In the latest Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy comes out of the Buddhist closet, we talk about the Dark Night of the Soul, the Abyss, and more. Here’s a taste:
CD: Yes, outcome attachment is probably my number one suffering point. The scariest things that I found at the conference was that over the 3, almost 4, years that I’ve been practicing awareness or contemplative practices or being in a beginners mind or meditation, impermanence, love and kindness. All these things, I’ve had periods where I’ve just felt really disconnected from the people around me and these are highly intelligent people or very, very tense people, much like myself. You kind of hang around people you are. So much so that at times I’ve felt profoundly sad, just profoundly depressed.
It comes during after periods of great meditation or just prolonged periods of awareness and I found that there’s something called dark night of the soul, which is a state and there’s actual terminology for this, which is a meditative psychosis. But it’s where people actually become unhinged or removed from the world that they perceive because they get so in touch with being aware that they physically feel disconnected to actually have a soul collapsing experience. Which I thought I was really along but when you get in a roomful of Buddhists and they start talking about their journey you’re just like, wow, I just thought it was me and I never would have admitted so loudly and now it’s actually pretty common.
KF: Yes, I had a similar experience when I was much younger, around 20, and I didn’t know what was going on with me for about a couple of years. I ended up hearing about a similar concept called the abyss. It’s part of cabalistic and part of western occult, a tradition as of western esotericism. But it’s a very similar idea of just becoming- I think they describe it as knowledge without understanding.
The situation where you start to understand and kind of go back to sort of Buddhist terminology, like you start to not to understand but to be aware of impermanence and to be aware of the malleability of certain aspects of reality but you haven’t really come to terms with it yet. You haven’t truly grasped the wisdom of that yet and it leaves you fairly unhinged. At least that’s my understanding of it and there’s probably a lot of people out there that would tell me that I’m completely wrong or that I’m equating things from two very different religious or spiritual practices and everything, but I don’t know. I see them as related, very similar and related aspects.
KF: One other thing I wanted to ask you about, Alex, it was one of the more surprising things in the book to me was that you pointed out that contemplative practices seem to have started somewhere between 800 and 200 BC as a response to colonialism, global trade and urbanization. That actually does kind of bring us back to that idea of the technologies that causes this sort of problem aren’t hammers and bows and arrows but they’re network technologies like social media comes back to that comparison of urbanization and economics and so forth. I would have thought those practices would still have developed much, much earlier in history so I was wondering if you’d talk a little bit about the research you did in that area of the history of contemplation.
ASP: There’s not a huge literature on this yet, I mean people definitely are working on it but I think that what’s distinctive about that period which historians of religion refer to as the Axial Age is that it’s the first time that contemplative practices stopped being a secret. They stopped doing things that are for initiates that are part of … It’s the first time that we begin to see people like Buddha arguing that these are and should be accessible to everyone. That they’re open, they’re public sort of in a sense that they go from or they continue to the network metaphor they go from being proprietary to being open source. Anyone can do them. Anyone can improve upon and add to them.
The highlight of the show may have been our discussion of the way that quantified self and augmented reality could unite to emotionally handicap us — much the same way GPS can damage our sense of direction. This after Chris explained that he gave a speech during which he was displaying vital stats like skin temperature and heart rate to the audience (something we actually talked about in our first episode):
Chris: One day they came up to me and said, “You know, at the end of your keynote I could tell you’re a little emotional and what really moved me was seeing how your body was reacting because I could hear it in your voice, but seeing it really made me think twice about how much that meant to you at that moment.” And it just stuck with me that literally there could have been tears and that’s not what she remembered. She remembered seeing the numbers. I mean, are we to the point where people need to see it to believe it?
Klint: I don’t know. Yes, that’s a really interesting reaction, or not reaction but I guess it’s an interesting thing for her to remember to impart. If that is the way we’re going to start seeing each other as streams of data instead of as the actual emotional cues that our bodies send off in a non-machine readable way. That’s some pretty profound implications for how we view each other and how we interact with each other.
But in today’s Silicon Valley, there’s little patience for what many are happy to dismiss as “hippie bullshit.” Meditation here isn’t an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of existence but a tool to better oneself and improve productivity. That’s how Bill Duane, a pompadoured onetime engineer with a tattoo of a bikini-clad woman on his forearm, frames Neural Self-Hacking, an introductory meditation class he designed for Google. “Out in the world, a lot of this stuff is pitched to people in yoga pants,” he says. “But I wanted to speak to my people. I wanted to speak to me. I wanted to speak to the grumpy engineer who may be an atheist, who may be a rationalist.” [...]
It also raises the uncomfortable possibility that these ancient teachings are being used to reinforce some of modern society’s uglier inequalities. Becoming successful, powerful, and influential can be as much about what you do outside the office as what you do at work. There was a time when that might have meant joining a country club or a Waspy church. Today it might mean showing up at TED. Looking around Wisdom 2.0, meditation starts to seem a lot like another secret handshake to join the club. “There is some legitimate interest among businesspeople in contemplative practice,” Kenneth Folk says. “But Wisdom 2.0? That’s a networking opportunity with a light dressing of Buddhism.” [...]
Steve Jobs spent lots of time in a lotus position; he still paid slave wages to his contract laborers, berated subordinates, and parked his car in handicapped stalls.
This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I discussed the relationship between mindfulness and quantified self with biosensor engineer Nancy Dougherty. Nancy talks about how she came to the practice of mindfulness through some of her “happy pills experiment,” her light-based mood tracking system and why a portable fMRI might be a little over kill for self-tracking.
If you’ve taken a lot of photos, if you’re a photographer and you spend a lot of time with the camera in your hand or up your eye. You develop the thing that is called the “camera eye,” that is even when the camera is not at your eye you start to see the world through the logic of the camera mechanism. You see the world as a potential photo with a framing, lighting, the depth of field and so forth. And that’s called the camera eye and I think social media, especially Facebook, has given us the sort of documentary vision or the Facebook eye where you see the world as a potential Facebook post or tweet or Instagram photo.
That is you see the present as always this potential future past, this sort of nostalgic view of the present. I don’t think it takes us out of the moment. Some people say that, that you’re not experiencing life in the moment because you’re worried about posting it on Facebook. I think that’s just a different experience of the moment. But it’s worth debating whether that’s a better experience or worse experience.
What Eric Schmidt was getting at when he was talking about how using a smartphone is emasculating and you need to have this Google Glass that is somehow more masculine or something like that. It was really, I thought, offensive. And I think the correct reading of that was that the smartphone, now, everybody has a smartphone. How can you look like you’re a rich, powerful man if you have this thing that everybody has?
Well, there’s Google Glass now and again reinforces how what a cellphone used to do. When people see you wearing the Google Glass will say oh, well, you’re an important rich, powerful man. It’s really I think sad in sort of an offensive way to market that product. They’ve done a terrible job marketing Google Glass I think.
More show notes, plus the complete transcript, inside.
Mindful Cyborgs is a new podcast (or internet radio show, if you will) hosted by Chris Dancy and me. The tagline is: “Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration.” In our first episode we talk about data exhaust, augmented dating, fractalnoia and more. You can listen to it or download it from Soundcloud or iTunes.
Many Technoccult readers have probably seen Hermetic.com. Maybe you even got your first taste of Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare or Hakim Bey there. What you might not know is that the site’s founder, Al Jigong Billings has given up the site to focus on what he calls “Open Source Buddhism.” I recently talked with Al about what Open Source Buddhism is, how it differs from other contemporary the Pragmatic Dharma movement and the secular mindfulness movement, and how he gravitated from Neopaganism to Buddhism.
The Discipline Of DE, a 9 minute adaptation of the short story by William S. Burroughs, was Gus Van Sant’s first film outside of film school. It was filmed around 1977. The story first appeared in Exterminator! in 1973.
Here’s an excerpt from the story:
DE is a way of doing. DE simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest most relaxed way you can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE.You can start right now tidying up your flat, moving furniture or books, washing dishes, making tea, sorting papers. Don’t fumble, jerk, grab an object. Drop cool possessive fingers onto it like a gentle old cop making a soft arrest.