One thing that was unique about my last meditation retreat: I carpooled with three other guys, also fellow meditators. It was unique because we had a chance to chat about the retreat on the way there, and then on the ride back, we debriefed. Even so, conversations don’t always dwell solely on the topic of meditation. I said something about my summer job in McCarthy, and I mentioned my favorite bar in the whole wide world, The Golden Saloon. Suresh, a Bay Area consultant, was sitting beside me. Normally the most reserved in our bunch and the last one to speak, he cut me off and enthusiastically began to extole the virtures of a bar. By his second sentence, he was getting philosophical. Hospitality, he said, is the supreme act of creativity.
I thought I’d share an excellent interview by the author of my current favorite book, Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. As artificial intelligence becomes more normative, the elimination of low skill labor is in the near future, i.e., machines replacing humans is no longer a question of if but of when. There are many people discussing this and writing books, but few can provide the kind of historical perspective on our species in the way that Yuval Harari does. He also does Vipassana meditation retreats, like the one I just finished. (My retreat was only ten days, his retreats are two months.) If you want a sample of the kinds of things Harari talks about, here’s a great 60 minute interview he did with Ezra Klein: https://art19.com/shows/the-ezra-klein-show/episodes/261857d5-9ee4-43fa-b8a9-afed18e74d4b
There were more farts during group meditations than I can remember from any prior retreat, and from time to time they seemed to form some sort of chain reaction: one person farting, followed by another, then another. A sort of flatulent call-and-response, if you will. Then, on the seventh day, he farted.
Eating while on retreat is probably the thing I most look forward to each day. Probably most mediators do, because the meals are really the only source of external stimulation that exists. There are no electronics, no Internet. Hell, it’s a silent retreat so you can’t even talk. There is no stimulation whatsoever, expect two meals a day. Yes, we only eat two meals a day, one in the morning and one just before noon. (Evenings are for fasting.) It sounds brutal, I know, but truly it’s not as bad as it may seem. After all, sitting all day doesn’t exactly burn the calories.
One thing that I remind myself as I meditate on retreat is that meditation is biological. For all the spiritual mumbo jumbo that we use, meditation is science. It’s a neurological thing, to be precise. There’s a very important sense in which meditation is about making the brain work better. As one medical doctor puts it, “neurons that wire together fire together” (or something like that, don’t quote me).
Western philosopher (and dead white guy) Blaise Pascal seems to have asked a similar question (as the one I raised in my last post), several centuries ago, because he made this statement: Note: I am currently sitting on my ass for a 10 day meditation retreat. This post was written and scheduled in advance.
As I said in my prior post, a few folks take to meditation naturally. The first time they sit, they drop into calm serenity and/or into a state of deep concentration, picturesque, like a lovely little Buddha, they seem only a few shades away from complete and total enlightenment. Well, good for them, but that’s not me, and that’s not most of us, and in a sense, that’s not really the point of meditation. I know the format for this particular meditation retreat, this being my fourth one. It’s between 10 and 11 hours of meditation a day for ten days. Mostly, it’s just sitting and sitting and sitting and sitting. And more sitting. And you start to feel bat shit crazy.