Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Origin of Religion

This post is part of the History of the Devil series from Chapter 2: Devil Worship.

How did religions get started?  That's a challenging question to answer.  I've had thoughts of its answer along the lines of this:

  1. Errant pattern recognition led to superstition.  (When I do X, then Y occurs sometime thereafter.)
  2. Superstition led to errant agent detection.  (Some controlling force or some invisible being makes Y happen when I do X.)
  3. Agent detection led to empathetic reasoning.  (If Y is a good result, the controlling power likes it when I do X.  If Y is a bad result, the controlling power doesn't like it when I do X.)
  4. Empathetic reasoning led to attempts to manipulate or influence the controlling power.  (The controlling power likes when I do X, so I will do it again.  Or, the controlling power doesn't like when I do X, so I will try doing Z instead.)
  5. The techniques used to influence the controlling power get formalized/systematized, and a new religion is born.

This is a simplistic model, and there are many other factors to consider in order to broaden the religion from being that of just one person or one family to being the common practice of an entire community, but it seems like the basic mechanics are sound.  I could see religion going either positive (a "good" controlling power) or negative (a "evil" controlling power), or both.

Carus presented a different theory, one which was challenging for me to accept:

"Demonolatry, or Devil-worship, is the first stage in the evolution of religion, for we fear the bad, not the good.... 
....Devil-worship naturally precedes the worship of a benign and morally good Deity. There are at least many instances in which we can observe a transition from the lower stage of Devil-worship to the higher stage of God-worship, and there seems to be no exception to the rule that fear is always the first incentive to religious worship." HOD, P6, Paul Carus

Does religion always begin with fear?  We'll take a closer look at that theory as we dive into the History of the Devil.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

M - Reprogramming Stoplights

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

So, you may remember that in my second Hear In session, I had started to use a mental picture of a stoplight as opposed to mentally saying the notations of Hear In (green), Gone (yellow), and Hear Rest (red).  This helped alleviate the issue of my mental noting interfering with listening to the other voices in my head.  Well, apparently this has a side effect:

Today, on my way out of town, I hit several actual traffic red lights.  Usually, I am anxious when this happens, because I thrive in efficiency, and red lights are about as inefficient as you can get!  This time, as I was sitting at the red lights, a feeling of rest washed over me as I tied that red light to a mental calmness and rest.  Shinzen did mention that meditation reprograms your brain...  :-)

By the way, from now on, my meditation posts will be more sporadic, and in much larger increments of sessions.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jesus or Billy Mays?

Well, it's happened again.  Some lucky bloke has found their very own manifestation of Jesus, this time in a tree stump.  Naturally I am skeptical, but this time I think I have even more reason to be so.  I think the image looks a lot more like Billy Mays to me...

Unless...  no... it couldn't be... was Billy Mays the reincarnation of Jesus?  :-)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

M - Focus on Hear - Drill Class

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

All of the meditation on my own that I have been doing was in preparation for the class I took today, and, boy, was I glad I did!  Today's class had very, very little instruction.  It was guided meditation, but that guidance was minimal.  There was little methodology learning, but it was still somewhat valuable.  It was roughly the equivalent of taking an exercise class where the instructor assumes that you know how to do each exercise.  Shinzen was just the motivational teacher keeping you focused and moving you on to the next exercise at the appropriate time.

This class definitely kept me meditating in longer sessions than I had done before; an hour and half session followed by another hour-long session.  In between that was a break/self-practice time which, like yesterday, Shinzen encouraged you to meditate in motion, like when walking around or doing simple tasks, in order to take baby steps in extending Mindfulness into the rest of your life.

Anyway, for me, I impressed myself with how well I held the meditative, straight-back posture this time.  While I was in the posture groove, I experienced an odd sensation that I have sometimes when I am drifting off to sleep.  That sensation is the unreal perception of the body shrinking into nothingness while only the head remains.  It was pretty fun to have that experience while I was fully awake and aware!

I think this odd sensation has to do with continuous, unchanging stimulation of the nerves.  I think that they get so used to the feeling the same impulses that the brain starts to accept it as normal, like the ambient temperature.  My guess is that this same tweak of perception could be useful in pain management.

As for hearing-focused meditation, I have been getting better at it, definitely.  I can turn on accentuated hearing very easily, and that elevated sensitivity lasts well after the meditation session.  Although, I think I could still use a lot more work in hearing the voices in my head.  :-)

In the break, I tried meditating while washing dishes, and I actually had some moderate success.

M - Focus on Feel - Beginner's Class

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

Yesterday afternoon I had my first guided meditation session ever.  Shinzen led the session via conference call with at least thirty other participants, including some from as far away as India.

It was... interesting.  The session was all about bodily sensations.  Just like with the hearing-based meditation I've been doing on my own, this was broken out into Feel Rest, Feel In, Feel Out, and Feel Flow in similar, but slightly tweaked definitions.

Feel Rest was (obviously) feeling bodily rest.  This was very natural to me, and not just because I'm lazy.  :-)

Feel In was trying to sense bodily response which had emotional origins.  For example, if you think of a joke, you may feel yourself smile, or if you think of a conflict you are having, you may feel yourself clenching your fists.  I didn't have much of this type of sensation going on, except that there was a little discomfort in my knee at different times in the session, which caused me to tense up the muscles in my leg.

Feel Out was defined as pretty much any other bodily sensation; temperature of your skin, clothing against your skin, aches, itches, etc.  Just like in the Hear Out session, concentrating on Feel Out definitely increased awareness of a bevy of sensations which usually get ignored or pre-processed by your brain as being unimportant.

Feel Flow involved focusing on the dynamic changes in any of the above three sensation categories.  This was the most interesting one to me.  It's rare, at least for me, to drill down into a particular bodily feeling with that level of detail.  When I started focusing on the sensations, I could definitely sense a "rhythm" of dynamic flow in many of them.  For example, one of the most interesting things I noticed while studying Flow is that those annoying little itchy sensations that do not usually stop until you scratch them are so seductive to scratching because the sensation oscillates.  It is less like someone sticking a pin in you and holding it there, but instead more like someone repeatedly sticking a pin in you in the same location.  The nerves didn't seem to fire continuously, but rather cyclically, so that it was a new annoying sensation each time!

I was surprised that during a self-directed part of the session, Shinzen encouraged people to walk around and meditate at the same time, or to trigger and monitor Feel In response by reading or watching TV.  This seems to be at least one of the end-goals of the Mindfulness meditation methodology; that you can get to the point of living life with full awareness.  I knew that, but I was pleasantly surprised that he initiate the process of daily-life-integration on the first session.

M - Hear Flow - 2

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

Last night I did an abbreviated session of Hear Flow to get one more practice in before class.  It was a beautiful evening, so I had the windows open, and I could hear the lovely cricket songs ebbing and, well, flowing.  That's primarily what I focused on, drawn into the oscillatory nature of their chirps.  That is definitely much better than focusing on the nuances of the refrigerator motor noise!  It was time well spent.

I think I've got a firm handle on the fundamentals now, and I am ready for the Focus on Hear class later today.

Friday, August 10, 2012

M - Hear Rest - 2

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

I tried Hear Rest for the second time today with decent success.  It's funny, but in the Hear In sessions where I try to listen for mental chat, the thoughts seem poised on springs with hair triggers, ready to spring into my inner auditorium at the slightest provocation.  However, in the Hear Rest sessions so far, where you are focusing on both mental and physical silences, it seems my thoughts are more rested and secure in being tucked away in quiet places.  Obviously there is a psychological aspect of expectation affecting my experience; as if listen for chatter make chatter, while listening for silence creates silence.

Another interesting factor is, according to the Five Ways manual, the physical silence you listen for here is not necessarily true silence, but rather auditory rest, and even suggests that some people purposefully listen to some kind of white noise to achieve the physical sound rest.  So I wonder if it may be more appropriate to say that, in the physical realm, you are really just trying to focus on when you loose focus and attachment to sounds.  I don't know...

I tried envisioning the stoplight-style visual noting again.  It went much better this time, as I did far less impulsive mental-color-naming than I had on the first try.  This seems to really work for me.  Also, I forgot to mention regarding the first stoplight experiment that, besides mentally calling out colors, my eyes also impulsively moved to the correct virtual location as if looking at an actual giant stoplight.  I did a lot less of that this time around too.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow, when there will be a guided beginners session by Shinzen focusing on the "Feel" methods of meditation.  I suspect that a lot of my questions about the Hear options will be answered with parallel guidance on the Feel methods.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

M - Hear In - 2

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

In my second attempt at Hear In, I again started to have a little trouble with the mental noting perpetuating mental noting ("Hear rest, hear rest, hear rest, ..."), so I altered the instructions to work with a different domain: I tried imagining a stoplight.  Noting "Hear In" was a green light.  "Gone" was a yellow light.  "Hear Rest" was a red light.  This partially worked.  I say partially because I would often mentally say the light color instinctively as I was imaging the light.  However, I did not string these colors into chains of noting.

Just as before, my thoughts seemed "anxious" to be born, as if I was trying to walk on "idea eggs" without breaking their fragile shells and releasing them into my mental space.

Overall, I did not notice any improvement from the last time, and it seemed like several more thoughts ran through my head than before.  I was also having some difficulty with my posture this time.  I'm not expecting to be able to levitate after just a few sessions.  This is a longer learning process for sure.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

M - Hear Out - 2

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

I read through Shinzen's "POSTURE-PEDIA" paper yesterday.  Actually, it was created by one of his staff members, so it's not technically Shinzen's, but close enough.

Anyway, it discussed some of the various postures which are used for meditation, and hinted at monks performing meditation while standing, and even while walking.  I'm no monk, but I decided to up my difficulty on my second attempt at the Hear Out method.

This time I sat in a place where there was guaranteed to be some random house noise.  I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew for this second attempt.  My house is a lot more noisy than I realized!  Clocks, refrigerators, DH units, AC, etc.

There were so many noises that it was difficult to really focus on any particular sound to hear when it stopped.  However, I am not sure if that is really a problem or not at this stage.  I've gotten the impression in the literature that Shinzen stresses equanimity, so I don't think I should worry too much about not being able to sharply focus on all sounds simultaneously.

Despite all of the noise, I could still hear some of the more faint sounds, a sure sign of an increased acuity.  I could hear one of my cats breathing from about seven feet away.  (She was sleeping, and, not quite snoring, but certainly breathing heavy.)  Even more significant was that I could hear the "noise" in my ears that I normally only hear when the world is silent around me.

This time I had a bit more chatter in my head than before.  I think it was because I had read something which stimulated my mind right before the session. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

M - Hear Flow - First Try

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

Hear Flow combines aspects of Hear Out, Hear In, and possibly Hear Rest depending on the circumstances.  Only instead of focusing on the presence of physical or mental sound, instead you focus on the dynamic nature of that sound; how it changes.  That change is the "flow."  This is the last new technique which falls under the umbrella of the Focus on Hear super-method which I hope to take a class in this coming weekend.

I chose a spot in the house where I was sure to hear dynamic sound, but I may have overloaded myself on the first try.  I could hear my laptop fan, the refrigerator, and dehumidifiers in the basement, plus any other random noise that would occur.  So there were times when I it seemed that the real "flow" was my drift of focus from one sound to the other when my brain got too used to the subtle rhythm of whatever motor I was hearing.

The time did seem to pass quickly, yet I felt more anxious in getting the meditation done on this method.

During the mediation, I did have one moment where my brain conjured up a part of one of my favorite "ethereal" songs.  It's funny, but not surprising, how that connection was made.

I hope to get another practice in on these four methods before the class.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Belly of the Beast

Have you ever wondered what's inside the belly of the Beast?  Apparently, it's a mix of coffee, chocolate, and ice cream...  ;-)

M - Hear Rest - First Try

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

If you are weird enough to be reading my meditation journal here, you may have noticed that I am doing a lot of hearing-based meditation, and you may be wondering if that's all there is in Shinzen's The Five Ways.  No, there is a lot more variety, that's for sure!  I am just focusing on the hearing options in preparation for a guided course which covers the hearing options in particular next weekend.  Shinzen had requested that participants at least be familiar with the hearing options in preparation for the class.

If you are interested, Shinzen is also doing a 4-hour session on Saturday afternoon (east coast time) covering the various "feeling" options where absolutely no experience is necessary.  Just call in on the conference call number, and give it a try.  There is a $20 fee to participate.  I haven't taken one of these sessions yet to say that they're worth it or not, but if you are interested, you can join me on the call this weekend.  More information is here.  Just click on the "REGISTRATION" link on the left, followed by the "August 10-12, 2012" link which appears in the center for more information.

Anyway, so I tried "Hear Rest" tonight, which is part of "The Way of Tranquility."  The idea is to focus on the absence of sound or noise.  This combines "Hear Out" and "Hear In," so you are trying to recognize that silence both in reality (the physical world) and in your head (voices and sounds in your mind).

Focusing on the absence of physical sound was difficult, because it seemed that there was always some sound around.  There were some directions from where no sound was coming from, and Shinzen says that you can focus on those particular directions, but that is harder than it sounds.  Our hearing is naturally drawn to something, not nothing.

On the other hand, listening for silence in my head was relatively easy.  Unlike in my Hear In practice, this time I had no problem with noting.  My mind didn't string together "hear rest, hear rest, hear rest..."  I can't help but wonder if that is precisely because of the focus.  In Hear In, I was listening for mental noise, but noting created mental noise.  In Hear Rest, I'm listening for silence, and as soon as the noting is done, there is silence again.

I did have a couple near-slips into unconsciousness, nearly entering sleep.  Focusing on "rest" seemed to open the door for real rest a little more than before.

Once again, the half-hour session flew by.  It didn't seem like I had been sitting there for that long.  I'm sure that had I been waiting in line doing nothing for that long, it would have seemed like an eternity.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

M - Hear In - First Try

This is part of my meditation journal. See the first post for additional details.

Tonight I tried the Hear In option of "The Way of Thoughts and Emotions."  Unlike last night's session, the premise actually is to focus on listening to the voices in your head!  Or actually, it is not limited to voices, but any sounds within the mental domain as opposed to a physical, matter-vibration-based external sound.

I've listened to my mental chatter before, but, again, this has turned out to be a bit different.

Just like the previous Hear Out session, this Hear In session is supposed to be an active listening where you note when mental noises appear, disappear, and when all mental sound is vacant.

There's only one problem.  In the Hear Out session, I was mentally saying the notations of the external sounds.  In this Hear In session, my mind would get a little stuck in a mental echo-chamber or loop.  I would mentally note "hear rest" to signify that I was not mentally hearing anything, but that in and of itself was then mentally hearing something!  I am not sure if it was because my mind was trying to fill in the vacant space, or because I was trying to completely follow the instructions as I understood them, or a little of both, but at several times I ended up stringing together "hear rest, hear rest, hear rest, etc." into chains.

One part of this Hear In technique is that you are supposed to be listening with equanimity; that you don't really cling to or actively control any thought you may be having.  Those "hear rest" chains were not quite allowing this to happen for me, so I had to make an adjustment mid-stream to merely observing when mental noises appear, disappear, and when all mental sound is vacant as opposed to formally "noting" those times.  That really freed my mental-ears up to listen with more equanimity.

I'm often a task-focused individual, and apparently that was true even in this trial of meditation.  I had already planned on posting about how the session went.  So what mental thoughts did I most frequently have during this session?  That's right.  Thoughts about posting about the session.  Too funny.

Other curious notes:
  • I heard a little bit of a Sting song in my head, one I had heard last night
  • thoughts seemed "anxious" to be initiated, but typically faded out very quickly
  • I was surprised that no long monologues were spawned.  I guess nothing's bothering me at the moment, but that's pretty common for me.
  • The half-hour session flew by.  Yesterday's Hear Out did not really seem long or short, but today's Hear In ended much sooner than what it felt like it should have.