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Late Night Thoughts: Nipples, Yin and Yang, Self-Knowledge, Yakuza, and More

(An 11 minute read)

Yesterday afternoon was bright and crisp.  The snow from a couple days before had melted, leaving the grasses verdant, albeit destroying the pink crab apple blossoms.  I wondered if their seeds had made it through the cold.

Late in the afternoon, one of my next door neighbors walked past my window, carrying his tiniest child in a car seat.  The little one was kicking joyfully — apparently at the sunlight on his legs, perhaps attempting to dislodge it.

A few moments later, the woman appeared, and then the toddler.  The man and the woman walked purposely towards their car.  The toddler had other ideas, though.  Every three to five feet he was stopped in his tracks by the sight of something interesting!  Green shoots!  Dog poop!  More shoots!

Suddenly, his parents were calling to him, demanding he hurry up.  Green shoots forgotten, he ran towards them, his legs almost a blur trying to keep up with his head, which — in the manner of a toddler — was improbably far in front of his body.

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Some years ago, I was introduced to internet chat rooms by a computer savvy friend.   “Here, I have something to show you, Paul.”  Mike said, turning towards his desktop computer.   A click or two, and suddenly the room was engulfed by the shrieking death throes of the Loch Ness monster.

“Paul?  Paul, you can come out of the closet.”

“Is it gone?”

“It’s only my modem, Paul.  I’m dialing up the internet.”

“You’re dialing up who?”

“Paul, get the hell out of my closet right now!”

Later that same evening…  “Look, Paul!  She’s come online!  It’s Jolene!”

“Jolene?  Do you mean, ‘PussyVentura’?”

“Yes, that’s her username.”

“Username?”

“I’ll explain later. ”

Several minutes later…  “What I need from you right now is a poem.  Write a poem to her, so I can impress her with it, Paul.”

“I don’t know, Mike, the last time you got romantic about some…”.

“A poem, Paul, that’s all I’m asking for.  I’m certainly not asking for a recap of my romantic history!”

“But, Mike, a Russian bride?”

“Poem! Now!”

Five minutes later…  “Where’s my poem, Paul?”

“I’m still working on it, Mike”

“I need it now!  She said she was logging off, so I told her to wait.  Give me what you’ve got!”

“Um…try typing this:  Your beauty cleanses me of sorrow, my Jolene.”

“Your beauty cleanses me of sorrow,  my Jolene.”

“It gives me courage to live for tomorrow, my Jolene.”

“It gives me courage to live for tomorrow, my Jolene.  Oh, Paul, this is going to be good, I can tell.  See?  You can do it!  What’s next?”

“You even make me want to face”

“You even make me want to face”

“With grace”

“With grace…That’s pretty good, Paul, I like that.  What’s next?  Quick!  What’s next?”

“The challenge”

“The challenge”

“Of your morning breath, my Jolene.”

“Of your mornin…  Are you kidding me, Paul?  Are you kidding me!”

“It’s all I got, Mike.”

“Oh, Jesus!”

“Too passionate?”

◊◊◊

I’ve heard that in placental mammals, the number of nipples divided by two strongly correlates with average litter size.  A species, like ours, with two nipples typically has one offspring per litter.   But a species that has six nipples will on average have three offspring per litter.

Of course, it all gets complicated when you realize that some species have no fixed number of nipples.  Pigs, for instance, range from 6 to 32 nipples, depending on the breed.

◊◊◊

My second wife, Tomoko, was educated in an elite Japanese school that required her to learn how to read and write classical Chinese, much as some elite Western schools require Latin of their students.  She also had a large set of books — each one beautifully bound, printed, and separately encased — that contained the works in Chinese of nearly a hundred ancient authors.  Most of them never published in English.

At times, she and I were in the habit of dining out, and I coaxed her into regularly bringing along a volume or two of her set so that she could translate them for me after we’d finished our meals.  One of my favorite authors was Kan Chu (circa 600 – 550 B.C.), who — in Tomoko’s translation — once said this, “Clothes, food, shelter: Satisfy these first, then teach people to be human.  When people have those things, it will be easier to govern them.”

To put that in context, almost all ancient Chinese wisdom literature is nominally addressed to the rulers, and couched in terms of how to govern the people, regardless of whether it has much to do with governing or not.  When you think about it, that made a lot of sense since it was the ruling class for the most part that could read and write.  So Kan Chu was probably not being cynical in urging his audience to make sure the people had “clothes, food, and shelter” in order to more easily govern them.

More likely, I think, he was genuinely concerned with the people’s welfare.  But whatever the case, his advice to take care of necessities before teaching people the finer things in life impresses me as good advice even to this day.  Especially today, when “clothes, food, and shelter” are once again at risk for larger and larger numbers of people.

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 I don’t know about modern Chinese, but classical Chinese had about twenty words for “no”, not one of which meant “absolutely no”.  The closest you could get to an absolute no  — that is, the closest you could get to the Western sense of “no” — was a word that meant, “almost always no”.

This was completely in keeping with the ancient Chinese understanding of yin and yang, the two principles which are the immediate manifestations of the Tao in the world.

Yin and yang are not opposites in the Western sense of “yes and no”, “feminine and masculine”, or “good and evil”.   Yin, sometimes called “the feminine principle”, is an aspect of yang, sometimes called “the masculine principle”.   Yang, in turn, is an aspect of yin.

So far as I’ve been able to find out, there is no truly dichotomous thinking in ancient Chinese wisdom literature.  Instead, even the Chinese equivalent of polar opposites reveal an underlying unity.   The most common Western expression that I know of to the Chinese way of thinking is to speak of apparent opposites as “really being two sides of the same coin”.

   ◊◊◊

One day in the 1960s, when Tomoko was about seven years old, her school was called to an unscheduled assembly.  There, the principal announced that the students were being dismissed for the day, and that they were to immediately go home.  No one should stop to play, loiter, or visit with friends.  Straight home and no detours!  Your parents have been called.  They are expecting you!

Strange as it might sound today, even very young schoolchildren in the 60s typically walked to and from school — if the distance wasn’t far — and even in big cities like Tokyo.  But that’s a digression for the benefit of my younger readers, who might never have heard of such a thing!

When Tomoko reached her home, her grandmother was already watching the television to see what had happened.   Soon, the news reports started coming in.  The police around the country were raiding the Yakuza dens!  They were, the reporters said, “attempting to peacefully arrest the bosses, but unfortunately, often finding themselves engaged in gun battles.  Several bosses are reported killed with no injuries so far on the police side.”

I don’t know when Tomoko learned the full story of that day’s events but here is what she told me many years later.  The Japanese mafia, or Yakuza, had grown out of control.  The bosses no longer knew their proper place.  Consequently, something had to be done.  The schools in major cities across the country were closed in case the situation got out of hand.  Then the police, armed with grenades and assault rifles, raided numerous “dens” and slaughtered without warning at least 100 ranking Yakuza and many times that of lower ranking members.

“Did they get them all”, I asked.

Naturally, Tomoko explained, they didn’t even try to kill all of them.  That would have left a void in society that some other group would then have to fill, upsetting the nation’s harmony.  Instead, the goal was to knock them down to where they were no longer a threat to the social order, and could instead provide their services to the community in peace.

I think it is sometimes hard for Westerners to understand the Eastern concept of opposites.  “Good and Evil” belong to the West, “Yin and Yang” (or “In and Yo”, in Japanese) belong to the East.  Our good and evil is dichotomous, where the one is, the other is not.  But yin and yang are not dichotomous.  Where the one is, the other is also.

Because yin and yang are the way of opposites in the East, so often the goal is not to eliminate or annihilate one (or the other), but rather to insure that they remain in harmony or balance with each other.   When the Yakuza got out of balance, when it was no longer in harmonious relationship with the rest of society, it became necessary — in the Japanese way of seeing things — to put it back in its proper place.  No more, no less.

In the West, no politician could ever get elected promising to conscientiously stop short of annihilating the mafia, the gangs, the cartels.  That would be the equivalent of professing to be soft on evil.

◊◊◊

Every real thought on every real subject knocks the wind out of somebody or other.   — Oliver Wendell Holmes.

◊◊◊

It seems most of us at one time or another confuse the map with the terrain when we believe our thoughts about ourselves are ourselves.

That’s to say, the map is our thoughts about ourselves. The terrain is who we are. Yet, so often we think what we think about ourselves is who we are.

I can think of myself any number of ways that are not likely to be borne out by my experience of myself. I can believe all sorts of things about myself that simple observation will disprove.

It seems to me that if one wishes to know who they are, the best place to start is with the non-judgmental observation of oneself in relationship to other things, very much including people.  It is key that the observation be as dispassionate, as non-judgmental as possible.    This can be exceedingly difficult to do because all your life you have been taught to praise or condemn yourself according to whether or not you measured up to some ideal, some person, some standard.

Yet, without non-judgmental observation, you will not come to know yourself as deeply as possible.  Judgments, although useful in many circumstances, are worse than useless here.  They are worse than neutral.  They actually distort who you really are.  To look at yourself through judgmental eyes is like looking at your image in a fun house mirror.

Moreover, you should look at yourself in relationship to things.  You should not simply introspect because doing so is quite likely to lead you into mistaking the map for the terrain, into mistaking your idea of yourself for yourself.  To really understand yourself you need a reality-check, and observing yourself in relationship can provide that reality-check.

Last, it can help immensely to create a journal in which you write down your observations on a daily basis, then review your journal regularly.  After a few weeks or months, if you do not discover many new and significant things about yourself, you can sue my lawyer.  By the way, I hereby grant all my powers of attorney to Donald Trump.

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“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  — Kong Qui (Confucius).  I wonder now what my neighbor, the toddler, thinks of dog poop.  Probably thinks it’s beautiful.  At his age, I believe, most of us do.   Sometimes the only thing that separates a child from a sage is age.

Belief, Epistemology, Internet, Introspection, Logic, Philosophy, Reason, Thinking

“The Believer’s Fallacy”

A while back, I was on an internet forum with a woman from Texas who happened to annoy me.  Apparently, I also annoyed her at least as much as she annoyed me.  I suspect it was a personality conflict, because some of the things she did that annoyed me were things that do not necessarily annoy me when others do them.

Like brag about Texas.  I’m usually significantly more bored than I am annoyed when someone brags about their home state.  But when she did it, I would throw myself for half an hour or more  into devising snarky comebacks before I’d wake up to how much time I was wasting.

Again, like when she would commit the believer’s fallacy.  My feelings usually range anywhere from concern, through empathy, to resignation when someone does that.  It’s an easy fallacy to commit, and I commit it myself now and then.  But when she did it, it was no longer an understandable mistake — by god, it was an issue!   It was easy for me to find myself thinking on and off all day about one or two instances of where she had committed the fallacy the day before.

She would say things like,  “I believe in being straightforward about who I am”; “I believe we should know ourselves”;  “I believe in helping people achieve their goals for success”; “I believe in charity”.  Yet, she would mean more by those statements than their face value.  A lot more.

Her phrase, “I believe…”, was her code for “I am…”.  So, she would say, “I believe in charity”, but she would mean, “I am charitable.”  Or, she would say, “I believe my husband should be the head of our household”, but she would mean something like, “I am my husband’s dutiful and submissive wife”.

Now, the problem is, she wasn’t always what she said she was.  Sometimes you could tell that pretty clearly; and because she annoyed me, I could not easily forget the things she would say.  Like when she said she believed in charity.  Over time, she made a number of references to her charitable acts.  So, it became clear that she was charitable alright — she gave to every person in need who could jump through the twenty-seven hoops she had set up as preconditions to her pocketbook.  Nevertheless, she was a big believer in charity, meaning she thought of herself as charitable.

Was she a hypocrite?

Well, yes: A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another, so she was a hypocrite.  But she was a special kind of hypocrite.  She was special because her hypocrisy seems to have arisen from a common enough mistake:  The mistake of thinking we are what we merely believe in.

I call that mistake, “the believer’s fallacy”.  If someone asks us, “Are you a charitable person?”, we do not always examine ourselves like we would anyone else.  We do not always search our memory for instances when we have given charity or declined to give charity.  Instead, we sometimes  search our memory for beliefs about ourselves and charity.  Instead of asking, “What have we done that was charitable?”, we ask, “What do we believe about charity?

Now, anyone who is a fan of logic — and who isn’t? — knows that a fallacy can be committed even though what you say is true.  Cute little children are always committing the tu quoque fallacy with each other.  Stephanie says to Richard, “You lied!”  Richard says to Stephanie, “You did too!”  That’s a logical fallacy because what Richard said doesn’t change the truth or falsity of what Stephanie said. In other words, what Richard said can be true  (Stephanie can indeed be lying) but logically irrelevant at the same time.

The believer’s fallacy is like that, too.  It’s possible to have the wrong reasons for the right conclusion.  Belief can match reality.  But it is not logically required for belief to match reality.  Therefore, it is  a fallacy to assert that one’s belief in something is sufficient grounds for one’s claim to be something.  It is a fallacy to assert that my belief in charity is sufficient grounds for my claim to be charitable.

The last thing to note about the believer’s fallacy here is that it can be committed when we say of others — not just ourselves — “They believe in x, therefore they are or do x.”   “The President believes in compassion, therefore he is a compassionate man.”

That last example suggests there might be consequences of committing the believer’s fallacy.  To mistake a president’s belief in compassion for sufficient evidence of compassion could have various consequences, depending on your relationship to him or her.

It’s been 30 years since I last knew my fallacies backwards and forwards.  I am no longer up on the topic.  But so far as I can recall, there is no recognized fallacy that has the precise form of this fallacy.  So, that might mean, I have discovered it myself.  However, that is very unlikely.  Much more likely is I just don’t know the name of the already recognized fallacy that has the form of what I call the believer’s fallacy.  And even more likely than that is the possibility that what I’ve come up with fails as a fallacy of logic altogether.   Maybe it’s just some sort of psychological fallacy.  Or maybe not even that. But of one thing we may be absolutely certain.

We may be absolutely certain that if I was sure the believer’s fallacy was a bona fide fallacy of logic, and that I had discovered it, I would propose naming it after that annoying woman.

Just kidding.

Agape, Attachment, Authenticity, Authoritarianism, Belief, Consciousness, Delusion, Ethics, God(s), Happiness, Introspection, Late Night Thoughts, Learning, Love, Memory, Observation, Pleasure, Quality of Life, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Realization, Spirituality

Random Late Night Thoughts

It’s late and I’m listening to the wind.  It rushes through the night like something alive, rattling dry winter branches beyond my window.  It swirls forward and stops.  Swirls forward and stops.   Like some animal in the forest — first hurrying along, now pausing to listen.  Alive or not, I can almost imagine the wind this night is a dark woman who has set herself on an unfamiliar path with a desperate errand.  I listen to the wind twist in and out of my imagination.  And I listen to my late night thoughts…

…Did the moralist who first referred to premarital sex as “the sin next to murder” ever grasp he could not have made a clearer declaration of his moral incompetence?  For if a person honestly believes premarital sex is “the sin next to murder”, then we are no longer permitted to ask whether that person is morally incompetent — that much is now established — but we are only in a position to ask what might cause his moral incompetence?

…Is it possible to be morally insane?

…It’s a cold wind tonight pushing down the temperatures.  In a few hours, it will be dawn, and the coming cold is predicted to range between a high of 13°  F and a low of -6°  F.

…We have so many memories to forget before we can know who we are.

…Most of us spend our lives trying to change ourselves through alternate praise and condemnation.  Indeed, we are trained to do so.  But praise and condemnation are not paths to lasting change and anyone who embarks upon them will backslide again and again.

…So many people — from Socrates to Shakespeare — have told us to be true to ourselves.  Even above all else, be true to ourselves.  But how can we be true to ourselves?  What is required?

I propose being true to oneself occurs when what you feel, what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony with each other.

This is also called “authenticity”.

…”What everyone wants from life is continuous and genuine happiness”, said Spinoza.  Yet, so very often, we think we are pursuing happiness when we are merely pursuing pleasure.

…Pain can make us self-centered, but so can pleasure.

…Listening to Loreena McKennitt sing, the thought came to me that her voice can at times be so precise it is all but surgically precise in the expression of emotion.

…Love is at least as much a way of seeing, as much a way of perceiving, as it is a feeling, and love is far more fundamental than any kind of thinking or believing.

…I often secretly wonder why people spend so much time debating the existence of deity when we have so little time in this life to love and be happy.

…In a democracy, must the authoritarian element always be on the brink of hysteria?

…The notion we somehow are what we introspect is a very interesting, but useless idea.  What we learn by dispassionately observing our behavior, as we might dispassionately observe the behavior of another,  usually provides us with a far more accurate — and even a more profound — notion of who we are than all our introspections.

Why do we care to know ourselves?  That’s the first question anyone should ask before embarking on a quest for self-knowledge.  Self-knowledge — accurate self-knowledge — never originates with the ego.  i.e. It never comes from caring to know ourselves in order to affirm or aggrandize our ego.  If you seek to know yourself, think first of the practical uses of such knowledge.  Then nothing beyond that.

…Is the willingness to risk becoming a buffoon the prerequisite for any creative work?

…The late night wind is a raven aloft in a jealous sky.  That may be true, but one might ask what on earth has it to do with nude women?

Belief, Delusion, Introspection, Late Night Thoughts, Observation, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Wisdom

Why Are Some of Us Very Successful at Not Knowing Ourselves?

According to the best estimates, our species is around 250,000 years old.  I’ve been thinking about that for a short while tonight. Mainly, I’ve been wondering how often — given all that time, and all the people who have come and gone — we have repeated ourselves.

How often, for instance, has someone fallen in love, told a child to work harder, invented a god, or decided one of the most important things he or she can do in life is to “know themselves”.   I would just bet Socrates isn’t the first person on earth to have gone around telling his fellow humans the unexamined life is not worth living and admonishing them to know who and what they are.   Not the first by far.  Not in all that time.

Some ideas usually turn out bad.  Inventing a god, for example:  Seems that one usually turns out bad.   But “know yourself”? That often turns our to be embarrassing, but embarrassment is not the worse thing in the world.  It just feels like it is.

I know a lady on a popular internet forum who simply does not know herself.  Not even — apparently — a little bit.

Of course, there are probably a lot of people like that in this big world, but what might be a little rare about this one lady is she is always telling you who she thinks she is — and she is almost always wrong.

She cannot write a paragraph without telling you who she thinks she is.  She cannot state the simplest fact without telling you who she thinks she is.  I have seen her take 500 words to answer a yes or no question because she felt it necessary to detour through a speech about how that question might be related to some notion she has of herself.  And she almost always — so far as any mere outsider can tell — almost always misses the bullseye about who or what she is.

For instance, I’ve noticed she is quite often insulting.  That is, she can’t seem to debate anyone she dislikes even in the least without resorting to making some very snide or insinuating remarks about them.  I’ve watched her insulting people on that forum for a year or two.  And I’ve thought no more about her doing it than I think about anyone doing it until, this past month, she stated on more than one occasion that she abhors insults and makes it a point never to insult anyone.

She has stated it so forcefully that I now believe she believes she has never intentionally insulted anyone on that forum.  Ever. And I will grant that it is an unconscious thing with her.  I will even grant that it is all but a mistake that she insults people.  But even so, it simply happens too often for it to be entirely, on every level of intention, a pure accident.  On some level of her soul, she is purposively indulging herself in insulting others.

She might not be a good example of what it means to live an unexamined life, because she at least appears to examine herself up to each and every hour of the day, but she is nevertheless a very good example of what it means to not know yourself.   Her self examinations — no matter how frequent they are — still somehow manage to leave her in the dark about who and what she is.

In practice, knowing yourself might sometimes mean being embarrassed for yourself, but being embarrassed for yourself still strikes me as somehow less burdensome than being absolutely deluded about who or what you are.   I suspect — but cannot prove — that almost everyone on earth is to one extent or another deluded about themselves.  Yet,  it seems to me there’s an order of magnitude difference between the average person’s degree of self-delusion and the degree of self-delusion that a few of us somehow manage to obtain.   Just as there are a few among us who are so insightful they must be geniuses at knowing themselves, there appear to be a few among us who are so un-insightful they must be geniuses at deluding themselves.

I have my suspicions, but I do not really know why that is.   Why some of us are exceptionally successful at not knowing who or what we are.  What are your opinions about that?

Agape, Altruism, Attachment, Authenticity, Beauty, Belief, Brotherly Love, Compassion, Consciousness, Delusion, Enlightenment, Erotic Love, Freedom, Giving, Happiness, Health, Honesty, Horniness, Infatuation, Intellectual Honesty, Introspection, Kindness, Liars Lies and Lying, Love, Lust, Mature Love, Meditation, Mysticism, New Love, Obligations to Society, Observation, Parental Love, Philos, Pleasure, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Romantic Love, Self, Self-Integration, Sexuality, Sexualization, Society, Spirituality, Transformative Experience, Ugliness, Values, Wisdom

Jiddu Krishnamurti “On Love”

Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote about love with passionate urgency, with love and grace, and with unflinching integrity and insight.

Even merely reading his words, even now when his words are only frozen in books, you might still feel you are being swept into a current much stronger than you.

A current that possesses the power — if only you could allow it — to thrust you up upon some foreign shore, intensely alive with love, a complete stranger to your petty self.

Perhaps someone else has matched Krishnamurti by now, but I do not know who that would be.

Jiddu Krishnamurti “On Love”.

Consciousness, Introspection, Learning, Meditation, Memory, Mental and Emotional Health, Observation, Pleasure, Quality of Life, Self, Spirituality, Thinking

Mysteries of the Restless Mind

I am not a profound man, but sometimes I am a curious one.  And so, I embarked on a series of light meditations over the past couple of days to find out whatever I might about the nature and movements of my mind while I listened to music.

It seems there are many different ways of meditating, so perhaps I should mention here that by “meditation” I mean merely a more or less unguided observation of my mind.  When I meditate, I do not so much attempt to control my mind as I attempt to dispassionately observe it.  As it often turns out, that’s challenge enough for me.

I have noticed again and again while meditating that I have a strong and persistent tendency to accept and reject — even to praise and condemn — the thoughts and feelings I observe.  That tendency seems to still only momentarily — like the momentary stillness between breaths.  So I think I spend most of my time judging my thoughts and feelings, rather than dispassionately observing them.  And, of course, when I’m judging, I am not actually meditating.

C’est la vie. It’s always easier to open a songbook than it is to sing.

While I am not interested in controlling my mind, I am sometimes interested in observing it deal with particular challenges.  Of course, that presents a problem.  How do you get your mind to deal with whatever you want it to deal with without, however, guiding or controlling it?

I don’t know how others might solve that problem, but the solution I’ve come up with is to put myself in some situation where my mind is very likely to deal with whatever it is I want to watch it deal with.  For instance, back in the day when I was very interested in how my mind dealt with sexual desire, I would go to erotic dance clubs to meditate.  Thus, I didn’t need to imagine or remember my mind dealing with sexual desire — I could observe it actually dealing with sexual desire.  Again, when I was many years ago interested in how my mind dealt with boredom, I put myself in boring situations — such as meditating for long periods while looking at a single spot on the carpet.  Although, I found it somewhat challenging to achieve boredom that way because the carpet was remarkably more exciting than my typical day.

So far as I recall, I’ve not had any mystical experiences while meditating, but I have learned a lot about the workings of my consciousness that I probably would not have learned otherwise.  More importantly, meditation has been helpful to me in getting beyond the past, in helping me be mindful of the present, and in dealing with my thoughts and feelings.  Despite its benefits, I seldom try to initiate meditation.  It seems better to just wait for those days when it comes spontaneously.  The other day, I felt like meditating before I decided what, if anything, to meditate on.

Meditating on Music

Now, unlike most people I know of, I’m not in the habit of listening to music.  I sometimes go for weeks without listening to any music that I don’t happen to overhear in a public place.  Yet, when I decide to listen, I do nothing but listen.  Moreover, the experience is almost always intense.

Perhaps it’s because I hear it so rarely, but music can produce feelings in me every bit as intense as watching a beautiful erotic dancer — or even a beige carpet.  So, the other day when I got curious about what my mind is up to when it deals with pleasure, I decided the best way to watch it deal with pleasure was to put on some music and see then if I would start meditating.

The artist I chose to listen to was Loreena McKennitt, who is a Canadian singer, musician, and songwriter.  For some reason, her music induces hypnotic pleasure in me.  Almost so much pleasure, that when I listen to her, I might not notice if the house were on fire around me.

The Mind on Pleasure

Some years ago, I was afflicted with severe back pain for a few weeks.  During that time, I noticed how the pain strengthened the self.  Or, put differently, how it made me more self-centered and less aware of, or sensitive to, others and life in general.  I have heard something similar can happen with intense pleasure.  That, pleasure, much like pain, can cause us to become more self-centered.  And, over the past couple of days, I  have been able to observe that happening, even though I don’t think my meditations have been especially profound.

Of course, it’s a bit more nuanced than I‘ve stated.  For it seems we become open to the object of our pleasure — in my case, the music — even as we become closed to, or less aware of, the rest of life.  At the height of my awareness of McKennitt’s music, in those moments when her voice struck me with physical force, I forgot even the carpet.

Dealing with Expectations while Meditating

I also found over the past couple days that, time and again, I had to deal with my expectations of what I was, or should be, experiencing.  Those expectations seem to come from two sources.

First, I have expectations from previous meditations.  There are things — movements of the mind — I expect to see because I have seen them so often before.  And I suspect I miss a lot of what is actually going on during my meditations these days because I tend to dismiss the movements I recognize.  “Oh, I know what that is! That’s the movement of desire.”  But I’m willing to bet I’m often overlooking subtle differences, along with a few things that are new to me, when my all too impatient and easily bored mind dismisses a thing as “been there, done that, have the T-shirt to prove it”.

I also have expectations from what I’ve read or heard about meditation.  Someone tells me, “This or that happens; the mind does x”, and instead of dispassionately looking for myself at the entire process, I find myself looking only far enough into the process to assess whether a thing is confirmed or refuted.  That’s a bit like being a tourist in your own mind.  And not a good tourist.  Instead, one of those tourists who lives only to check off on a list the sights he’s seen, and who reads the guidebook to determine what he’s experienced, rather than look for himself.

So, for me at least, I have the challenge of dealing wisely with my expectations during meditations.  Since actual meditation takes place for me only in those moments when I am not judging, I try to deal with my expectations simply by dispassionately noticing them and what they are doing.

Mysteries of the Restless Mind

So far as I know, nothing especially profound or deeply revelatory happened during my meditations over the past couple of days.  At one point, I experienced something I couldn’t map, couldn’t symbolize, and couldn’t turn into words.  I was looking, but I have no words for what I saw, for what I was looking at.  So, of course, I don’t know what that was all about.  But I did get a sense, quite frequently, of not knowing much about my mind.  That is, a sense of having many unanswered questions, and of mysteries suggested by those questions.  I’m even more curious now than when I began.

Consciousness, Epistemology, Introspection, Learning, Observation, People, TJ, Truth

Is Self-Observation more Accurate than Introspection?

Sometimes I crack myself up.  Moments ago, I woke up to the realization I just spent more than an hour this evening gazing at a casual photo TJ recently sent of herself.  I remember running my cursor over the lines of her hair, thinking how I would sketch them, and feeling mild disappointment the photo doesn’t show enough detail in her face to be perfectly sketchable.  But can that really have taken an hour?  And how can a mere photo make one oblivious to the passing of time?

I have a hunch, though, that when we observe ourselves doing little things like becoming lost in a photo, we often learn more about our internal states than we do through introspection.

Introspection, in my experience is very tricky and frequently produces biased, vague, and inaccurate conclusions.  Put a little differently, introspection seems much more likely to merely tell us what we think of ourselves than to tell us what we will actually do in a given set of circumstances.  It does not seem to be entirely useless, but, for instance,  I probably would never have guessed myself — through introspection alone — very likely to spend an hour gazing at a photo of TJ while daydreaming of sketching her.  But that is precisely what I have just done.

For those and other reasons, I’m of the opinion that the best way to learn about ourselves is not through introspection, but through conscientious observation of what we actually do or don’t do in a given set of circumstances.  That’s usually the best way to learn about others, and it also seems to be the best way to learn about ourselves.

Any way, those are just some preliminary thoughts on the subject.  I’m not guaranteeing the accuracy of anything I’ve said here because I haven’t allowed myself time to mull it over before writing about it.  I’d appreciate hearing your insights on this subject now.