BEA.ST

in evolution
writings about the process…

spiritual diary 2oo9.12.4

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one hour a day, for two weeks

The last few weeks have seen a major shift in my discipline and habit. I’ve been meeting with Jay every morning to do roughly an hour of meditation, and this has been from 6-7am. All through high school everyone tried to convince me to get up early and I resisted – it took being unemployed with no enforced structure to get myself up early in the day.

Waking up at 5:45am before the sun is up, meditating, playing music, eating breakfast, and going to the gym, all before turning on the computer (3 hours awake with no computer! when it’s usually ~30 seconds, literally), has been somewhat transformative, even disregarding the meditative experiences itself. My energy feels brighter, cleaner, happier. But the meditations have shifted as well – my focus has been getting noticeably tighter. The walls of my eyelids recede further, upon closing my eyes – if I meditate at night, I notice that they feel a few feet away.

Alan Wallace talks about ‘coarse excitation’ – the type of thought that enters your mind and grabs enough of your attentional focus to divert you completely from your breath. I’ve been doing breath counting until I feel largely rid of coarse excitation, and am slowly seeing it recede. It will be a tougher challenge to face coarse excitations without the aid of breathing to give the mind that simple focusing task. Typically I’ll have one of these coarse excitations like 20 times in an hour session. However, one session last week, I experienced my first 45 minute meditation with a complete lack of coarse excitations. Thoughts floated freely and often, but never to the point of removing me from my object of focus.

Things feel really good right now. Crisp.

pale blue dot

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Seen from 4 billion miles away; this tiny speck of light, this pale blue dot, is our planet Earth

Seen from 4 billion miles away; this tiny speck of light seen in the middle of the right band, this pale blue dot, is our planet Earth

in case you haven’t ever read this, or seen it. From Carl Sagan:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

We miss you Carl.

a lighter bulb

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About five years ago, I made a sculture called ‘light bulb’ – a wirelessly powered, levitating lightbulb. Check the video for details.

When Gill Pratt came onto Time Warp for us to study electromagnetic induction, an assistant friend of his came by, Adam who works at DEKA. He told me in an offhand comment, ‘you made the lightbulb, right? Oh cool, we made one of those at DEKA for Dean Kamen as a birthday gift.’ Whaa?

So, after communicating back and forth for quite some time about being able to see it, I was able to visit DEKA and check it out; what I saw blew my mind. About 12 of these extremely talented designers and engineers had spent several months building one of these things. The scale is pretty magnificent, as shown below. It’s basically the same concept as mine, but with the added resources they built a custom [no straight edges!] wood frame, better wireless power transmission efficiency [a brighter bulb], and even a cleaner and more stable levitating bulb. Some pictures linked – ridiculous right?

Ridiculous, right?

Ridiculous, right?

I am currently in talks with them about continuing development on this project – the goal is still [as it has been for quite some time] to release an open-source kit-able version of this project. People will be able to buy a built version, or an unbuilt version, to learn more about how it works – there are some real engineering challenges however [many parts, high complexity, some high voltages that you need to know what you're doing with, etc] – so it’s slow going. So for now, here’s this!

I want to thank all the folks at DEKA for the honor of having a piece made like this [not that it's for me!] – and here’s to hoping that in the spirit of learning and giving to others we can figure out a way to get these things into the public.

The amazing engineers and designers at DEKA who worked on this.

The amazing engineers and designers at DEKA who worked on this.

alan wallace’s pledge of allegiance

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From one of his talks, found on this video:

“I pledge allegiance to the general well being of all sentient beings

beyond all national boundaries, ethnic groups and ideologies;

may we all flourish and live together in harmony

and support each other in our mutual pursuit of genuine happiness.”

spiritual diary 2oo9.11.17

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various, using awareness watch

Been trying a variety of technologies, and for a while stepping back to really work on concentration – back to counting breaths. Sometimes a lot of meditation time is lost in thoughts that seem to go on for minutes – so in order to try to curb that I’ve been doing two things – first, using the awareness watch that I made with Jay, which gives a gentle buzz every 2-3 minutes, to bring you back if your focus has been lost. Secondly, more locally, counting all breaths, in sequences of 10, as laid out in ‘Mindfulness in Plain English,’ still one of the best guides to meditation that I know. I figure once I can do a couple sessions without ever losing count, my attention will be sufficient to take off the training wheels. It’s funny how often in different contexts our desire to move forward, our lack of patience, becomes the biggest impediment to our moving forward in the first place.

Have also been getting into some new reading. Two authors specifically – first, Alan Wallace, who wrote ‘The Attention Revolution’ – a guide to the different stages of conscious attention, and secondly, a 700-page tome that I have just begun, called ‘Zen and the Brain’ by James Austin. Both of these guys are neuroscientist Buddhists of one sort or another, really beginning to solidify that previously existing gap between mysticism and scientific theory. I am really appreciating the depth with which James Austin is explaining how  meditative practices can enable functional changes in the human brain, and where we have evolved our sense of self. If anyone else is up for reading 700 pages about this stuff, I’d love some book partners!

spiritual diary 2oo9.11.o3

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35 minutes with interval clock

Thinking “Look how clear I am!” is not being clear.

Rereading a great book, ‘Untethered Soul’ by Michael Singer. He takes the ancient teachings of Jnana Yoga, the ‘impossible’ “path of knowledge” to the self, and modernizes them in a way very easy to digest for the 21st century reader. I’m finding wisdom on most every page I read.

I am realizing more on a daily basis that everything about us is a pattern. Sure, we are no blank slate, and we have our species’ predispositions. But every habit you have is formed from previous experience; and as we look deeper into levels of the Self, we can see how deeply arbitrary many of these patterns are. Meditating on these thoughts, as they arise, allows us a level of distance from them. Awareness -is- distance, which enables control and change.

Meditating more, I slowly see how our ability to truly let go of everything that comes into our mind, as difficult as it may be to rid ourselves of those deeply ingrained patterns, allows us to gain full control of the previously unleashed elephant. What would happen if we had total control of our thoughts at all times?

spiritual diary 22.1o.2oo9

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3o minutes, many times

I’ve been reading a lot lately in my new copious free time. In some sense I’ve been so busy reading and processing these thoughts that I’ve not written – that and questioning my motives for writing in the first place. Is writing about development an ego-based desire? If it connects with some people and helps others get through similar situations, is the desire to help selfless or selfish, to desire to be the helper? Anyway, that led to a short hiatus. I think being aware that that can be an issue is enough. Watch it, and see what happens.

One book I can’t recommend enough is ‘Mindfulness in Plain English,’ recommended to me by my friend Carla. Written by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, I found this the most lucid account, a handbook of sorts, into the practice of Vipassana meditation. In a matter of 120 pages it covers the why, the how, the ‘what will get you stuck and how to get past it’, and even the long term effects, beyond the practical. It spoke deeply to me and helped me understand the process better, and I hope it reaches anyone reading this.

I have many more books to talk about, but one at a time…

spiritual diary 2oo9.1o.o5 monkey mind

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assorted in europe
2 30-minute sessions today

i am slowly realizing that my self is defined by thinking. i am not attached to objects for my identity, but to thinking itself. on top of the ego’s normal need to think, to itemize, to categorize, my identity in relationships with others has still been defined by thinking– this is true since I was probably about 7 years old, when I was asked to play ‘beat the calculator’ in class during free time. So, I feel now I have double duty to face — I am not attached to normal things in the outside world, but thinking pervades my every existence, my every process. My typical meditation, for example today:

the upcoming bikeride path for the meeting
… breathe
what will the book title be
… breathe
alternate possible bike route
thinking about thinking as a child
… breathe
i am totally identified with thinking
… breathe
… breathe
my childhood provided positive feedback on thought – once my social identity was defined at 6 by thinking, it has been unrestrained – and because it was my identity, is still my identity, it has been subject to positive feedback for 25 years, basically unrestrained. and so my happiness in situations is now dependent on my current state of thinking – flow is the common experience of happiness only because it is my easiest path, because i am so dominated by thinking; but flow itself is such a limited path to the general path of happiness
… breathe
no i cannot take the time to focus on breathing i need to figure this out and write it all down
… breathe, you can write this later
no i have to get to the bottom of this
… breathe, just breathe and you can figure this out later
… breathe

and then the alarm goes off. talk about monkey mind.

spiritual diary 2oo9.o9.o3

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assorted times around austria

more than any individual instance of meditation, the thing i am noticing most is that i can see myself more. i am conscious of my-self in more situations. working on an art project [with unsolvable problems]. calling verizon to pay a phone bill and needing to talk to a computer for 35 minutes to get to a human being [which three years ago would've driven me insane]. being in group situations [and seeing everyone seeing themselves, and me see myself]. being in one on one situations. i’ll say things and i’ll immediately say to myself, ‘why did i say that thing, what is it about my underlying ego or sense of self that wants to put that thought out there’ and then the conversation will take a turn for the better, because i will consciously shift my internal attitude. or i’ll think things and then jump out of the thought pattern immediately, wondering why my brain would travel down that road. questioning.

i find myself holding on less. in some weird way you could almost say i care less, but that’s not accurate. it’s just, i see more that in some sense, it’s all the same. things come and go. it’s more important to appreciate that ebb and flow than to be tied to any specific point on the path. to be tied to motion instead of level. we are all changing all the time, situations, our context, all in constant change. if everything is better or worse, doesn’t that mean sometimes there must be pain? but if instead, the value is on change, is on motion, there is no necessary downward renormalization. everything can be positive.

the phrase ‘absolute value’ has a real depth to it on many levels.

spiritual diary 2oo9.o8.28

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3o minutes

lauren is leaving in a few days… which could easily bring me out of focus, and does throughout the day. as many say though, these sources of potential pain also becomes the sources of the most potential growth, as we can see the sources of our pain coming together. i am better than i have been at seeing these sources early, and trying to catch them before they spiral, unconsciously, out of their normal control loops.

very clearly exercise prepares the body for meditation – i went on a 10 mile bike ride with lauren before meditating, and my body has not been this comfortable for 30 minutes in recent memory.

i caught myself thinking about someone else during my breath. then trying to trace it back. it seemed selfless enough, to be thinking about the welfare of someone else.. but as soon as i could trace it back 20 seconds into the past, i realized the thought started with ‘what am i doing later today?’ -> ‘i need to do something that requires something i don’t have’ -> ‘this other person has it’… and then i was onto the other person. these thoughts, in their hidden way, seem to always start spiraling from some unsettledness, some anxiety, however slight.

tried another technique today. within a half hour, it is very easy for me to get completely lost in though for several minutes, without realizing what has happened and catching it late. something i had done long ago but not recently, thinking it might be bad, was count inhalation and exhalation seconds- 10 in, 20 out, resulting in about two slow deep breaths per minute.

counting every second results in a tradeoff – it’s harder to allow the ‘moment’ to last for more than 1 second. but it’s also much easier, by providing a sub-pattern to the breath, to stay focused. i was able to keep focus on counting the entire 30 minutes, which never happens without me losing breath focus, if i’m only focusing ‘in general’ instead of subdividing.

eventually i traded off – i would count seconds during one or two breaths, and then take one or two uncounted breaths, knowing it wasn’t some indefinite amount of time to hold focus. it seemed a useful construct, oscillating between total local focus, and looser global focus. by the end of the half hour i was in a clear, beautiful state of mind, and opening my eyes revealed a crispness in the white room surrounding me.

 

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