Cerebral Earplugs

By | July 29, 2011

“Why do you meditate?” I asked a participant in one of my primitive skills workshops.

“Because I don’t feel at peace,” she replied. “My mind is full of chatter.”

“Why is that?”

“Because of my busy, noisy life. I live in the city, I work all day, and there are always sirens, neon signs, phones ringing. I can’t experience a quiet sunset, or the stars at night.”

“Will meditation help that?”

“Maybe not the city din, but it’ll help me.”

“How?”

“By quieting my mind.”

“How will that help?”

“If my mind was quiet, I’d have a quiet place inside of me—inner peace. I think it wouldn’t matter so much what was going on around me.”

“What do you mean by inner peace?”

“Entering the void—the place where there are no thoughts, no mental clutter.”

“Why do you wish to enter a void?”

“Because the void is nirvana—free of all thought, emotion, and attachment.”

“What’s wrong with thought, emotion, and attachment?”

“They cause suffering.”

“They do?”

“Sure, everybody knows that. Love brings heartache, attachment causes jealousy, thoughts create all kinds of mental turmoil.”

“Says who?”

“Well, Buddha for one. Life means suffering is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, and the second is the origin of suffering is attachment.”

“Does that mean that without attachment there would be no suffering?”

“Yes, and the purpose of meditation is to help relinquish attachment.”

“Are you assuming that attachment is a part of life?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Everyone is attached to something—their partner, kids, house, land, things, beliefs…the list goes on.”

But is it obvious? Not everyone has property, a partner, and so on, nor do they want these things. Nomadic Kalahari !Kung San and Amazonian Indians live without owning land, and they can’t cart too many possessions around with them. They construct simple shelters out of whatever is around, they have only a few basic tools, and they raise their children collectively. The rest of humanity—all 6.5 billion of us—is firmly attached to belief systems, property, and material goods. And we seem to be constantly slaving or fighting for them.

Our attachment obsession appears to have started when we quit roaming and settled down to become farmers and town dwellers. Some of us remained nomadic yet joined the materialist revolution by herding animals. If the origin of suffering is attachment, maybe our free-living days weren’t as painful as now. Should the First Noble Truth read contemporary life means suffering? Perhaps meditation is just another opiate—it helps us tolerate the pain but sidesteps the cause.


7 Comments

Joshua on November 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm.

meditation can be many things. I recognized the same feelings i get with meditation in many things ive done and do.
just wandering through the woods, or swimming, or running or gathering plants, even sex.
That said, when a person is “dis-abled” some options arent so easily available.
Being in a wheelchair puts a limit on some of my more desireable things i used to do to be in a “meditative” space.
For me at times I meditate with intention or a goal in mind, in this case, improving my physical health. its a sort of asking, like in prayer. I dont know that i seperate the two. prayer and meditation. or one could simply call it asking. or just putting healing intention into yourself?
Im curious to know more about shamans or medicine man/woman styles of healing. I imagine every shaman was and is unique and had individual personal ways to practice..
So when its very cold and the snow is deep, or its too rainy and slippery to push my chair, sometimes i just sit still and do a meditation. I like to make up my own meditation styles. sometimes i just sing with my hand drum.
All that said, still my favorite things to do are wander over the land, lay on the ground, or be in a sweat lodge… Joshua

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Alex on August 1, 2011 at 8:33 am.

Can it be that it’s a matter of degree of attachment, and placement thereof?

I’m talking about the misplaced need that many of us carry to be so very strongly attached to things (or people) the way babies are attached to their mothers. Perhaps that’s because we’re not cared for as babies.. and never learn to fully let go of those egoistical tendencies.

I’m talking about beings attached to “things” instead of the human circle, and the non-human circle, the father and the mother that is around us and within us always, We do this because that’s what we’re taught in a culture where survival often means slaving for, and then hoarding, because the mother-culture does not “provide” – there are no free rides.

In this culture mothers don’t have the time to take care of their babies. People don’t have the opportunity (or freedom) to live together in clans to help take care of each other’s needs. Over time we’ve forgotten to trust that the snow will make way for the rain, and the rain will make way for the berries, and the berries will make way for the den-bound bear..and his nourishing fat.

Sometimes I meditate. It helps to clear the clutter. Gives voice to the infant within who just needs to be heard and reassured, space for the heart to listen to the whispers of the Circle that’s within me.
It’s just one way. Sometimes it’s the Dream that gives the message, or a sudden Awareness that comes with a just-picked blueberry, or the words of an elder… the spirit speaks whenever the ears are open.

Alex

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Tamarack on August 4, 2011 at 10:30 am.

Greetings Alex,

Over the years I’ve watched many children grow up without adequate emotional nourishment, and for some reason most of them cannot seem to find peace in their lives. As you suggest, I see them looking for it in attachment. It seems not to matter whether it is people, places, or things—it is never enough. The upshot, as I see it, is that these people have trouble transitioning from being served by their circle as children to serving their circle as adults. They remain egocentric—an approach to life that denies them the bliss that comes from giving and receiving.

Your statement, “the spirit speaks whenever the ears are open,” points to what I have come to realize as our natural state of being. I think the best thing we can do for ourselves is to relearn how to listen. Imagine what life could be like if we could consistently hear the truth behind people’s words, and if we could regularly be in touch with our true needs and feelings.

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kendra on July 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm.

“Why do you wish to enter a void?”
“Because the void is nirvana—free of all thought, emotion, and attachment.”
“What’s wrong with thought, emotion, and attachment?”
“They cause suffering.”
“They do?”
“Sure, everybody knows that. Love brings heartache, attachment causes jealousy, thoughts create all kinds of mental turmoil.”
“Says who?”
“Well, Buddha for one. Life means suffering is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, and the second is the origin of suffering is attachment.”

Hmmm, at my current understanding, the comments above include some common misunderstandings of Buddhism.

For instance,
the term in Pali that is translated “suffering” might be better translated “dissatisfying.”–not all life is suffering, but until we realize our true nature, we will cycle into suffering and feel a deep sense of un-ease.

The origin of “suffering” is actually described as three factors: first, ignorance of our true nature (delusion), which results in a dualistic response of pulling (desiring or attaching to what we think we want, greed) and pushing (resisting what we think we do not want, ill will).

Trying to attain a state of complete no thought is also misunderstanding. It’s not thoughts per se that are the problem, instead, it is BELIEVING thoughts that are not true that is the problem. As I experience it now, believing thoughts that are not true results in feelings, emotions in the body that are not based in reality (either so-called “good” or “bad” emotions). Emotions lead to actions. Because those emotions and the actions they motivate are not in agreement with reality, we end up with lots of confusion and chaos and suffering.

The aim of meditation is becoming calm and centered enough to be able to understand clearly: first, what our true nature really is. Then to see how the process of thinking and believing what is untrue unfolds and experience it first-hand, direct experience–which is part of seeing the fiction that we call ego-mind. True meditation is connecting with our essence–our still, silent source– from which deep understanding and wisdom arise and reveal truth.

True love does not cause jealousy. True love is one of the many facets of the jewel of our true nature.

Cannot type more now. Hope this offers few pointers for musing.
Gratefully,
kendra

Reply

Tamarack on July 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm.

Hi Kendra,

I like that you started out with the translation issue, which exists even for those living in the homeland of Buddhism, as language and cultural perspectives have changed over the millennia. Given that, my feeble understanding of the Pali term in question is that it means “unfulfilled yearning,” which runs a close parallel with your stated definition of “dissatisfying.”

And speaking of cultural perspective, I’ve been researching meditation practices over the spectrum of culture groups and haven’t come up with solid evidence of its past or present existence with hunter-gatherers. I can only speculate as to why, but based on my time with native people and my experience with Earth-based living, I would say that meditation practice is simply not necessary.

Of course, there’s still the nagging issue of the other 6.5 billion of us. Not being hunter gatherers, we might do well to consider your perspectives and see if they will help with our dissatisfaction.

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kendra on July 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm.

“based on my time with native people and my experience with Earth-based living, I would say that meditation practice is simply not necessary”

yes, i ran out of energy to complete my earlier comment, which would have said something about this: regardless of the misunderstandings aobut buddhism, your point in blog is still relevant. it also seems to me that most earlier peoples KNEW their true nature, i.e., that they are NOT separate from all of life– that life is one infinite web of interrealated being manifesting in infinite diversity.

also, early skills like tracking or harvesting medicinal plants seem to me to intrinsically invite one into the awareness of true self that is the same as true meditation. so perhaps one could see that the earlier lifeways incorporated what we label as “meditation” into many life skills, without the need to separate out a time for something called “meditation”?

and the buddha said over and over, that ALL methods including meditation and the dharma teachings were simply tools, “vehicles” to help us get to the other shore of self-realization. he emphasized that once you arrive at the other shore, realization, you must leave the vehicles behind or they can become burdens, obstacles.

so yes, buddha’s message and methods were and are for the other 6.5 billion. even 2,600 years ago, the vast majority of peoples had already forgotten their true nature and needed method’s like the buddha offered to help them return to their true home.

my next concern is that for most of us (including me) at this time, it is not possible to return to hunter-gatherer lifestyle, so how can they re-discover their true nature? methods like the buddha’s is one way that has worked, and yet the methods also need to be radically evolved to help more people.

the vision i’ve seen is that it is not an either-or (not hunter-gatherer versus civilized lifestyle). instead it is “both-and and beyond”–that is, the way i see is to include aspects of both lifeways AND something that is BEYOND both–so far beyond that we have not yet imagined what it could be.

wondering,
kendra

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Tamarack on August 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm.

Kendra,

Aside from the student’s misunderstandings about Buddhism, I remember my conversation with her so clearly because she defined the yearning for some kind of inner peace that nags at so many of us.

Your explanation of why people who are at one with their Hoop of Life do not need meditation is essentially what I have come to. Standard meditation practices can help us get there, as you suggest. I’ve seen it work for a number of people. At the same time, I watch some of those people sink into a state of complacency—content with the serenity meditation gives them and seeing no need to manifest the serenity outside themselves. Is this another reflection of the egocentrism that pervades contemporary culture?

Your vision of a future that is not either civilized or hunter-gatherer, but both and beyond, is gaining more and more adherents. My issue with throwing civilized and hunter-gatherer lifestyles in the same pot is that history shows they don’t stew up very well together. It’s probably because civilized societies are rational creations and hunter-gatherer ways are more intuitively rooted. I’d personally like to live the life already programmed in my DNA.

Does this mean a return to the life of our pre-agricultural ancestors? I doubt it, as all things change with time. What it does mean—how life might look—is actually of no particular importance to me. When I am following my heart-song and in balance with the Hoop of Life, I am in my bliss. However,
this time it is not only my bliss, but that of all creation.

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