When Meditation isn’t Enough

Open Democracy

Meditation does not wield dark esoteric powers, but rather draws away the veils covering existing darkness in our own psyches. These veils usually exist for good reason: they are the psyche’s brilliantly inventive answer to violation. Depending on one’s history, meditation may be an insufficient response. Or it may be the wrong medicine entirely.

My introduction to Meditation was different – it was in Los Angeles – and a decayed part of that city. My teacher’s Jewish family saw to it that he was over-educated – including a stint in Japan as a Buddhist monk.

He realized that the meditation retreats he ran would be too much for some of his students – and he always provided time at the end to attend to their needs. He also knew that meditation skills did not make you a good person – this was a much harder job.

Buddhism always recognized the suffering in the societies it was in. But never provided any solutions for this suffering. It helped me see what was going on – and make the only solution I was capable of – I moved to Costa Rica, where there are no Buddhists, but the people there are friendly.


A Strong Bias Against Thinking

I am trying to polite and objective here. When I really want to have a screaming fit – and hurl the worst possible insults at these people. I have to tell myself to calm down – because losing my temper will not help.

I am practicing cognitive reappraisal, as described in The Secrets of Consciousness.

I find myself wondering, once again, why more people don’t do this – why they don’t think. And I am forced to conclude that thinking is not satisfying to them.

What is? Destroying the world, and everything in it.

Being Good is Not Easy

Because to be good you have to be aware of all your internal and external sensations.  And few people in the developed world are this way. The process of becoming developed deprives us of our better selves. To be this way, we have to concentrate on making money – which every religion warns us of. And not on being aware.

Compassion is natural, but it can easily be overwhelmed by a variety of social forces. The best of intentions can easily become the worst.

“Yes,” you are saying, “But doing this is hard work, and who wants to do that?” The answer should be “Everybody!” But instead there is no answer at all – because the urge to be bad is strong in us. It certainly is in me.

It has the advantage of instant gratification – it makes us feel good immediately. Let me repeat that – being bad can make us feel good – immediately. You may feel some remorse later – but you will be strongly encouraged to ignore that.

I once knew a man, back when I was working in Silicon Valley in the Nineties, who was a Vietnam Vet. He felt horrible because he had committed criminal behavior. He was doing what he was supposed to do – killing gooks. And the people who were telling him to do this – would not accept any responsibility for it. He was left to deal with his guilt alone – or perhaps with other Vets, who knew perfectly well that they were alone.

This would be a good time to make a sales pitch for Meditation – as an awareness practice that promotes compassion. But to make it work you have to practice it – spending an hour doing nothing else every day. Which very few can do. And, as my meditation teacher pointed out – this will not necessarily make you a good person – which is a different skill, one he was not particularly good at himself.

This would be a good time to bring up another subject – the impact of the Computer on us. We have adopted it without knowing how it works – and carefully ignored its impact on us. This was not smart – to say the least. A huge amount of work has gone into making it seem human – thereby making it easier to use.

But this has deceived us into believing that it really is human – and is devoted to our good. The damage this has caused is incalculable. If Dante were writing his work now – he would no doubt put a smartphone in the hands of the Devil.

I see I have wandered from subject to subject. But this is the best I can do. My mind is not the best – but it is trying.

Insight Meditation is not Going to Save Us

Meditation is a valuable skill – and I can recommend it highly. But it has serious limitations.

First of all, most people will not do it. It is too much work. It takes strong mental discipline for a long time.

And Buddhist countries, where meditation is practiced very seriously – have succumbed to dictatorships (as in Thailand)  – or at the very least (as in Burma and Cambodia) repressive governments. In China, once the heartland of Northern Buddhism, it was eliminated entirely.

It was once thought that the West (the US and the UK) would be the new home for Buddhism, and meditation practices. The most beautiful meditation center in the world was built in Spirit Rock, just north of San Francisco.

It decided to make a massive effort to achieve a breakthrough, and had a long, intensive retreat containing some of their best meditators. And even gave this some publicity in advance.

No breakthrough happened – and for an obvious reason. They no doubt achieved a better understand of themselves – but not of the people around them.

The last time I was in the States, I went to some meditation retreats in the DC area. They tried to expand the practice by including some social exercises. These were interesting and enjoyable – but did nothing to anyone outside our group.

And, as far as I could tell – did not change the participants either. They walked out being much the same people as before.

Minds That are Out of Control

I am working on my meditation practice again. One of the disadvantages of living in Latin America is that there are no meditation centers down here. These are completely missing in Latino culture – and from the gringo culture living down here also. But I do have Internet access and I found a meditation center on there – Audio Dharma – and listening to the talks there is reviving my practice. California is full of the most amazing stuff – and if I had the money I would still be living there.

One thing Buddhism teaches is awareness – a skill that is just as crucial today as it ever was. And it also teaches you how to control your mind – another crucial skill that has been completely abandoned. Unless you have a mind that is in control – your life is severely limited. And a culture of people with their minds out of control is doomed.

Buddhism, as a religion, has been a failure. Buddhist countries are in as a bad shape as any other – Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka for example. But Buddhism has transitioned successfully to the West – where, for a small part of the population, its usefulness is appreciated. Zen, however, has had its share of scandals – especially sexual scandals.

The type of meditation practice I prefer is Vipassana or Insight Meditation. If you take a look at the Wikipedia article you will quickly see how complicated this can be. It is not something you can think about very well – but any good organization can teach you how to do it – fairly easily – knowing full well that most of their students will soon forget about it. The pressures against maintaining such are practice are just too powerful.

Memetics provides the reason for this. Memes want to be in control of our minds – and they do not want a mind that can resist them. The Modern World is a history of our memes gone out of control. This is not to say that they are necessarily bad – some of them are excellent – and we need to nourish the ones that are. But we cannot do that if our minds are not in control of our behavior.

Buddhism has gotten a good press in America and England – where it has its adherents. But Memes have been completely ignored by everyone – including the Buddhists. For some reason, the two have not mixed.

Buddhists, like everyone else, have ignored the Big Problem – that the Human Race is finished – unless some Really Big Miracle happens.

Watching Our Crazy Minds at Work

There are plenty of misconceptions about meditation. One that is common now, is that it is one of the practices will make you a super-performer – which everyone seems to want to be. Being ordinary is not good enough, not good enough at all – we feel. I will not follow up on this thought here, but leave it for my other posting this morning Being Much Better Than We Could Ever Be.

The way I meditate is to practice not thinking – this develops an alternative space for you to watch your crazy mind in action. You become aware of how attached you are to all your craziness – because it keeps coming back, over and over – determined to take over. You develop the ability to be in control – and not it.

In other words, you learn about thinking by not thinking – a clever technique that never seems to occur to most people – who want to think about their thinking – and control it by brute force – which cannot be done.

As you no doubt know – you cannot just stop thinking – it takes some special techniques – of which there are several. To learn them, you probably need to attend a retreat for a least a week – and practice it 12 hours a day. You will come out of it a different person –  although some freak out in the process.

And most people go back to what they were before – because craziness is so entertaining.

Doing Things Our Way

Every person, or group of persons, is determined to do things their own way – down to the slightest  detail. No other way is acceptable.

This is part of the process of forming an identity. And when any group of strangers spend any time together, they immediately set to work on this – forming a group identity. They start defining their relationships to each other – which can become extremely complicated – and for this reason, are mostly unconscious.

One of the primary benefits of meditation is that it allows you to become aware of your unconscious habits – including the body postures you adopt and the kinds of tension (muscular and mental) that you assume automatically. Once you become aware of them, you can relax and become more tolerant towards others (and yourself).

This determination to do things their own way is what has formed all of the human languages. Every group has to have their own language – and before the advent of civilization, which created large-scale societies, every tiny group had its own.

Man is a habit-forming creature – and we can become addicted to (used to) nearly anything.

These habits (or addictions) however are always changing – usually slowly, but sometimes rapidly. Our closest friend (or ally) can quickly become our worst enemy.

It was hoped, back during the Age of Reason, that we could each develop our own personality – and still manage to work together easily. And sometimes this did happen. The American Founding Fathers, for example, certainly had their differences but they managed to work together to form a new nation.

But with Industrialization, we became members of our social class (including our nationality) – and class conflict escalated into world wars – that we could not stop.

This ended with the Cold War – which (thank heavens) never became hot. But something even more serious happened. The Human Race turned against itself – without noticing it.

We identified with a new spectrum of technologies – beginning  with the Automobile, and then with Television – and then with the Computer (a complex consisting of Hardware, Software – and the Internet and Wireless networks).

All of these seemed to make us super-human – and we rejected our human selves. As I just said – we turned against ourselves.

This is what happened at the micro-level. But at the macro-level (the global level) a new power structure took over. This was a BIG DEAL – the second one in history. The first is what we call Civilization – enabled, among other things – by writing, that made possible Control at a Distance. It can be argued that the Printing Press enabled the Modern World – a Big Deal in itself.

The Computer enabled a whole new world we have no name for (except possibly Globalization – global command-and-control). But one thing can easily be noted, by anyone who wants to look for it – people have been eliminated almost completely. And the awareness that they have been eliminated also.

It makes no sense anymore to speak of We, the People – because people (for the most part) no longer exist.

You have the perfect right to ask me “How come no one else has noticed this?” I can answer this in two ways. The first is simply “Everyone has noticed this (unconsciously) and has acted accordingly.” They have become the kind of people the New Order demands – barely people at all.

The second answer is more complicated – it depends on the existence of two kinds of people in the populace. Which could be called the Intelligent (a minority) and the Stupid (the majority). These are not hard-and-fast categories, there is plenty of blending. But any intelligent observer will have little difficulty in making them out. But, as a prudent person – he will keep his judgments to himself. Or only share them with like-minded people.

Probably Stupid is a bad label – there are plenty of other labels that amount to the same thing – but they are poorly-defined and constantly changing. Perhaps The Majority would be acceptable – and also accurate. But this would probably be rejected too – because such a judgment requires thinking and being different.

Neither of which are acceptable.