Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Keep both eyes open

I've been listening to a great deal of talks given by Pema Chodron for the past year or so. I was originally directed to these by Keri Smith's blog, wherein she praised Pema's Getting Unstuck as a great way to get used to the idea of "letting go" of your art work -- but also as just a helpful practice in ones everyday life.

And so it has been.

Since then I've borrowed several more talks from the library. Chodron has a gentle modern -- but not TOO modern -- take on these ancient teachings, and because of that (and because I am not approaching this like a Real Practitioner but as a Curious Person) I find I am getting a lot out of them. The bulk of the teachings could boil down to brain-shaping exercises, the next logical step after one learns about neuroplasticity. Your brain is yours, it is in flux and adapts with you. So use that to your own advantage and cultivate good things in your life -- and rule out those things which ultimately do you harm.

The emphases on struggle is another useful tool for the creative, who has to battle, battle, battle to find the good idea, the most creative solution. Recently I watched part of a lecture on creativity given by John Cleese, and he insisted that the struggle is the most important part of the process. Learning to struggle, sitting with that discomfort. Pushing through the resistance. Because your best work is on the other side.

Of course, my slant on all this is unquestionably a result of all this time I'm spending reading peer-reviewed papers on things like ludic space and spime.

Diminished reality

One of my topics this week has been "wearable computing" -- something we've touched on before. Oddly, one of the key advantages touted by enthusiasts seems to be the ability to block out things in the world. Offensive things, advertisements, graffiti, (certain kinds of people?), anything that doesn't jive with the user's preferences whilst experiencing reality.

I cannot deny that a filter is a useful thing to have at times. It's why I no longer listen to the news first thing in the morning.

But it's interesting to read this stuff while thinking about these Buddhist things. Here's a list given in answer to the question, how can I awaken from my suffering?

1. Confess your hidden faults
2. Approach what you find repulsive
3. Help those you think you cannot help
(sometimes translated as: Help those you do not want to help)
4. Anything you are attached to: give that
5. Go to the places that scare you

The other night I started listening to Chodron's Awakening Compassion, wherein she spoke of things eerily similar to this "diminished reality" thing.

"If the ego is well-fortified and strong, the suffering is great."

This word "ego" is different in the Buddhist teachings than in the the Freudian ego…in Shambala teachings it's called a "cocoon". It's a word that means "how we protect ourselves".

(In fact, it's how we imprison ourselves)…

If this protection mechanism -- that's always trying to get things to come out on our own terms, always trying to edit out that which will upset or go against what we wish -- if that is well fortified and going well, the suffering actually is great. We do that because we desire happiness, but the end result is that there's a lot of pain…

To make this clear, I'd like to use an image for "ego"…."ego" is like getting a room of your own. That you can have just the way you like it. That is to say: that it's just the right temperature in there. Not too hot and not to cold. And also you can play the music you like in there. You're not like blasted and abused by everyone else's choice of music. In fact you could have no music at all if that's your preference. Or you could have very loud rock 'n roll, or whatever's your taste! That's the music that would happen in that room.

In this room also only the people that are on your wave-length come in. None of those ones that really get on your nerves, and actually don't seem to even understand what you're saying to them. Just people that you really just feel really comfortable with. They can come into this room. And the food? It's the kind you like. In fact, I don't have to go on and on. It's just this great place, for you. It'd be hard to find a roommate who will like it as well as you do! But you like it very, very much.

There's only one problem: you find that as you stay in there, the outside becomes more and more threatening to you. Because maybe you have to go out to your brother's wedding, or to shop. And you find that when you go out there, that music you don't like? It's still out there, and it actually irritates you more than it ever did before. And people that you used to be able to get along with actually bother you, and in fact you feel much more as if you have no skin, everything is much more irritating, much more prickly.

And in fact you find that when you get back in the room you're very frightened because you saw a lot of stuff out there that looks dangerous. And you smelled a lot of smells you didn't like. And you start putting towels under the door so no smells will come in underneath and you find you're actually allergic to the world. And you don't want anything to come in. And the threat of something coming in begins to make you more and more uncomfortable, and you get triple padlocks, quadruple padlocks, keep the shades down. And actually it begins to feel like a prison in there.

This is a good description of "ego"...

When your whole thing is just to get it right for yourself, you become like an invalid.

Or a victim.

Basically you're no longer at home in your world.