Monday, February 13, 2017

Meditation and the Sense of Self

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. -Buhdda

This post is based on the below Podcast:

Sam Harris Waking Up Podcast - Why Meditate?

In it, Sam Harris interviews:

Joseph Goldstein of the Insight Meditation Society

Samuel Benjamin "Sam" Harris is an American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Project Reason, a non-profit organization that promotes science and secularism, and host of the Waking Up podcast

Know Your Mind

In the interview, Joseph posits that anyone can understand their mind. There are no clubs to join or meetings to attend. All you have to do is sit down and observe it in a simple pragmatic manner.

There is a methodology for doing it. Here is a sample beginning guided meditation taught by Joseph Goldstein:

By doing so, we can begin to see what brings us suffering and what brings us peace. This allows us to make wiser choices in our lives. There is a direct connection between our feelings and thoughts and our sense of well being.

Breaking the Pattern

The habit of spending nearly every waking moment lost in thought leaves us at the mercy of whatever our thoughts happen to be. Meditation is a way of breaking this spell. - Sam Harris

It takes repeated practice to break unskillful habits and enact the transformation. Being able to observe one's thoughts and using these observations to transform oneself happens in several ways:

Instead of being lost in thought be mindful of one's thoughts and emotions.

This mindfulness gives us space. rather than being lost in the thought,

We then have a choice. do we want to  feed into this or do we want to let it go.

We also learn that these thoughts are impermanent.

we know this intuitively but we often live as if these thoughts are permanent.

The mind changes much more quickly than the body. The emotion of anger may dissipate quickly in the mind but physiologically not in the body. In meditation there are different levels, for example, while the angry thoughts may dissipate quickly there is often physiological residue left over
from those thoughts that can still be examined.

James - Lang Theory of Emotion

Many emotions are similar, for example, anger and euphoria. It is how we interpret them that matters.

The Messy Truth about Mindfulness

Meditation may not always be appropriate. Something may be good in short doses and not in long doses For example if someone is depressed a meditation retreat with isolation may not be good. Some sort of engagement is preferable.

You need enough balance to keep from getting caught up in the emotions of thoughts This is where a teacher can be helpful finding a balance for dealing with material. The capacity for dealing with them in a skillful way is the key question sometimes it is better to take a break, take a walk instead

Willoughby Britton, a scientist, thinks that some people are harmed by meditation need to know when to back off when things are getting out of balance - Willoughby Britton - The Messy Truth about Mindfulness

The Meditation Paradox

)eople meditate to be less distracted, more happy it is goal oriented yet to meditate properly you need to observe not react. This is a paradox, how does one get around this paradox.

Secular Mindfulness - simple generic kind of awareness, choiceless awareness

There deeper kinds of mindfulness, a vehicle or methodology for awakening, a more
profound spiritual awakening.

A discerning awareness of what is skillful or not skillful.

A wisdom component that takes us beyond being attentive.

First we are aware then we are able to discern

Discernment that there are other mental states beyond those that exist by being trapped our own

Then we see everything as empty of substance or equal

One Taste

“Just as the great ocean has one taste, the taste of salt, so also this teaching and discipline has one taste, the taste of liberation.” The Buddha

Place of one taste

Foundation for Happiness

You cannot bypass and jump to the highest state. Even though everything is ultimately empty, you still will spend a significant time even in your meditation in your own thoughts so thoughts matter.

There needs to be an ethical foundation to the practice. It provides a support or protection

If we do not have this foundation, we get trapped in the habits of our thought patterns both postive and negative.

Iddle Chatter

Speaking skillfully can have a tremendous impact on our life. Few people pay attention to what they say and motivation behind it.

Refrain from idle chatter is engergizing and people will respect you more for what you say.

Gossiping serves a social function. It builds in moral shame and puts brakes on bad behaviors.

There is useful and harmful gossip. Gossip covers a lot of a conversation types. You need to ask yourself: What is the motivation? Is it to harm? If so it create a toxic internal environment

What about gossip for amusement at others sake? You need to examine the distance between what I say to others and what I would say to you? If you would not say it to the person directly, it is toxi.

Even in what seems like benign gossip, does it reinforce a sense of self,
does it self aggrandize?

Uprooting Habitual Patterns

Enlightment is the mind free from patterns that cause suffering These patterns are progressively weakened and uprooted from the mind stream or in the moment of arising they are seen through.

Stages of uprooting:

First stage, uprooting deeply rooted view of self, selflessness - experience of
zero, empty phenomenon moving on.

Buddha said that there were  3 levels of hallucination or distortion:

Perception - An example would be to see a stick as a snake. This level is easy to get over.

Mind - all the thoughts that come from thinking a snake is a stick, fear, This is harder do get over.

View - When people hold to a certain view, they hold it no matter what the
evidence. This is the hardest to get over.

Once the hallucination of view has been uprooted you can fall back into the traps of the other two but they do not have much hold.

Crazy people may not have the sense of self but they have no balance. There is a difference between elightened selflessness and craziness.


Most people think there is an ego riding around in the center their heads. There is a subject in the middle of their lives There is an experience in meditation where you lose this sense of self. Some people use the term dual awareness when referring to the self. Dual implies a subject and an object so emptiness is preferable when describing losing a sense of self.

For someone lost in thought who has uprooted self, there is a difference in intensity. One does not get as completely lost so it is easier to come back to mindfulness.

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