I had a go at mapping early Buddhist practice systematically. It’s over-simplified, of course, despite the fact that I couldn’t get it to look as elegant as I’d wanted. There’s a lot missing, such as the brahmaviharas’ value as concentration and insight practices, and their role in facing off against the hindrances. Some of the value was in my own reflection, and maybe it highlights a few connections at a glance.
Sympathy for Luddites
Social media creates an illusion that the world is wrapped in layers of information. We start to think and act in accordance with the idea that reality involves posting photos of ourselves, seeing what our friends did on holiday and writing about what we’re thinking. When we abstain from doing this after some years, the world feels like a claustrophobic dream in which everything that happens takes place inside your mind alone, an exhilarating thought that this and only this is your life.
Carrying the world-as-information in our pockets, it’s tempting to believe that what we experience when we watch a sunset or listen to birds arguing in treetops is only part of reality. The other part, we assume, is the part that can be quantified digitally and reproduced. However, these reproductions are a shadow cast by something no longer there.… Continue reading...
The importance of wholesome structures
Matthew Crawford’s book, The World Beyond Your Head, has some important lessons for maintaining clarity and sanity in a world of proliferating distractions.
In meditation circles, it’s common knowledge that prolonged stability of attention can create the conditions for deep insights to arise. However, we live in societies where attention is being monetised and manipulated by the advertising economy. Social media is engineered to foster addiction; newspapers are engaged in a clickbait race to the bottom. The river is flowing fast – away from clarity, insight, connection, and wellbeing – towards attentional degradation. There is a vicious circle in which we no longer have the willpower to do those things that nourish us and so we just scrape along the bottom: clicking, swiping, bingeing.… Continue reading...
Thoughts on consciousness
If we believe that consciousness is the only ground of meaning and value (i.e. a universe without any conscious beings to experience it might as well not exist) then three conclusions may follow.
1) There would be nothing more worthwhile doing than enriching the conscious experience of self and others through activities like philosophy, meditation, the arts, counselling and cultivating our emotional lives, sciences, socialising and collaboration.
2) We might value neurologically diverse minds not only for their inherent worth as conscious beings but also perhaps as comparatively rare forms of consciousness.
3) Any meaning derived from the exploitation of conscious animals for food or sport would be at least partially undermined by violating this quality that makes all other value possible.… Continue reading...
In the co-ordinator’s office of the meditation centre where I’m volunteering, there’s a piece of wood engraved with the following:
A beautiful day. It will not come again.
As a call to appreciation, it seemed more urgent than carpe diem. This came home to me while looking out of the window of a bathroom on the upper floor, having ushered a ladybird from the sill behind the toilet to the ledge outside. I stopped to look at the rain lashing the chimney pots and garden, puddling on the flat sections of roof below. That set of circumstances: the grounds, the rain, me, the people in my life right now, will never line up again in quite the same way.
I took the photo above on another beautiful day, not long ago.… Continue reading...
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