October 24, 2007

Undersea Meditation and Me

One of my favorite recent activities has been firing up the Volcano, then heading down to the swimming pool to enjoy the late summer evenings with Autumn. In my inebriation, I've stumbled upon a strange form of near-meditation that's proven to be somewhat elusive and difficult to replicate, but entirely relaxing and settling on the occasion that I do.

For years, I've held an affinity for being underwater - there's something about the isolation, peace and tranquility of being under the surface for mildly extensive periods of time that really appeals to me. Where other swimmers might do laps, float along the edge of the waves or occupy themselves with aquatic toys, I can usually be found aimlessly wandering the bottom of the pool. On one such swim, I made an unspoken connection between my fruitless search for consistently effective meditation and my love of being alone underwater.

I simply push myself away from the wall of the pool, shut my eyes, clutch my knees loosely to my chest and twist my body erratically until I've lost all concept of up, down, left or right. When you've intentionally closed off your senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste and direction, there's little left but the spirit and the abyss. There's no car stereo blasting six blocks away, making just enough noise to break your concentration and nibble at your brain waves. Your back doesn't complain about your posture. Your knees don't ache against the solid Earth upon which you squat, don't notice the subtleties of the texture of the pad you might be sitting upon. Without any external stimulation to distract yourself, your mind can more easily set about the task of clearing itself and reaching complete tranquility.

My biggest issue with meditation in the past has been just those kind of external interruptions. My mind is easily fascinated, which means it's prone to sudden, creative tangents of thought with just the slightest nudge of inspiration. This has proven to be a problem as I've tried, time and time again, to get into deep, trance-like meditation to alleviate stress. If I hear a bird chirping or a pair of shoes softly marching, my brain will turn the sounds into a rhythm, and before I realize what's going on, my foot is tapping along to its own beat and I've lost my concentration. I find it excruciatingly difficult to clear my mind of any flash of thought or inspiration with so many different things happening within earshot, so many different sensations of smell, of touch distracting me from my ultimate goal.

When I'm without direction underwater, (aaaaand a little high) all of those distractions simply cease to be. The only challenges which remain are swapping my busy cluster of thoughts and ideas for a clean, blank slate and enjoying the fleeting moment of utter peace and harmony within myself.

Unfortunately, these little experiences are extremely difficult to attain, and even more difficult to maintain for more than a few seconds at a time. If my mood isn't right, I can't clear my mind. If I can't get the right angle at the moment of my dive, I sink or rise too quickly. The moment is lost as the gentle touch of fresh air at the surface hits me like an open palm, removing my spirit from its trance and returning me, jarringly, to true consciousness. It's the same thing if I sink to the bottom of the pool - the texture of the floor against my skin is immediately irritating, and the effect it has on my psyche is depressing. Actually reaching that complete loss of direction is a challenge in and of itself, as well: for the practice to be effective, you must convince yourself that you truly don't know where you are. And, no matter how good a liar you are, there's no bullshitting yourself. But despite these hurdles, I keep trying because there is no high this rewarding, both spiritually and physically. For those few fleeting seconds, I've lost my place in the world. I've cleared my head of all the day's frustrations, all of my body's aches and pains, my hangups, my uncertainties, my worries - it's a surreal experience.

The combination of a depleting air supply, a loss of direction and the ability to let go of your consciousness for just a few seconds flips a trigger in your brain. You undergo a strange blend of calm mixed with urgency mixed with utter happiness and content, which sort of flows over your body... almost like taking a warm, eagerly anticipated shower. I don't want to call it "tingly," but that's the closest sensation I can compare this to.

It's something that's best done at night, because not only does that lack of daylight further eliminate your sense of sight, but you're also more likely to let go of your preconceived notions about what others think, since the pool is generally vacant after sunset. If you allow yourself to consider how your body looks, wildly thrashing about under the surface and then suddenly going still, you'll never be able to let go of the guilt and self-consciousness when the time comes to go blank. This is where the MJ comes in, at least for me... it makes that concept of forgetting what the others think and just doing into a much more natural, easy endeavor.

When I mentioned these experiments to a few friends, they suggested that it was a sort of primitive version of a sensory deprivation tank, which I'd heard Joe Rogan speak briefly about in the past. Apparently your experiences can go to utterly wacked-out extremes in one of these tanks, sending your mind on wild voyages that leave behind the tethers of the body and sail out into outer space somewhere. I don't know if I'm ready for that kind of religious experience right now, but the relation between the two methods makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe some day I'll look a bit closer into that practice, when I've had enough experience with these temporary voyages to feel ready for the next step. For now, though, I think I'll keep chasing that clean, open moment of pure solitude and happiness under the waves.

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posted by drqshadow at 4:47 PM 1 comments

October 18, 2007

Is Science Still Colorblind?

I just happened upon a link to this story from one of the message boards I frequent, and it set me off to an extent...

Nobel winner in 'racist' claim row

...he said there was no reason to think that races which had grown up in separate geographical locations should have evolved identically.

This part actually makes a good deal of sense to me. But then he follows it up with...

"people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

I do find it kind of zany that something like this is immediately out of bounds and totally an impossible option. We know jack shit about the differences between one human and another, regardless of ethnicity, genetics and social upbringing. If someone were to find some compelling evidence to suggest any difference between individuals, be it men vs. women, whites vs. blacks, gays vs. straights, etc., even if the point were scientifically valid, it would be immediately slapped with a racist / sexist / homophobic label and cast aside, never to be discussed again. In my eyes, that's totally ridiculous and more closed-minded than racism itself. If you close your eyes, cover your ears and start singing every time someone says something that upsets you, that doesn't make the issue go away.

His delivery was tactless, and there's no doubt in my mind that he has some racist tendencies based on that fact alone, but it opens the door for some really interesting conversation, if nothing else. Scientific fact is colorblind.

I have no reason to believe his claims are true, so don't construe it that way. If anything, I think the whole concept is completely wrong, especially since many of his peers are evidently calling him a complete loon without any basis for this argument. But the idea that something's immediately incorrect simply because it involves something touchy like race, that intrigues and bothers me.

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posted by drqshadow at 5:02 PM 0 comments