How we frame meditation retreats has an effect on our experience

I wonder if there’s a placebo effect on meditation retreats that helps the mind gather and calm. Equally, if you approach a silent retreat thinking, “Argh, I can’t talk or have fun for days” maybe you’ll have a bumpier start. To be clear, I think the placebo effect is something real that we should take advantage of. I don’t use that word to mean “sham” or “ineffectual.” I think the influential meditation teacher Rob Burbea would probably talk of the placebo effect as an example of how we fabricate experience. Our beliefs and expectations shape what we get. My point is that, if part of our ability to access greater collectedness and mindfulness on retreat is simply due to a placebo-like belief that “I’m on retreat so this is possible now” then we can cultivate the belief this is also possible in daily life and experience the same benefits.Continue reading...

Mapping the jhana controversy

There is no jhāna for one who lacks insight, and no insight for one who lacks jhāna.

The Buddha, Dhammapada

This point is of considerable relevance to an understanding of the nature of absorption. The issue at stake, simply stated, is whether the first absorption is a deep state of concentration, achieved only after a prolonged period of practice and seclusion, or a stage of relaxed happy reflection within easy reach of anyone and without much need for meditative proficiency.

Bhikkhu Anālayo, Satipatthāna: The Direct Path to Realization

It is quite alarming that we can’t definitively agree on what jhāna is. The story goes that after leaving the household life, the Buddha-to-be trained with two meditation teachers, Ālāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, mastering the spheres of no-thingness and neither-perception-nor-non-perception under their respective guidance.… Continue reading...

AI, creativity, and self worth

I’ve been messing around with the Stable Diffusion AI image generator via Dream Studio. It’s quite mind-blowing. The image above was generated with the keywords, “One red eye cyborg concept art.” It creeps me out a bit, and I don’t actually like using it here that much. For better sci-fi pieces, check this algorithm-generated art. Anyway, after spending half an hour feeding keywords into this beast, I started to view my own impulses and thought patterns more objectively. I also began to think differently about my kids’ development, as they are clearly building experiential datasets and learn how to process them.

Seeing visual experience being generated to order, in a matter of seconds, raises the question of what is authentically real?… Continue reading...

What Elden Ring is teaching me about stoicism and perseverance

A lone swordsman approaches Stormveil Castle and the wind begins to howl.

On a ruined bridge high above the desolate Lands Between, Margit, the Fell Omen, stood between me and Stormveil Castle once again. The stakes were high: I’d spent £50 on a game months ago and a 20ft death-dealing guardian had seriously diverted my progress away from the main path. I had bounced off Dark Souls III after a similar experience. But this time I felt more confident. What had once seemed impossible was now a matter of persistence…

It may seem that From Software, the game’s designers, are straightforwardly sadistic. I mean why else would you place such a difficult boss right at the start of a game? We’re talking about a battle far tougher than the final scenes of many other games.… Continue reading...

The Dharma of Dragonball Z

Dragonball Z: Resurrection F © Toei Animation.

At a certain age, every weeknight my friends and I would huddle around the TV to watch a 20-minute episode of Dragonball Z on Cartoon Network. The show follows Goku and his friends as they train to become better martial artists and save the Earth from myriad alien and android threats. I don’t want to stretch this too far but I think there are definitely traces of Buddhist values to be found in the show’s themes. This would make sense when you consider that Buddhism reached Japan, the home of Dragonball Z, 1,000 years ago and has influenced its culture and martial arts. Like Star Wars, watching DBZ might have been a small factor that made the dharma seem familiar when I encountered it in my own life.… Continue reading...