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.
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.
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.
"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."
"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.
After reading a recent post, “Reality and Illusion”, by a fellow member of MomenTech, I was sitting and reminded of two things, the first connected to a haiku by Koboyashi Issa (1762 – 1826), which in Japanese reads:
tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara
Donald Keene’s translation:
The world of dew Is a world of dew, and yet And yet…
Following the stream, Issa’s hiaku in turn reminded me of the Buddhist concept of Indra’s Net: a visual image for the idea that all phenomena are intimately connected. In “Vermeer’s Hat”, a history book by Timothy Brook, he describes it.
“When Indra fashioned the world, he made it as a web, and at every knot in the web is tied a pearl. Everything that exists, or has ever existed, every idea that can be thought about, every datum that is true—every dharma, in the language of Indian philosophy—is a pearl in Indra’s net. Not only is every pearl tied to every other pearl by virtue of the web on which they hang, but on the surface of every pearl is reflected every other jewel on the net. Everything that exists in Indra’s web implies all else that exists.“
In one sense, Indra’s Net appears a perfect metaphor for the idea that reality is an illusion since nothing actually exists without everything else. Self is illusory as is all else that appears permanent or stable. Quotes like these from the Buddha “A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering” seem to affirm this. At the same time, seen from a different perspective, Indra’s Net also expresses something entirely opposite: that the world is not an illusion and that escaping suffering is not possible. I will explain.
I first heard of Indra’s Net from a teacher who did not use the image of a pearl, at every node, but of a dewdrop. She said that each dewdrop could be thought of as a person; and that if you looked closely at each dewdrop, you could see tiny reflections of all the surrounding dewdrops (others); looking still closer, you could see all the reflections within reflections, to infinity, of all the dewdrops that exist. The same was true for the cosmos.
And so I return to Issa who wrote “The world of dew” after his daughter, Sato, died of smallpox when she was just over a year old. Knowing the poem’s context, the meaning changes.
The world of dew Is a world of dew, and yet And yet…
This leads me to think that the idea that the world is an illusion is only one interpretation that comes from the idea that the self is an illusion and that everything is connected, concepts that arise mutually. Seen from a different perspective, the world is very real. This is because as long as there are people or animals suffering in the world, so are we. Not because we feel their pain but because we are them, much like a hall of mirrors. The same could be said for the planet as a whole. When a forest or ecosystem die, so does a part of us since like Indra’s Net all of life is woven together. This feeling / understanding is what motivates activists worldwide. It is also what allows us to understand our greif when we lose someone or something we love.
Importantly, these two ways of seeing the world are not in contradiction. They even compliment one another. In one sense, the world is deeply real. But in another, it is very much an illusion. Balance is knowing the difference.
I went to Yosemite National Park, and I saw some huge waterfalls. The highest one there is 1,340 feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams. From a distance it looks like a curtain. And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time, you know, along time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. It is as if the water does not have any feeling when it is one whole river. Only when separated into many drops can it begin to have or to express some feeling. When we see one whole river we do not feel the living activity of the water, but when we dip a part of the water into a dipper, we experience some feeling of the water, and we also feel the value of the person who uses the water. Feeling ourselves and the water in this way, we cannot use it in just a material way. It is a living thing.
Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. This is called “mind-only,” or “essence of mind,” or “big mind.” After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling. You attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life.
When the water returns to its original oneness with the river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds composure. How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river! If this is so, what feeling will we have when we die? I think we are like the water in the dipper. We will have composure then, perfect composure. It may be too perfect for us, just now, because we are so much attached to our own feeling, to our individual existence. From us, just now, we have some fear of death, but after we resume our true original nature, there is Nirvana. That is why we say, “To attain Nirvana is to pass away.” “To pass away” is not a very adequate expression. Perhaps “to pass on,” or “to go on,” or “to join” would be better. Will you try to find some better expression for death? When you find it, you will have quite a new interpretation of your life. It will be like my experience when I saw the water in the big waterfall. Imagine! It was 1,340 feet high!
A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering. – The Buddha
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.
Study: Progression of Alzheimer´s Slowed by Yoga and Meditation
Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications that can stop the cognitive deteriorating associated with Alzheimer’s disease. But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done.
A new study conducted at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows that practicing meditation and yoga can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
After eight weeks practicing mindfulness through yoga and meditation for at least two hours per week, the study group experienced less overall atrophy in the hippocampus and better connectivity in other parts of the brain responsible for memory than the control group, which received regular care.
Most of the descriptions of enlightenment refer to a sensation of nothingness – no time. no space, no thoughts. It seems to be a positive place. Most of Buddha figures have a slight and enigmatic smile. Well, one can also visit a different place where you find yourself as a punctum vibrating in a black never ending space.
It emphasizes the radical contradiction of the human condition itself, between the subject as nothing, as the evanescent punctuality versus the horizon of our world. Here is an extraordinary quote from Hegel. One can only imagine that it was experienced by him in person.
“The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity—an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him—or which are not present. This night, the interior of nature, that exists here—pure self—in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head—there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye—into a night that becomes awful.”
I know of no other filmmaker, before or after Tarkovsky, that devoted so much of their artistic practice to understanding time. The theme is present from his first film on. His book about cinema and art in general is even titled “Sculpting in Time”. About halfway through his career, or at least from “Solaris” on, Tarkovsky began to embed long scenes which double as meditative rituals, both for the viewer and the filmmakers working under his direction. This video, from “Nostalgia”, is one such scene and it does not, thankfully, spoil the ending, which to me is one of the most spiritual moments ever captured on film.
The term “Singularity” has been been popularized by well-known futurist Ray Kurzweil, who argues that with advances in computing and medical and nano-technology, we will be able to transfer our brain (and our consciousness) onto a super-human computer (or computer chip, or other computing device), allowing us to effectively live forever on silicon rather than biology.
Naropa (1016-1100) was a Buddhist scholar. He realized the illusory nature of physical reality and finally achieved liberation by seeing the true nature of consciousness and how it attaches to and detaches from the physical body. He systemized the Six Yogas of Naropa and taught them to his disciples. The Six Yogas, which have been taught primarily in secret over the years, are all about what happens to our consciousness when we go to sleep and when we die.
Two of the Yogas, that of Consciousness Transference and Forceful Projection, are directly related to transferring the consciousness of a person who is dying out of the body to “somewhere else” so that it can “live on” in the physical world. According to the literature, adepts at this Yoga were able, at exactly the time of their death, to “transfer” their consciousness out of their body and “forcefully project” it into another living “host” nearby.
So, it seems to me that before we barge ahead trying to transfer our brain’s neural patterns to a physical device, we might want to invite in the experts at consciousness (Tibetan and Indian Yogis) and see if we can learn something from them about how consciousness works both while we’re alive and when we die. Once we can reproduce the Yoga of forceful projection in a laboratory setting, we could then move on to how we might project our minds onto a superintelligent computing device.
This text is loosely based on Wikipedia and writing by Zen Enterprenuer
When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking? Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment. (No need for incense or sitting in uncomfortable positions.) [TED Talk]
“There is certainly nothing more important in life than what we do at the present moment. A person’s entire life consists of nothing more than one moment piled on top of another, over and over again. Once enlightened to this, the warrior has nothing else to worry about, because he realizes that he has only to live in the present moment with the utmost intensity.”
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
If the warrior does not feel alone and sad, then he or she can be corrupted very easily. In fact, such a person may not be a warrior at all. To be a good warrior, one has to feel sad and lonely, but rich and resourceful at the same time. This makes the warrior sensitive to every aspect of phenomena: to sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. In that sense, the warrior is also an artist, appreciating whatever goes on in the world. Everything is extremely vivid. The rustling of your armor or the sound of rain drops falling on your coat is very loud. The fluttering of occasional butterflies around you is almost an insult, because you are so sensitive.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Every morning a warrior should recommit himself to death. In morning meditation, see yourself killed in various ways, such as being shredded by arrows, bullets, swords, and spears, being swept away by a tidal wave, burned by fire, struck by lightening, dieing in a earthquake, falling from a great height, or succumbing to overwhelming sickness.
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
Want to Achieve Computer-Brain Meld? Try Yoga and Meditation
Training in mind/body awareness through practices like yoga or meditation allows people to learn a brain-computer interface faster. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
“Increasingly, we’re turning to systems that connect brains with computer systems…but the length of training has been a major obstacle to success,” said lead author Bin He, PhD, Director of the Center for Neuroengineering at the University of Minnesota. “This research tells us that we can significantly cut this time with practices like yoga and meditation.”
Training in mind/body awareness takes many forms, from yoga and meditation to Reiki, but all are designed to direct awareness to specific areas of the body. This ability to direct attention to discrete areas might be an important aspect of how we learn to manipulate objects using systems that connect our brains with computers.
The researchers took 12 participants who practiced mind/body awareness, and 19 who practiced no form of mind/body awareness, and trained them on an electroencephalography (EEG)-based brain-computer program. This experiment used monitors on the scalp to pick up electrical impulses from the brain. The participants had to imagine moving their hands, and the EEG program interpreted the brain activity as they imagined and translated the electrical signals into the movement of a cursor on the screen.
Scientists found that participants who practiced mind/body awareness learned the brain-computer interface faster than those who did not, with 75 percent of them achieving competence versus 42 percent of controls. This suggests that training in mind-body awareness could aid in the learning of brain-computer interfaces.
Research was supported with funds from the National Science Foundation.
“The most important thing is, whatever is past, just let it go. Your mind should be like a mirror, not a camera. Whatever goes into camera is recorded there: the reflection in a mirror vanishes when the object moves away.”
Chan Master Sheng Yen
“We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
“Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes. This is the goal of our practice. This is what Dogen meant when he said, “Ashes do not come back to firewood.” Ash is ash. The firewood should be firewood.”
“In Zen practice we want our intuition — our universal self — to come forth,” says Berkeley Zen Center abbot, Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi. “When you’re doing simple tasks [like peeling broccoli or breaking lettuce into bite-size bits], your body, mind, the broccoli, the knife, your hand, the breath, are all involved. When you keep bringing your attention back to what you’re doing — when you are simply one with your activity — it’s the same as sitting zazen.”
Lady Gaga Practicing Meditation Using the Abramovic Method
August 8—Known for her performance artistry and most recently seen in Jay Z‘s Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film, Marina Abramovic has linked up with none other than Lady Gaga to bring awareness to the Marina Abramovic Institute. Shot over the course of a three-day retreat in upstate New York, the piece sees Gaga practicing the eponymous Abramovic Method – “a series of exercises designed to heighten participants’ awareness of their physical and mental experience in the present moment,” and a method that ultimately prepares participants for both performance and observation of long duration work. Certainly eye opening, the resulting piece sees Gaga performing vocal exercises, meditation and more. A full breakdown of the Marina Abramovic Institute can be perused via the establishment’s Kickstarter page while Gaga will make her long-awaited ARTPOP reveal with a performance of her upcoming single at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. (source: T.S. Fox, Hypebeast)
“..our sense of time comes from the endless succession of thoughts and images passing through our minds. This flow of experience also gives rise to a sense of a separate self. If you could cease the march of thoughts through your mind, and fix on just one constant thought…, time would freeze. If you could then forget even that thought, time would dissolve”.
Meditation for Rural Railroad Crossings by MomenTech
This meditation is designed specifically for the rural driver, when stopped at a railroad crossing. Importantly, the meditation is for freight trains, as passenger trains are too short. It works best at night. Like a temple bell, which signals the beginning of a meditation session, the downward motion of a railroad crossing’s gate, the flashing red lights, and the steady ring signal that the session has begun.
1. Position: as the train’s still distant whistle can be heard, you should already be moving into position. Remove your seat belt so that you are less constricted; move your seat up until your spine is straight; let your muscles relax. Your body should be centered and free of tension.
2. Breath: as the train’s light moves across your field of vision, 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.
3. Vision: lower your gaze to a forty-five degree angle. For example, if you are the first car, you will most likely see just beyond your car’s hood: the crossing’s gate, the wheels beneath the train. As your eyes begin to relax, lights and objects in motion should blur. Soon you field of vision is indistinct, a collage.
4. Sound: allow the sound of the gate’s ringing, the passing train, and environmental sounds to become one indistinct but symphonic river of sound. This will include the car’s engine, heater, air conditioner, and windshield wipers, along with whatever random thoughts you hear in your head. The sound should stream.
5. Awareness: come back to your breath. You are aware of your posture. Your gaze is relaxed. You are listening to this 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 train passes out of view, release whatever thoughts, anxieties, or stresses you would like it to take with it. When the gate goes up, the meditation has come to an end. Put your seat belt back on and drive away.
“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” — Albert Einstein
In his classic 15th-century Sanskrit manual on hatha yoga, Haá¹ha Yoga Pradipika, the yogic sage Svami Svatmarama wrote, “Looking intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed, is known as trataka by the acharyas.”
One form of trataka is called bahiranga trataka, a fixed-gaze meditation method that involves concentrating your vision on some external object or point. This practice seeks to achieve a “blanking out” of visual perception as a pathway to a meditative state.
For my session today, I stared deeply into an image of a Mandelbrot set, an elegant demonstration of the intimate connection between the mathematical and the mystical:
If c = 1, then you get the sequence 0, 1, 2, 5, 26,…, which tends to infinity. Put another way, all possibilities are implicit (i.e., exist in potential form) in the One.
The Mandelbrot set has been called “the thumbprint of God.” It also has a distinct resemblance to classical depictions of Gautama Buddha seated in a Lotus position.
“Just let dharma be the same as food, and let food be the same as dharma. Dharma is itself food, food is itself dharma. This dharma is what is received and used by all buddhas in the past and future. This food is the fulfillment that is the joy of dharma and the delight of meditation.”
Eihei Shingi, Zen master Dogen (1200-1253)
Dogen makes it clear near the beginning of the essay that there is no separation between food and spiritual teaching. “Dharma” in the following passage implies all of the meanings of the original Sanskrit word: primarily the teaching of reality, but also the truth of reality itself, the elements of that realm of reality, and this teaching as means or path to align with that reality.
November 9 has been a quite stressful and often chaotic date since the late Middle Ages. In 1456, Ulrich II of Celje, the last prince of Celje principality, was assassinated in Belgrade. In 1494, the Medici Family was expelled from Florence. In 1520, more than 50 people were sentenced and executed in the Stockholm Bloodbath. In 1720, the synagogue of Yehudah he-Hasid in Jerusalem was burned down by Arabs, leading to the expulsion of the Ashkenazim from the city. Fifty years later, during the Battle of Fishdam Ford in the American Revolutionary War, a force of British and Loyalist troops failed in a surprise attack against the South Carolina Patriot militia. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte led the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire ending the Directory government.
November 9 during the 19th century was relatively calm, but then in 1872, the Great Boston Fire engulfed the city in one of the costliest fire-related property losses in American history. Eight years later, a large earthquake hit Zagreb, killing many and destroying the Zagreb Cathedral. Today in 1888 in London, the city residents were gripped with fear as Mary Jane Kelly became the fifth (and possibly final) victim of the notorious unidentified serial killer Jack the Ripper.
During the 20th century, November 9 was a fairly chaotic date, seeing the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, the most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the lakes (destroying 19 ships and killing more than 250 people) and the sinking of the SMS Emden by the HMAS Sydney in the Battle of Cocos the following year. In 1923, in Munich, police and government troops crushed the chaotic Nazi-led Beer Hall Putsch in Bavaria.
Forty years later, in 1963, an explosion at a coal mine in Miike, Japan, killed 458 people, and put 839 more in the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning. Two years after that, several American states and parts of Canada were hit by a series of blackouts lasting up to 13 hours. Chaos loomed in the United States in 1979, when a nuclear alarm was sounded as NORAD computers and the Alternate National Military Command Center in Fort Ritchie, Maryland, detected a massive Soviet nuclear strike. Thankfully, after reviewing the raw data from satellites and checking the early warning radars, the alert was cancelled and chaos was averted. In 1993, Stari most, the “old bridge” in Bosnian Mostar built in 1566, collapsed after several days of bombing during the Bosnian War. In 2005, suicide bombers caused chaos across Amman, Jordan, when they attacked several hotels, killing at least 60 people.
These are just a few of the many chaotic events that have marked November 9 throughout history. So perhaps it’s no surprise that today is also recognized as “Chaos Never Dies Day.”
“Chaos Never Dies Day recognizes the turmoil in modern, everyday life. Are things a little crazy at home? Is school a little on the wild side? Is your work place hectic and disorderly? We thought so. Just when things seem to calm down at work and home, along comes something to disrupt your life. Yes, disorder is everywhere. Hectic schedules, changes to plans, unexpected tasks and chores, the list goes on and on and on. Today is designed for you. It’s a day to recognize the chaos in your life. You can best celebrate this day, by recognizing that chaos never dies. Rather, its a way of life. You can partake in this special day, by putting just a little order back into your life. You can start, by picking one thing that is really disrupting your life, and change it…for the good.”
Perhaps instead of picking one “disruptor” in your life, you could do something that may tamp down on all disruptors: meditation.
And while November 9 may be the one day a year to recognize the inherent chaos of life, it’s also notable to know that the date is also the birth, in 1522, of German theologian Martin Chemnitz. Considered by many to be the greatest theologian on the 16th century, Chemnitz is second only to Martin Luther in the historical ranks of the Lutheran church, which was undergoing an extremely chaotic period in the late 1500s.
“It was the latter part of the sixteenth century that proved to be one of the greatest battlegrounds for orthodox Lutheranism, which found itself facing many opponents and varied controversies,” writes Lutheran minister Joshua Zarling. “The Catholic Church, newly revitalized from the council of Trent (1545-1563), was now ready to take a decisive stand against the Protestants. John Calvin had come onto the scene…It was in the doctrines of the Lord’s Supper and the Person of Christ that Calvinism posed its greatest threat to Lutheranism…Under the unsteady hand of Melancthon, Wittenberg itself became a hotbed for Crypto-Calvinists…[a]dd to this the Osiandrian controversy, the Synergists and the Anabaptists…it was…turbulent times.”
Chemnitz, who was one of the most important formulators of the Formula of Concord, the authoritative Lutheran statement of faith, knew very well the value of meditation. He said that “tremendously important matters…can be understood better by pious meditation than explained by human language.”
Will a little meditation help one to accept, process and/or co-exist with the chaos of life? Most signs point to a resounding yes. As the Mayo Clinic notes, “Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace.”
But meditation does require a good amount of concentration, persistence and—at least where chaos is concerned—a certain level of acceptance. As the Buddha once said, “Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.”
“To cook, or to fix some food, is not preparation, according to Dogen: it is practice. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook!”
Connecting the Dots: Meditation, Pranayama, Yoga and Morality
It’s been a week since I started daily meditation for the RFAOH hiatus. I’ve meditated off and on for many years. Not every day, and certainly never taking notes or recording any thoughts or observations. So this experience—meditating every single day for six months, along with my two MomenTech collaborators as part of a “non-art” residency—is a very new one. As I am a less experienced meditator than my two colleagues—and have a deep curiosity about the practice (in particular, its effect on the brain), I am approaching it with the wide-eyed curiosity of a student. As a student, I will be experimenting with various types of meditation, exploring different techniques, researching the history and practice of meditation and also keying into recent and current scientific studies into the neuroscience behind this practice.
The mental benefits of meditation are well known: increased mental clarity, increased awareness, increased sense of calm. I am interested in seeing how a six-month daily meditation routine engenders such results and more specifically: Will my daily meditation practice have any practical (and measurable) physiological/neurological benefit? There is also another, more expansive, component to my study: I am very interested in investigating the connection between meditation and a “moral self.”
Morality has not played a planned role in my meditation practice, which, for over the past couple of years has centered primarily around the concept of “pranayama.” A portmanteau created from the two Sanskrit words “prana” (meaning “life force” and in particular, “breath”) and “ayama” (meaning “to extend or draw out”), pranayama means “extension of breath.” As a meditation technique, it involves focusing one’s total attention on controlled breathing, i.e., breathing in a set pattern, in order to achieve a meditative state. There are many patterns—some intended to achieve a specific effect, others that are geared for the specific physical conditions of the practitioner (i.e., one pattern may work well for someone, but not for another).
One type of pranayama, knows as Alternate Nostril Breathing (ANB), was shown to have a beneficial effect cardiopulmonary functions, according to a 2008 study conducted by the Department of Physiology at Nepal Medical College in Kathmandu Specifically, the researchers found that healthy young adults who engaged in a 15-minute ANB exercise every morning for four weeks increased parasympathetic activity and lowered respiratory rate and systolic blood pressure. Essentially, this simple practice helps make the human body more efficient and more relaxed, even after just a short time of practicing it.
Pranayama is an ancient practice, mentioned repeatedly in the Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse scripture that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Written by the Sage Ved Vyasa (a revered figure in most Hindu traditions) sometime between the 5th to 2nd century BCE, the Gita features a conversation about a number of theological and philosophical issues between the Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide Lord Krishna. The battlefield setting of the Gita is generally viewed as an allegory for man’s ethical and moral struggles.
So does it follow then that, while pranayama has been shown to have a strong connection to the physical body, there is also a connection between breathing and morality? For that, one should look at pranayama as existing within a larger context. After all, it is only one aspect an expansive ancient practice that joins physical, mental and spiritual disciplines developed with one primary goal in mind: To attain a state of permanent peace. The practice? Yoga. The term is derived from one of either two roots: “yujir yoga” (to yoke, join or bind) or yuj samÄdhau (to concentrate). The term “yoga” (or simply, “yog”) is often interpreted as “union.” In the West, yoga has been considered to be generally a physical exercise, but its origins in ancient India describe a complete life philosophy.
So while my own meditation has been focused primarily on the practice of pranayama, I will be using my six-month hiatus not only to focus on meditation as a subject of academic and quasi-clinical study, including both research and daily practice, but also to use the concept of meditation as a leaping point to investigate the practice within the larger context of yoga. Consequently, my investigation will include a daily yoga practice and an attempt to connect the dots between physical, mental and spiritual realms; specifically understanding the connection between meditation and morality.
One of the thinkers I will be tapping into is Jack Kornfield, an American author and teacher in the Vipassana (i.e., “analytic meditation”) movement in American Theravada Buddhism. Trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma and India—including as a student of the Thai monk Ajahn Chah—Kornfield has been teaching meditation since 1974 and is a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Having also served in the Peace Corps, working at the Public Health Service in northeast Thailand, Kornfield is keenly aware of the connection between meditation and morality.
“Morality as taught by way of rules is extremely powerful and valuable in the development of practice,” he said. “It must be remembered that it, like all the techniques in meditation, is merely a tool to enable one to eventually get to that place of unselfishness where morality and wisdom flow naturally.”
From pranayama to morality, neuroscience to spirituality, it’s clear that meditation is just a piece of a much bigger and quite complex puzzle. It’s a puzzle that I hope to assemble over the next six months.
Over the past few days I realized that I am highly influenced by anything I watch, hear, or read etc., just prior to my meditation session, which usually begins in the evening. Not long after I sit down and relax into the posture, things begin to repeat: images from films; words from books; a song’s melody. To play with that influence, I decided today to carefully choose something to meditate on, in this case a website I just learned about that shows a graphic of all the reported births and deaths happening in the world, real-time, at any given moment.
Alpha waves are electromagnetic oscillations in the frequency range of 8–12 Hz arising from synchronous and coherent electrical activity of thalamic pacemaker cells in humans.
Science has established that during times of relaxed awareness our brains are predominant in Alpha wave activity. It induces a state of hemispherical synchronization, where both the left and right hemispheres of the brain balance out in Alpha wave activity. Zen-trained meditation masters produce noticeably more alpha waves during meditation. This fact has led to a popular trend of biofeedback training programs for everyday stress relief.
I decided to have a short meditation session while listening on headphones to binaural beat at 10 Hz to see what happens. As far as I know, it is never used in traditional ZEN meditation. It would be most likely described as a trick by ZEN master, and I would get hit by bamboo stick. This short session moved me to some isolated place, where even my breath (counting breath is often first step in meditation) vanished somewhere. I don’t think there was much of a benefit for me in this sitting. It felt like being asleep on a spaceship cruising to distant galaxy. However, afer I turned sound off, I sit for another 15 minutes, and I felt very focused and increased concentration. Maybe such a sound can be used as pre-med booster!
Visual and audio data from ZEN meditation on 11.3.2013 at 5:50 AM. There is a noticeable finer granularity of vision field compared with the day before. The recorded audio track simulates a low level white noise heard during meditation.