The ocean of bliss

by Rob Horning

22 May 2007


Several months ago, I went to see David Lynch talk about meditation while he was on a speaking tour promoting his book and left thinking, Wow, you know, I’d like to dive into the ocean of bliss on demand and unleash all this potent and uncanny creativity in myself. I want to trust utterly in my intuitions about what is fascinating and the courage to express my artistic vision without having to explain it to myself in abstractions first. Maybe I should give this whole meditation thing a try. I wasn’t about to jump into it wholeheartedly, Beatles 1968 style, and adopt the Maharishi (aka Sexy Sadie) as my personal guru, but I thought I should find some time to try to think about nothing, and see if that would ultimately turn out to be productive.

I have to admit that while I had no problem finding time to watch old Veronica Mars episodes or load hundreds of album covers one by one into my iTunes, I had difficulty finding the time to contemplate nothing in a meditative mood. The ocean of bliss seems further away than ever, so when I saw this link on Lifehacker to a post by Scott Young with tips on how to meditate, I was eager to investigate. I’m not sure if it’s going to help.

That the post is called “Solve Tough Problems with a Brain Reboot” was the first clue that this probably wasn’t what I was looking for. As skeptical as I am about spiritual-sounding explanations of the usefulness of meditation, I tend to balk more at being invited to think of my brain as a piece of recalcitrant hardware that my consciousness, wherever that is located, is required to maintain. Young writes, “Meditation is similar to turning off unnecessary programs running in the background of your computer so you can devote more CPU power to a specific task.” (Perhaps next in the series will be “Defrag Your Cortex to Optimize Your Thought Processes”) Young gives the standard instructions on how to meditate (concentrate on your breathing, etc.) and offers this peculiar advice: “If you want practice, try getting into a meditative state when you are going to sleep.” I actually do this almost every night, and it results in my falling asleep. If meditation is no different than sleeping, then I’m already a mediation master, and will need to look elsewhere for the map to the ocean of bliss. (Maybe I should be getting more out of my dreams, which tend to be mundane too the point of stupefaction.)

Then, when discussing how to use meditation (which is itself a red flag—what draws me to it ultimately is the promise of its uselessness, of escaping instrumentality) Young suggests that

once you get into a meditative state, try to form a visual scene inside your head…. In this scene, imagine you are talking to another person. It could be a friend, family member or someone completely from your imagination. Now have a conversation with this person asking for advice on the problem you are having. Don’t think about what the other character should say, just imagine the conversation.

This seems less meditative and more like an actor’s exercise or something. And if I wanted to talk about my problems, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to go ahead and talk to somebody? Such a course of action would have the added benefit of actually being surprised by what I’m told instead of having to merely pretend with myself to be.

He also has some advice for how to use meditation to control your emotions: “Meditation isn’’t going to be a cure for your emotions, but it can give you enough distance to do something about them.” I’m not especially emotional, but even I don’t consider emotions to be a disease requiring a cure. I don’t think about needing to do something about my emotions—the very idea suggests an alienation from oneself that would have to be as bad as the unpleasant emotions themselves?

I guess when I think about meditation I imagine not some kind of higher-order problem solving; I don’t see myself very pragmatically refreshing my RAM; instead I imagine an alpha wave hum of nothingness.  Young also suggests meditation can help you “gain awareness of your body” which is just about the last thing a hypochondriac like myself needs—in my mind meditation is about leaving your body behind. Perhaps I’m less interested in meditation than I am in astral projection.

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