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13. What’s Meditation Got to Do With This?

“Wait a minute; didn’t we have a whole chapter on Buddhism already? What’s the idea?” I hear you cry…

Well, to make it as clear as I can, meditation is to Buddhism what a delicious meal is to a great cookbook. In other words, Buddhist philosophy is one thing, Buddhist practice another.

This chapter will try to lay out what I think about Buddhist practice, and how I think it might help my MS and/or me as a person.

I’ve already mentioned how easy it is to meditate. Just count your breaths etc. But what is it that we get out of the experience? What’s the point?

If I were a Zen master I might answer with something like…

“The spring flowers have burst forth, some short, some long…”

Huh???

The thing is, the master can’t answer properly using words, so he uses metaphors.

Alan Watts said that the purpose of poetry is to “say what can’t be said”. That’s what your question to the master requested, so he does the best he can.

The point is you don’t “get anything” out of meditation. Meditation is a technique that allows your brain to see past the cultural models that each brain develops as it grows from childhood back to the raw sensory data that underlies it.

An example I like to use that most people can connect with is as follows:

Have you ever gone to sleep in a strange place? You know, a friends house or a hotel. And then, when you first wake up and open your eyes all you can make out is a bunch of unfamiliar shapes. Then, as your consciousness gets a little stronger, the model building part of your mind kicks in and…WHOOOOM!!! You are in a bed. And the bed is at your friend’s house.

OK. Now try to imagine doing that in reverse and you’ll get an idea of what meditation can do for you. The biggest difference, though, is that you are in that state of alertness rather than coming off sleep.

What’s it “feel” like? Well I’m no Zen master so I can try to describe it to you as best I can. But trust me; you truly won’t have an idea of what it’s like from my words. There’s a reason that the experience is called “ineffable”, and it isn’t to make it sound profound or important. It’s because it’s an “experience” and words simply can’t describe a subjective experience.

That may sound like an outrageous overstatement to some, but at least let me explain what I mean first.

It doesn’t matter which experience you choose. I will choose happiness as my example, if you don’t mind. Alright, try to define happiness without using the word happiness or a synonym.

I’m serious, try to do it now…..

Hmmmmmm………….

That’s right, you can’t! But we don’t need to. Since we are similar organisms we are able to label experiences that all of us share with words. If you tell me you are happy, I just remember being happy myself, and so I understand you. That’s not the same as describing it. The truth is that not just meditation, but ALL experience is ineffable.

So in order to really know what meditation feels like, you simply have to do it. Once you have done it you can talk to other meditators and speak in a way that would make absolutely no sense to a non-meditator.

OK. With that behind me I will try my best to tell you what happened to me today in my first ever, public meditation session.

Everything I describe here is merely my own subjective experience. Bob seemed to indicate to me when I described it, that he knew what I was talking about, so maybe it is common.

When I first sit, I have to find something that I can focus on continuously. My first attempt today was to focus on a candle flame in front of the Buddha statue. I stared and counted my breaths. Something wasn’t working. Maybe because the flame was moving, I don’t know. I looked around for something else to fixate on.

Next to the leader was a white Kleenex box that stood out. I focused first on the box, and then narrowed my focus to a flower decoration on it. Counting my breaths, it began to happen…

Peripheral vision, what Alan Watts calls the “floodlight” rather than the focused “spotlight” of consciousness begins to do its thing. In my case, it was quite psychedelic. A bright yellow halo surrounded every blue pillow in the room. The floor, which was wood, began to change color in a wave, from grayish to bright and back again over and over.

And then I thought, “This is cool!” and instantaneously I was back in the consensus version of reality. By thinking “this is cool” I began model building in my mind, and so I was right back where I started.

What I try to accomplish when I meditate is to deconstruct the models I build in my brain and just experience what IS. The psychologists refer to the “oceanic” feeling that a newborn infant has. No model building at all. As a result, it’s all one experience. You and everything around you are one experience.

Sadly we can’t remember what it felt like to be an infant, but a successful meditation session will give you an idea.

Very good, but what’s any of this got to do with multiple sclerosis.

I’m not sure, but Bob is. He explained it to me thus: “Your operating system, that which controls the whole organism, is out of whack. The trick is to access those parts that are wrong and fix them. In order to do that, you have to empty your cup.”

Bob was referring to the Zen tale where a University Professor seeking wisdom from a master sits with him for tea. The master fills his cup then continues filling so that the hot tea overflows. The visitor jumps up, “Master, why?”

The master responds, you ask me to teach you Zen. Your mind is so filled with conceptions that it has no space. If you want new tea, you must first empty your cup. Only then, can you fill it again.

He spoke of a wonderful Buddhist concept I had never heard of before called prapancha which roughly means over conceptualizing things to death. I guess kind of like what I’m doing in this book.

Sigh!

I can’t help myself; I just love it too much.

Lao Tzu starts the Toa Te Jing with the phrase:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao…

And yet Lao Tzu said that. He couldn’t help himself either. It’s part of our nature to conceptualize, and there’s nothing wrong with it. What’s wrong is mistaking your conceptualizations for reality. And I gave you fair warning at the start of this chapter that what you would read would not really tell you that much. That’s exactly what Lao Tzu was doing.

In any event, I told Bob that my cup was already pretty clean and that I had tried to toss all the cultural and personal models out.

“Do you understand the role you play in creating reality?” He peered at me as a wave crashed thirty feet below us on the rocks.

“Let’s get something straight.” I answered. “I don’t exist. Not in the sense that there is something other than the organism itself that is “me” riding around in it. There is no homunculus inside us. All I am is an image that I carry around in my memory based on past experiences and on the reactions of others to me. And that image has to be as distorted an image as can exist, albeit the most complete. It has no deeper ontological reality than any of my other ‘thoughts…’”

Bob waved me down, “I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about the WHOLE you….Hey, look, a WHALE!” he shouted..

Out about 200 feet from our perch on the cliff we watched as the great beast rolled past us, spouting as he went.

“Of course I understand the role I play. I’m all there is. I mean all my experiences result from my consciousness; there is nothing else to experience.”

Bob nodded and looked out to see if the whale would resurface. “You told me that when we meditated, occasionally philosophical thoughts would intrude and you would catch yourself and refocus on the flower and the breathing.”

“Yes. Not only philosophical thoughts, but also thoughts of how I might describe the experience in my book.”

“Did you notice how or why those thoughts arose?”

I thought about this for a minute. It’s always so hard to keep track of what your mind does. “I can’t really say. The thoughts just drift in. The same way those waves crash on the rocks below. There’s really no difference. It’s all ‘Ta ta ta…’” I used the Buddhist expression that means roughly, “reality, the way it is, all happening at once.”

“Do you know what a mind moment is?”

I admitted that I had never heard the term before.

Bob turned to face me and then slapped his hands together. Whack!

“What the Buda teaches is that there are a trillion ‘mind moments’ in the course of that clap.”

Of course I knew he was right. As I mentioned earlier, I had had the experience of one night feeling as long as six months while on LSD.

“OK. Got you. Why do you bring that up?”

“As you progress in your meditation you will ultimately see how and where the thoughts come from as they intrude on you. It’s really a question of mindfulness more than anything else. What you want to do is to experience those trillion mind moments.”

“What’s this got to do with the ayahuasca,” I asked. “It sounds cool, but I’m not sure where you’re going with it.”

Bob smiled. “Don’t you see? That’s the kind of attention the ayahuasca healer can give to you.”

“So?”

“So you’re going to find out what’s gone wrong with your operating system. Just like in psychoanalysis, once you find out the cause the symptoms can go away. All by themselves…”

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April 18, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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