I had my final week at a Mindfulness course this week, and this is what I learnt.
Mindfulness is a technique used to stay in the present moment without judgement. It involves awareness of our thoughts and emotions without casting any judgement on them. We may often let our minds wander by recalling unpleasant memories or thinking unnecessarily about the future. Dwelling on the past can only bring regret and dwelling on the future only brings fear. Hence, we should remain in the present.
This practice comes from the presentism model of some Buddhist schools which state that only the moment exists, all past moments have gone out of existence and all future moments are yet to come into existence.
Mindfulness is a proven practice, which if done over a course of time, can be of huge benefit to our mental and physical health. It was Jon Kabat Zinn who first realised the benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as beneficial to the health for chronic pain sufferers in his research in the early nineties. He was also o student of renowned Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, who has also written at length on the practice of meditation.
So what does Mindfulness involve? Well, we begin to become mindful when we stop stressing about things that have happened and also what may come. Mindfulness meditation aims to bring us back to the present moment by focusing our attention on our current sensations. What we may see, hear and touch are very important, as are what we smell and taste right now.
As your mind may wander, you can bring yourself back to the present moment by repeatedly refocusing your attention on your sensations. It is simple but not very easy and continued practice can help sufferers of depression over time overcome their illness. The key is that it doesn't have to be done in a quiet room with our eyes closed. We can do it during any activity such a brushing our teeth or eating a piece of chocolate. All that needs to happen is that we keep complete focus on the present moment. It may not work immediately but if you persevere then you may begin to establish some benefits of mindfulness. As I said it is very simple, but not very easy.
'The Mindful Way Through Depression' by Mark Williams and Jon Kabat Zinn is a good introduction to mindfulness meditation and its benefits. 'Headspace' is also a useful app for mobile smart phones to get you started.
This would be a good idea for those who like to keep (and break?!) New Year's Resolutions.
I went to a Healthy Living Workshop today, where we discussed motivators to change. Sometimes we may wish to change but don't fully realise the benefits of implementing that change into our lives. Hence, we lose motivation and our efforts remain short-lived.
A Change Analysis chart can help us put healthy changes into practice by highlighting the benefits of change and the costs of not changing. It has a similar look to a SWOT analysis for anybody who has studied finance.
So, my goal was to become a healthier vegetarian.
There are four compartments to fill in the Change Analysis chart.
1 and 4 are change averse and 2 and 3 are pro change.
These are some of the points I made. You should be able to fit them into their boxes easily.
- Can enjoy bigger meals
- Putting on weight
- Lack of energy
- More balanced diet
- More interesting meals
- Less snacking
- Becoming fitter
- More alert and aware
- Improvements in physical health
- Healthy food is expensive
- Food supplements are expensive
The pros far outweigh the cons as you can see above, reinforcing the purpose of the change.
If you want to get real technical you could score the pros and cons and do a Utility Calculus to decide the intrinsic value of the change. Scoring all cons as -1 to -5 and all the pros as 1 to 5 we can decide whether the change is worthwhile to us or not.
Utility calculi do have a major problem, in that they may ask to much of the agent. I cannot tell the future so any benefits or costs going forward will be difficult to score.
You can try the Change Analysis chart or the Utility Calculus and let me know what you think.
According to the Stoics, there is a soul-body dichotomy. The soul is responsible for animating the body so it is not only the ruler of the mind, but also controller of the body. The substance of the soul for the Stoics was something called pnuema or breath.
The Stoics believed in a birth, death and an afterlife. It isn't clear where the soul is said to come from. Clearly, it may exist before taking bodily form or it may only be established once you are born, Either way our time on this planet is a very small proportion of how long our soul exists for. We may live to 100, but after death our soul will be existing eternally in heaven. In this short period, the Greeks defined hedonism as a philosophy of life.
Hedonists believe in maximising pleasure. Not only sensual pleasure but also non-sensual pleasures such as knowledge or justice. Pleasure is the highest attainable good and the proper aim of human life. Avoidance of pain is more important to a Utilitarian. A Utilitarian may choose to stop smoking as it may curtail his life. A hedonist may not. There are significant problems with utilitarianism, as we cannot tell the future. So, I might give up smoking now, but I might die in an accident tomorrow so I will not receive any of the benefits of giving up. So, in terms of society, people tend to follow hedonism rather than utilitarianism.
A lot of Stoic thought went into death and what it meant. Dying is painful. But death is painless. Heaven in the afterlife is available to us all, further supporting hedonism as a way of life for the Stoic. One may actually seek pleasure in many things. Others may be less selfless. It would be pointless for us to not seek pleasure in our lives as it can be sought in so many different ways. Living a life without pleasure would therefore be a pain worse than death.
The Indians would add that we are bound if we choose to fulfil sensual desire. For them there are four main practices which is carried out correctly will bring bliss - knowledge, devotion, meditation and duty. This is extended far further by the Greeks though who were more interested in getting the most out of this life; there is no penalty for incorrect practice. For the Indian, there are many lives and practice will affect the quality of the following life after our death. Hence pursuit of non-sensual pleasures is important for the Indian.
Hedonism or the Middle Path, both are interesting philosophies on how we should conduct our lives.
Here are four meditations which are proven to help bring inner peace as well as provide many health benefits including preventing the onset of Alzeimher's.
Of course, meditation doesn't only have to involve locking yourself away and breathing. It can be implemented during any activity or routine. All that needs to happen is that you show complete devotion to your surroundings.
I am not the body
I am not the mind either
I am not the non-self
Nothing is mine
I do not exist
This mantra can be repeated over and over in the mind for peace of mind. A translation of this mantra can be "I am not my mind, Nothing is mine, The ego does not exist."
aham brahmasmi meaning "I am Brahman." Repeat this in your mind or using prayer beads.
Saa Dhaa Naa Maa Mantra
Saa (touching thumb to index finger) means consciousness
Dhaa (touching middle finger) means life
Naa (touching ring finger) means death
Maa (touching pinky) means rebirth (or transformation)
This mantra should be repeated with eyes closed, while sat comfortably in quiet surroundings.
I am completely flawed
Tangled thoughts suffocate
My fettered mind
And my shattered existence
Reflects back soft scars and memories
But your love still lights up my hollow bones
Dizzying up this embodied shell
So that I am left
Here I lie
Equal to none
Heart and soul taken away
And divided into pieces
With my troubles multiplying
Adding salt to my wounds
That is me
All summed up
My last post was on defeating Nietzsche's statement that "Power is the only means to knowledge." It was Plato who originally defended the idea of "Knowledge as a means to power."
Both statements are exact reverses of each other. I tried to defeat Nietzsche by proposing that fate determines power and that knowledge is a way of changing your fate. But, Western philosophy likes to talk more of free will rather than fate. Karma or fate is everybody's predetermined path. Negation of Free Will means the absence of choices to make decisions ourselves. They are subtly different as the examples below will show.
If we think of a trolley case, the Karma case could be illustrated by everybody in one trolley on one course. Imagine the trolley has no walls and we are all tightly squeezed onto it. Karma or fate is the trolley and we are all enjoying the ride. But, there are obstacles in the track which will topple some. Others will continue longer but eventually there will be enough bumps in the ride to send us all hurtling off. We cannot choose our course. What's more is that the course does not differ for anybody. What differs is how you manage to negotiate the obstacles yourself. This is, in turn, decided by knowledge. So for the Eastern philosopher, our power to continue is decided by knowledge. Fate cannot be altered or changed in anyway, but we still can choose to manage it in which ever way we please. We can be foolish and step to the edge of the trolley or be knowledgeable and stick to the centre.
The western case is somewhat different. In this trolley case, we are all in our own trolleys. One person to a track. Each person's course is different but nobody has control over their course. This is a negation of free will. Obstacles lie in the track which topple some of the slower trolleys but the faster trolleys are able to overcome them. Nietzsche would say that the speed of the trolleys is power. Plato would say that it is knowledge.
Whichever you feel is correct, depends on your point of view. Karma and knowledge as the Eastern view or Free Will and knowledge or power as the Western one.
Nietzschain Philosophy is a direct challenge to the Greeks especially Platonic thought. It was Plato who understood that knowledge is a means to power. Knowledge itself is irreducible which means that all things can, at their core, be reduced to having their basis as knowledge. Knowledge drives all function and purpose.
Nietzsche tried to destroy this Platonic idea by claiming that power is the only means to knowledge. So, you need to have power in order to gain knowledge. First comes power, and then comes knowledge. This can explain the feral child phenomenon, which tells us that children who lack the guidance of a guardian remain powerless.
On his execution for leading the youth of Athens astray, Socrates discussed at length with his students that knowledge is a means to power. Socrates had been poisoned by the Greek emperor and was hours from his death but he still was able to impart knowledge to his students. One may say that, without power, his knowledge was useless, but Plato has stood the test of many centuries. Socrates vision was undoubtedly strong and powerful and Plato is still studied in every Philosophy department in the West. Unfortunately this still does not defeat Nietzsche's argument as Socrates was formidable in Athens in 1000 B.C. and it was this power that gave his knowledge such influence. Think about all the great people that have been forgotten by the world because they weren't powerful.
Make sense? So we move on...
So, what can defeat this argument? Shankaracharya in eighth century India left home at the age of eight to study the schools of Indian Philosophy and proceeded to pretty much single-handedly change the course of religion in India. He had great influence and power in philosophical circles and even made a competitor from the Mimansa school into his disciple. It was his knowledge that gave him power. A Nietzschian would argue that Shankara had sufficient power to convince his mother he should leave home before he gained his knowledge but this was not the absolute power that I believe Nietzsche was talking about. Nietzschian philosophy (which was influenced by Freud) was a driving force for Nazi thought in the twentieth century, History itself speaks of the absolute power that the Nazis claimed was irreducible.
A nod to Nietzsche is therefore a defence of Nazi Idealism which is something I could never agree to.
But, there is something that is more fundamentally flawed about Nietzsche. In Mahabharata, the Kauravas were powerful but stupid. Their cousins, the Pandavas, were knowledgeable but were stripped of their power by the Kauravas. They lost everything in a rigged game of dice and were exiled from Hastinapur for 14 years. They were threatened that if they were found, they would be killed. Ultimately, the Pandavas had the knowledge to enter war so respectfully against their cousins and teachers, that they could not lose. It was knowledge that made them humble and gave them power. Ultimately, fate determines power but knowledge can influence that fate. So, in a world where everything is pre-decided we have no control over whether we have power or not. But, we can choose the knowledge we decide to take on as that is a mark of consciousness. Hence Plato wins.
Heidegger is a lot easier to defeat. According to Heidegger, being is living authentically and living authentically is going towards death Therefore by entailment, being is somehow going towards death. But is being actually "going towards death." Being has nothing to do with death. Being is about something beyond even life. Being is about essence. The eternal and indestructible thing called consciousness. To connect being with life or death is foolish. Hence Heidegger loses.
Breath of Life
In and Out
No sound except
The puff of prana
That makes way for
And longer notes
The breath of life
For the Yogacaran, existence is consciousness-only. Impressions are what we know of the world. So, if I have a headache, this is an impression, but it is by no means real. In fact, all impressions are make-believe. They exist only for the purpose of allowing diligent spiritual practice in the form of meditation
In an impressions-only world and a consciousness-only existence, consciousnesses and the world are entangled, so the dream is the same for everybody. Impressions consistently show, for everybody, that the sky as blue and the sea as green. In nobody's world is the sky yellow and the sea pink. Just like Neo in the film The Matrix, everybody is plugged into the same world but the reality is quite different. Neo had the Matrix as his waking dream. The Yogacarans have Karma. Karma ensures continuity and consistency for all impressions. So at the moment, I am in my bed typing on my Chromebook. Nobody will see a peacock holding a waffle iron sitting in a tent when they enter my room. Karma, just like Neo's Matrix, gives consistency to impressions.
In an consciousness-only world, all concepts of time and space are removed. In an world where the only existent is the moment, time loses all meaning. Time is a product of this world, and not of an every changing consciousness. Hence the self loses its eternality. Similarly, in a consciousness-only existence, space loses all meaning. Consciousness which is the only reality can take no position in this waking dream. Hence, unlike a lot of the Orthodox schools, the self loses its internality, and its position within the world.
The Yogacarans believe that consciousnesses can influence each other by their very nature. So, you may be subjected to horrors by a person. This will then alter your consciousness. Maybe the world will seem different to you. In this waking dream, there is no stage for that interaction to take place The world is completely make-believe. This does not bother the Yogacaran,. In a consciousness-only world, the only things that exist are consciousnesses. And if interactions are taking place then those interactions have to be between consciousnesses. No other interactions are possible. So, the Yogacarans have a perfectly valid reason behind why consciousnesses could influence one another.
Finally, liberation occurs when a person realises that existence is consciousness-only. Ego manifests outside what is real i.e. consciousness. If everything that is outside consciousness is not real then ego cannot be given a status of reality. Hence follows the egolessness of the individual and liberation. In The Matrix also, Neo is liberated when he is prepared to know the truth behind his existence and that this world is simply an illusion that can be manipulated and controlled.
Buddhism meets Hollywood - who would've thunk it.