human being we need not only to do, but to BE.  To be in touch with our mind-body and the incredible suffering of the world around us, and also to be aware of the beauty, awe, and wonder of the ever changing eternal NOW.  Look!  Listen!  Stay Awake!

First scientist in 40+ years testing LSD on humans

"When people take psychedelics recreationally, in a social context," he says, "they might get preoccupied by the perceptual changes and the novelty, and they'll laugh their way through with a certain amount of confusion and anxiety. But in an experimental context, particularly in the therapeutic context, people lie on a couch with their eyes closed and have a very introspective experience. It's richer; psychologically, it's more interesting. 
Presumably he is doing fMRI scans similar to what he did with psilocybin.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Meditation Helps with Men's Emotional Intelligence

From Men developing emotional intelligence through meditation? Integrating narrative, cognitive and electroencephalography (EEG) evidence.  (Abstract)

"development of attention appeared to enhance men’s emotional intelligence, which in turn could be conducive to well-being."

Neuroscience of Mindfulness

From Neuroscience of Mindfulness: Default Mode Network, Meditation, & Mindfulness, an overview of basic brain structures and networks.

The key points listed at the end of the article (note:  DMN =  Default Mode Network, the wandering mind network, and TPN = Task Positive Network, focused or mindful):

An overactive DMN is highly correlated with negative mood states and certain mental illnesses.

The DMN can be simplistically conceptualized as a ruminative network. It directs our awareness to the past and future while largely ignoring the present. And while the DMN can be used responsibly to plan and organize, we must always be wary of its runaway force.

The TPN is involved in present moment awareness.

The TPN is engaged when we attend to the here and now. It is the action network. The TPN is our direct line to mindfulness and the Present Moment in which worry and sadness cannot survive.

The TPN and DMN are mutually exclusive. 

By activating the TPN we deactivate the DMN. This may be the most powerful lesson of our entire discussion. The next time you feel helplessly lost in worry or self-recrimination remind yourself of the power of the TPN. Go for a walk, practice yoga, sense your breath, or engage fully in a conversation with a friend. You need not overpower your DMN to escape negative thoughts. You need only to intentionally engage your TPN and allow your natural physiology to disengage your DMN.

People Hate Doing Nothing

"The investigation found that most would rather be doing something – possibly even hurting themselves – than doing nothing or sitting alone with their thoughts"

“What is striking,” the investigators write, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.”