MomenTech, United States

Residency Period: 1 November 2013 - 30 April 2014


Bio

MomenTech is an experimental production studio based in New York City, founded in 2010 by Filipino-American conceptual artist Reynard Loki and Polish-American multimedia artist Maciej Toporowicz. American filmmaker Mika Johnson joined in 2013. Inspired by transnational progressivism, cosmology, post-humanism, ecology, neo-nomadism, futurism and more, MomenTech has created pop culture remixes, instructional works, site-specifc installations, public space interventions and user-generated content pieces, developing over 35 projects and participating in 18 group exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, Greece, South Africa, China and the Philippines.

momentech.blogspot.com/


On-hiatus Proposal Summary

As of November 1, 2013, MomenTech is on hiatus from any and all creative production for a six-month period as they engage fully with our proposed on-hiatus activity: a daily meditation practice.

MomenTech's hiatus residency also includes meditation research, data collection and progress updates posted to the RFAOH website.

This investigation into meditation continues MomenTech's interest in the practice, which began in 2010 with Field Experiment, an interactive, site-specific audiovisual project that explores meditation, self-hypnosis, the media and our cosmic origins (via Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, or CMBR) by asking participants to imagine a field after having stared into live television static for a period of 10 seconds. Field Experiment was selected by the Behring Institute of Medical Research to be a part of their first publication for "Placebos for Art," a long-term research project investigating the influence of "art-based placebos" on public health.

Meditation was also a theme in MomenTech's 2011 project Mandala-Tanque, in which pétanque competitors are invited to play a game on the surface of the pétanque court on which a Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala has been drawn. The project was selected for inclusion at the 2011 Dumbo Arts Festival.

MomenTech will resume its normal production schedule on May 1, 2014.

To contact MomenTech, please email: m01123581321345589144@gmail.com.


Final Report

Reynard Loki:

Being the primary writer in MomenTech, the task of composing the group's response to the exit questionnaire naturally fell on me. My suggestion to my fellow collaborators was that I would draft a response from the group as a whole and Mika and Maciej would add their own thoughts. But the more I thought about what we "should" express as a group, the more I realized that it was a bit of a fool's errand. It makes sense: Meditation—the daily practice of which was the main activity of MomenTech's residency—is ultimately an individual journey.

Of course, group meditation is a common practice; I have participated in several such gatherings at the Tibet House in New York during our residency as part of my own exploration into the various styles of meditation. But in the end, meditation is an intensely personal activity that can lead to intensely personal revelations, even as it may help to strip away what is to be one of humans' heaviest burdens: the ego.

The initial structure of our residency was straightforward: Each of MomenTech's three members would engage in an individual daily meditation practice for the residency's six-month period. But while the design of our residency may have been rather simple, its goals were anything but: to "develop mindfulness, concentration, insight, wisdom." That's pretty heavy-duty stuff.

Did we develop any of these aspects? I'd like to say yes, but who can really know? Meditation is not so much a "fix-it" therapy as it is a lifestyle, a way of being present in the world. Perhaps that movement towards "being present" and "being in the present" affected MomenTech's ability to plan for future events around the residency. For example, at the outset, we were all gung-ho about hosting weekly online open meditation sessions via Google Hangouts. That plan never materialized until the very end. (We hosted an open meditation on Google Hangout on the last day of our residency.)

One thing is for sure, MomenTech really did go on hiatus and for the first time in our four-year history, took a break from making art; or rather, taking a break from producing the things MomenTech produces (MomenTech, as a rule, avoids using the terms "art" and "artists.") But is that even possible? Art is often compared to life. And if art, like life, is a continual process, then can an artist truly avoid "making art"? Perhaps MomenTech did not think about, design and build a "product," per se, but the experiences we had, both individually and as a group, during our six month hiatus will forever be a part of all our future work in some fundamental way.

Our residency did "create" one kind of important thing: questions. And perhaps the best thing about our residency with RFAOH. Some of the best effects that meditation can call forth have to do with a growth in awareness. And part of becoming aware is to challenge one's status quo, to continually ask questions. What is art? What does it mean to create it? Can an artist take a break from making art? Is meditation an art form? Conversely, can making art be meditative?

I asked my fellow MomenTechnicians to email me a few lines of thoughts and observations a few days after the residency ended.

 

Maciej Toporowicz:

"Having a surgery and recovery during the residency taught me that meditation has its limits, at least for me," Maciej said. "I wasn't able to meditate, because the post-surgery stress was too much." He added that "having opportunity to meditate more often than usually moved me closer to solving my personal koan, the one I have been trying to solve since a while."

 

Mika Johnson:

"The main challenge the residency posed for me was in relation to self-discipline. On some days finding time to meditate was not an issue, whereas on other days it was almost interruptive, even frustrating. Undoubtedly, this was partly because the residency was not in a physical space, with a community of artists or meditation practitioners working toward a common goal. However, in the end, this absence of a physical space and community made my practice stronger, in the sense that I had to learn to integrate my meditation time with my normal routines and responsibilities, which is also a useful approach to art making as well.

"In the beginning, we had originally set out to answer short daily and weekly questionnaires. We took a lot of time formulating these questions, which were later abandoned. My guess is that the practice immediately became something very personal, which in many ways was difficult to comment on, at least by questionnaire. I responded similarly to the blog, in the sense that I found it challening to write about something that felt entirely personal. I simply didn’t feel I had much to contribute, as the content of that practice was my own subjectivity, not something that I could generalize about or even articulate. In retrospect, I do wish MomenTech had agreed to do one spontaneous drawing before and after each meditation session, as it would have physicalized that response, without rationalizing it. We did this on the last day and all found it surprisingly interesting and satisfying."

"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through," wrote French author Anais Nin. "Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death."

 

Could taking a break from "creating art" help to avoid a kind of "artistic death"? Perhaps. One thing is for sure, for six months, a residency with RFAOH changed the normal "elected" state of MomenTech. The decision to meditate during our hiatus only heightened the experience.

Finally, on behalf of MomenTech, I would like to thank Matt and Shinobu, the founders of RFAOH, for making this all possible. We are fortunate to have been a part of this program. Through our residency, MomenTech sowed important seeds for the future.


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The Zen of Shit, the Dharma of Dung: The Path to Enlightenment Goes Through the Bathroom

 

“Finally, he saw himself at the foot of a mountain of filth and excrement; he climbed the mountain; he reached the summit; he descended, and neither the filth nor the excrement had defiled him. He awoke, and from these dreams he knew that the day had come when, having attained supreme knowledge, he would become a Buddha.” — A. Ferdinand Herold, The Life of Buddha (1922)[1]

It may not be discussed often, but the path to enlightenment includes many visits to the toilet. The Buddha was keenly aware of the importance of feces and encouraged us to pay attention to our excrement. According to the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha said:

“Just as if a sack with openings at both ends were full of various kinds of grain…a monk reflects on this very body from the soles of the feet on up, from the crown of the head on down, surrounded by skin and full of…feces, bile, phlegm, pus…”[2]

We are socially conditioned to be repulsed by shit, to hide it, to be ashamed of it, to ignore it, to avoid talking about it in polite discussion, to keep it separate from the rest of our lives. The Buddha tried to change this automatic reaction by changing the normal context in which we view shit. As the Dalai Lama noted during a lesson he gave in London in 1988, “The Buddha said that although excrement is dirty in the town, it is helpful when used as fertilizer in a field.” The Dalai Lama went on to say that one should “place his or her mind in a deep state beyond the discriminations of…clear or dirty, which enables him or her to transcend such worldly conventions.”[3]

This duality—separating things things are “clean” from those that are “dirty”—sets up a roadblock on the path to enlightenment. Seng-ts’an, the Third Chinese Zen Patriarch would disagree with this separation. “To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind,” he said. “Do not remain in a dualistic state; avoid such easy habits carefully…[or] the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.”[4]

The Buddha is a dried shit-stick
Robert Colpitts of the Interdependence Project, a multi-lineage secular Buddhist center in New York City, argues, “When we are not mindful of our poop, we lose our sense of connection between our mind and our body.”[5] Indeed, the Buddha saw no meaningful distinction between the temple and the toilet. The view that one is divine and the other dirty is a result of an attachment to a false dualism, one that separates mind from body, pure from impure.

Eliminating the distinction between temple and toilet is part of the experience at Ittoen, a commune near Kyoto, where toilet cleaning is considered a critical aspect of the path to self-knowledge. In her book Other People’s Dirt: A Housecleaner’s Adventures from Cape Cod to Kyoto, author Louise Rafkin describes the moment of Zen she felt after mopping the communal shithouse: “In my heart I saw a big tree, with everything in its branches. You, me, air, birds, flowers. I knew everything was related. That was my realization after cleaning that toilet.”[6]

Members of Ittoen cleaning toilets in the Delhi airport. (Photo: Ayako Isayama)

There is a sense of piety that we associate with a temple—from the robes to the golden statues to the incense—that we don’t normally associate with the bathroom. But these are merely external trappings of an inner sensibility. On his blog Dharma Space, author and meditation specialist Dillon Masters recants an ancient story that erases the false line that is often drawn between the temple and the toilet:

In ninth century China, Chan Master Yúnmén Wényan (known in Japan as Ummon Zenji) made quite an amazing impact by deflating all such forms of piety. His most famous one-liner stemmed from a question posed to him by a monk. The question from the monk was ‘What’s the Buddha’? His answer: ‘A dried shit-stick.’ If that doesn’t strip away holy robes it is hard to imagine what would. And how should such an obvious statement of disrespect be understood? The modern day equivalent of a ninth century ‘shit stick’ would be Charmin toilet tissue used to wipe excrement from our anus and then flush it down the toilet. Getting rid of our egos is a most useful endeavor but once that is accomplished we need to resist attaching ourselves to the means and just flush it down the toilet.[7]

Feces: one of the 31 “Great Elements”
The Buddha believed that one of the obstacles that prevent people from realizing the “empty nature of the purified mind” is the repulsion to certain elements of life and living that are normal, healthy and fundamentally vital to the proper functioning of the mind and body. One of these elements is feces (karisam), which is considered one of the “Great Elements” (mahabhuta). There is a traditional Buddhist meditation technique called Patikulamanasikara, one of the four “protective meditations” that reflect on feces and 30 other elements of the body, such as saliva, mucus, blood, sweat, tears and urine.[8]

In the Sampasadaniya Sutta (DN 28), Ven. Sariputta (one of two chief male disciples of the Buddha, along with Maudgalyayana) declares that meditating on feces along with the other bodily elements leads to “the attainment of vision,” describing how this method can be used as a springboard by which one “comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness that is not established either in this world or in the next.”[9]

In the SÄ«hanāda-sutta, Sariputta said:

“It is just as the earth receives what is pure and what is impure, excrement, urine, snot, and spittle, without for this reason hating it or liking it, without feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated…I am like this; my mind is like the earth. Free from fetters or resentment, without ill-will or quarrel, I dwell pervading the entire world [with a mind] boundless, exalted, immeasurable and well-cultivated.[10]

 

Down with dung: Sariputta

One of the central tenets of Tibetan medicine is the study of excrement. An important basic reference book for Tibetan medicine is the first volume of The Essentials of Gyud-shi, a three-book treatise written by Dr. Pasang Yonten Arya that expounds and explains the traditional Gyud-shi (The Four Medical Tantras) and its contemporary practice and interpretation. In it, Dr. Arya describes the “5 Wind Branches”  of the body. The fifth branch is known as “The Descending Wind” (thur sel rlung). It resides and functions in the colon, bladder, reproductive organs, thighs and especially in the sigmoid colon. In addition to regulating sexual functions, it controls the evacuation of feces and urine. A disturbance in the Descending Wind can lead to constipation, hemorrhoids and painful urination.[11] (n.b. The Rubin Museum’s current exhibition, Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine, will extend from the galleries and into the bathroom, where visitors can partake in a free urinalysis.)

Letting go from both ends: emptying the mind and bowels
Both Eastern and Western medical experts recommend meditation to help relieve bowel stress. Dr. Carrie Demers, an Ayurvedic holistic physician and director of the Himalayan Institute Total Health Center, writes:

“Chronic constipation sufferers need to learn to relax deeply enough so those muscles will remember how to let go. This won’t happen overnight: habitual holding in the pelvis often stems from long-term chronic anxiety, stress, or trauma that will take regular practice to resolve. Agni sara, twists, and forward bends, along with systematic relaxation in shavasana or a similar restorative pose, will move stagnant energy in the pelvis and help unwind chronic gripping.”[12]

That feels better: Agni sara pose

The Mayo Clinic recommends yoga and meditation as treatments for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).[13] Nutritionist Stephanie Rolfe writes, “Meditation and relaxation techniques help relax the colon or bowel.”[14] The Sutra of Buddha’s Diagnosis warns that sickness can come from sadness and anger as much as from postponing excrement.[15]

A 2011 study led by Dr. Susan Gaylord of the University of North Carolina’s program on integrative medicine, found that the physical and psychological symptoms of IBS were more effectively managed by people practicing mindfulness meditation than in support group therapy.[16] Dr. Gaylord was the recipient of a seed grant for a pilot study of “Mindfulness for irritable bowel syndrome” from the UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders, which noted in their 2006 annual report that by using relaxation therapies like meditation, “a person can learn how to ‘turn down the volume’ on their GI symptoms by becoming more calm and relaxed about them.”[17]

“The meditation tradition has always understood that even after experiencing enlightenment you still have to go to the toilet,” writes Dr. Graham Williams, an ordained Lama with 25 years experience in teaching meditation and the director of the Lifeflow Meditation Centre. “And, in fact, going to the toilet is a classic Buddhist meditation.”[18]

The mindful poop
So how does one turn a spin in the loo into a “classic Buddhist meditation”? Colpitts offers this mindful plan of action to achieve what he calls a “Right State of Poop”[19]:

1. Take your seat. Before pooping, we generally have to remove our pants and underwear so that the poop has a clear pathway to the toilet. Find a comfortable posture. Some people like to hunch forward, that’s fine. Others don’t like to sit, but instead prefer to squat. If you do so, make sure you are balanced so you don’t fall. There is a Burmese style of pooping that is comfortable, but requires some getting used to. Whatever posture you choose, make sure your body is energetic, but filled with ease.

2. Check in with yourself. What is your state of mind? Are you filled with fear? Filled with hope? Is your mind open? Closed? How does your body feel? Tense? Sore? Loose? Ready to poop?

3. Bring awareness to your pooping mechanism. Feel the pooping in your body, not your idea of pooping, but the felt sense of pooping. As the poop goes out and even when it comes back in, notice that.

4. If you find yourself thinking of Branson, Missouri, or fantasizing about Jimmy Fallon, or wondering where that taste in your mouth came from, gently bring your awareness back to the area of pooping.

There’s also Toilet Yoga, a book that uses the yoga techniques to achieve satisfying poops, offering 15 unique poses that work “in various situations and locations.” According to the book’s publisher, Toilet Yoga MovementToilet Yoga “will offer the opportunity to connect with others around the world as you share in the joy of relief and satisfaction” and a “way to change how you spend your precious alone time,” adding, “As this book is based on an open-door policy, feel free to keep yours open if your relationships allow—to share in the joy of the book and these special movements. If your spouse, mate, friend, roommate, etc. isn’t fond of seeing you, pants down and stretching while on the throne, please be respectful and at least close the door part way.”[20]

Dharmic discharge: toilet yoga 

One can also engage in one of the Buddhist healing chants specifically designed to increase bowel health, such as the mantra “Om Rum Namaha while doing the Acceptance Mudra (right hand: thumb touching index and middle fingers; left hand: thumb touching middle and ring fingers).[21]

No pressure: Acceptance mudra

From the temple to the toilet: meditative music
What about listening to meditative music in the bathroom? Traditionally, music is not a part of a meditative practice. “If you’re trying to pay attention one-pointedly to your breathing, then you can’t also listen to music,” writes Bodhipaksa, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order and founder of Wildmind Buddhist Meditation who has taught meditation for over 20 years. “And if you’re trying to listen to music then you can’t fully concentrate on your breathing.” Does the same go for pooping? Not necessarily. If you want to incorporate sounds into your meditation, Bodhipaksa recommends using the sounds of nature (as opposed to catchy pop songs, which distracts the mind) as a “meditation object.”[22]

“Listening to music as a meditation practice can be a very powerful practice,” he writes. “As I became more familiar with the experience of the dhyanas (Pali, jhanas), which are very concentrated, calm, and blissful states of meditation, I realized that I’d been experiencing these states for years while listening to western classical music. And by treating music as a meditation object, I’ve found that I can experience all of the dhyanas.”

Plus, listening to meditative music while on the toilet may help achieve not only a mindful poop, but may also help ease the pain associated with IBS. According to a 2005 study by researchers from Vanderbilt University, patients who suffered from painful IBS reported a reduction in rectal pain after listening to relaxing music.[23] In 2001, psychotherapist and guided imagery expert Belleruth Naparstek released a guided meditation album with meditative music specifically for this purpose: “Meditation to Help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”[24] 

Poop occurs
Whether you use meditative music, yoga poses, mudras, chants or simple mindfulness meditation, bringing a sense of inner peace to the toilet is an enlightened idea. As Gerry Stribling, a student of the Venerable Omalpe Sobhita Thero and the Vietnamese monk Zen Master Thich Hang Dat, notes on his blog Buddhism for Tough Guys, “The Buddha said that the act of pooping can be a sublime event if you do it with proper mindfulness and concentration.”[25]

As an amateur scatologist, I had a feeling that shit was key. But I had no idea that the Noble Eightfold Path went fearlessly (and without a hint of repulsion) through the bathroom door. After all, it makes perfect sense: Who hasn’t at one time or another felt a cessation of dukkha, i.e., suffering, after a good poop? (The Buddha is reputed to have said: “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.”)

Squatters welcome

Clearly, emptying one’s mind and one’s bowels are closely connected. So next time you’re on the shitter, instead of reading a magazine, try meditating. Lighten your load while enlightening your mind.

Soyen Shaku, the first Zen Buddhist master to teach in the United States, knew the importance of shit to the pursuit of truth. At a lecture given to a group of Japanese religious leaders, he said, “We must search for whatever glimmer of truth there is, even amongst the rubbish, even amongst the excrement, we are willing to bow before it and rejoice.”[26]

A simple existential observation that life is full of imperfections and unpredictable events.” That could be the central concept of a Buddhist lesson or Zen koan. Actually, it’s how Wikipedia defines a common slang phrase that is one of life’s most fundamental truisms: Shit happens.

Just remember to flush.

— Reynard Loki

NOTES

[1] Herold, A. Ferdinand. The Life of Buddha. Santa Cruz, CA: Evinity Publishing, 2009. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://sacred-texts.com/bud/lob/lob20.htm.
[2] Satipatthana Sutta: Frames of Reference” (MN 10), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition). Last modified November 30, 2013. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.html. (h/t Robert Colpitt)
[3] His Holiness the Dalai Lama. From a teaching given in London, 1988. Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa and edited by Jeremy Russell. Originally published in Chö-Yang (No.5) published by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala. From Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, “A Survey of the Paths of Tibetan Buddhism.” Last modified September 6, 2012. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect=article&id=421.
[4] Seng-ts’an, Third Chinese Patriarch. Verses on the Faith-Mind. From Hsin-hsin Ming: Verses of the Faith Mind, translated by Richard B. Clarke. Reprinted on Mendosa.com. Last modified February 27, 2014. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.mendosa.com/way.html (h/t Robert Colpitt)
[5] Colpitts, Robert. “A Mindful Poop.” The Interdependence Project. Last modified April 26, 2013. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://theidproject.org/blog/robert-colpitts/2013/04/26/mindful-poop.
[6] Rafkin, Louise. Excerpt from Other People’s Dirt: A Housecleaner’s Adventures from Cape Cod to Kyoto. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 1998. From “A Yen for Cleaning.” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Spring 2008. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.tricycle.com/feature/yen-cleaning.
[7]. Masters, Dillon. “A Dried Shit-Stick.” Dharma Space. Last modified August 29, 2011. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://dillonspace.blogspot.com/2008/10/dried-shit-stick.html.
[8] There is a set of 13th-century Tibetan texts that prescribe the consumption of five human by-products known as “the five nectars”: urine, feces, menstrual blood, semen and flesh. (see Garrett, Frances. Tapping the Bod’ys Nectar: Gastronomy and Incorporation in Tibetan literature. Book chapter. University of Chicago, 2010. https://www.academia.edu/601969/Tapping_the_Bodys_Nectar_Gastronomy_and_Incorporation_in_Tibetan_Literature.)
[9] Walshe, Maurice (trans.). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Pubs, 1995, pp. 419-20.
[10] Anālayo, Bhikkhu. The Arahant and the Four Truths in Early Buddhist Discourse. Lecture 3. MÄ€ 24 – Discourse on the Lion’s Roar (Parallel to the SÄ«hanāda-sutta AN 9.11 / AN IV 373) Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/fileadmin/pdf/analayo/2012-03lecture.pdf
[11] Arya, Pasang Yonten. The Essentials of Gyud-shi. Reprinted on Tibetanmedicine-edu.org. “Physiology of the humors and constituents.” http://www.tibetanmedicine-edu.org/index.php/n-articles/the-three-humors-part-4. Accessed March 15, 2014.
[12] Demers, Carrie. “Ayurvedic Tips for Constipation.” Yoga International. Last modified May 11, 2013. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://yogainternational.com/article/view/ayurvedic-tips-for-constipation.
[13] Mayo Clinic. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Alternative Medicine.” July 29, 2011. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/basics/alternative-medicine/con-20024578.
[14] Rolfe, Stephanie. “Natural Constipation Cures that Work.” Nutrition Articles Online. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://nutritionarticlesonline.com/constipation_cures/
[15] Kwiksure.com. “Happy Buddha: The Health Benefits to Living a Buddhist Lifestyle.” Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.kwiksure.com/blog/health-benefits-to-living-buddhist-lifestyle/
[16] Gaylord, Susan. “Mindfulness for Stress and Pain Management: Implications for IBS.” Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, UNC School of Medicine. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/files/educational-gi-handouts/Mindfulness.pdf.
[17] UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. Annual Report 2006. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/center-publications/annual-reports/ar2.pdf
[18] Williams, Graham. “Meditating on the Spot.” InnerSelf. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.innerself.com.au/archive/from_the_editors/sa015_in_flow.html
[19] Ibid., 5.
[20] Toilet Yoga Movement. “Meditation on evacuation: Toilet Yoga.” Alltop.com. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://holykaw.alltop.com/meditation-on-evacuation-toilet-yoga.
[21] Balakumar, Naran S. “Acceptance Mudra.” Mudra Healing. Last modified August 2, 2009. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://healbymudra.wordpress.com/2009/08/02/acceptance-mudra/
[22] Bodhipaksa. “Should I listen to music when I meditate?” Wildmind Buddhist Meditation. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.wildmind.org/background/can-anyone-meditate/music
[23] Morgan, V., et al. “Amitriptyline reduces rectal pain related activation of the anterior cingulate cortex in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.” National Institutes of Health. From Gut. May 2005. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1774484/.
[24] Naparstek, Belleruth. “Meditation to Help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” iTunes. Accessed March 15, 2014. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/meditation-to-help-irritable/id421743184.
[25] Stribling, Gerry. “Poop, I say!” Buddhism for Tough Guys. October 17, 2011. Accessed March 15, 2014. http://buddhismfordudes.blog.com/2011/10/17/poop-i-say/
[26] Snodgrass, Judith. Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2003. p. 256.

 

Leave a Comment (2)

Zen Poo Zazen wrote on Mar 20:

Some Zen bathroom design ideas: http://www.stylemotivation.com/21-peaceful-zen-bathroom-design-ideas-for-relaxation-in-your-home/

shinobu wrote on Mar 19:

I've been told that Asians have intestines 1.5 times longer than Caucasians so I believe we poo more too

 


Interview with Roshi O’Hara (Part 2 of 4)

Sonja Jyakuen Nuttall, Donna Karan, Richard Gere, and Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara
(photo courtesy Urban Zen Initiative)

 

In this second part of my chat with Roshi Enkyo Pat O’Hara, Abbott of the Village Zendo, we talk about mindfulness and her own introduction to meditation. Click here to read Part 1.

For some people, meditation is about relieving stress. For others, it’s about improving concentration or other brain function. For some, it’s about getting on a path to enlightenment. There seem to be a lot of different ways to get to a meditative lifestyle.

Some of my students come from AA. Some come from Sex Addicts Anonymous. And others come in and their life is fine, but something is missing.

Was something missing for you?

I found that I wasn’t fully expressing my life. I felt that I had  gifts  and I had a hunger to express them. I wanted to break through.

How long did it take for you to break through?

It took a long time, but I tend to overdo things. So when I decided to start, the first thing I did was to go on a 10-day silent retreat. People take years to work up to that, but that’s just kind of my style. It almost killed me, but if you’ve never done that, and then suddenly you just do it, it’s very, very powerful.

Sounds like a trial by fire. Would you recommend that approach?

Well, it depends on the person and how resilient they are.

What was the experience like?

It was wonderful. To finally let go, to sit in silence, to be intimate with myself. What was I afraid of? I was afraid of myself. But I didn’t know that going into it. I realized that my fears were these things I had built up.

Did you feel an immediate effect?

I did. And yet, it’s just like Rinzai and Soto. There was an immediate effect, and then over many years, a gradual clarifying.

So much of a meditative life involves the concept of mindfulness? What does this mean to you and how to do integrate it into your day-to-day existence?

It’s become a very popular term. It’s a huge concept. There are some neuroscientists who are doing great work describing the connection between mindfulness and changes in the fundamental character of the brain. One reason that these findings are so powerful is that for us, as a culture, science is God, our religion. So if science says it’s true, we can believe it. So the concept of mindfulness really emerged from the work of neuroscientists and educators, who found that we can use this technique—meditation—to better educate kids, to help soldiers who are traumatized, to help Google employees relax so they can do better work.

Do you need to be optimistic to be a good Buddhist?

[laughs] No. You can be a pessimist. I’ve got some people here who are real pessimists. They come in and say, “Oh Roshi, don’t say that!” But that’s just the way I look at the world. It’s not the right way. It’s just my way. 

When the Buddha achieved enlightenment, it was just part of a bigger journey that included his own personal conflict.

After achieving enlightenment, he taught for 45 years. And he had to face all kinds of issues. But I would love to have a more contemporary myth about the Buddha, so we could hear some of his problems and so forth. They’ve all been so idealized, but he was confronted all the time with all these questions, and that’s what the teachings are, how he solved various problems. 

The legend of the Buddha as a wealthy prince who was shielded from human suffering who then, upon seeing all the suffering, devotes his life to ending it, shows that it is possible to make a 180-degree change.

That’s right. That’s really true.

Once you achieve a certain level of mindfulness, does it ever go away?

Yes, absolutely. It’s a misconception about Zen teachers like me. We can all make lots of mistakes. It’s not a “fixed-and-done” thing. It is a life. It is a practice. It’s constantly working. And if you stop, you lose it.

Would you say that a synonym for mindfulness is awareness?

Yes, absolutely.

Do you think that the increased interest in meditation and mindfulness is part of a human evolutionary path? 

I think so. I really do. But I’m an optimistic person.

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Stay tuned for part 3 of my interview with Roshi O’Hara, in which she explains how Zen Buddhism is unique within the Buddhist practice, Zen art, walking meditation and her “Five Expressions of Zen.” — Reynard Loki

ABOUT ROSHI PAT ENKYO O’HARA

Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara serves as Abbot of the Village Zendo. She received priest ordination from Maezumi Roshi and Dharma Transmission and Inka from Bernie Tetsugen Glassman. Roshi Enkyo’s lineage comes through Maezumi Roshi whose teaching was uncommon, bringing together Soto priest training and study of the Rinzai koan system. Moreover, Roshi Glassman’s focus on social engagement and peacemaking underlies much of her vision of Zen practice. Roshi is a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Family, a spiritual and social action association. Roshi’s focus is on the expression of Zen through caring, service, and creative response. Her Five Expressions of Zen form the matrix of study at the Village Zendo: Meditation, Study, Communication, Action, and Caring.

ABOUT VILLAGE ZENDO

The Village Zendo is a community of people who come together to practice in the Soto Zen tradition. The Village Zendo offers zazen (sitting meditation), one-on-one instruction with a teacher, dharma talks, chanting services, retreats, workshops and study groups. Co-founded in 1986 by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara and Sensei Barbara Joshin O’Hara, the Village Zendo is committed to authentically continuing the Zen tradition while keeping it contemporary and relevant to today’s world. The Village Zendo is located in lower Manhattan, offering a place of healing and sanctuary in the midst of one of the world’s busiest and most vital cities.

http://villagezendo.org/

 

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Interview with Roshi O’Hara (Part 1 of 4)

I met Roshi Enkyo Pat O’Hara one recent chilly evening when she was leading a group meditation at Tibet House in Manhattan. A former professor of interactive media at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts who holds a doctorate in media ecology, Roshi is the Abbott of the Village Zendo, a Zen sangha (i.e., community) in the heart of New York’s bustling SoHo neighborhood. A few weeks later, I had a chance to meet with her at Village Zendo over green tea. In the first part of our chat, Roshi explains what first attracted her to Zen Buddhism, her Zen training in two separate Zen traditions and the famous koan about washing one’s bowls.

How did you come to Zen Buddhism?

I was very drawn to the arts. And that’s what brought me to Zen. I think a lot of us are that way. It was the poetry, the brush paintings, the whole aesthetic, which is uncluttered and raw in a beautiful way. I wanted to know, “What kind of mind makes this kind of art?” So that was my introduction. And then I began to study the teachings as they were translated. I thought at the time—and this was around 30 years ago—”This just makes complete sense to me.” So it was like a philosophy for me initially. I found a Zen center and began to study and I saw a practice that could change my life and allow me to do more things. And I just took to it fabulously.

Was there a moment that you remember that it clicked?

No, for me it was gradual. I’ve had quite a few intense experiences, but I try to minimize those because they just last a minute. And I’ve seen so many people who have had those experiences and who have gone on to have disastrous situations. Those experiences do happen. You’re walking along and you notice your boot crunching into the snow and you realize you’re a part of everything and it’s all wonderful. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t do something really unskillful a few hours later.

Part of the Zen outlook is letting go of those moments and being in the current moment.

Yes, absolutely. Letting go. There is this great koan, or Buddhist teaching riddle, about washing your bowls. The student said to the teacher Joshu, “I’ve just entered the monastery. Please teach me.” Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your breakfast?” The student replied, “Yes.” Then Joshu said, “Then you better wash your bowl.” And that’s sort of the instruction on how to practice Zen: Wash your bowls. Just continually get rid of it and be present in this moment as opposed to grasping for some experience that you had or some idealism that you have about some future experience that you might have. Just be present.

But Zen has such a rich history too and many Zen practitioners love that history, especially with Zen arts and poetry. So there is a connection to tradition and the past—but not necessarily when you’re living your own personal life.

Absolutely, that’s a good way to put it. It’s certainly in us, and if I read Zen poetry as something that I enjoy doing and give classes in teachings and so forth, then that’s going to part of me. That’s part of my mental and emotional composition. So I’m naturally going to respond in that way. But Zen tries to help us not get stuck in any of that, to help us be open and free-flowing and moving and to appreciate that it can be—for example, I’ve always been involved in new technologies. There are people who think you can’t do things electronically and so forth who are very fixed in sense of ritual and that you can’t do koan study on Skype or something like that but they’re not able to move and be free-floating in the world.

If you get stuck in tradition, it can be a weight.

Exactly. 

Your own experience with Zen has actually been rather untraditional. You received priest ordination from Maezumi Taizan Roshi, whose teaching was uncommon in that it joined Soto priest training with the study of the Rinzai koan system. Can you describe these two systems and why it is unique to learn them together?

It’s always difficult to talk about this because the minute you talk about “difference,” people think there’s a big difference, and in a way, they’re not so different…but there are two main schools in Japan and also the other Asian countries: Soto and Rinzai. Soto is the Zen of the farmers. It’s a “people Zen.” Although they have a lot of ritual, it’s very open for anyone to come and practice. The main practice of Soto is to just sit. 

So zazen is important? 

Yes, zazen is very important in Soto teaching. On the other hand, in the Rinzai tradition, there’s more activity, a lot of shouting in the zendo to wake people up. Rinzai was the religion of the nobility and the samurais. The practice we do there is koan study, centered around a question, like, “What is your original face before your father and mother were born? Don’t tell me, show me.” It’s aggressive from the teaching standpoint. We do koan study because Maezumi Roshi studied it. It is said that there’s no difference between someone who has that clarity through the lightning strike of Rinzai or someone who walks through the dew all night long. He gets just as wet as the person who is in a thunderstorm.

That’s a great way of putting it. Maezumi Roshi taught both lines of thought? 

His parents were Soto. His father was a judge in the Soto hierarchy. And he had six brothers, all of whom were Soto monks. So he grew up in the Soto tradition. Then when he went to college, he lived with a Rinzai master and studied that system. He came to the United States as a young man and he was so taken by the energy and curiosity of Americans that he decided to stay. He ended up founding the Zen Center of Los Angeles. He taught both Rinzai and Soto. So we dressed like Soto and have the rituals of Soto, but we also do koan study. That’s what makes it unique. We’re not the only group. There’s also another lineage known as Sanbo Kyodan, which is derived from both the Rinzai and Soto traditions. Aitken Roshi was a leading American practitioner of this form.

How did you start working with Maezumi Roshi?

I started studying in upstate New York, and after a few years of study, Maezumi Roshi came to town and I had one of those experiences where I just really connected. Where I had been studying was quite hierarchical; it was something like what I imagine the Marines must be like. I thought I could overlook that part. But when I met Maezumi Roshi, there was a softness yet a real power. He died before I finished studying with him, so that’s why I finished my studies with his first Dharma heir, Tetsugen Bernie Glassman, who has been very involved in social justice. And that was a perfect connection, because I’ve always been into that, long before I got into Zen.

You received “Dharma transmission” and “inka” from Bernie. Can you explain that?

When you receive Dharma transmission, you can be called a teacher. You’re a sensei. Your teacher basically says, “I believe in you and you can teach the Dharma.” And “inka” is the final seal of approval. I have five Dharma successors, five people I’ve made senseis since I became a sensei in 1995: two college professors, two therapists and a potter.

Five transmissions in 18 years isn’t a lot. It must be rigorous training.

Yes, it is. And then there are people who are equally gifted and equally give their time, but they are just not teachers. They are painters. They are poets. Being a teacher is a unique mindset.

 

Stay tuned for the second part of my chat with Roshi O’Hara, in which she explains the concept of mindfulness and her own introduction to meditation. – Reynard Loki

ABOUT ROSHI PAT ENKYO O’HARA

Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara serves as Abbot of the Village Zendo. She received priest ordination from Maezumi Roshi and Dharma Transmission and Inka from Bernie Tetsugen Glassman. Roshi Enkyo’s lineage comes through Maezumi Roshi whose teaching was uncommon, bringing together Soto priest training and study of the Rinzai koan system. Moreover, Roshi Glassman’s focus on social engagement and peacemaking underlies much of her vision of Zen practice. Roshi is a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Family, a spiritual and social action association. Roshi’s focus is on the expression of Zen through caring, service, and creative response. Her Five Expressions of Zen form the matrix of study at the Village Zendo: Meditation, Study, Communication, Action, and Caring.

ABOUT VILLAGE ZENDO

The Village Zendo is a community of people who come together to practice in the Soto Zen tradition. The Village Zendo offers zazen (sitting meditation), one-on-one instruction with a teacher, dharma talks, chanting services, retreats, workshops and study groups. Co-founded in 1986 by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara and Sensei Barbara Joshin O’Hara, the Village Zendo is committed to authentically continuing the Zen tradition while keeping it contemporary and relevant to today’s world. The Village Zendo is located in lower Manhattan, offering a place of healing and sanctuary in the midst of one of the world’s busiest and most vital cities.

http://villagezendo.org/

###

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Flashback

I don’t ever recall reading in books about meditation flashbacks. A flashback is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual has a sudden, usually powerful, re-experiencing of a past experience or elements of a past experience.  

It occurred to me today while I was sitting in front of computer. Suddenly I visited the past meditation stage of an acute awareness of being aware. Just being in empty space with all inhibition blocks suspended. Or, it might be better to describe it as a result of koan aftermath. Imagine you work on following koan. “What am I and where am I now?”. Suddenly, the rug is pulled from under your feet, and you drop down into nondescript void..ha ha.

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Fever

It is kind of useless to shape in words what it feels like to have a brush with emptiness. It is after all what all Zen masters don’t do. Better shout, twist reality with tricky koan, hit with a stick or maintain silence. 

I can only marvel what a shocking distance we, humans, traveled from the empty zero state, where there is no time, form and shape to our present stage. We built and developed everything up to the brim. We have now shape, form, identity, memories, etc. We occupy particular place in space and we are located in time frame. Our development is mirrored by what we created in our environment, on our planet Earth.
We are so busy being occupied. We are determined, focused and programmed to fill up the void. It is relentless, exhausting, tiring. It’s like a burning fever.
 
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back in a saddle

Happy to report. First successful meditation since my surgery. I managed few times to get to the surface tension. I borrowed this term from physics and I use it to describe a moment in meditation, when you can glide formless on time/space interface. 

 

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Matt wrote on Jan 20:

Conratulations Maciej, Happy you are regaining your strength!

Mika wrote on Jan 18:

Very happy to read this my friend.

shinobu wrote on Jan 17:

happy to receive the report (:

 


My garden

It comes as disappointment to realize that once your body takes over, it temporary suspends all your previously manufactured mental defense structures. Since I have been meditating for years, I thought, I built a garden where I can always spend time free of worry and distraction.

 
Meditation is considered a state of equilibrium between body and mind. Once your body gains upper hand, there is no more balance left. In my case breath has been uneven, sudden bouts of cough occur, body shakes with each heartbeat. I feel like a meat bag.

 
Pain and discomfort is too strong. It is here and it is now.You can’t fight it. It is not like clearing your mind from distracting thoughts. It is tangible, you are absorbed by it. There are clearly limits in a way we can control our bodies. We gradually loose our control while aging.
 
Imagine you are living you life full force and suddenly you are removed from your castle and thrown into a pit. No warning given. The sheer randomness of fall comes close to sheer randomness of birth. No explanations are available.
 
Of course, I hope to heal soon and be back in my garden again. I found it disappointing though, that I wasn’t able to use meditation to find a solace or ease the pain. Perhaps it would work, if I find experienced practitioner, or Master to guide me through.
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Winter Meditation for Indoor Spaces by MomenTech

Cold winter days are the perfect time to meditate indoors if you live in a place where buildings have central heating. Like the sound of bells or other instruments used in various meditation practices, central heating units emit a continuous low humming sound, perfect for shutting your eyes and tuning in to. If the building you find yourself in does not have central heating, look for a vending machine or refrigeration unit, both of which also emit low humming sounds.

1. Position: we recommend finding a seat near a heating vent or 7 meters away from a vending machine or refrigeration unit. If you cannot find a seat, especially one that will allow you to sit comfortably with your spine straight, we recommend standing or sitting on the floor. Whatever the case, let your muscles relax. Your body should be centered and free of tension.

2. Breath: close your eyes. As the humming sound becomes part of your inner landscape, become aware of your breath. Don’t try to control it, just breath deeply and naturally, centering your attention just below your naval. Attempt to become one with your breath and the droning sound emitting from the vent or machine(s).

3. Vision: this meditation works best with your eyes closed.

4. Sound: allow the sound of the heater or machine to wrap itself around your body, like a warm, pulsating blanket. After this sensation feels comfortable, allow everything in, in one breath, feeling the sound engulf your sensorium. Assign the patterns of sound a color, or even multiple colors, that make you feel calm, restored.

5. Awareness: come back to your breath. You are aware of your posture, the vent, the machines. Your eyes are closed. You are listening to a symphony of sound and allowing it do whatever it likes. You are aware of it, not suppressing it. Allow it to exhaust itself. 

As the heater or machine sounds change frequency, feel different parts of your body release tension. When all the tension you brought to the meditation is gone, slowly open your eyes. Return to the world, renewed and awakened.

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Television

Full frame image from an original 8×10 negative by Richard Avedon. Andy Warhol’s scars resulted from extensive, life-saving surgery following misandrist Valerie Jean Solanas’ gunshot wound to his chest.

Upon recovery, Warhol had this to say about his near-death experience, “Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there – I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television – you don’t feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it’s all television.”
mikophoto – the blog
 
A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real.

Buddha
 
“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake up from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?”
Matrix

Does The Matrix not repeat exactly Plato’s disposition of the cave (ordinary humans as prisoners, tied firmly to their seats and compelled to watch the shadowy performance of (what they falsely consider to be) reality? 
Zizek
 
When I was in hospital, I felt exactly what Warhol describes as unreal, I had to pinch myself hard to feel that this is really happening to me. Everything was coming through cotton. They  would come day and night, wake me up, give me things to swallow, shoot me with heparin till my stomach was blue, check me, touch me. I didn’t feel 100% myself, It was more like I was a rag doll or a meaty hologram. Right after surgery, I was in a room separated from main room by a screen/curtain. I could hear never ending static of gossips, jokes, intimate confessions, complaints and other audio traffic exchanged by stuff, nurses and doctors. It was like I was tuned to one radio station 24/7. The feeling of illusion or a dream was intense. I suppose, this is what what Warhol described as watching television.
 
Static, as remembered by some of us from analog television is also called cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). It fills up the whole universe, and it is considered to be left over from Big Bang.
Well, what if the universe is a giant 3-D TV broadcast, and we just occupie this one particular channel?
 
 
 
 
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Maciej wrote on Jan 6:

I see Zizek doesn't has a good rep on these pages..LOL. I found him in a similar spot as Baudrillard. Both are crossover from philosophy to pop culture, and boy, they can talk..

shinobu wrote on Jan 5:

and the real tragedy happens when those young fresh-out-of MFA type artists proudly "quote" his babbling in their "conceptual" art work -- (Clearly, not your kind of quotation, Maciej), right, Matt?

Maciej wrote on Jan 5:

I read Zizek a lot many years ago. He was a breath of fresh air in world of dusty academia. I also like his using pop culture and movies to illustrate his theories. I like when you say " the difference between the dream world and the real world is not significant". It is significant for most people on this planet. You must be a real artist. As for myself, I feel compelled to experiment time and time again on my conscious and perception in order to break on through to the other side. ( as Jim Morrison wrote). It is my pet project.

milena wrote on Jan 5:

I can’t believe you quote babbler Slavoj Zizek from my country. He has good education, but he usually only says aloud things which we all know and think about but never say.
Maybe for me personal the difference between the dream world and the real world is not significant, both are of the same importance or equal real.

 


soap bubble

Coming to border line between life and death. The rotting valve spewing blood clots is a sure agent behind stroke. It hasn’t happened this time. It is shocking though, how thin is the line between being and not being. It is a soap bubble.This brush with death makes me feel there is no time left to waste. Since one can die at any moment, it is foolish to live in past or future.

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milena wrote on Jan 3:

I wish you good luck and good doctors.
I think about ill animals. They do nothing, just wait on some safe place, secure from any attacks.

 

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