Archive for category Mysticism
Lately I’ve been having to get up at six in the morning, for Zen practice. This is bad because I have insomnia and generally terrible sleep patterns. Here are some things I have found that help. Some of them are tips from my master; thanks, Haju!
1. Do not sleep at odd hours! Not under any circumstances!
2. Don’t do stimulating things in the evening. In my case these include: computer usage; eating sugar; intellectually demanding tasks. I try to reserve these activities for the morning or afternoon.
3. Chamomile tea.
4. Self-hypnosis works. I gather that a lot of people use elaborate techniques with visualizations, recitations, etc. to hypnotize themselves. In my case, for this task, I just invoke the feeling of comfortably dozing off, without the use of that sort of formal machinery.
Our starvation is a physical manifestation of our inner hunger. Our infections are manifestations of our inner disease. Our wars are manifestations of our divisions within ourselves.
It is for this reason that people in America are depressed. When you remove the physical manifestations of suffering, the suffering does not go away; its spiritual nature simply becomes more obvious. Then we call it depression.
If you want to end world hunger, learn to feel full and happy. If you want to cure cancer, learn to be in harmony with yourself. If you want to fight pollution, learn to think pure and beautiful thoughts.
You can’t remove other people’s pain. But people can’t learn to remove their own pain if they don’t have an example to follow.
That poor man that you refused to help? That suffering animal that you neglected and let die? You are him. You are it. The world is your body; end your suffering and you end all suffering. Save yourself and you save the world.
For a long time I’ve been puzzled by skepticism. Skepticism is the perfectly rational idea that you should only believe something if it so captures you with its undeniable truth that you have no choice.
The problem is that it seems like a lot of religion breaks down under skepticism. But maybe a lot of religion is actually something I want to believe. So maybe I should be a little merciful with my doubting?
As of tonight’s experience, this no longer worries me. Skepticism is the correct position, and insofar as it really is certain, religion can defeat skepticism.
A true mystical experience cannot be doubted. The skeptic need only be willing to test the hypothesis that “if you use this mental technique, then you will be struck down by a Thing so fantastically brilliant and real that there will be no atom left in your body capable of denying it; and then you will be a believer.”
If the skeptic is a talented mystic, then after they do the experiment, they will be a believer: without having had to sacrifice an iota of their skepticism.
I failed to understand concentration meditation when I first did it. Aleister Crowley, in his instructions for concentration meditation, suggested that it would be sufficient to do it for only 30 seconds or five minutes at first. He failed to specify that “at first” could very well mean, “for the next seventy years.” Nor would that make you a bad meditator.
Consider that understanding a new mathematical concept usually requires nothing more than a split second of intense concentration. But getting in the position to have that split second of concentration is really hard. Holding your mind in the right position for even that long is a hell of a task.
It takes most people years to learn algebra. But how many conceptual leaps are really required to master that task? Probably five minutes’ worth of genuine conceptual thought would be enough. But I don’t think it speaks badly of our children that it takes them years to pull that off.
So let’s consider concentration meditation within that general frame. Genuine concentration is something that a genius might do for a split second, half a dozen times a day. So in concentration meditation, the goal is to achieve just one of those split seconds. It’s clear that for this goal, the amount of time spent meditating is absolutely immaterial.
Trying to maintain continuous concentration for thirty minutes is absolute insanity. You’re not gonna do it; you’ll just redefine “concentration” so that now it’s something you can do for thirty minutes. If your goal is concentration meditation, I’d say it’s better to have sessions around five minutes. Don’t even bother timing them.
Be satisfied if you achieve one split second of concentration. And once you have that moment of satori, if you just remain open to its echoes, then it will transform your experience in all kinds of wonderful ways, so that its value goes far beyond that of a mere momentary experience. (A mathematical discovery does not cease to have value once the moment of discovery is over; and the same is true of satori.)
(Note that all of this applies specifically to concentration meditation. Relaxation meditation is an entirely different game; you can reasonably do that for as long as eight hours.)
(Alexander is speaking now.)
Value is not quite what we think it is. Success, in the worldly sense, is not necessarily success. It is a truism that rich and famous people often aren’t happy. And often they don’t, in the true sense, make much of an impact.
What is less obvious, what is much harder to see, is that outrageous success in the true sense is available to us if we just look inward with the eyes of faith. It is difficult to believe that we could save lives, start epochs, teach the gospel to the masses, and turn over the wheels of existence just by sitting alone in a room and meditating. It is difficult to believe that we are impacting anything other than ourselves when we meditate. But it is the situation, and in this implausible-sounding proposition lies a great secret.
It is easy to see that, outwardly speaking, we cannot save the world. There is no chain of causality that I can initiate in this material reality that will close the poverty gap, feed the starving, cure cancer, or solve any of a hundred thousand other urgent global problems. Yet I feel in my heart that the world needs saving.
In my implausible proposition lies a very simple and satisfactory plan for saving the world. Meditate. It has an impact that you cannot see.
The entire matrix of value in which we live and move is a grand myth. The successes, the failures, the people who made an impact, the people who did not make an impact — it’s all a lie. Underneath the ripples of value that dance on the surface of the waters, there is a tremendous roar of value, greater than anything any mortal can appreciate, and this grand dynamo of value is measured by a measure unrelated to the various worldly measures of success. The true success may well be a worldly failure, and the worldly success a true failure. The mystic may never, in this life, see the impact that he had on others. But it was precisely his willingness to believe in himself and in God, without having seen the proof, that allowed him to wield such terrible power.
For the past few years, I have been struggling with myself about the nature of meditation. There has been a long-lasting debate in my head between two schools of thought about meditation.
One of these schools holds that meditation is an activity of disciplined concentration. When I meditate, I am to clear my mind of all thoughts and throw all of my being into total devotion to God. It is a very intensive, effortful activity.
The other school holds that meditation is an activity of relaxation. When I meditate, I am to just let go and do whatever feels good. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means literally sitting still for thirty minutes and letting my mind wander. If we take it even further, we can even drop the “sitting still for thirty minutes” part. Then I just go about my day and say that it’s all meditation. For this school, meditation is a very relaxed, undemanding activity.
As I said, these two schools of thought have been at war in my head for years. At first the concentration school was very dominant, and I subjected myself to horrifying disciplines. The man who did this broke down when he realized that he had given himself a knee injury from forcing himself to sit in half-lotus day after day, and that he would need surgery if he kept meditating in that posture.
I think that event marked me burning out on the concentration school’s style of meditation. After that I turned more and more to the relaxation method. My meditation became very laid back. In the same period, I actually became quite a lot more enlightened. So clearly there was nothing wrong with my methods — though correlation is not causation.
For a while I was doing my relaxation-meditation around three hours a day. It was a lot more consistent, both in methods and results, than I had generally been with my more disciplined mysticism. But I started to think, “really, what’s the point to sitting here; can’t I get the very same effect even if I happen to be doing something?” It was true; walking or riding the bus, I was no less enlightened than while meditating.
So I stopped meditating, and declared that my whole life was meditation. The enlightenment still did not subside. I took this as proof that there was still nothing wrong with my methods.
Around this same period, I got very into math. A word of explanation. People think that “math” consists of those tedious calculus problems they made us solve in high school. But there is another breed of math: deeper, more powerful, more beautiful. So unreadable, so occult almost nobody can understand it, so awesome nobody can begin to fathom the depths of its awesomeness. This is what mathematicians call by the name mathematics. Math was my LSD, math was my amphetamine, math was my ecstasy.
So I was living in my Zen math heaven where everything was meditation, which sometimes wasn’t heaven at all, but rather was mindlessly browsing the Internet or agonizing over some social issue. Then I started working a job, shelving books at a university library. This was my first menial-labor type job. For hours I put books in correct numerical order. You all know the truth about this kind of job: the quiet suffering that goes on every day.
I noticed that my tedious, meaningless job was making me very enlightened. The reason, I assumed, was the discipline imposed by being forced to think of nothing but putting books in numerical order. This had big implications for my theories about meditation.
At this point my thinking was entirely dominated by the relaxation school of meditation, holding that meditation is an effortless process with no discipline, and it now took the extreme form that I should just go about my day and say that it’s all meditation. The only reason I could call that meditation being that, periodically, I really was experiencing enlightenment.
But now I had experimental evidence that discipline mattered for enlightenment. This bolstered the case for the long-forgotten concentration school of thought.
I attended a group meditation session, and a math analogy started a new chapter in my thinking about meditation. (Lest you doubt something so puny as a math analogy could do such a thing, consider that all of science consists of math analogies. “A falling apple is like this graph,” etc. A few decades ago, we nearly blew up the world using math analogies.)
My math analogy was this. Aren’t math and meditation alike? When I do math, I concentrate intently and totally on some abstract mental thing, in hopes of catching an ecstatic glimpse of pure truth. Replace “math” with “concentration meditation,” and we have another true statement. On reflection, this is hardly an analogy: when I meditate intensely, and when I do math, those are almost the same thing. Only in one case I am focusing on God, and in the other case on abelian groups or something.
So now I had not only a motivation for resuming disciplined meditation, but also an explanation of how to do it. One of the issues I had with disciplined meditation was that I could never find a meditation technique that I could believe in. Now I had one: meditate like you do math. I both knew how to do that, and could actually buy it as a plausible hypothesis. So I did it, and boom.
Meditation started to feel formidable to me again. It started to seem like a great art that one could plumb for one’s lifetime without scratching the surface. It started to seem like the sort of thing that only a small fraction of people in the world were qualified to do. All of this fell out of the math analogy, of course, and my experiences validated it. I had made meditation entirely too everyday, too unpretentious, with my relaxation approach. Now “meditation” was once again a word that made the animals scatter when it hit the ground: a word that could inspire awe and fear.