8 October 2006

How I Meditate, Part III

I bear witness to my thoughts and sensations.  Nothing more is necessary, and perhaps it is mere distraction or vanity to embellish the technique.  Nevertheless, two years ago I supplemented my longstanding practice with the addition of content. 

Once the mind is quiet and focused, it is amenable to suggestion.  Ideas or images or even ambitions that are implanted deep within the suggestible mind can have effects on my thoughts and reactions and behaviors later in the day.  If the suggestion is repeated systematically over a period of months, these subtle effects can accumulate in life-changing directions.

Some meditators report success in achieving specific objectives in their lives by focusing their intent with meditation.  They harness the power of meditation to create a piece of literature or music, or to find a romantic partner or a job or to attract success in business.  I have not worked with such narrow focus, reasoning that the selection of appropriate goals should itself grow organically from the subconscious.  I thought of classic fables in which the protagonist achieves his heart’s desire, but loses some piece of his soul in the process, and realizes too late the value of what he has had all along.  So when I embarked on this experiment two years ago, I sought as targets of my meditation values that were enduring and open-ended.    

I settled on peace, love and joy.  This phrase is such an overworn cliché that in most contexts the words have lost all power to inspire.  Certainly their appearance at this point in my essay must evoke your disappointment.  And yet, I report to you that in the context of my meditation practice their triteness has not been an impediment.  

I always begin my meditation with self-observation, bearing witness to the body, the breath, and the mind.  Sometimes I proceed from there to peace, love, and joy.  Eight months ago, I appended a fourth quality: immortality.  

7 October 2006

“True sanity entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that False Self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality ... and through this death a rebirth, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer.” 

R. D. Laing, born this day in 1927

6 October 2006

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.”

Basho Matsuo (1644 ~ 1694)

5 October 2006


Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be. 

~ Sara Teasdale

4 October 2006

“Start by doing what's necessary, then do what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” 

~ Francis of Assisi, 1182-1228 
Today is the traditional blessing of the animals, in honor of St Francis.

3 October 2006

Proteins are the workhorses of our metabolism, the molecules that send signals, form structures, and underlie the activities of all our cells.  Information in our genes is stored as segments of DNA, then translated by the body into a particular protein.  In between gene and protein, the DNA is first transcribed as messenger RNA (mRNA), an RNA copy of the gene’s information, which is carried to a ribosome, the organelle which actually manufactures the protein.  mRNA is single-stranded, meaning that it is only half of the double helix structure.

When the body chooses to turn off this process temporarily, a double stranded copy of the RNA from the same gene is sometimes used.  This has the effect of intercepting the mRNA signal, and degrading the specific mRNA before it makes it to the ribosome.  This RNA interference has turned out to be an important mechanism of gene regulation, i.e., the when and where of gene expression into proteins.

In addition to the physiological usefulness of this process, it has turned out to be an important and versatile research tool.  Double-stranded RNA is not difficult to manufacture once a gene’s sequence is known.  Without the exacting and time-consuming lab work of modifying a genome, the gene can be effectively silenced to see how that affects a cell or an organism’s metabolism.  Thus the action of a single gene can be learned quickly and efficiently.

Yesterday, Andrew Fire and Craig Mello were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of RNA interference.

2 October 2006

The Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur begins with Kol Nidre, the annulment of all vows.  It is a blanket forgiveness, and the ancients were astute enough to realize that this process must begin with forgiveness of oneself

“When you find yourself struggling with a chronic issue – anger or resentments, for example; or worries; or perfectionism; or procrastination; or a lack of motivation at work – don’t fight that issue.  Don’t even try to change it at first.  Instead, focus all of your attention on accepting yourself for having the issue.”  
– Dan Joseph, from the Quiet Mind Review

Similarly, the Buddhist practice of lovingkindness meditation begins by focusing on oneself, spreading outward from there.

When we fail to act kindly, it is usually because we fail to feel compassion, and the root cause is some aspect of ourselves which we are not able to accept.  Practice self-acceptance, and allow all personal development to flow from there.