I have an office job at a small lodge in remote Alaska, and one of the hats I wear is HR Manager. I recently put this poster up on the wall next to my desk. It’s as close to a self-help/inspirational/motivational poster as I think I could get away with out here in the bush. It’s also not a bad summary of my spiritual philosophy.
I don’t usually meditate with sounds, like music or guided meditions. I’ve had some good experiences with them — once in a while there will be a guide I really connect with, like Joseph Goldstein (Buddhist) or James Finley (Christian/Buddhist) — but for the most part medition sounds feel like additives in food. Additives can be good if done skillfully by an experienced chef with real cheffing skills. I’ve nothing against additives, per se. So, if one were to listen to this as an additive, I’d have to say that you would probably get a lot of bang for your buck…or whatever happens to be the market value of five minutes and seven seconds of your time.
The North Fork Vipassana Meditation Center is located in the foothills of the Sierras, just south of Yosemite. Not a bad place to do a retreat. I wasn’t, in fact, sitting for this one, though, just serving. 10 straight days in the dish pit, though, was enough to leave me feeling just a bit not my self, which of course is somewhat of the point of the path of the Buddha, the no-self thing, etc. So a service retreat is sort of its own form of growing process. We had some wacky weather: snow, sleet, heavy rains, and even a bit of thunder storm. All that plus a good soaking of sunshine. The place was starting to green up and will soon be popping with spring colors, what with the mix of rain and sunshine.
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.