I have achieved many interesting effects in my Zen meditation, even though I know this not to be the classic point of such meditation. The behavior I am most happy with is an ability to recognize thoughts I don’t like and put them out of my mind. Being able to observe my thoughts more thoroughly has resulted in an ability to control them.

Thinking along this line, I decided to meditate while looking at an analog clock. I was wondering if I could manipulate my perception of time. Even after deciding this, I put it off for quite some time. Today, I finally sat down and looked at the clock. When I normally meditate, I, “Just sit.” This time I came at it with idea of, “Just experiencing the clock.” The meditation was very uneventful, with the periodic thought slipping in and out and various refocusings on the clock.

Afterwards, I got up, walked downstairs, and put the clock back up on the wall. I talked to my brother and watched him play videogames. While I did this, I became aware of various peculiar effects. It was as if I had split my perception to handle different zones of observation. I could see the videogame, hear my brother, and it also felt like my mind was engaging in something I could not identify. I wouldn’t characterize it as zoning out. I would say I became focused on three separate activities. This sounds antithetical to the idea of focus, but the perception was hard to describe because of its newness. Perhaps it would be better to say, these three activities I was engaged in felt very separate, the unative nature of my perception broke down a little.

Reacting to this new sensitivity, I also became aware of the spacial vectors of my limb movements. I had very precise idea of the direction and speed my hands and neck were moving. My sensation of balance was also affected, but without any disorientation.

I’m going to continue with the clock meditation, especially after such a surprising list of effects.

I’ve cobbled together a simple little Ruby on Rails app. I’m going to leave it up for a couple of days running on my machine and then replace the link with a screenshot. This app was generated out of some meditations over randomness and success. I mean this literally, I was actuallying sitting in Zazen when a flurry of website ideas hit me and I had to rush to write them all down.

The app itself produces some interesting results, but see for yourself (just a screenshot to get the point across, I’m no longer hosting it). If anything breaks, give me a buzz. And if the site is running slow, then it means the app is popular and my machine is getting nailed, or I’m downloading something (I will try not to). Thanks and as with all alpha projects, sorry in advance.

Short Neuro-Cogno Post

May 26, 2007

It was while I was practicing Zazen today that I became aware of the time duration of the thoughts I was observing. Some thoughts took longer than others to “complete.” This duration awareness struck me when I was thinking about a conversation I had about education. The recall lasted so long, that after I came out of focusing on that portion of my past, I could detect the duration I lingered over specific sentences and gestures.

Unrelated, I have been thinking about what constitutes the point between conscious and unconscious thoughts. When I am solving a problem, I often step away to get a drink and have to run back because the solution has popped into my head. Something about rendering a thought-endeavor unconscious allows you to run it in parallel with other thoughts. When a thought-endeavor remains in the conscious it can not run in parallel. Often times, focusing on an issue that has already been clearly defined will paralyze solving it.

Now I see the connection between the prior two paragraphs. Perhaps unconscious activity are those thoughts we linger on for near-zero duration. Not enough to draw specific sensations, but enough to draw general/aggregate emotion and to skip to other related thoughts.

I sat down to do some meditation yesterday and experienced some of the most peculiar visual anomalies to date. I was staring at the towel in my bathroom (the bathroom is the only place I can ensure quiet), and suddenly the weave of the towel got larger and the edges of the towel sort of expanded into my peripheral vision. It was as if my vision was zooming in.

The only time I felt something similar to this is when I fell asleep in class. I have only fallen asleep once in class, and it was in Chemistry. I think I fell asleep with my eyes open and suddenly my vision zoomed in on the professors face. The moment this happened, I burst back into normal awareness and knocked my books into my lap.

This zooming is not the first aberration I have experienced. When I first started meditating, I would notice a red haze appear over my entire field of view. The red was the color of those temporary marks on your eye that you get when you look at the sun. As I kept up my meditation this eventually went away, and I suspect the zooming will as well.

A second aberration was when I was meditating after yoga. I entered a super-relaxed state and this lasted well after meditation. It was kind of like when I had my wisdom teeth removed and I was on Vicodin. When I took Vicodin it relaxed my muscles and gave me a floating feeling. I also rambled a lot. The relaxation after yoga was about ten times as powerful. So much so that I couldn’t really flex my hand muscles enough to pick things up.

The focus of Zen is not on these visual anomalies, but on your thoughts. It is discouraged to think them too worthy of further concentration. But they are really cool.

Focus, Whining, and Rest

April 24, 2007

The noise began when I drifted into the half-awake limbo right before sleep. My friend’s hamster started running in the cage next to the couch I was crashing on. I was loathe to get up and put the cage in another room, so I tried to ignore it, which rapidly turned into holding the pillow around my ears. This was to no avail, until I started focusing on the noise itself. Suddenly I drifted off, and when the sleep itself interfered with my focusing on the sound I burst back into awareness. Inevitably, the sound was persistent enough that I eventually put the hamster in the bathroom, but it turned me onto this idea of focus being able to create rest.

Adopting the idea of focus being integral to rest provides an explanation for whining. Whining seems very useless to me, but I do it. Everyone does, even though plenty try not too. But whining might be more useful than simply serving as an emotional purgative. When we bitch about things, we focus on something bugging us to the exclusion of other thoughts. By highlighting the problem and deactivating the rest of the mind, we may be improving and creating new connections with the problem. Perhaps whining is the American Zen. (I am probably betraying cultural ignorance. Observing the people I know from Asia and Europe it seems there is a reservedness about complaining.)

In Zen you focus on your thoughts in a passive way. Perhaps this does the same thing as the other instances, but on a macro-scale. I focus on the hamster noise and I fall asleep. I whine about something and it’s not such a problem. I observe my thoughts and take on a preternatural calm.

In the last few months, I recently had the pleasure of learning Zen meditation. I misunderstood Zen greatly before this, as I saw it as an activity where you endeavored to have no thoughts. However, this is not the case. Zen is simply sitting and observing your own thoughts. Where some meditation focuses on the breath, a point, or a repeated word, the object of focus in Zen is the mental dynamic. The only rules are that you do not pursue or oppose thoughts. The emphasis is on a very raw form of observation. Throughout this introspection I have encountered numerous phenomena, but one of the most interesting was the observation of how my mind was not entirely my own.

About a month into my practice I had finally settled into sitting and entering a relaxed state. Outer stimulus was no longer a big deal and I could observe my thoughts for long lengths of time. Most sessions revealed very little coherent or meaningful thoughts. Faces and images would pop up in the middle of much longer thoughts. It was very interesting, but nothing very profound had occurred. It was during one of these normal meditations that I became heavily involved in a set of thoughts. So much so that it was interfering with my ability to observe those very thoughts. The mental activity was seizing my central nervous system as if to prepare myself for some sort of action, but then the emotion peaked and I returned to a normal sort of consciousness. This event struck me because of the amount of control these fairly innocuous thoughts had over me.

I had always thought of my mind as a unified system, but this experience stopped that assumption. It seems that there are thoughts which we have that for some reason have not integrated totally and yet have connected themselves in the right places to be able to exert control over central nervous activity. After the initial event, the heavy involvement happened repeatedly during the following sessions, so much I wondered if it was going to persist. All this time I was attempting to neither pursue these thoughts or stop them from happening. After a while, the intensity of the experiences waned and I returned to less emotionally powerful thoughts.

I’m not sure exactly what was happening during these experiences. I think perhaps Zen may be an activity that creates a certain amount of unconscious integration. That’s certainly how it appeared as the power of these near-autonomous thoughts diminished. I felt as if I had learned some mechanism for rapid integration that had not previously been there. It certainly seems to be the case as I have continued to practice this form of meditation without returning to such severely involved states.