Paradox of Mediation

In 2017, Robert Wright published a book “Why Buddhism is True” . In this book he described the paradox of meditation, which I have had for a long time.

He said: “There isn’t supposed to be success at meditating. As any good mediation teacher will tell you, if you talk about mediation in terms of success or failure, you are misunderstanding what mediation is.

I would not advocate mediation if I did not think there was something people could achieve by it.  Granted, it may be best for people who are meditating to not think about succeeding , but that is because thinking about succeeding gets int eh ways of success.  Granted, if you do achieve meditative “success”, that may lead to a new frame of mind that is less caught up in the pursuit of success that your old frame of mind – less relentlessly focused on achieving certain kinds of distant material goals, more aware of the here and now.

In sum, you can best achieve success at mediation by not pursuing success, and achieving this success may mean caring less about success, at least as success is conventionally defined. “

As I mentioned before, I started meditation because that I was motivated by several books, which described the beauty of meditation.

I think the major paradox came from the wide spectrum of meaning of “Success”. There are too many complexity of this word “success”. If we define it as “fully-focused”, the logic of “meditation and success” may become easier. Therefore, “meditation” is the practice or process; “success” is the goal of meditation, which is fully-focused.

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Vipassana in real-life and work? Insight from a book “Charisma Myth”

Although many Vipassana mediators feel significant benefits from Vipassana practice, many Vipassana mediators, particularly newbie Vipassana meditators like me, often ask:  how do I integrate this Vipassana techniques into real life?

Believe it or not, an interesting book introduced me to applying Vipassana techniques in work and life a few years ago, before I knew Vipassana. This book is The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, written by Olivia Fox Cabane.

The author broke down charisma into three kinds of charisma: presence, warmth, power. These three types of charisma are composed of a set of concrete and specific behaviors. For building charisma, she advised that everyone might train themselves with these behaviors. When I look back now, many techniques she suggested are highly related to Vipassana meditation. In other words, Olivia Fox Cabane did an extraordinary job to integrate Vipassana meditation details into charismatic behaviors.

To train presence charisma, she advised us to meditate. In life, a quick practical tip is to sense your toe. Sensations from the toes can quickly reset yourself to the present moment. A Vipassana mediator can immediately recognize this is a Vipassana technique related to sensations.

To train warmth charisma, she advised us to practice metta and compassion to other people and to ourselves. For example, imagine the person you are interacting with as an angel with wings. Further to apply self-compassion to calibrate ourselves to the charismatic mode.

To train power charisma, although she did not directly used Vipassana, she mentioned people with power charisma don’t fidget. One part of Vipassana taught us “Anicca: everything is changing”; i.e. observation of sensation will make sensations go away. After practicing of observation of sensations, it is very helpful for us to keep an equanimous stance. For instance, if you feel an itch on your nose, because you know it will go away soon, you do not have to scratch it. Furthermore, the author advised us to handle uncomfortable things by focusing on observing sensations.

The whole book is a practical guide or a unique introduction to a Vipassana course. When I retrospect both the book and my experience with vipassana, I feel more promisie with Vipassana. Maybe charisma is a vision or path to connect Vipassana with our real life and work. Maybe for people who do not easily understand Vipassana meditation, charism is an overlook for Vipassana meditation.

p.s. When you see those people who practiced Vipassana for a long time, you can sense them from their behaviors: they project warmth through their eyes and bodies; they are present and engage when they are with you; they are composed and calm. Beyond those charisma components, they are also humble.

3+4 = 4+3? Meditation Timer Experiment Report

In ancient China, a person raised a monkey. He fed the monkey 4 nuts in the morning and 3 nuts in the evening. The monkey was sad and cried. So the person gave 3 nuts in the morning and 4 nuts in the evening, the monkey was happy. The person easily outsmarted the monkey with “3+4” and “4+3”.

At the first glance, this story showed the monkey was silly and did not know how to count. Going deeper, there is a possibility that the monkey had specific preference. Interestingly, I found I am like the monkey.

After the 10-day vipassana meditation course, I decided to practice two 1-hour meditation each day. For me, to mediate everyday is not very hard. As long as I schedule it on my calendar, I follow it pretty well. My challenge is to sit through the full hour.

At beginning, I arbitrarily thought too many “ding”-intervals over 1-hour mediation are distracting. Therefore, I set the timer to ding once at 15’; when it finished at 1 hour, a finishing bell rang; i.e. a 15’+45’ model. Pretty quickly I heard 15’, but when I was in the 45’ session, it was a little bit too long. I felt like it was endless and boring during the last 10 minutes in some day.

After 10 days of this model, I reset the timer to ding once at 45’; when it finished at 1 hour, a finishing bell rang; i.e. a 45’+15’ model. Amazingly, I felt much better. It did not take too long for me to hear the “Ding”; it was not too long to hear the finishing bell. It seems my monkey mind, like the monkey, loves this new 45’+15’ model.

This is my beginner’s experience on daily practice. How about you? Can you share your experience? What model does your mind follow?

One-degree Warmer

“Did you sense the air you breathed out was one degree warmer than the air you breathed in?”

On the 3rd day of a Vipassana mediation course, we focused on sensations of the tiny area between nostrils and upper lip. Theoretically, the air we breathe out is a little warmer, maybe only 1°F warmer, than the air we breathe in because our body temperature is always warmer. It should be easier to sense it in colder weather, but it is more difficult to sense it indoors or in normal or warmer weather.

It took me pretty much no time to physically sense a 1° warmer air. Interestingly, I realized that it is very easy to mentally notice if people add 1° of warmth to their voice, words or gestures in their interactions with other people.

1. Warmth in words in daily life

Lets me give an example:

Imagine you want to say yes when a colleague invites you to have lunch together tomorrow…

Your Colleague: Do you want to have lunch together?

You (can agree with slightly different answers)

  • Okay;
  • Yeah;
  • Yes.
  • Awesome! I will absolutely come.

Do you sense different warmth with the different answers? I have a colleague who often says, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” You certainly can sense the warmth.

2. Warmth in voices in daily life

This is also easy to understand in daily life. A company trained their employees to be 1° warmer in their voices for business. For instance, when you call them, they pick up the phone with a neutral or calm “Hello,” and after you tell them your name, the employees immediately add warmth in their voice with either smiles or use more excited voices. In this way, they make you feel that you are very welcomed.

3. Warmth in body languages in daily life/work

Warmth in body languages in daily life is very common. It is easy to sense temperature in comparing these two scenarios:

  • a person talks with you and reads his phone simultaneously;
  • the same person talks with you with a warm gaze into your eyes and his body slightly leans forward to you.

Warmth of body languages is even more important at work. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, brought up the idea “Lean In” to encourage women to lead more. In fact, “lean in” is a body language to show your participation, warmth and even passion.

Note, warmth is the vehicle of love and positivity

We all want to be positive people; however, this thought is like a New Year Resolutions, easier to say than to do. When I say I want to be healthier, it barely means anything most time. However, if I say I will run a 2K every morning in gym, it becomes easier. It’s easier to manage an idea if it’s connected to a concrete practice.

Similarly, it is very hard to “be positive” or “be with Metta” without any concrete practices. The easiest practice might be to add 1° of warmth in our words, voice and body languages. Or, just add 1° of frequency of the warmer words, voices and body languages. In other words, words or voice or body language are vehicles that we mindfully deliver the warmth and positivity.

My daily practice on “1° warmer”

After I understood this, I started my mindful daily practice on 1° of warmer.

  • When it is time to say “OK”, now I mindfully say “Yes”; when it is time to say “Yes”, now I say “Yes, yes” or “yes, absolutely”.
  • I started to add smiles into my voice more often, even when I’m on the phone.
  • When I listen to other people, I lean forward 1° to show my attention.

P.S. The first time I met people who practiced vipassana meditation at Dhamma Center, the most impressive thing to me is their eyes. Their eyes projected stable warmth, which radiated deeply to the soft spot in my heart. “I want those warm eyes.” My practice with meditation is always warmer by this simple goal.

Vipasssana Mediation vs “USS Callister” Episode of Black Mirror

“USS Callister” is the 1st episode of the fourth season of the Netflix TV show Black Mirror which debuted on 29 December 2017.

The episode follows Robert Daly, a reclusive but gifted programmer of a popular online game who is bitter over the lack of recognition he gets from his coworkers. He takes out his frustrations by simulating a Star Trek-like space adventure within the game, using his co-workers’ DNA to create digital clones of them. Acting as the captain of the USS Callister starship, Daly is able to order his co-workers around, submit them to his will, and mistreat them if they get out of line. When Daly brings newly hired Nanette Cole into his game, she encourages the other copies to revolt against Daly. (referenced from wiki)

1.

Walking into the room and sitting on a chair, Daly was starting to game by merging into his own Star trek-like space adventure gaming world… He is a god-like controller of other people in this world: control and suppress all of the people in the spaceship by mistreating them; control and suppress everyone’s behaviors with fear; control and suppress all these people by mistreating them; … He believes “controlling and suppressing” is the way to happiness. 

2.

Walking into the room and sitting on a cushion, I was starting to meditate and merging into my own Vipasssana meditation world… I am an observer of my own sensations in this world: observe sensation of a blood vessel jumping under the eyelid; observe sensation of itching on the lower neck; observe sensation of pain on the right shoulder; observe sensation of growing pain on the knees; observe sensation of temperature on both toes; …observe sensation of the disappearing of itching on the lower neck; … I believe “observing sensations and finding equanimity” is the way to happiness.

3.

In the USS Callister gaming world, Daly believed that “controlling and suppressing” is the action for liberation; fear is powerful. However,people being suppressed revolt against Daly; suppression is not the way to liberation.

In the Vipasssana meditation world, we believed that reaction is not the action; love and compassion are powerful. All sensations are equanimous and serve us to get out of suffering; Dhamma is the way to liberation.

Maybe nobody agrees with me to compare Vipassana meditation to the USS Callister game. It is funny that I found that behavior-wise, we do similar things; mentally, we are opposite. 

These books gave me insights to sign up for a 10-day Vipassana meditation

Solid evidences from neuroscience support that meditation not only reduces stress, but also changes the brain; i.e. meditators had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision-making. According to Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School who studied  mediation, 8-week of 40 minutes of daily mediation practice can change the brain. She suggested finding a good teacher for mediation if you are serious on it.

However, knowing these scientific evidence is not enough to motivate me to be serious with mediation. Interestingly, several books I read in 2017 gave me significant insights, directly or indirectly, to sign up the 10-day Vipassana meditation (Dec. 20-31, 2017).

1. The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection (published in 2015).

This is a non-fiction book by Michael Singer.  It is rare because it is an autobiography-like book related to his life experience of meditation.

To shut down the noise-like talking in his mind, the author started meditation practice in his 20’s. He even got up at 3am to practice. During 1.5 years, to achieve the best meditation result, he only ate a salad every other day to avoid distraction from food. He described in detail one of his deep mediation experiences in nature during a hiking activity. He described deep meditation is “Absolute silence” and total no “I”. “Eventually, all consciousness of my body and my surroundings was gone. I was not there, only the flow was there.”

The meditation helps him find the voice of his true self. Later on, he incorporates his mediation in his daily life (the most amazing part!) and volunteered to teach meditation in prison for over 30 years. For meditation, he built a Temple of Universe, a 900-acre meditation center in Gainesville, FL.

Fascinated by his description of his meditation experiences, Similar to him, I really want to shut down those “I” or “my” voices in my mind. I am eager to experience of “absolute silence” .

2. The Razor’s Edge (published in 1944).

This is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, the famous novelist who wrote The Moon and Sixpence.  The book tells the story of Larry Darrell, an American pilot traumatized by his experiences in World War I,  who sets off in search of some transcendent meaning in his life. The book described Larry’s deep meditation experience.

3. Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (published in 2017)

The authors of this non-fiction book, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, spent 4 years investigating high performance. The book described the “flow” state, which a 10-day Vipassana meditation can lead to, which often shows up in the 7th or 8th day in the 10-day practice. (It is very interesting that I started to experience it on the 7th day of practice in my 10-day vipassana mediation.)

All these books directed me to sign up the serious 10-day vipassana mediation. I wish S.N. Goneka had an autobiography like “The Surrender Experiment”. In particular, Goenka is a poet. His lectures have a beautiful rhythm. I am curious what big masters like Goenka experienced during deep meditation.

As a life-long learner, I questioned myself regarding whether I did the right learning before. I wonder how these deep mediators experienced and how they achieved calmness and reached “flow” state. I would like to gain first-hand experience of how mediation can impact on my own mind.

p.s. It is interesting that Vipassana mediation did not emphasize deep mediation at all. “Everything is changing (Anicca)”.