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October 16, 2011

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From what you are saying, it seems to me that one's time is better spent simply living life rather than meditating. Not quite sure what benefits you have derived from meditation as opposed to thinking, reading or even sleeping, but of meditation is none of these.

George, meditation was a discipline for me. There's some value in sticking with a disciplined practice, but as Dot found, eventually the practice becomes unduly constraining. Meditation also has positive brain effects.

The way I see things now, meditation can be a form of mental exercise. But just as the reason I work out at an athletic club three times a week for over an hour is mostly so I can enjoy physical activities outside of the club, so am I coming to look upon meditation as an "exercise" that helps keep my brain/mind stronger so I can better enjoy everyday life.

Brian,

Could you explain further, how your meditation helps keep your brain/mind stronger? Sounds interesting, however could it be more of a 'clearing/calming' effect?
Roger

Roger, here's links to a couple of blog posts about how meditation rewires and strengthens the brain:

http://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/2007/01/meditation_teac.html

http://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/2005/11/meditation_stre.html

Brian,

Thanks for the reference.

I noticed this,

"I’ve spent over 20,000 hours in meditation (though if you subtract the time I spent dozing or letting my mind ramble, it’d likely be closer to 2,000; maybe less). So it’s nice to know that researchers are finding that all that sitting in a dark place with my eyes closed, mostly repeating a mantra, probably has altered the structure and function of my brain for the better."

"After putting the Buddhist monks through their meditation paces in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, neuroscientist Richard Davidson considers this to be a viable hypothesis: “That we can think of emotions, moods and states such as compassion as trainable mental skills.”

---I wonder what Dot Fisher-Smith would think of those statements? From your post, it would possibly appear that she has given up on Zen practices and meditation.

I can see how we can think of emotions, moods and states such as compassion as trainable mental skills. However, how does meditation practice(of any kind) engage in this training?



Brian,

You say there is value in meditation, but its still not clear from your answer what that value is, and thus I am not sure if its really clear to you either.

Are you merely doing something out of habit? A conditioned remnant from your past search for the kind of mystical experience that you feel one day might still occur, and that it cannot hurt to continue to do so, and can justify it rationally to yourself with some tentative neuroscience findings.

However, what neuroscience may or may not say about meditation (not sure its clear what aspects it improves or how) - is largely irrelevant as opposed to how you personally experience the value of meditation.

You say the value to yourself is disciplined practice, but this could be achieved from any habitual activity - physical exercise, reading, puzzles, etc. In fact, with all these activities you can actually see changes in yourself. But with your meditative practice, its not clear what changes you have noticed, especially since you have always meditated. Do you feel certain benefits when you do more or less mediation and in what way?

Just as Dot grew to find meditation too constraining, is this not the inevitable outcome of any disciplined practice that yields minimal personal value? Its simply not worth the effort?

George, as usual you ask some good questions. Yes, meditation has become a habit for me after so many years -- over forty. Occasionally I go a day without meditating (rarely, usually when traveling) and I feel sort of off-center.

But you're right: there are other ways to concentrate, to train the mind, to practice mindfulness. "Meditation" isn't separate from everyday life, that's for sure.

I do believe, though, that there are some pluses to devoting some time every day to some form of sitting meditation. As noted before, I've come to look upon this as exercise for the brain, similar to how I go to an athletic club three times a week and exercise my body.

That said, I readily admit that meditation has become a habit, albeit a healthy one, in my opinion. I enjoy sitting on my cushion, closing my eyes, and becoming attentive to what is happening within my mind/brain.

Sure, we can do this while going about our daily activities, but then the outside world is more mixed up with the inside world. For me, and I'm not saying this should be true of anybody else, meditation is an interesting and pleasurable way of both learning more about how my mind works, and training it to behave in a certain fashion.

Years ago when I became interested in Buddhism, I fell in love with Buddha's directive to "make a proper investigation first." This is a far cry from, "Trust me, I'm a Buddha."

According to Buddha's own teaching, any dharma may become an obstacle. Delight in the dharma--in teachings, rituals, rules-- is not virtuous, though it's better than delight in some things. Dot appears to me to be someone who got the point, and left her raft by the shore instead of lugging it up the hill.

By far my favorite observations on the purpose of samadhi meditation is by Buddhadasa Bhikku in "Handbook for Mankind":

"The second aspect of the threefold training is concentration (Samadhi). This consists in constraining the mind to remain in the condition most conducive to success in whatever he wishes to achieve. Just what is concentration? No doubt most of you have always understood concentration as implying a completely tranquil mind, as steady and unmoving as a log of wood. But merely these two characteristics of being tranquil and steady are not the real meaning of Concentration. The basis for this statement is an utterance of the Buddha. He described the concentrated mind as fit for work (kammaniya), in a suitable condition for doing its job. Fit for work is the very best way to describe the properly concentrated mind."

A mind fit for work. It's just one part of a happy life, but this is more important and helpful in my estimation than any kind of "experience" that may be gained from meditation, although there are many such experiences to be had. Seeking them out is not a spiritual path, however, in itself, in my opinion.

(http://www.buddhanet.net/budasa2.htm is the link to an online copy of Handbook for Mankind.)

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