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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Meditation


~By Alex~
A few weeks ago, I posted a stop motion animation video. I’m sure by this point you’ve all seen it and appreciated it and duly noted the page turning technique and ooohed and aahed in all the right places.
If you haven’t, go do that now. Make sure to ooh and ahh.
Have you done it?
Now?
How about now?
Good.
The reason that I posted that video was actually an accident, because I was actually trying to put it on the only other blog on this account, which was actually my final project for my comparative religion course. But by now you've all been subjected to my voice (which is, I swear to god, a hundred times less nasally and annoying in person) and there's no going back, so I might as well give you a bit of background. As you all know by now, I did a science-y twist on Meditation and studied the neurobiology of Buddhist Mindfulness training. Now, for this final project, we had to do a ‘field trip’ because constructivist learning and pedagogical tools and synergistic solutions and cross-brain facilitators and yes. For my field trip, I decided to experience some meditation first hand and visit our neighborhood zen center (which apparently, is a thing).
The zen center is right in the middle of a residential area, so I dithered around outside for about ten minutes before someone politely albeit somewhat passive aggressively informed me that yes, this is the zen center, and that I should be pushing instead of pulling on the front door. I was surprised to find that there were a large variety of people already there, sitting quietly on cushions scattered around the room. Unsure of what to do, I claimed a cushion in the corner and observed the other meditators.
Next to me, there was a man and a very pregnant woman who appeared to be married. They both looked like they'd just stepped out of an organic farmer's market; the man had a scruffy beard, and they both wore flannel and touted eco-friendly bags. They seemed like the sort of people that would feel superior about the size of their compost pile. Next to them sat a slightly overweight middle-aged woman with hair dyed a shocking red, who wore a long, paisley dress and who I later discovered had an Australian accent. As I continued to look around the room, I found that the meditators were a truly eclectic conglomeration of people. There were some soccer mom types, clad in yoga pants and sweaters and constantly checking their cell phones, a pale, watery-eyed man in a suit who appeared to have just come off of work, and two young african american men with dreads and clad in sagging, ripped jeans who later revealed their names to be 'Miracle' and 'Mac'.
After a few minutes, the priest entered. He was a mousy, round-faced man with bright eyes and greying, curled hair that appeared to be precariously balanced on his skull. He was drowning in a strange combination of western business attire and oversized buddhist robes, and looked as though he wasn't entirely sure where he was or how he had ended up here.
As we went around and introduced ourselves, I soon discovered that everyone present, even if they hadn't been to the zen center before, had a well established home ritual of meditation. When it was my turn, I was forced to say that I hadn’t the faintest of what meditation was supposed to be like. The couple in flannel glared at me.
The priest, whose voice had a serene, musical quality, then began the guided meditation. He told us to 'get comfortable' in the lotus position. I, being the least flexible person on the planet, can’t twist my legs far enough even to sit cross legged, and therefore have no idea how one is supposed to ‘get comfortable’ with their legs twisted up like Pixie Stix. I tried to sit lotus style but only ended up kneeing the lady next to me in the stomach. I gave her an apologetic glance and settled for awkwardly folding my right leg under myself and letting my left extend out in front of me.
The priest asked us to focus on our breathing, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
In.
Out.
Innnnnnnn.
Ooouuuuuuuutttt.
I tried to get into the meditation. I really did. I tried to focus on my breathing, but that backfired because I was severely congested so that my inhalations turned into loud snorts and my exhalations turned into low whistles. I tried breathing through my mouth, but that only resulted in my throat becoming dry, making me need to cough. I didn’t want to break into a coughing fit for fear of disturbing the other meditators’ concentration, and tried to suppress it. My face turned red and I started making involuntary strangled choking noises. Instead of looking Zen-like, I’m pretty sure I appeared to be having a severe allergic reaction. The lady sitting next to me looked genuinely concerned for my health.
I didn't know whether to keep my eyes open or closed, and as a result kept compulsively opening and closing them, trying to decide which was better. I nervously looked around at the people around me. The man across from me was staring at me inquisitively. Great, so now I’m deathly ill and crazy. I tried focusing on a leaf across the hall.
The priest, perhaps noticing my failing efforts  to concentrate, said, "If you have a thought, a frustration, a moment of self-consciousness, acknowledge that it happened... then let it go. Let it float away." This only succeeded in making me even more self-concsious. My brain is like the streets of Tokyo, a jumbled maze of thoughts and observations. As soon as I quash one down, another thought pops up. I try to stop thinking, and therefore I think about trying to stop thinking, and then I wonder what it really means to 'stop thinking anyway', if that's really possible from a neurological standpoint, and then I think about how thinking about stopping thinking is a really bizarre form of metacognition, and how did we become so self-aware anyway, and I wonder if dogs realize that they're thinking, if that's the difference between humans and other animals, and my originally well intentioned efforts at not thinking just spiral downhill from there, and soon I've forgotten all about my breathing and I've gone from not thinking to the evolution of metacognition to the character of Buck in Call of the Wild to what a terrible movie that would make to how bad The Last Airbender was. And then I would realize that I was thinking again and the cycle would start over.
That's my problem, with meditation, I think. I like thinking. I do it a lot. It keeps me from being bored. If you're supposed to live each moment in the moment, and concentrate on one particular thing and then nothing at all, when do you get a chance to introspect or contemplate or all of these other important things? What's the point of Nirvana if it means you can't think about the implications of quantum physics on philosophy, or about how there's no word for 'excited' in french, or about that trashy rom-com that's coming out next week? Besides, isn't letting go of thought and accepting things as they are what every dystopian novel ever has been trying to warn us against? You know, Billy Pilgrim and 'so it goes' and all that?
I think I may just be missing the point.
Anyhow, after the meditation ended the priest gave very nice talk in which he told us about his garden and then it was over. I left the Zen center feeling thoroughly dejected and stressed out. One would have thought I’d learned my lesson after my last attempt at Yoga.

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