Epicureans & One-Technique Freaks • 24 November 2009

There’s a pitfall of having it all—of Shinzen’s method, which teaches you every level and angle of meditation at once. The regulating principles are honesty in practice, and commitment to pursuing a different kind of triple bottom line: concentration, clarity and equanimity.

The hazard is dilletantism: using this richness as a buffet, a collection of refined habits of being. I often make the hedonistic appeal to non-meditators—it will enhance all your sensory experiences, your relationships, your embodied subjective pleasure, and so on—but this is like telling someone that the reason to practice yoga is to get a great ass. True and legitimate so far as it goes… but….

His system does offer everything. In addition to unprecedented and (but of course) unselfconscious sharing of his own specific experiences, he has gathered every meditation technique ever under his umbrella of practices. From there, he’s developed a complex technical language to make all those practices in to a mutually understandable family. It’s all so geeky that only the hyper -systematizers, the intellectually voracious, people with burning questions about the history of consciousness, and all-out nerds really resonate with it. (Turns out, this is a lot of resonators.)

But honestly, it’s genius quality R&D, an achievement that expands and deepens all techniques instead of dumbing them down for translation. It also kills any school’s claim to methodological superiority: if your method is so hot, TM, why don’t you let your students try a little heart practice? Ok Vajrayana, claim to have the truest energetic secrets, but why don’t you let your students meditate on the world zen-style the next time they’re cleaning the floors? Bhaktas, what do you do if you have a day you feel like an atheist?

Anyway, maybe like all meditators who begin from curiosity instead of from suffering, I am epicurean. I aim to be a connoisseur of sight and taste and sex and emotion. Not to mention, as Ram Dass used to say, a connoisseur of my neuroses. A connoisseur of pain, even. Once concentration becomes strong, vipassana practices can be just that—fascinated razor-flaying of inner and outer experience, with ever so gradually decreasing regard for the positive or negative valence of that experience. That’s what you get with the trifecta of concentration, clarity, equanimity: a good life even when it’s bad. A fascinating life even when it’s pointless.

Pursuing a beautifully refined, mindful version of the good life is fine, and I think an unproblematic goal of practice for superficial people. (Can I say that?) But: sometimes I forget my main question about the nature of reality and consciousness. Working in the sense-experience that is most difficult for me has suggested to me that there may be something to what Daniel Ingram calls being a one-technique freak. I am just not that much of a visual experiencer, but have been staying quite a bit with this “sight flow” business the past weeks. The difficulty and non-naturalness of the technique mean that "insights" come easy as I take the technique from first grade to maybe fifth grade levels. There's a steep learning curve–enough of a challenge to radically sharpen my focus and engage me so strongly that I don't mind setting aside my more pleasure-infused mindfulness techniques.

The sight flow work is hard and disconcerting. In a way that techniques of body-based meditation and watching my thoughts are not. Meditation that’s inside of myself—inquiring in to the nature of my personality or spirit or emotions or body—is easy to engage. It has a certain charge of selfiness that my ego thrills to experience. But bracketing selfy sensations to see the world and self more as objects: this kind of practice lacks the personal shades that often drive my curiosity for practice.

It feels like a good idea to stay with this outside/ objective/ Zen-like practice a while, get good with it, see what other shocking if useless understanding it creates.