My final week of formally-logged meditation consisted of shamatha, mindful walks, Rinpoche’s procedure, and contemplation on emotions and thoughts; the latter was characterized by a certain problem-solving orientation, wherein less ‘rational’ (or groundless) emotions were dissected, identified as such, and then summarily dismissed. This approach drew directly from a novel method I developed for a conference paper, presented last month in Salt Lake City (Sood, 2016):
Dubbed the ‘phenomenological-critical method’, this set of logico-existential chains was designed for people to take up in order to enhance their respective awarenesses of potentially harmful actions (e.g., those that may be contributing toward climate change). The method is much like mindfulness, but takes it a step further and explicitly encourages the adoption of a critical stance toward one’s cognitions, behaviors, and/or emotions.
Ultimately, in my practice over the past few weeks I have become better at observing non-judgmentally the contents of my phenomenal field. Future directions for my practice will likely see it blurring the line between meditation and living in general, where I will aim to select the most beneficial objects of consciousness and cultivate them for the betterment of myself, others, and my environment.
In essence: from a greater within, will come a greater beyond.
Sood, S. (2016, March 13). Global existential topics for the 21st century: psychology and ethical being. Paper presented at the 2016 Annual Midwinter Meeting of the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, Salt Lake City, UT. https://www.academia.edu/23957227/Global_existential_topics_for_the_21st_century_Psychology_and_ethical_being
My contemplative practice underwent a certain ‘evolution’ during week 11: I began doing ‘mindful walks’. I also continued performing Rinpoche’s procedure and TM from last week.
My walks were inspired by an outside class led by Dr. Pope (for our Meditation Tutorial) as well as by Ken Wilber’s description of what he considers the first genuinely transpersonal stage of spiritual development, the “psychic” level (Wilber, 2000). In describing this stage phenomenologically, Wilber refers to convergent accounts of Schopenhauer’s “clear mirror to the object” and Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” (p. 299), wherein the individual loses him-/herself in and is completely at one with whatever is perceived.
During certain points in my walks, I would experience a similar ‘joining with’ various natural objects such as flowers, characterized by the cessation of thought and a simple, unconditional being with my environment. In the context of mind-body studies and Wilber’s transpersonal stage theory, the psychic level comes after consciousness’ ‘integrative’ phase, or what Wilber refers to as “vision-logic” for individuals and the “centauric” worldview, wherein the mind and body that were differentiated in earlier development are experienced as one (this oneness is ultimately to be transcended in the later transpersonal stages).
Wilber, K. (2000). Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
During this week, I practiced Rinpoche’s earlier-stated technique ten minutes each day. My contemplations during the third step varied daily, but the most common denominator was a focus on altruistic outcomes for all. As the week progressed, I focused more specifically on ways in which I, personally–with my at-the-time-present sets of strengths and inclinations–could contribute to universal betterment.
Altruistic meditation, known more commonly as ‘loving-kindness meditation’ in its associated literatures, has seen an increase in research attention over the past few years: Fredrickson et al. (2008) found that seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation led to increases in daily experiences of positive emotions, and that this in turn produced increases in “personal resources” (e.g., social support) and life satisfaction, and decreases in the expression of depressive symptoms. (These findings support positive psychology’s ‘broaden-and-build theory’, which states that people’s experiences of positive experiences compound over time to build a variety of related personal resources.) In the context of mind-body studies, these results could considered support for the mind’s causal efficacy (contrary to unidirectional epiphenomenalism, in which the body can influence the mind but not vice versa), and lends further credibility to the view of mind as being ‘enactive’: one’s meditative practices can lead ultimately to new possibilities and realizations for lived being.
Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J. and S. M. Finkel. (2008). Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), pps. 1045-62.
Week 9 consisted of three additions to my meditative arsenal: Phakchok Rinpoche’s three-step technique (recommended to the audience during his discussion in the campus theater building); ‘transcendental’ meditation; and altruistic love. Rinpoche’s procedure goes as follows:
- “Feel the spaciousness [of mind]”; allow the mind to rest in its natural expansiveness.
- “Gentle focus on the breath.”
- “Reflect on improvement [e.g., of how to eliminate the causes of suffering].”
Transcendental meditation (a.k.a. TM) “allows the active mind to settle down to transcendental consciousness, the field of pure intelligence, where the mind is silent, unbounded, and fully awake within itself” (Shear and Jevning, 1999).Traditionally, one begins with the mental repetition of a meaningless word or phrase, and ultimately transcends it in favor of an object-less state of consciousness. Physiological correlates of the technique include the considerable cessation of breath and slowing of metabolic activity.
TM is particularly interesting (though also difficult) for mind-body studies for a few reasons. It could reasonably be considered, for example, that such a ‘pure’ consciousness would be a good place to start for investigations into consciousness’ nature. But without any phenomenal objects, description of the state may prove somewhat frustrating: how does one describe ‘what it’s like’ to experience pure nothingness? That such a state can be achieved at all is already fascinating, but linguistically-conveyed descriptions of such a profound state of emptiness may never prove capable of doing the phenomenon justice. In any case, TM may serve as a logical alternate or ‘reference point’ (along with average, everyday-lived consciousness) to the general study of consciousness.
Shear, J. and R. Jevning. (1999). Pure consciousness: scientific exploration of meditation techniques. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(2-3), pps. 189-209.
In sharp contrast with the previous week, week 8 was very eventful and consisted of a multiplicity of meditative techniques. These included: contemplation/shamatha; observation of the overall field of experience; awareness of sensation; awareness of thoughts; and awareness of body. I noticed a decrease in the instinctive grasping of specific objects (e.g., thoughts) passing through consciousness, as well as an overcoming of the ego-self and a moving toward “no-self” (Michalon, 2001). I enjoyed alternating styles of meditation this week: there was something new to note or observe with each day. Non-fixative meditation on thoughts was likened to water running past the cracks between one’s fingers, and during bodily awareness sessions I felt my intrinsic warmth and pulse. I couldn’t help but to imagine the communication of electrical signals among nerve cells, or to reflect on my engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for ‘rest’ states) (Amihai and Kozhevnikov, 2015).
Amihai, I. and M. Kozhevnikov. (2015). The influence of Buddhist meditation traditions on the autonomic system and attention. BioMed Research International, 2015.
Max, M. (2001). “Selflessness” in the service of the ego: contributions, limitations and dangers of Buddhist psychology for Western psychology. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 55(2), pps. 202-17.
This week consisted of ten minutes per day of shamatha practice. I noticed having an easier time ‘easing into’ meditation, and that the ‘space between my thoughts’ while meditating had increased, meaning I found it easier to focus on the breath and not experience intrusive thoughts. Otherwise, week 7 was fairly uneventful.
During week 6, I continued from week 5’s addition of contemplation to my pure Samatha practice (focus on the breath). I focused primarily on my desires to change: to refine my life’s purpose, and how I ought to be living it; to better appreciate and make use of the present moment; how best for me to contribute to general ecological welfare; to sleep less than I have been; and to be better at setting and committing to goals, in line with the above welfare clause. My focus on desire to change was drawn from Matthieu Ricard’s Why Meditate?, which is accompanying my evolving meditation practice this semester.
During ‘post’-meditational time, I contemplated illness and how best to respond to commonplace instances of it. A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that meditating (as well as more body-intensive exercise) for participants coincided with their missing less days of work, and with their experiencing less days of the cold than control participants who neither meditated nor exercised. As I have been doing both quite regularly, it is perhaps unsurprising in light of such research that my own cold has not reached a particularly debilitating level of severity.
1. Ricard, M. (2010). Why Meditate?
2. Obasi et al. (2012). ‘Advantage of meditation over exercise in reducing cold and flu illness is related to improved function and quality of life’. Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses.