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. 

13 Comments

  • boodiba
    Posted 24 November 2009 at 4:05 pm | #

    Do you find that practicing a different technique every day doesn’t allow you to experience any one fully? That’s what I’d wonder about…. (For schizzle my nizzle).

    You made me laugh with the “this is like telling someone that the reason to practice yoga is to get a great ass.” Really, if Astanga weren’t such great exercise I’d have never gotten hooked. The other stuff has steadily crept into my life though…

  • srs
    Posted 24 November 2009 at 9:15 pm | #

    I weep over the simbelmyne on reading such a response.

  • Posted 24 November 2009 at 11:12 pm | #

    Well stop crying. Who cares why one starts practice? A nice ass is a good, clear intention. Like Patanjali said, the goal of asana is to cultivate a good seat.

    I will say that in meditation it’s definitely the case that switching between techniques makes for a series of relatively shallow, relatively confused experiences.

    It really calms my skeptical mind to have a meta-map of all practices and to have enough information to see through any fundamentalist claims that X practice is the most true or effective. So I’m glad that Shinzen is so scholarly, broadly experienced and generous.

    But the sense in that community, of people who have learned all the techniques and gone on to teach, is that those who constantly switch are either weak in concentration or running away from something. If you’re actually serious about practice, the idea goes, you should choose a technique that really resonates with your nervous system and do that technique for a while. (Shinzen says you switch techniques out of interest, opportunity or necessity as new dimensions arise in the focus.) So that community are not full on one-technique freaks, but there’s a strong value placed on determination and focus.

    In my case, there’s just this eager, curious voracity—a desire to experience it all. But, at intervals, I’m finally figuring it out that they way to experience everything may be to focus on one thing. Doing such a strong, one-technique freak asana practice—giving up to a “strong container” with a rigor that didn’t come naturally at all—has kind of prepared me for that, it seems.

  • srs
    Posted 25 November 2009 at 6:02 am | #

    But not for the art of close reading

    ‘Strong container’? It would need to be, for sure.

  • Posted 25 November 2009 at 6:40 am | #

    Shit, I need to return to The Silmirallion.

    Just read myself awake on a brutal novel by Richard Powers. This late at night there is no subtle reading – just the shallow layer of reading for plot, flowers passing me by.

  • srs
    Posted 25 November 2009 at 7:56 am | #

    That’s an image i’ll take with me to work. Rather beautiful, I think.

  • Posted 26 November 2009 at 8:34 am | #

    Maybe this is related to your query— from Tagore: “I do not covet truth that is shredded or clipped, or shaped to suit one’s personal convenience. I crave much more not to be frightened by incongruities in any form” (Tagore Testament, 41).

    To not put truth through the shredder…nor the xerox machine…nor the blender…nor the…bender…

    May your palms be upturned on Thanksgiving!

  • Posted 27 November 2009 at 7:39 pm | #

    comment1, Áäñì çíàêîìñòâà ðîñòîâ íà äîíó, 2464, Õî÷ó ñåêñà â òîìñêå, btlmmc, Çíàêîìñòâà äëÿ çàíÿòèÿ âèðòóàëüíûì ñåêñîì, >:-PPP, Çíàêîìñòâà ñåêñ ðÿçàíü, 06310, Áåðåìåííàÿ äëÿ ñåêñà ïîçíàêîìèòüñÿ, 6391, Ñåêñ â êîíòàêòå áåëãîðîä, yabsj, Ïîçíàêîìèòüñÿ ñ ìàëîëåòêîé äëÿ ñåêñà, exl, Õî÷ó ñåêñà ñ ìàëü÷èêîì, =[, Ñåêñ çíàêîìñòâà êàíäàëàêøà, 499262, Çíàêîìñòâà äëÿ ñåêñà áåç ðèãèñòðàöèè, =], Èíòèì çíàêîìñòâà â òóëå, wiobo, Ñåêñ çíàêîìñòâà â âèííèöå, %D, Àëàïàåâñê çíàêîìñòâà ñåêñ, 8(((, Íàéòè ëþáîâíèöó â òîëüÿòòè, pbuw, Ñåêñ çíàêîìñòâà ÷åëÿáèíñêàÿ îáë, pesit, Çíàêîìñòâà äëÿ âåðòóàëüíîãî ñåêñà, 3146,

  • Posted 27 November 2009 at 9:06 pm | #

    dearest question mark: is that the paper-shredder version, or the xerox gone wrong?

  • Posted 28 November 2009 at 5:08 am | #

    Oh Sara, you and chaos are doing some kind of collaboration. More brilliant than you know.

    I have been writing letters this holiday (Chitta Vritti, Gregor, Sara), btw, bet they’re now stuck in my outbox. My email program doesn’t recognize this wireless I’m bogarting as a legitimate line… will find a secure one presently.

    Thanksgiving good. Many, many root vegetables happening. Still recovering from two gatherings, pumpkin pie for breakfast (the best) plus another big dinner tonight and in the meantime this exhibit of R. Crumb’s originals for the Genesis project. I wish I had first read the book in this form. INSANE. I am still reeling from it. Anyone in LA, see the show!

    Crumb’s book is mind-Altering even for one like me who thinks she knows the material. No matter what attitude (straight, ironic, horrified, fascinated) I bring to it, I’m taken. My brother showed it to my grandparents when we were in Colorado last month… might have been taking things a bit far, that.

    But I wish I could give a copy of the book to everyone in my family for Christmas. Truth is I don’t have the gall to give their medicine to them straight. Instead, in most cases, I subscribed them to the Zingerman’s bread-of-the-month club: overnight-mailed baked goods from America’s most famous (Ann Arbor) deli. Oh well…

  • Posted 28 November 2009 at 9:06 am | #

    on epicureans in michigan, owl, see as follows: http://generationbubble.com/2009/11/25/detroit-nosh-city-glemie-beasley-and-the-future-of-food/

    he’s probably also open to a roadside discussion of genesis. works up the appetite.

  • Posted 1 December 2009 at 6:40 pm | #

    Ok, this is nuts. It is often said, in a romantic tone, that nature is taking over in Detroit. And it’s true. In many parts of the city, plans and animals no human introduced are flourishing while commerce kind of dies. I can’t decide if it’s calming or totally unnerving.

    But it is apocalyptic, I guess. Saw The Road this weekend (it’s really good, in a bad way). I love apocalypse movies, but most of the genre is thrilling. The end of the world is fun! In The Road, the end of the world is not fun at all. It’s not the thrills and chaos version of the story, but, rather, a much more spare depiction. Reminds me that in the back of my mind, the end of empire (maybe not the end of the world) looks like this, like nature taking over.

  • Posted 3 December 2009 at 11:01 am | #

    End of the world or not, I don’t know that I could bring myself to eat a raccoon that just got run over by someone’s SUV.

    And as for the fun of it…if we must watch the end of our own self-world as it unwinds in the “movie” field of the chit akash, could we at least get some popcorn to snack on?

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