March 6, 2009

Staying Connected

I had a thought about Buddhism while driving home from work yesterday. I'm no expert on Buddhism, or its practices, but I understand that "attachment" is something Buddhism teaches about, and something identified as causing pain.

My thought was that I must not understand Buddhism very well at all, because when I feel most disconnected, I feel the least happy. So I clearly don't understand the concept of attachment.

I didn't think this was worth posting about, but coincidentally, Judith Warner wrote about mindfulness meditation in the NYT today, and specifically that her perception of people who are artificially calm because of their practice of meditation are no longer interesting and she compares them to pod people.

She may be basing her article on people who are "doing it wrong." I can't say, not being an expert, but I had the same feeling: becoming disconnected is not a good thing.

I would love to be happier, but I don't want to do it as a pod person, I don't want to go off and find myself. It seems like westerners get a taste of some philosophy and they go all nuts about it. That drives me nuts. In addition, I find it somewhat depressing to have to look for wisdom among so much spiritual bullshit, like the idea of cyclical lives and reincarnation.

The last time I tried relaxation meditation, it completely depressed me and amplified feelings of disconnection. Disconnection is freeing. It's too freeing. You can free yourself from everything that gives your life meaning. I think this is part of what Judith is complaining about in her column.

If what you want in your life is a better balance, then it seems to me that you have to be more careful when you incorporate new ideas in your life. You should evaluate them and their immediate effect on you but also on your relationships with those around you. And if they don't come to a net gain for everyone, not just you, then what you're really doing is just being selfish.

Posted by James at March 6, 2009 1:22 PM
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Perhaps there are different ways to meditate. I felt pretty good after blowing up zombies online the last couple of nights. I had been feeling lethargic and moody before that, but donning the headset and chatting with friends while we did silly stuff online was more revitalizing to me than sitting in the lotus position and Ohm-ing for half an hour.

Posted by: briwei at March 6, 2009 1:38 PM

I sometimes play TF2 to relax, which is a welcome diversion, but more than a little bit of that is just an escape. It's disconnecting, not connecting. But it is like meditation, in that disconnected way. Which I need sometimes just to escape temporary stress.

I tried to get friends involved, on the theory that it would be more connecting that way, but no takers.

(BTW - if you have a PC w/Steam, and are inclined to play online games, I would love to actually be able to play more actual friends on TF2. Contact me.)

Posted by: James at March 6, 2009 2:18 PM

I've been thinking of Buddhism lately. Specifically, the episode where Eddie insists she's a Buddhist and chants (with and without her bells).

Posted by: Patti M. at March 6, 2009 2:42 PM

What my Buddhist acquaintances say is that you're just trading an attachment for another attachment, and that the disconnecting is another attachment. They also tell me that a Buddhist can't be selfish because selfishness causes pain. Plus, we're all connected to everything and everyone else, so disconnecting is both impossible and a cause of pain.

I, for instance, am attached to the belief that everyone should think the way that I do. This causes me pain when people don't, and causes others pain when I write longwinded explanations in their comments sections.

That's why the conscious lifestyle is very hard to live for those of us who learn about karma from My Name is Earl.

Posted by: PJ at March 6, 2009 2:44 PM

That would be "Absolutely Fabulous," by the way. I see I left that out.

"You wouldn't say that if you knew how much we owed to my chanting, darling. A lot of things in this house--this house wouldn't be here, darling!"

Posted by: Patti M. at March 6, 2009 2:50 PM

It's attachments to things, situations, and feelings that are likely to be finite that causes pain, because when these things are taken away, you feel the loss. You may even experience pain when you anticipate their loss, before you actually lose them.

But it's not a perfect statement. Out of fear and insecurity, you can cling to things that are bad for you. When these things go away, there's a momentary twinge of fear, but then you feel better.

Even if it were a perfect statement, it wouldn't necessarily mean that you should avoid all pain. It would only mean that the attachment has a cost. In some cases, the cost/pain might be worth it.

Posted by: Julie at March 6, 2009 2:55 PM

Nice one, Patti. (I didn't see you there when I commented with the ...Earl ref. Sorry. AbFab, always appropriate, LOL, etc.)

Posted by: PJ at March 6, 2009 3:00 PM

As PJ said, disconnecting can be another attachment. It's very true. This is a valuable observation that Buddhists have made.

Putting these insights into practical use is a challenge, but I think it's great food for thought.

Being more aware of your attachments feels like it would help you get insight about your life and what's good/bad about your approach.

Posted by: James at March 6, 2009 3:17 PM

I never saw the "release from attachments" to mean "disconnect from life." I see it more as looking at what one is attached to and deciding if it's worth it. I struggle mightily with my attachments to certain things that, once I am dead, will mean absolutely bupkis to anyone I leave behind (like my grandmother's artwork) and keep working to release myself from having to keep, maintain, secure, etc. these things that really mean nothing in the long run. Regarding people and hobbies, I think it's good to see if you're attached for good reasons to things that provide benefit to you; if a hobby or a person causes you more trouble and pain than he/she/it is really worth, it's good to let him/her/it go.

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at March 6, 2009 3:42 PM

Meditating helps me fall asleep sometimes. I don't know that it's supposed to do that. I don't do it very often. Yes, attachment can cause pain. Choose that or be dead, IMO. As Dr. McCoy said in the worst Star Trek movie ever, "I need my pain."

Running is the best way to rebalance my mental state for me personally. I like the zen teaching of mindfulness, although if you're at a really boring conference watching an hour and fifteen minute presentation on the zen of PowerPoint, being mindful of that situation just might send you screaming past the buffet and out of the ballroom.

Posted by: Maggie at March 6, 2009 5:58 PM

I think that was the only good moment in ST5.

During PowerPoint presentations, I try to enjoy the zen of something else, like listing all of the elements of the periodic table, or listing all of the presidents, or inducing a nosebleed.

But not if there is a buffet. Then I enjoy the zen of the buffet.

Posted by: Julie at March 6, 2009 7:56 PM

It was Kirk who said he needed his pain, IIRC.

Posted by: James at March 7, 2009 12:43 AM

Julie, sometimes I make shopping lists in my head during boring meetings. Maybe I'll try your style of lists. World capitals might be good.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 7, 2009 7:05 AM

Goodness, James, you're right. McCoy just allowed himself to be brainwashed about the death of his father. Well, that Kirk knew a thing or two.

I have read the Judith Warner article. I don't know a lot about mindfulness. The little I know I got from reading a little bit of Thich Nhat Hahn, and I understood it more to live in the moment than this odd connectedness stuff Judith Warner writes about that feels more like a new age philosobabbly bastardization of zen.

However, I think it is open to interpretation. My interpretation is that you are not going to do something well, or get the full experience of doing something, if you aren't mindful while you do it. Driving comes to mind. Please don't phone and drive.

I imagine another interpretation, and perhaps the more commonly accepted one, is this being in touch with others sort of thing Judith Warner writes about. There is value in being able to understand another person's point of view. There's value in recognizing that in any given situation, you have only a tiny percentage of the "facts" about the situation and if it involves another human being, perhaps you should shut up. That doesn't fit with my ideas about mindfulness, though.

But as always, Judith Warner is entertaining. The people she describes are pretentious asses, basically. I really hate people and things that are not true to themselves. Like giant 1960's flat-fronted manses with four aluminum columns. Bleagh. People who have wholeheartedly adopted some sort of "system" for improving their personality and then pontificate on the subject to everyone else are boorish and boring. Oh, well. But maybe they are true to themselves. Maybe they're personality chameleons.

Posted by: Maggie at March 7, 2009 5:53 PM

This is a very interesting discussion.

I've been interested in Buddhism for quite some time. Two concepts/values have always intrigued me as a means towards greater happiness.

First, Mindfulness. Basically, 'be here, now'. It's kind of Yoda-esque in a way. Think about what you are doing. Appreciate the situation you are in. Avoid Monkey Mind. (Though, I have to admit, in order to survive deadly meetings/presentations I have a tendency to mind-wander, make lists, or sometimes imagine speakers or other attendees in other situations :D )

The second concept I've always been intrigued by is where James started: attachment as the root to suffering. It seems that desire for a variety of things (outcomes, people, material goods) or attachment to those 'things' that you may already have can lead to suffering. If you don't have them, the wanting can be stressful. If you do have them, the fear of losing them can be stressful.

I think you're supposed to recognize the potential for pain in your attachments/desires and to put them into proper perspective. I think it gets back to mindfulness.

I'm sure even the Dali Llama desires things on occasion, though he probably finds amusement in his own desires and places them in their proper perspective.

I think that you can cut down on the desires you have in life without losing meaning. You can embrace and pursue an ambition if you are enlightened without great stress (re: suffering).

However, I am not all that enlightened. I wish I could divest myself of certain desires, ones where the achievement of the goal will not bring greater meaning, value, or understanding to my life. Of course, that very wish is an ambition that I recognize as a potential source of suffering.

I need to be Mindful of such things!

Posted by: Kitten Herder at March 7, 2009 6:58 PM

I read the mindfulness book too, and it made sense to me, at least in theory. One of the ideas was to accept the present and not judge it. The lady in Werner's story who was trying to be "mindful" in the awful airport wasn't being mindful; she was still judging the situation instead of merely experiencing. As would most of us. You'd figure that sitting in an airport, when there's nothing you can do about the problem, would be the best possible time to stop clinging to a bad feeling, at least for a moment. But I don't know many people who could accomplish that.

The point about mindfulness connecting people together struck me as bizarre. It can make them more accepting of one another since it (theoretically) means no judging, but I don't see how the failure to punch and scream at one another is the same thing as being empathetically connected. It's not as if meditation gives you access to another person's feelings.

Sure, she can feel bonded to others over their shared human misery, or whatever the hell that woman was talking about, but that has more to do with her than with other people. They're not going to feel any of that. :-)

Posted by: Julie at March 7, 2009 7:01 PM

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