I took the family to the Sierra Nevada range last weekend to enjoy the mountains. We stayed in Three Rivers at the Comfort Inn. I usually wake up a couple hours before the kids get up and when it is dark outside. I decided to take my Muse to the bathroom and do a 40-minute session. Sitting on the toilet (with the seat down in case you were wondering) I started the session. With my eyes closed, I could feel the cold seat, the toilet paper holder to my left, the mirror and sink next to me and the shower in front of me. Something happened about 10 minutes in and that all disappeared. There was no more seat, mirror, room, or hotel. I was in a field of light and energy and experienced formlessness. It was a really cool experience. The last time I experienced that was in Nepal meditating the Garlic Hotel in Pokhara when the monsoon arrived in the afternoons. I took a 6-day intensive yoga retreat and I was the only student. The instructor, Naryan, and I would sit at the top of the hotel with the windows open. We would finish every day with asana and meditation. Around 4 PM every day, the monsoon storms would suck all the air out of the room before blowing it all back in when it unleashed the rain. We would be deep in meditation when the curtains would start blowing and you could feel the moisture in the air. It was a really effective way to feel part of everything! Back in the Comfort Inn, once I noticed that I was having this experience, I was brought back to the cold room and my surroundings. These sentences from Buddha's Brain describe my experience well "...allness never changes. The whole remains reliably whole. The whole never clings and suffers. Ignorance contracts from the totality into the self. Wisdom reverses that process, emptying the self out into the allness.". Maybe this was a little glimpse into the allness!
Finished Buddha's Brain and I really like the chapter on equanimity. The book does a good job of describing the physical and evolutionary aspects of brain and mind and is a good complement to Why Buddhism is True. The book has a good mixture of science and practice. Sometimes the book glosses over big concepts but went in-depth into equanimity - the ability to not act or react based on the first response to a stimulus. By equally invoking your calm and your reason, you can see the world more clearly and engage with it on your own terms rather than reacting (or over-thinking in the opposite extreme). This ability to balance the cool and the hot helps you to be less attached and reduces craving. This quote says it all:
"With equanimity, you can deal with situations with calm and reason while keeping your inner happiness."
- The Dalai Lama
By practicing tranquility with equanimity, you can act without being affected by feeling and tone. You won't automatically crave something pleasant or avoid something unpleasant and will be able to act more based on your values and virtues. I like that concept a lot. According to the book, equanimity is a high-gamma entrainment which helps not reacting to the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex and anterior cingular cortex activate to help steady the mind. This can create in the person a sense of great spaciousness.
I have been doing longer sessions (20+ minutes) with the Muse and am finding that I lose focus mid-way through. Or, maybe more accurately, modules in my mind use the opportunity to force their priorities to the forefront. As described in the Modular Theory of Mind, different modules have developed through evolution to have domain specificity and priorities that have helped us survive in a complex, threat-filled environment. When I do longer sessions, I find that I do well at first and about 10 minutes in, I lose focus and start attaching to thoughts that come up. This morning it was work first, then family, then back to work, then completely unrelated, I started thinking that I should be riding my bike more often and went on a long journey about biking and how great it feels to ride. Anyway, I was able to recover multiple times and had a great session. On shorter sessions, I don't look at the clock. On longer sessions, I tend to look at the clock about 10 minutes in which causes me to lose focus. I am going to continue the longer sessions for a few days and mix them with shorter sessions. The longer sessions leave me with a pleasant feeling for several hours after which the short sessions do not.
Eric is a traveller, hacker, and experimenter who is currently researching how to become a happier, calmer, and more compassionate human being.