Thursday, 2 July 2009

Do Not Dwell or Be Introverted. Project Eudemonia, Principle Five.

The famous story of Buridan's Ass- a poor old donkey, who starved to death because he could not decide which bale of straw to eat as they were both identical. I have a friend, who can on a whim, spend hundreds of pounds on electronic equipment, yet frets over which bar of chocolate to buy in the local shop. I, myself, spend far too much time attempting to decide what to have for dinner, rather than attend to the more important matters, such as the eternally pressing questions of philosophy or what to do at the weekend.

The relevance here of this fable to the topic I am currently discussing, is how wasteful, and unproductive much of our thinking is, especially when it takes the form of brooding, worrying, introspection. While my above examples are somewhat comical, there is nothing funny about being wracked with chronic indecision and worry about the more existential topics, such as death, love, money, purpose, family, friends, etc etc. Yet, even more for an obsessive thinker like myself, I would have to seriously question the value of applying all the rigour and laser like critical attention to myself and my problems. In my view, I think it is not only wasteful, but harmful, in that one is left in a worse state of mind than before.

What is to be done then? I will be discussing practical thinking in a later blog. In the meantime, however, I would like to mention two things that I have learned from Zen practice. In many ways the spirit of Zen could be neatly described as “just do it”. Charlotte Joko Beck states that “practice” (mindful attention) “is simply maintaining awareness of our activities and also of the thoughts that separate us from them.” The result of such mindfulness, would be a mind liberated from the paralyzing effects of obsessive thinking. You live in the Zen way, you live your live like making the "Zen cup of tea.” You are present in your experience, you observe and notice all the sensations and perceptions, internal and external, that arise, but, you do not become mired, caught, and lost in thought. Your activities become effortless, there is no worry, it’s as simple, as making, a cup of tea.




Anonymous said...

What you look for in eastern meditation may be similar to what others look for in the Christian contemplative tradition: inner stillness and freedom from distraction, and a focus on the present moment. The practice is the same although the theological landscape is different.

My own experience is (or I should say was) in the Christian tradition. I found that Christian meditation was the only natural way of attempting to relate to God. When my religion fell apart a couple of years ago, the meditation went with it, and that was a shame because it was the only useful thing I was doing.

I'd like to get the meditation going again, but only if I can strip it of all religious content. The Zen meditation you describe sounds interesting, but I don't know whether Zen can be divorced from eastern religion.

And now I'll have a look at the rest of your blog!

neutron star

Michael Faulkner said...

Hey Neutron Star.

I share your feelings of unease over Zen and its ability or inability to be divorced from eastern religion. Meditation practice can, however, stand alone by itself, with only a minimal amount of philosophy (which really comes down to instruction and how to relate to your experience.) to go with it.

I would not like to call myself a Buddhist, and I certainly do not endorse any metaphysical claims of Buddhism. I do think though that there is a lot of wisdom in its canon, that I feel can be safely detached from the bullshit.