Saturday, December 12, 2020

Learn a New Skill: "Vision" - How to Perceive Things as they Are

I'm not really sure when it started, or when people first noticed it, but my friends have always made fun of me for saying things are "interesting." Some exes would even get upset when I'd use it and not clarify. But the truth is, I find lots of things interesting and always have.

People sometimes ask -- good interesting or bad interesting? I say neither. It's just interesting. Maybe I just never lost my curiosity. Maybe no one has.

But I think what's really happening is waking up to what things actually are, and what exists.

Now it's really easy to look that over as just a sentence, but it's actually a special kind of experience that involves understanding, seeing clearly, waking up, and not having any additional thoughts or opinions. It's just perception, or witnessing (or mindfulness) or Zen. It's perception of things as they are. I like to call it Vision.

Vision has a lot to do with science, but it's a slightly different form and comes at the same experience from a different (but maybe not opposite) direction. It's related (but not entirely) what Einstein was alluding to when he said that Religion and Science were the same question and that they were codependent. (Not like your ex is, just interdependent.) Science tries to ask what exists and how to describe it and understand it, especially its components. Spirituality or "waking up" -- remember "Buddha" means "awakened one"-- is just seeing things as they are without excess mental activity. Without fighting it. With acceptance. It's a way of living that the Taoists and Zen Masters obsessed with and mastered. With of course the added objective of transforming one's life and approach to it.

This "Vision" is also a fundamental component of wisdom. Wisdom is the result of inner, true calmness that teaches you what ends are worthy of pursuit and  clarity of knowing how to help someone (or yourself) get there. After my month-long silent retreat, this quality emerged sharply for a few weeks. The ends we guide others too are always towards Surrender. Vision is the outcome of Surrender.

And that brings us to the skills portion of this post that no one will read. I'm using Surrender here in the Alan Wattsian way, or in the Zen way; Surrender (capitalized) is the act of not trying to get anywhere and letting the body relax. Let's do an exercise. You can skip to 8, but the first 7 steps are important set up.

1. Sitting where you are take a deep breath that feels good. Not like a homework assignment. You're not trying to take a certain KIND OF BREATH or achieve a "peaceful" or "relaxed" state. At least, you will, but not by trying to. You'll only achieve it like a visitor who stops by unannounced, which is to say, when you're not expecting it to come. You just make an environment for it, like putting out a picnic blanket. 

2. Take a couple more deep breaths. Easy ones.

3. Start tracking the full extent of your breath. You don't have to change it but try and keep it "smooth". Expanding and contracting at a groovy, melty rate.

4. Relax your shoulders and the muscles around your neck. Like you were coming out of the best not awkward massage of your life. (I find them all awkward.)

5. Start to feel the sensations in your chest too a bit or maybe somewhere else if you feel it. 

6. Don't get too involved with your thoughts. Don't make a whole technique out of trying to experience some type of special breathing experience. It's not going to work that way. You'll only be "tight" and thinking the whole time, but your thinking will be "monitoring mind" or what the Kwan Um School of Zen's Founding Teacher (ZMSS) used to call "checking mind."

7. Just kinda chill there. It's okay if your mind wanders. Don't be a security guard. Or, just be a cool one. Like Carl Winslow from Die Hard. (Yes, I know I made a mistake. Multiple.) Just hear what's going on. See what's going on. Without an opinion. Without necessarily thinking it's amazing. 

8. Ask yourself gently: "what is it?" This is where Zen and spirituality kind of part ways with this technique. Asking "what is it?" is like asking "what am I looking at? what is it? what is the actual event happening? without all my opinions and thoughts about it. Then just perceive. 

I use this technique to think about things and analyze situations. I use it to understand people, politics, relationship issues, conflict, and life predicaments. And people usually like what I have to say. 

They say it's interesting. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Do you believe people can develop spiritual abilities?

Can you imagine this dude at a rave? Hey Edahn,

Many individuals from India claim to either have special powers or have witnessed other people using special powers such as scent manifestation and the ability to conjure a physical object with the power of the mind and will alone. Others yet claim that there are individuals who have graced the Earth for centuries in the same physical body and that they don’t need any form of sustenance.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

I THINK THERE'S SOME TRUTH to it. But I also think there's some bullshit to it too. People walking around in the same physical body? Ehhhh. I don't think so. People being about to manifest objects? Ehhhh. Don't think so. People being more attuned to nature and being able to predict the future (in small doses)? Yes, I can see that.

My hunch is that if there abilities do exist, they would be associated with some atypical personality traits or states of consciousness. If Joe Schmoe said he could read minds, I would call bullshit. I would be less inclined to call bullshit if it was a lifelong meditator or someone who had developed deep self-acceptance and compassion or focus. I would still be skeptical, but I would be open.

I've had some experiences that have been difficult to explain and would seem to fall into a "supernatural" category. (As an aside, I don't think anything that's real is supernatural...I think we just haven't articulated the science behind it.) I go back and forth about whether these experiences were authentic or whether they had more boring explanations. For example, when you know something about someone that you shouldn't know. Is it real precognition or is it just unconsciously reading subtle clues? I'm still undecided. It feels authentic, but I'm not certain.

This wasn't part of the question, but I will give the standard Buddhist admonition I've heard since forever: it's easy to get attached to fantasies about having special abilities. Even if you have these abilities. If they come as a byproduct of your spiritual practice, great. But if you make it the focus of your practice, you can kind of get lost and veer off-course. Amassing power is about feeding one's conceptual identity, whereas genuine spiritual practice is about seeing through the illusion of one's conceptual identity. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Is Addiction a Choice?

Dear Edahn,

I'm curious on your thoughts about addiction as a disease vs. choice. My life went down some unexpected places and I found myself trying to escape. After a couple of rehabs, and various 12 step programs, I realized that wasn't the path for me. It's hard to see that a blanket treatment works for all, whether its food, gambling or drugs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy would seem to be a better path. Ultimately fixing your path, for me it's finding success in a career. I'm working on it as I have a tendency for self sabotage on jobs. So not following my usual tendencies has worked out so far. I just never could handle the "powerless" aspect of the disease model. 

PEOPLE ALWAYS HAVE a choice to make their lives better. You may not have control over the contents of your body and mind (including your urges), but you certainly have control over how you see and respond to those urges. That applies for all addictions.

To break it down, you're sitting there on your couch and you're like man, I wish I was [fill in the blank]. High? Drunk? Playing a video game? Watching TV? Scrolling on Instagram? Meeting hot single moms in your area? The impulse isn't consciously chosen; it's the product of years of conditioning. (Lifetimes if you subscribe to Buddhist reincarnation.) That's what karma really is, it's not an invisible X-Man.

But there's nothing that forces you to seek out that reward. There's pressure, sure. And you might experience more pressure than others in some particular domain. But that doesn't mean you're compelled to do it. That's loser talk. That's giving-up-your-independence talk. That's not-taking-responsibility-for-your-life talk.

You mentioned self-sabotage. I can relate. I will say a few things about that. One, don't dismiss the power of your mind to figure out what's at the bottom of your habits, impulses, and addictions. Don't be satisfied with what other people pass off as scientific explanation or psychology. Both, in my opinion, have weaknesses in their explanatory power. 

Science tends to think explanations end with biology (like the disease model). I've always found that strange since our biology is just the physical mirror image of what's happening in the mind. One doesn't cause the other. It's the same thing. Oh well. Psychology has different limitations. The point is, don't let that be the end of your understanding. Use your own experience and mind to look carefully and openly at what's going on in your mind and body to see what's really going on. What is it seeking? How's it operating?

If it's self-sabotage, then maybe you're getting some kind of payoff through that process. Maybe you're relieving the stress of feeling judged by others. Maybe you lose a part of yourself in trying to please others that you regain when you're alone. Or maybe you regain in a moment of deep depression. Maybe the addiction is to self-hatred. The mind is tricky, and the things it finds satisfying (its addictions) are not always obvious. But the more you study it, the more you'll start to realize how it ties to other parts of your life. You'll also get better at recognizing when it starts to creep into your experience. 

The next big step is figuring out how to respond to all that content (your urges to do whatever) that comes up. Is it taking a walk? Letting it pass through you? Ignoring it? Laughing at it ironically? Giving it a big, resounding NOPE? You're already trying to figure that out. I'm a big proponent of continuing to experiment and see what happens.

Ultimately, we all have the same fundamental job in life: to learn to perceive our karma--i.e., our habitual, addictive patterns of thinking and feeling--instead of becoming it. We're all struggling with addiction, and we all have the power to choose what to do with it.