Emptiness, One Taste, Weirdness, Dogmatism, Choice

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Sometimes, when I meditate very regularly, e.g. an hour a day for days in a row, it’s like the world starts to take on a strange, “stationary” quality. It’s like the world is hanging in infinite space, especially stretching out behind me, and all experience, especially in front of me, is one dimensional manifolds, colorful surfaces, colorful, empty shells.

Similarly, other times, it’s like all of experience starts to take on a uniform quality. Like, especially, the “fundamental reality moves” of conscious. Like, the “sense of looking back into the past,” all of that, all at once, just an empty, surface sensation. The sense of time’s passage, space itself, the reality of other times and places, everything in front of me, a sense of reality and depth–illusions, fabricated, empty, surface, sensations.

(And “no referents, anywhere”: referent, signifier, signified, foreground attentional “lock,” background “dimming,” object, nonsymbolic meaning, an optional or subsequent verbal tag. These all arise together to make it so there are “things out there,” or “things in here.” Or, “this is what’s going on, here.” Or, “this is what just happened, here.” Or, “this is what’s going to happen.” Or, “this is the way things are.”)

You might google “emptiness” or “one taste” or “one flavor.” These concepts have huge semantic fields, entire philosophies are built off of the former. But, my understanding is that these concepts are grounded in fairly technically precise, repeatable, verifiable experiences or at least gradients of experience.

I don’t know if what I’m experiencing are pale shadows, fake lookalikes, of some of the “end game” experiences described in some of the traditional Tibetan systems or prior. Or, maybe I really am getting flickers, hints, tastes of the “real thing.”

Thing is, on at least one hand, I don’t care. I think these experiences compose a “valid perspective,” in one sense. In another, I find them disconcerting.

I like the lush, sensuous, three-dimensionality of reality. I like seeing the machinations of consciousness laid bare, sort of, but sort of to the degree that I can have it all, to the degree that every perspective informs every other perspective. (Nirvana is samsara, emptiness is form, sutra versus tantra, etc., etc., or something.)

If things get too weird in meditation, I’ll take a break, either for five minutes or for months. There’s no rush, there’s nowhere to go, no escape, in a few senses. I’m not going to become a wizard if I get enlightened, and all my problems will be solved. Sure, there’s tremendous value in brain training: I hurt, I feel, I fear, I desire, I suffer, things go wrong, I’m so confused, so scared, so lonely, so fucked–how do I relate to all of that, more and more constructively? How do I fundamentally evolve my relationship to all of that, on a deep, neural level (not to mention skillful, pragmatic, ever-improving action-in-the-world), over weeks, months, years, decades?

(But, like, why gun for extreme experiences, and states, and stateless states, and gateless gates? If you desperately want something or desperately want something to stop. Ok, go for it. Maybe. Maybe. Be careful. But, paraphrasing, from Daniel Ingram or Bill Hamilton, or somebody, the gateway to more is precisely what you’re experiencing right now. I argue patience and stance shift and some cognitive clarification of the noncognitive act of meditation might go a long way versus thrashing, fumbling, stumbling, clutching, reaching. Those inner acts can obscure the process and the levers that move the process. Or something.)

Anyway, I was saying that, if things get too weird in meditation, I’ll take a break, either for five minutes or for months. Rather than drowning out or overwhelming some aspects of experience with other aspects of experience, or a new perspective, I want to bring it all along. I want to give other parts of me a chance to catch up. I want to give every part of me a chance to find new footing, to figure out how to play nice with everything else that’s happening. (I mean that sort of experientially and neurally, not anthropomorphically, but sort of that, too.) If weird stuff is going on, or my experience is being taken over by new weirdness, or attention or cognition is getting sort of confused, even just a little bit, I either back off globally or I flex the stuff that I want to bring along. I use my mind, attention, emotions, the sense of lush, three-dimensionality. I want all of it, choice-fully, symphonically.

I’m so grateful to the traditional lineages. I’m so grateful meditation is a thing. I’m so grateful that there are texts and teachers and innovators to this day. Let’s preserve those texts, support those teachers, do the (neuro)science, participate in that innovation.

But, in any case, I choose. I choose my valued experiences and ways of being, not dated, superstitious, dogmatic concepts and confusions laid down hundreds or thousands of years ago.

I choose; You choose; And we support each other, and everyone, in our choices and meditation projects, and in everything, etc.

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3 thoughts on “Emptiness, One Taste, Weirdness, Dogmatism, Choice

  1. In the CEV sense, I don’t endorse any practices I might undertake that would substantially alter my values. Looking at my children and feeling nothing would be present-me’s definition of hell – one Enlightened individual reported exactly this outcome.

    This is something I’m very concerned with and uncertain about. How to pursue “transformative experiences” when you don’t want to risk transforming into something you wouldn’t have chosen. I suppose, as you say, just taking a break when things get weird might be the simplest and maybe even best answer.

  2. So, yeah, like Murder-Ghandi:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/ase/schelling_fences_on_slippery_slopes/

    Or, as one of my acquaintances put it, you don’t want to end up in a state that “globally omniscient you” wouldn’t want to be in that, nevertheless, “local you” has no incentive to escape.

    Yikes.

    So, one way forward is ask people what their lived experiences are. There are more and more people claiming at least one stage of classical buddhist enlightenment on the internet. I think if you asked someone like Kenneth Folk or Vincent Horn (and fanning out from there), I think they’d be up for having a frank, careful conversation with you.

    Rambling:

    As for myself, my preferences seem basically intact, so far. (I try to be very, very careful about “shoulds,” like, if I meditate, noticing any sense that this *should* happen, or this is how I *should* feel. I try to very tentatively, patiently feel into things, trying them on for a while.)

    I feel more, not less.

    In some ways, it seems like I have less choice, but that’s more of the “uncompromising” flavor than the robotic flavor. Like, there’s more and more about who I am and what I want that I can’t ignore.

    Anyway, but I don’t claim any stage of enlightenment.

    Regarding the “feeling nothing” anecdote. I mean, yeah, that sounds really bad. I’ve read stuff like that, too, like really creepy, alien coldness and detachment.

    Somewhere there’s this Stephen Colbert quote which I can’t find. Did you ever see the George Bush roast a few years ago, where Colbert was making fun of arguably the most powerful person in the world? In really, cutting, on-target ways? Now, sure, it’s not like Colbert is going to get killed or arrested or whatever. But, up there in the spotlight, think what that could/should/would do to a monkey brain, or any performer. The most powerful people in the world. Anyway, I can’t find the quote, but this was a trained ability:

    Like, Colbert intentionally went on terrifying roller coasters and looked for things to criticize and ways to make fun of experience until he wasn’t scared anymore.

    I guess my point is, Colbert put in the time and work and is no longer “human” in some sense. The question is, what has he gained, what has he lost, and how flexible is it? Is it specific to performances or is his relationship messed up with his boss or his wife?

    This isn’t the best example; it’s kind of flimsy and hearsay-y.

    But, in general, I guess what might be important are the actual threads of experience, what’s gained, what’s lost, under what circumstances. The specifics. The actual lived experience that language can only imperfectly describe.

    Like, seeing through cultural bullshit, becoming, say, immune to some aspects of the human experience might give great freedom to nurture, create, play, love, live, etc.

    But, yeah, teasing apart all those threads, brain modules, what’s activated and deactivated, under what circumstances, what’s gained, what’s lost, how much flexibility these is to adapt to future and correct mistakes.

    And not getting caught in something that globally omniscient you wouldn’t want. That’s not just a meditation problem. That comes up for all sorts of life experiences that shape us.

    But, yeah. I think meditation moves slowly enough that there’s plenty of time to evaluate trajectory, if one makes the time to do so. That can be cognitively exhausting and opportunity-costly.

    It seems there’s always a risk. How big of a risk is uncertain, at this current stage of our knowledge.

    I’m on the trail of more me, bigger me, better me, a more intense, more refined, more nuanced version of myself. There’s tremendous complexity, contingency, conditionality in there, around love, pain, longing, suffering, compassion, goals, family, relationships, friendship, mortality, play, fun, joy, happiness, sacrifice, managing uncertainty, risk, etc., etc., etc., etc.

    Each moment is sort of a boltzmann brain moment. Our self and entire past sort of arise together, anew in each moment. All experience is constrained by physics but is in some sense virtual. Self, past, world, relationships are fabrications and brain modules. And, like, people are suffering horribly and dying all over the planet, right now. And if someone took an ice pick to your brain, it would change your self and personality, forever. And we’ll all die eventually, tomorrow or at the heat death of the universe.

    Venkatesh Rao: “Reality is that which you cannot ignore when you run out of money.”

    Me: And cancer, no matter how brilliant your diet and lifestyle are, or whatever. And nuclear war, or a car accident, or whatever.

    So like, on the one hand, for me, that’s totally horrifying and macabre. Like, truly ghoulish, truly hellish. On the other hand, I’m like, well, fuck it. Play time. I’m going to live how I want, love who I want, be the most ethical, wonderful, complex, contradictory person I can possibly be, on my terms. Because we’re all going to die anyway. Oblivion is waiting. All is erased like it never happened. So I am totally free, except for like looking both ways in traffic and being a good person and choosing to be moved by the pain of others, choosing to see those people as real like me. (And, of course, so much I have no choice about.)

    Anyway, this is just my 34-year-old raving nonsense. Perhaps I’ll be embarrassed for having written this at some point.

  3. >> Oblivion is waiting. All is erased like it never happened. So I am totally free,

    And part of meditation can be becoming more and more alive to that, in every moment, as well as how that too is a virtual, fabricated, semi-optional perspective, if that’s your thing. Or you can find/write/semi-choose your own.

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