February 17, 2014


Why living longer is a *potential* benefit to all

On his wonderful Physical Alchemy blog, Dave wrote:

One of my teachers once said to me:

“All these things (health; stretching; movement/martial arts; strength training; etc)—simply give you the longevity that you are probably going to need to get over your own ignorance and attain your True Nature” KL (Paraphrased—this was the gist of it).

I want to unpack this idea in today’s post. As far as the planet’s concerned, probably the faster we all get recycled, the better—but many spiritual practises believe that if one can live longer and if one is practising (more on what I mean by this term below), then one might just transcend the limited sense of self. By “limited sense of self”, I mean the ego’s perspective that it is separate from Other, and that it, like the ~7,000,000,000 other egos, is unquestionably the most important of them). A lot of conditionals in this sentence, I admit, and just one of the reasons spiritual practise ls like sliding down a 40′ razor blade, using your balls as brakes and rudder. I digress.

In a similar vein, a dear friend of mine came to me once to talk about how stretching might be able to assist him, mentioning that a monk he had met on a recent retreat had confided to him that, ‘major insights came to me between the ages of 84 and 87…” and my friend was concerned that his vehicle might not last the distance!

This is what I want to talk about today. What’s the point surviving to an old age if you are decrepit, unclear, medicated, and/or in some kind of care somewhere? Or worse—attached to a machine? This is not my idea of living; it might fit some definitions of survival, but at too low a level of functioning to satisfy me. This is a side note, though: the real usefulness of living longer might be able to be realised if you have some kind of practise. But when I use the term ‘practise’, what do I mean? Let me put this another way: how are you with yourself? Do you know yourself? Do you like what you experience inside? Do you pay attention to this, or are you focussed on what those around you think of you? Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror?

It’s been truncated slightly; she says, “That’s enough about me; let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” (after a 20 minute monologue).

As I get older, too, I am exposed to an increasing number of people who are older than I am, and many of them live from one medical procedure to the next. Conversations revolve around pain/dysfunction/inability/immobility/some kind of physical difficulty. There is a kind of self-centredness that concerns me. Horizons narrow; interests contract. Many have become completely captive to what’s going on in their minds, and mistake this activity for Reality.

Actually, if anyone every does take the time and develop the capacity to sit still for an hour and pay attention to what’s actually being thrown up on the mental big-screen, very quickly one realises that there are patterns that repeat, sometimes endlessly, and they have zero content. If you do not see this, though, the activities of the mind can seem important and, more concerning, real. I made a YT video on how to sit in the lotus position; many meditators want to do this, but being able to sit in this position has nothing whatsoever to do with how effectively you can meditate. The video is over 14′ long, but if you do want to try to sit this way, following the directions can help you save your knees:

Meditation is a vast subject, on the one hand, and simple on the other. The Buddha spoke of vipassana and samatha as the two wings of the bird of meditation; just thinking about these two concepts (let alone trying to say something sensible or useful about them in a blog) will perhaps give some sense of this vastness. The simple aspect, though, can be summed like this: what is the state of your mind right now? I am off to sit.

Added today: the potential benefit might be that one might become more useful to others, if one can transcend the limited sense of self. One of my teachers (quoting another teacher) said, “The mind: a worth opponent.”

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