POEM: Insight: Or, The Benefits of Meditation

Once, tsunami waves crashed ashore,
catching me off-guard.
In wonder of just what’d hit me,
I’d sit – soaked and scarred.

The more I’d sit, watching my world,
the more I’d see storms howl.
I’d still get drenched, but, sometimes,
I could reach my towel.

Often, when I’d witness my mind,
I’d see the squalls approach,
and I could pack my things and go
before the surge encroached.

I never learned the magic to
turn the winds away,
but I could see the distant clouds
and shelter from the fray.

POEM: Black Skies [Rondeau Quatrain]

I saw the black skies up ahead,
but hoped they’d clear as I approached.
I hoped they’d clear as I approached.
I saw those black skies up ahead.

And from the distance I felt dread.
The dark wouldn’t yield to my reproach.
I saw those black skies up ahead,
but hoped they’d clear as I approached.

The ebon clouds began to spread.
Into my mind they did encroach,
and on my bliss began to poach
until something monstrous was bred.

I saw the black skies up ahead,
but hoped they’d clear as I approached.
I hoped they’d clear as I approached.
I saw those black skies up ahead.

POEM: A Voiceless Birdie Told Me

Notions whispered into my mind — unheard.
They’re just hot-injected scraps of feeling.
I seek a source in floor, wall, and ceiling,
but I know that can only be absurd.

This is no exchange by grammar or words —
nothing is concealed or needs concealing.
Notions whispered into my mind — unheard.
They’re just hot-injected scraps of feeling —

like the voiceless notes of a little bird,
received without a chirp or any squealing.
Wounds don’t need to hear they should start healing.
The feeling ‘s clear even when the meaning ‘s blurred.

Notions whispered into my mind, unheard.

POEM: Scrapping Labels

The brain wants to slap a label on everything it comes in contact with —

good… bad
pleasurable… painful
smart… dumb
naughty… nice

Having reached the time and disposition to tear away these labels, I find that some are stuck fast —
though they went on with the ease of a sticky note.

And so I unpack concepts and scrap labels —

sometimes with ease
&
sometimes tediously.

POEM: Rainy Day Rambling Brain

Sitting on the balcony, watching the rain, I see spreading concentric rings ping into each other in the puddles below. The expanding rings of big drops swamp those of the smaller droplets. More evenly-matched pairings of waves becomes something new — not pure chaos, but much more complex than either of their parents. The analogy to the workings of my mind is intuitively felt — if not intellectually understood.

A pigeon struts along the ledge of concrete slab on a building under construction next door. The slab intends to become a balcony like the one on which I’m sitting.

I want to think that only a winged creature could walk so confidently on that ledge, but I remember reading that skyscraper construction companies in New York City hired lots of men from a certain Western tribe known for fearlessness vis-à-vis heights.

But were they fearless?

Sooner or later, fearless creatures become careless creatures — at least among humans.

The chipmunk bobbing at the twiggy, distal end of a branch seems fearless to me, but I also feel that I’d see a lot more sidewalk-splattered chipmunks if the little beast didn’t have some kind of feeling about the precariousness of its situation. Maybe, I anthropomorphize.

And one puddle reaches a tipping point, pouring into another…

POEM: Tempest: or, Overstimulated

A quiet kind of lightening storm
will fire in wild moments of mass,
when thought chunks rush to the center —
the very center — of my mind.

It’s a ten ton pile up of thought
first packed, then crammed, together fiercely.

Just like the thunderless lightening,
no sound escapes that brain tempest.

POEM: The Brain’s Label-Maker

My brain has a label-maker that pumps out bifurcated tags for everything it experiences:

good… bad…

pleasurable…  painful…

in-group… out-group…

familiar…  strange…

It pastes these labels all over my world, a world once painted in feeling. But once a label is applied:

-I think I know the labeled thing.

-I can’t really see the labeled thing.

-And, I can no longer be awed by the labeled thing.

As it happens, my brain also contains an inner mischievous boy with a penchant for picking at the corners of those labels. And whenever one comes loose, he looks around the joint, and — if the coast is clear — he rips away the label and runs. Running not to escape punishment, but to find the optimal distance for that thing’s radiated splendor.

And sometimes when that boy sees another staring intently into the distance as if hoping to see magic or a fireworks display, the boy wonders why that one doesn’t watch the magic near at hand. But they can’t see it. It’s invisible to them. And instead they suffer blank hope, drowning amid a sea of bliss.

An App for That: Profound Yogic Practices You May Not See in Class

To the average person, yoga consists of a series of poses that stretch the muscles and strengthen the core.  In truth, often the most profound and life-altering experiences had by yoga practitioners involve only a seated or lying posture. If you practice yoga, you’re probably aware that postural practice, or asana, is just only one element of yoga, and perhaps you’ve experienced some of the other elements of yogic practice. However, it’s not always easy to access such training at the local studio.

 

These days there’s another way. These practices can be accessed through apps such as EKA.

 

Below are five powerful yogic practices that you might not find taught at your local yoga studio, but that you’ll find on EKA.

 

5.) Yoga Nidra: Yoga Nidra translates to “yogic sleep.” It’s a practice in which one stays in the mind-state between wakefulness and sleep, i.e. hypnagogia, for an extended period while working through a sequence of practices. Yoga nidra is extremely relaxing, but also allows one to access the subconscious in a manner similar to that of self-hypnosis. This makes the practice useful both for people who have trouble with sleep or settling into rest, but it also allows one to influence the subconscious so that one can make changes in areas where subconscious influence is strong.

 

For example, a person seeking to lose weight understands that they need to be careful about what they eat. However, the subconscious isn’t always on the same page as the conscious mind, and cravings for sugary or fatty foods may win the battle. In yoga nidra, we use sankalpa — a resolution, to help win the subconscious over. We also use practices like visualizations to gain insight into what is happening outside the bounds of conscious thought, and to exercise influence over it.

 

4.) Kaya Sthairyam: Kaya Sthairyam translates to bodily stillness, or steadiness. If you’ve done any meditation, you were probably taught to adopt a position in which you could be as still as possible throughout the practice. The reason for this is that even subtle movements can distract one, weaken one’s concentration, or have a stimulating effect. In yoga, kaya sthairyam is used to achieve a state of maximum stillness. If one wishes to increase one’s ability to concentrate for extended periods, one must build one’s capacity to remain still. That said, kaya sthairyam need not be thought of as only a prelude to meditation. The tranquility that arises from these practices make them worthwhile in their own right.

 

3.) Bija Mantra: In India, chanting is a very popular practice among yoga practitioners, and many have found great clarity in it. In one of my early classes teaching yoga to children, I found that as soon as the kids sat in a cross-legged pose many of the younger children spontaneously started softly reciting the gayatri mantra. That’s how intense was their association between sitting down cross-legged and chanting.

 

In the West, mantra chanting is less familiar. The six bija mantra, or seed mantra, are a beautiful way to introduce oneself to mantra chanting because of their simplicity. Because the bija mantra (LAM, VAM, RAM, YAM, HUM, and AUM) are all monosyllabic, easily pronounced, and are related sounds, they can be picked up quickly and easily.

 

2.) Witnessing Meditations: The yogic teaching that has had the most life-changing effect on me has been dispassionate witnessing. While it’s not a complex idea, it requires some explanation.

 

Let’s first consider what minds usually do in the face of a problem. There are two common responses that are not particularly healthy.

 

The first is to distract oneself from the problem. In some cases, this distraction can be an unhealthy activity — such as drug abuse, but it might also be something neutral like watching television. However, even if you distract yourself with a wholesome activity like volunteering at a soup kitchen, the problem is still there and it will have its say. If not directly, then indirectly through nightmares, indigestion, or a stress-induced illness.

 

The second option is obsessing. The brain tries to lessen the sting by anticipating the worst possible scenario. The trouble with this obsession is that to find our worst case scenario — we have to hang toxic labels on all possible events and invent possibilities that are so unlikely as to be nearly impossible. And having invented such dire cases, we often give them too much weight. As Mark Twain put it, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”  The negativity piles up and causes stress and anxiety to balloon out of control.

 

In dispassionate witnessing, we don’t ignore or distract ourselves, but we also don’t strap on value judgements or build worst cases. We simply recognize what we are feeling, acknowledge it, but don’t feed our anxieties.

 

One of the most basic witnessing practices involves watching sensations in the body. Imagine you’re doing this practice and you feel an ache in your back. If you try to ignore the sensation, the mind may turn up the intensity to get your attention.  If you obsess, you’ll soon convince yourself that this sensation is really an ache… no, a pain… no, it’s agony… oh no, could there be a tumor growing on my spine? [That may be exaggerating a bit, but you see the point.] However, if you focus your attention on the sensation without labeling it, you’ll probably find that the sensation passes. In essence, the body says, “Hmm, the brain examined this sensation and didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about, let’s move on.”

 

1.) Pranayama: Probably the most under-rated yogic practice is pranayama, or breathing exercises. By controlling one’s breath, one can influence one’s emotional state, one’s physiological processes, and the state of agitation in one’s mind. Breath practices are the most direct means to counteracting the stress response. However, despite constantly breathing — day in and day out — most people remain unaware of the incredible power of consciously controlling the breath.

 

There are a variety of types of breath exercises. There are breaths that have a stimulating effect on the body and mind, and those that have a calming effect. Scientific evidence has accumulated that there are benefits to practicing slower and deeper breathing, and pranayama offers a systematic approach to building this capacity. No matter what kind of pranayama one is doing, there is a side benefit from holding one’s focus on one point, the breath.

 

Pranayama is a great lead-in to meditative practices. It helps achieve a state of mind which is neither drowsy nor agitated. That said, pranayama is also beneficial on its own.

 

If you’re interested in exploring any of these practices, the EKA app is a great place to start.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Losing Control by Jules Evans

The Art of Losing Control: A Guide to Ecstatic ExperienceThe Art of Losing Control: A Guide to Ecstatic Experience by Jules Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This is a philosopher’s account of sampling from the various wells of ecstatic experience. It’s one of many works these days on what the ancient Greeks called ekstasis. There’s been major interest in investigating the topic in recent years. Historically, religion was the means by which people pursued ecstasy, but – increasingly — people who don’t care for the dogma and tribalism of religion are starting to crave its more blissful and ego-shedding aspects.

As a work of immersion journalism, the book is a mixed bag. Evans does seek some firsthand experience of most of the topics covered, but the extent of his immersion and his discussion of it varies greatly. For example, he goes into great detail in pursuing and discussing mystic Christianity, but isn’t so comprehensive in discussing neo-Tantrism (i.e. Western, or sex-centric, Tantra) and his discussion of psychedelics draws heavily upon decisions / experiences made as a teenager (which, it could be argued, is a little like commenting on the Eucharist based on that time you got drunk on Boone’s Farm and scarfed down a bag of Doritos. Though, to be fair, the author is clear and cognizant that his youthful dalliances weren’t necessarily equivalent to a conscientious pursuit of heightened consciousness, but are more a warning to heed Leary’s advice on “set and setting.”) At any rate, if you are expecting immersion journalism on the level of Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind” you’ll find this book isn’t consistently on par (though it does have its moments.) That said, Evans does a fantastic job of researching the topic and presenting interesting perspectives on the subject, and he does so with humor and inquisitiveness. (I will say that in the latter chapters I sometimes found myself very intrigued by the discussion, but it would occur to me that I couldn’t see a direct link being made to the pursuit of ecstatic experience. Maybe it was just me, but if he strayed, he strayed interestingly – which is better than the alternative.)

The book consists of an introduction and ten chapters. The chapters cover such approaches to ecstasy as: religion (primarily Christianity is discussed, obviously focusing on sects and subsects that pursue [rather than shun] ecstatic experience), the arts, rock-n-roll (with an intriguing focus on its surprising resemblance to religion), psychedelic substances, meditation, neo-Tantrism, war and violence, communing with nature, and transhumanist efforts.

With the exception of Evans’ investigation into meditation, for which his experience involved Vipassana — a nominally Theravadin Buddhist system, Evans’ book focuses heavily on Western approaches. I actually enjoyed this because it seems like there is much more discussion of Eastern approaches and those rooted in them.

The book is annotated and has a section of photos in the back as well as a few other graphics where needed.

I enjoyed this book and learned lot from it. As immersion journalism it displayed a wide variance of depth and openness, but it was well-researched and the information was delivered in a light and readable manner.

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