This reminded me of an argument I had with myself after reading a portion of “Zen Mind; Beginner’s Mind”. I’ll post it here again, and then explain why I think it’s appropriate.
If everything that is discussable can be defined as an instance of a concept, where we define concept as the encapsulation of many complementary ideas into a consistently recognizable pattern, then the Zen idea of duality becomes definable. I came across this idea while reading Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”. He talks about how the mind and body are both eternal and finite, simultaneously; he describes this phenomenon through a metaphor calling mind and body “two sides of the same coin”.
I find this kind of language both confusing, frustrating, and misleading. I also find it ubiquitous, as this wisdom-in-fallacy has become somewhat of a generic style for presenting philosophical information (especially in the Buddhist writings I’ve read).
- I find it confusing, because the metaphor is seemingly contradictory.
- I find it frustrating, because, while I agree with the sentiment that meditation trumps reading ten-fold, I still feel like readings can unveil the source of suffering; so to have someone who understands the nature of suffering use language I don’t understand makes me feel like I have an answer stuck on the tip of my tongue.
- And I find it potentially misleading, because when an established school of thought – an authority – starts using incomprehensible language, you run the risk of blind acceptance, where students try to force their experience into a definition, rather than formulate an articulation from their honest observation.
That being said, when you do stumble upon an understanding that happens to coincide with an existing concept, that concept then thereafter seem obvious, even if prior inspection had you feeling as I describe above.
Anyway, back to the point: mind & body both end and go on forever. I think the understanding to take away here is that the concepts or abstractions that we refer to as mind and body are the sum of many different things. I mean this literally.
Think about the body: it is the thing that we best relate our physical presence with; it is the thing composed of organs, cells, and atoms; it is the thing, ever changing, moving through time, aging and deforming as it passes the days.
The same thing applies for the concept of mind: it is the thing composed of a personality; it is the thing that has mood; it is the thing that influences the environment in which it is alive within; it is the thing that is thinking; and it is one of the things that is remembered, regardless of whether it is present or not.
So when we say mind & body both end and don’t end, it’s really a matter of realizing that certain components of each end and don’t end. When we die, the atoms in our body don’t end, but the abstract concept of our physical manifestation is no longer maintainable, by definition. After death, our minds may not do what we traditionally refer to as ‘think’, but the influence we had during our life still lingers. We may not be able to think about a mind that has died the same way as when it was alive, but we still think about it!
I think the take away is that the abstractions we hold, collectively, as humans, are empty. They have no substance, but are merely an interpretation of the raw data we consume through observation. So while the abstraction may die, the reality persists, even if we think of the two as synonymous; however, even though they are different, neither is more or less important than the other. That’s what “two sides of the same coin” means; the raw reality cannot be expressed or experienced without an abstraction through which it can live, and the abstractions are void unless they describe some sort of reality.
Where we get in trouble is when we start describing abstraction in terms of other abstraction. Then you run the risk of becoming too worked up in trying to understand and keep track of all the variables at play in your model. Meditation is a cure for that ailment, because it trains you to let go of those abstractions before you have the chance to build upon them.
(above originally posted here: http://blog.adamgeorgiou.com/post/14235097079/breaking-down-some-language-because-mysterious-doesnt)
I realize the above is wordy and kind of a rant, but I think the idea I’m attempting to express is relevant here. Firstly, to summarize the above (since it’s obviously and needlessly dense): a lot (but not all) of the discussion I’ve come across regarding meditation is veiled in metaphor and abstraction, and I’d argue there’s no good reason for this other than that it’s spoken of that way for however long. Furthermore, I think a lot of good ideas are getting dismissed as crazy or cult-inspired because they appear to be using literary techniques meant to dazzle the viewer rather than educate. For example, David Lynch’s response in the link above is undoubtedly beautiful but, as illustrated by some of the more critical and negative comments below, it may be lacking in clarity. I’m not sure if I agree that it communicates the idea of enlightenment or answers the question of how meditation inspires the creative process, to someone who doesn’t already understand that process.
For example, the clip talks about “pure consciousness”. Paraphrasing here, but “pure consciousness” was described as being at the base of all matter and thought; it was said that transcendental meditation would allow you to dive into this ocean of insight and experience the basis of love and bliss; and it was also said that the full appreciation of this insight was called “enlightenment”.
To me, to use that kind of language to describe something as important as meditation is somewhat irresponsible (although, not in a malicious sense), because it’s obvious that the speaker wants to impart information on why meditation is important, and it’s also obvious that he’s trying to describe the causality that links meditation to peace of mind, but he’s using language that’s incomprehensible on an intellectual level, and especially so to those who don’t have any prior experience. The concept of love is ambiguous at best, as is “pure consciousness”, but they’re compared as if they have common denominators. The metaphor of “pure consciousness” being an ocean of understanding, doesn’t work if the listener isn’t given a relatable basis with which they can compare normal consciousness and “pure” consciousness. etc.
All of that being said, getting back to the message itself, if i were to try and translate it I think the gist would be something like this:
Everyday we take experiences for granted. For example, there are a certain set of actions we colloquially refer to as reflexes, and I don’t mean anatomical reflexes like the one your doctor checks, but instead I mean social reflexes. Social reflexes are something i’m defining for the sake of this conversation. They’re an axiom you need to understand before moving on any further. A reflex in this sense is simply a reaction; an action you’re used to performing in response to something that you’ve observed, to the point where you don’t even think about it (to some degree). Reflexes in this sense can be both positive, like brushing your teeth before going to bed; and negative, like getting angry at our spouse for doing something trivially annoying.
Meditation — again, for the sake of this conversation — is anything that involves examining your own reflexes. Meditators postulate that by understanding the relationship between what causes a reflex and the action itself, they can determine if the reflex is healthy or not and more effectively choose what actions to perform in their lives. Certain meditations encourage looking at reflexes at the highest level of abstraction, like noticing how much time you save by speeding in your car and analyzing if that action is worth the risk. But a lot of what are thought to be “traditional” meditations involve looking at things on a much more fundamental level, like noticing all the fleeting urges to act, that appear and disappear seemingly arbitrarily, when all you’re doing is sitting cross legged and breathing.
Anway, with time and enough diligence, meditation literally enlightens you to the world in the sense that it’s the study of the fundamentals of observation. If you can observe with a finer resolution, you’re looking at more information, and you’re literally given more opportunity to process more.
To conclude, with respect to the creative process, if you can observe more, then the subtlety of different literary and cinematic devices becomes more obvious, and thus accessible. In other words, your “golf ball sized consciousness” has grown…