Recently, a student told me she was meditating with her eyes closed… so far so normal, but it sounded a bit too 'fixed', so I asked why. I was told that, as she mostly uses sound as an anchor for the time being, sight was a distracting phenomenon, sight carried the mind away and she would often lose the audible anchor.
A core trait of meditation practice is to train us to re-center, to come back to an equanimous stance, free from tendencies, free from preferences and biases… so regularly drifting away is necessary for the training: without drifting, there's no training in re-centering, in re-anchoring in reality, in stepping back from obsessive thoughts (too scattered or too focused)!
If you find yourself incapable of catching the drift, incapable for very long periods of noticing it, then to train in easier conditions (e.g. with eyes closed) for a while might prove useful: any training has to be possible, manageable… or it isn't training, it's just a trap for failure.
But one should then be mindful not to get too comfortable with a practice that works "just fine": if you don't drift enough, there's not enough training anymore. There's certainly focus, but no learning, no insight…
The Buddha described appropriate concentration as "neither too loose, nor too tight." Too much control isn't helping.
This can be understood if you put back your practice into context. The goal is not a 'perfect' meditation while you meditate. That's (relatively speaking) easy. The goal is to lead a wise life, as free from conditionings as possible, responding appropriately to the situation at hand rather than clinging to prejudices and preferences…
This goal is embodied if you can re-center to an equanimous stance, if you can "step back" from the ordinary "me, myself and I", whenever circumstances carry your mind away, whenever circumstances resonate with past experiences and blind you from what's new, whenever circumstances lead to cravings or aversions, whenever circumstances make you respond in automatic (without awareness, without choice, i.e. without freedom).
This goal is not about being fine and equanimous only when everything is fine and nothing is disturbing in the least. The goal is about wisely handling the variety of conditions and circumstances out of the meditation cushion and about unconditionally finding equanimity in the midst of life.
So, when you can handle your training in controlled conditions, the cultivation is to be ramped up to a 'richer' set of circumstances.
The goal of meditation is to see reality as it is. Calm and peace are side-effects of such a clarity, of such a lack of distortions, not the goal. To see reality as it is, one has to drop many ignorant views, which is achieved by study. Studying requires appropriate effort (not so much that it leads to burn out, but not so little that no progress is measured either and despondency takes root). The study may well be experiential and beyond usual labels/concepts, but meditation is not restful in and of itself: studying is work, is effort.
Regularly push the limits of what you can handle!
If your meditation is comfortable, a safe heaven, then it's a refuge, not a raft. At times, we need to rest and a refuge is a great place to do so, but the point remains to continue the journey once rested: use the raft from refuge to refuge, even if the raft shakes, even if the raft is uncomfortable, even if effort is required! For explorers, effort doesn't equate suffering: you can embody enthusiasm as a motivation, and effort as its manifestation! Enthusiasm is always a better motivation than fear or aversion to pain; and equanimity is not met by fleeing dukkha.
Mindfulness includes mindfulness of how you feel about your practice, about your cultivation. If your current practice is challenging but doable, you're in a position to learn something (maybe not what is expected, but that's a different conversation). If your practice is too hard, too easy or too stable, then you're stuck… and adjusting (more or less temporarily) the practice is necessary.
To make it harder, maybe keep the eyes open! Maybe meditate in public transport! See if you can still remain anchored (in breath, in audible context, in any visualisation you're cultivating, in any mantra…) when the environment gets richer, louder, busier.
If the goal is about unconditionally finding equanimity in the midst of life, then it's not much a "specialised trade": it's not about being better and better in narrow, specific, well-controlled conditions. Shake the conditions a little, and more!
And when it gets beyond your ability to re-connect with equanimity, pull back a little, and learn to deal with this… It's not about running before you know how to walk, don't let ambition blind you. When ready, try pushing again! Not too easy, not too hard!
This is the practice: re-anchor in reality as often as you can, look at what needs to be done and let go of mental fabrications and other scheming as often as you can.
The cushion is helpful at times, but it's not key: the study is of your mind and how it relates to the world (mostly clinging to one branch or the next, as if your life depended on it, even though you just caught the branch that presented itself, without much choice about it!). A cushion can do nothing for you; learn to see reality (beyond the immediate branch, appropriated as your 'own' and imagined in 'need' to be defended against others) and, for this, don't limit reality to a cushion!
#Buddhism #meditation #Dharma
illustration: "Mystic Nostalgia" © Tiffani Gyatso
Individualization has been a recipe for engineering economic growth: by separating generations, one needs more houses, more TVs, more cars, more phones… Some new services were required, to compensate those once provided by familial solidarity across generations: more nurseries are needed when grandparents aren't at hand, homes for the elderlies are needed when the youngsters 'delegate' the task of helping the elders live in dignity…
As this could only go so far, individualization was pushed further… so that each member of each family would have one's own TV, computer, car, phone… Some new services were required, to compensate those once provided by the basic familial unit. Diners are all the more needed when families don't dine together, VOD services are all the more required when each person looks at a different program on their screens, ring tones services are 'required' when each person wants to individualise their own phone…
Once sharing is completely gone, and each person individually owns equipment that makes more collective sense than individual sense (house…), the pseudo-opportunity for 'growth' has run its course. How many TVs and phones and cars does one single individual need?
Blinded by GDP, people have lost sight of what counts. People have called economic 'growth' what grows on the misery of people, e.g. legal proceedings (from divorce to commercial conflicts) and healthcare… Rejoicing when conflicts multiply and when people are sick is ethically questionable, to say the least!
People also have called economic 'growth' what grows on the morally-dubious selfishness of people, e.g. financial services to minimise/avoid tax, professional lobbyists… Many new services are born around maximising the exploitation and the misery of others!
When this becomes acceptable (or even desirable) 'economic growth', then solidarity is lost, fraternity is lost (and humanity is lost: we're social animals!); the big picture is lost.
Naturally, the individualisation formats the psyche of people so that they don't even consider that solidarity might be a real possibility, that collective action could be wholesome… The individualisation also undermines all ethical guidelines (since ethics start with considering the interest of others and not only of oneself…): the law of the strongest is easily used to justify ignoring people having it worse.
This can be hidden behind one's "conscience" and other nice-sounding narratives (nice-sounding until they appear for what they are, e.g. a story of "religious freedom" to oppress others while also claiming to be oppressed before others could possibly maybe rely on the same narrative back!).
The combination of lower ethics reduced to self-serving narratives, of vanishing compassion, and of lack of trust in the power of the group (including lack of trust in democracy) mostly weakens the weaker though.
At this point, it is important to remember that individual free will and other theories of freedom never reject social responsibility: if you're free, you're not forced to be horrible to your neighbours.
And if you're not free, then there are enough humanistic guidance (religious or not) around for you to stop spending so much energy trying to explain why the world is 'fair' when it happens to be to your advantage, and unfair otherwise.
Logical fallacies abound that allow one to erroneously convince oneself that one is right (even to convince oneself that one doesn't fall for fallacies while very much falling for them); fallacies abound, but they don't make reason!
When reasoning about such issues, start by inverting roles (put yourself in the shoes of the person you so easily condemn) and see if your conclusion holds.
Try to do so with honesty: no, you wouldn't gladly accept that you should be 'fully responsible' for mere mistakes or ignorance… no, you wouldn't silently accept to be accused of 'cult' or of 'axis of evil' as soon as your spiritual tradition or non-tradition is not aligned with your interlocutors'… no, you wouldn't like others to impose on you the 'truths' from their 'right' book, while dismissing anything you might say… and no, you wouldn't necessarily recognise yourself as 'lazy' just for being unlucky at birth! You wouldn't embrace poverty as 'fair', or health issues as 'fair'. No, you wouldn't exactly dream of finishing your life alone, abandoned by others judging you to be a 'dead weight' as soon as convenient for them to do so…
Ethics start with taking into account the interest of others, not only of oneself. You can frame it as the Golden Rule (do onto others…), you can frame it as God's instructions (through its prophets) of solidarity and fraternity, you can frame it as mathematical game theory even!
At the end of the day, individualisation is an extreme, and like all extremes it runs into the wall by denying the nuances of reality, the ineffable richness of circumstances and conditions, the exceptions to the (simplistic) rules.
Individualization makes sense as long as the group's interest is also considered, as long as the balance between individual and group is engaged with, negotiated, worked through.
Collectivism is an oppressive extreme; individualism is too: the illusion of separateness —seeing essence in mere nuances— is as ignorant as the denial of nuances.
Buddhist teachings on 'selflessness' are as key as ever to embody a Middle Way between extremes. This being said, other traditions use different vocabularies but reach similar conclusions (e.g. secular Darwinism goes via 'fitness', but the fitness is to the environment, to the Other; it is not some closed loop of the individual onto itself… and the environment notably includes other members of the same specie, as well as other species —either as resources or as dangers).
The key ignorance is the blind belief that individualism is above all else. There's no freedom, no choice, when one is blind to the constraints at hand, to the context, to the Other. Blindness leads to mere randomness, neither to choice nor to appropriateness/wisdom.
A society is obviously inter-dependent with the individuals that constitute it; however, it also is a distinct phenomenon, a 'meme' if you wish, with emergent properties (e.g. a history that is 'bigger' than the history of any individual of it): just like fluid dynamics are not modelled directly out of modelling each particle of the fluid, a nation can display dynamics that aren't well captured at the individual level.
Group dynamics are complementary (not contradictory) to individual dynamics. Posing individualism as the "only way" is missing part of the picture.
Group dynamics might lead to the cessation of the tyranny of the individual, or to the tyranny of the majority. To only highlight the potential of the tyranny of the majority though is to fall into an extreme and, for Americans, a denial of the American roots as a group ending the tyranny of one (king)… A naïve belief in individualism leads to the law of the strongest. This is an issue at the heart of inequality, and not of e.g. the American dream: the latter, as the name suggests, relies on a social / national context commonly cultivated in order to give to each individual reasonable chances to move upward. The true "American dream" is at heart a collective dream, not simply some combination of unexamined selfishness and unquestioned competition that assumes "the end justifies the means".
So we ought to consider a balanced approach between group and individuality, with individuals caring about others (ethics) to the point that they don't so automatically focus on their self-interest, and with the group refraining from its natural tendency to impose uniformity / predictability (status quo) / certainty / control.
Some individuals already show dedication to others. By reducing the "don't automatically focus on your self-interest" to an individual choice, we indeed allow for some individuals to show dedication to others. We allow for exceptional, individual generosity… but we don't promote a "balanced approach for most" enough…
When we reduce "moral education" to a question of individual choices, we make ourselves see morals solely at the individual level, even though we have clear historical examples that morality may also be tied to group dynamics (we have examples both ways: one of the best ways to make people question the morality of their choices is to ask them to consider how they'd feel if their decision and involvement in it was made public… and one of the worst ways to let people off the hook is to suggest that peer-pressure —or even 'orders'— took their responsibility away).
No matter how careful and accurate we might be when taking a one-sided perspective (individualism / collectivism), it remains one-sided, i.e. an incomplete picture that might lead to inappropriate (caricatural) answers.
A balanced approach is not naturally satisfactory for our little heads looking for clear answers, predefined certainties before we even face a situation, a generic easy-to-use "user manual" of "what we ought to do" in the world.
We'd naturally like to spare ourselves from the anguish of "not knowing but having to answer anyway", of being 'responsible' without having all the elements at hand to decide with confidence…
We'd like to spare ourselves from being forced to iterate, to re-engage, to review and try again differently… All we crave for is a silver-bullet that would allow to turn the page at the problem at hand once and for all.
We may well crave for extreme, black&white answers… but reality is of levels of grey. Too much focus on individual freedom / ethics is letting some of the current societal issues unanswered (discriminations, climate change…), simply because no single individual might address them alone! No more than a single molecule changing course would solve the problematic flow of a rushing river.
So we're individually 'responsible'… in participating to an emerging response at the societal level, even if this response might 'impose' individual restraint! We can certainly work at minimising the imposed restraint, but that's very different from assuming there shouldn't be any, out of some extremist caricature around individualism.
Community and individuals co-dependently arise: none exists without the other.
I know we had those song books in my grad mother collection of books (show was born 1902) so those book were just part of ones we had.
I remember the song being in part of her books she had . the song was in there as we were leaning it to play on a Guitar. So i guess they need to stop their production of the documentary . Still wish some of the people milked could get that funds back.. at lease send out letter o placer then can sing it legally again.
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