Bottom Line Spirituality: What Works, What Might Work Better
Charles T. Tart
I was reading along, without too much enthusiasm, a discussion held online by a group of informed people aiming to advance spiritual development a discussion about what various spiritual teachers, especially the historical Buddha, actually taught. I say without too much enthusiasm, as the only material we have to work with are written accounts which were often not actually written until dozens or hundreds of years after the spiritual leader had died, from the memories of various followers. This kind of discussion may be interesting in trying to figure out what was really meant by certain spiritual ideas, but without actual written expression by the person who said it originally, and a profound knowledge of the culture and language that it was written in, we’re pretty much just speculating. That may help, that may not. My enthusiasm waned more as I saw some of the people involved in the discussion beginning to manifest a sort of dogmatic quality, a largely hidden quality on the order of “My spiritual path is more profound than yours.”
Experts devoted to improving our spiritual life shouldn’t get caught up in that kind of sectarianism, of course, but, we’re human, it happens. I wanted to steer the discussion back toward practical matters, so I wrote:
I don’t know what the historical Buddha actually taught, but the bottom line for me is that he essentially said that if (a) you hold a certain world view, (b) live by certain sensible and moral rules, and (c) sharpen your mind with specific, learnable skills involving concentration and insight, you can reduce a lot of the suffering that we humans are subject to. Indeed he took the last part further and claimed you could eliminate ALL suffering. I have no idea if that’s true, but personal experience and what I know of others says you can certainly reduce suffering a lot in this way, and, combined with the bodhisattva commitment to help others, it works well for at least a significant number of people – and that’s wonderful!!!
Whether it’s the ultimate truth about things, I have no idea, but it’s a good way for some people to live. By my values, of course, which value intelligence, kindness, openness. But what is the “best” spiritual path for particular individuals? Wow, that’s a tough one! Trial and error at this time, maybe someday we’ll know better and be able to test people and say things like:
“The odds for your particular kind of person are a 60% high satisfaction for Path A, but a 5% psychosis rate and a 19% disappointment rate that nothing worthwhile happens, while for your particular kind of person Path B leads to….
That sort of thing is not any kind of ultimate answer, but can be figured out empirically if we put a lot of effort into it and track what happens with a lot of people of different types on different spiritual paths.
This is the task of a transpersonal psychology, yet to be developed….
One of the discussants, who is a recognized Buddhist scholar, made me feel very good by commenting that my post was entirely synoptic with the Buddhist teachings, that it was Buddhavacana.
What could I say but thank you!
Well, of course, there was a lot more I could say toward expanding this line of thinking. And while I’m glad I understood this part of Buddhism correctly, I don’t know about its “ultimate” truthfulness…
Given how much I admire Buddhism as a spiritual path, I’m glad I’ve got at least some of it right! And a real Buddhist scholar telling me that, wow! With a really impressive word that I had to look up: Buddhavacana, consistent with what scholars understand the historical Buddha would’ve taught.
Meaning: We’ve Got to Have It!
To expand a little, what I said was my practical self writing. If it’s one thing I’m pretty darn sure of, it’s that we human beings need to have meaning. We need to feel that the world we live in makes some kind of sense and that we have a sensible and valuable place within that world. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is a lot of ways for that to work.
You can have a worldview that the universe is, as the poet Tennyson phrased it, red in teeth and claw, it’s all dog eat dog, and so your job and satisfaction is to gain glory by eating them before they eat you! Since at least some of our human capabilities are things like bravery, cleverness, and fighting ability, that certainly produces at least partial satisfaction. It also produces a lot of karma, karma in the sense of given the way we are, when you beat the shit out of other people they are just waiting for their chance to beat the shit out of you… That’s not my preferred worldview, but I understand how it can work for people.
I do have another self that looks for a deeper, truer understanding of reality, and that usually has to work in different ways than the self that likes to be helpful to other people. If I have a Buddhist friend who is dying, e.g., I’m going to do chants and say prayers to Buddhas and bodhisattvas with her or him, and not talk about cultural relativity, that there’s a certain arbitrariness about the Buddhist worldview it could be constructed in other ways, etc. If my dying friend is a Christian, I’m happy to pray with her or him to Christ or to God. And I’m not going to engage in discussions with them about how much our concepts of God the Father (or God the Mother) are based on projections of our human biological characteristics, our history of being helpless and depending on a man and a woman who were godlike in their capacities compared to us as infants and children, etc.
In a general sense I think that almost all belief systems give power. When you’re unsure how the world works, or what your capabilities are, or what you should do, there’s a lot of “stuttering” in your actions and reactions, such that they’re not very effective. “I should, no, maybe I shouldn’t, but, and what about, why aren’t I actually doing it, but…” When you’re ready to give everything for The Cause, for a particular religion that’s promised you salvation, it gives direction, courage, social support, etc.
Belief and Reality:
More deeply, I assume that in general the closer your belief about reality comes to the way reality actually works, the more likely it is to be effective. I’ve read that in one of those colonial wars in Africa, e.g., the local shamans gave their people amulets which they promised would deflect British bullets so they couldn’t be hurt… and then the British machine guns mowed them down by the hundreds… So on a practical, everyday level I prefer to support people to reduce their suffering in whatever reasonable (my value judgment, of course) belief system they operate in, but as a caring being and as a transpersonal psychologist, I would like to understand reality more deeply so as to help shape belief systems to be more and more effective. I consider “effective” in terms of my own values, of course, but that’s another issue to understand my own values, decide when they are helping me or others, when they are hindering me, etc.
As an example of applying this attitude to Buddhism, I notice that many of my Buddhist friends and a lot of Buddhist teachers believe the historical Buddha was fully enlightened, that Gautama Buddha at least knew everything that was important to human happiness, if not everything, period. As an element of world view, of faith, that’s empowering! Remembering those endless hours of attempts at meditation, I was often convinced I would never get anywhere with it and wondered if this was all a lot of crap anyway. The idea I tried to hold that the Buddha at least knew far, far more than me, and if I kept meditating it would eventually work, kept me sitting on the cushion.
On the other hand, as an educated Westerner, as a trained psychologist, as someone who spent a lot of time trying to figure out how my mind works, I realized that Gautama Buddha lived at a particular period in history in a particular culture, and that the way he was raised and what he saw around him shaped his thinking and experiencing to various degrees. The obvious difference I see from my own childhood was that I was raised in a culture that believed in Progress, and that belief has been validated strongly in my own life. Yes, lots of bad things still happen in the world, but my ancestors were peasants and factory workers, and I’ve not only been to college, I’m a professor! I like to learn about things, think about things, and share my understandings of other people—and, by gosh, the University pays me to do that! That sure is Progress in my book!
As I understand it, Gautama Buddha, on the other hand, lived in a culture which was relatively static. A few people got ahead in life, some people’s situation got worse, but, especially as Buddhism continued to grow over the ages, the caste system meant that most people were going to be doing the same thing all their life, which was the same thing their ancestors had done, which was what their children would do. Particularly if you were lower caste, that easily leads to a view that existence is per se pretty bad, and the idea of getting out of here is very appealing. Then you add in a common belief in reincarnation: not only are you inevitably suffering now, you’re going to continue to suffer lifetime after lifetime after lifetime, unless you really follow the Buddhist system to get enlightened, and that’s hard to do and may take many lifetimes. Okay, let me out!
When I first heard about reincarnation as a Western child of Progress, my thoughts were more on the order of “I like to learn things, there’s so much more to learn than I possibly have time for in one lifetime, but wow, I’ll have lifetime after lifetime to learn more and more and get better and better!” (Yes, I was one of those nerdy children who likes school.) An attitude that was reinforced by my reading as a teenager about autosuggestion and actually practicing the system of autosuggestion developed by Emile Coué in 1922 a whereby many times each day you repeated the suggestion, like a mantra, “Day by day in every way I’m getting better and better. Day by day in every way I’m getting better and better… Day by day in every way I’m getting better and better.” And gosh! I think it’s worked!
So when you have a deep belief in progress, you can believe Gautama Buddha knew a lot of very useful and valuable information, but it’s hard to imagine he knew everything. And the kind of enlightenment that Buddhism may lead you toward, and possibly even reach, sounds like a wonderful accomplishment, good for all of us, not just the person who gets enlightened, but is it the ultimate possible for us?
In the everyday material world, old-fashioned Newtonian physics works just fine. Solid objects are solid, you don’t have to deal with weird ideas that they actually are practically all empty space with incredibly infinitesimally small particles or processes or waves or strings or curves in space-time or whatever actually underlying it all. Yet I doubt we would have developed computers and cell phones, e.g., if we continued thinking only in terms of Newtonian physics. It’s a complex process, of course, but I really do think that with the proper application of open-minded science and scholarship, we can achieve deeper understandings of the spiritual as well as the rest of reality, and develop more effective ways of spiritual development.
Okay, my Buddhist scholar friend, I don’t know if this is wandering too far, but thank you again for a wonderful complement. I’ll take as my preferred working hypothesis that Gautama Buddha himself knew that he had something great to share with people, but tried to stay open-minded about the possibility of more. And I hope that the great religious figures of other traditions also remembered the virtue of humility, even if their teachings have way too often been distorted into tools for social control.
And I’ll admit that it’s not easy to switch between two or more perspectives, “This is the Holy Truth, I give it my Head and Heart and All!” and “Good, but let’s look deeper.”
Tags: belief, Buddha, Buddhism, Charles T. Tart, Charles Tart, emotions, enlightenment, Gautama Buddha, God, intention, Jesus, karma, meditation, ordinary mind, perception, reincarnation, science, Transpersonal, waking up
CCCE: Concentration, Clarity, Curiosity, Equanimity
Charles T. Tart
I teach a three-week web course on meditation and mindfulness a few times each year, giving students basic understanding and practice in developing essential skills for meditation practice, but even more for their eventual mindfulness application to everyday life. Our mind can working in kind of crazy, mindless ways while we’re sitting on a little cushion doing formal meditation, and while that may bother me at times, there is generally little harm coming from it. But when our minds do crazy things, mindless things, in the midst of everyday life, we sign contracts, write checks, say things to friends who now perhaps become former friends, etc., things that can get us into a lot of trouble. It’s nice and better than nothing if a few hours later (and too many times a few weeks or more later!) if you suddenly realize “Why in the world did I say something so stupid!” but it’s much better to learn to spot some funny feeling starting to warp your mind before you open your mouth!
I enjoy the feedback I get from students in these courses, as it helps me understand certain fundamentals of mindfulness more clearly, as well as practically helping me to teach others more clearly. This essay came from a student’s puzzlement about what I meant by “clarity” when I talked about it as an essential aspect of meditation and mindfulness practice.
The words “meditation” and “mindfulness” are used in a wide variety of ways, so much so as to be almost useless for trying to understand what in particular someone is talking about. For our purposes, I like the formulation I learned from meditation teacher Shinzen Young that a good part of the essence of meditation is when you focus on something, a fixed something or the passing stream of experience, with Concentration, Clarity, and Equanimity. I would also explicitly add Curiosity to those 3, and say that meditation and mindfulness involve doing something with the intention (and varying degrees of success, moment to moment) of CCCE. Curiosity, Concentration, Clarity, and equanimity.
You’re taking a web course on meditation and mindfulness. Even without knowing you personally, I think that means, at a minimum, that your life is not completely satisfactory and there is suffering in it (so far I’m basically including the entire human race), and you realize that at least some of that suffering is caused by the fact that in some ways you don’t understand, your own mind, is too often out of control.
How do you get better understanding and control? You practice both control exercises, like Concentration meditation, and you practice Vipassana, insight meditation, to get a better understanding of what your mind actually does moment-by-moment in various situations. You cultivate skill in Equanimity so that you can concentrate and perceive more clearly by not overreacting to the contents of your ongoing experience. In formal Vipassana, where you’re sitting quietly, you get to observe your mind when there is little outside disturbance so you can see its internal dynamics pretty well, in (Gurdjieffian) Self Remembering in everyday life you have to deal with more distraction from outside events, but this is where it really matters to better understand what your mind does.
When you get better at observing your own mind, you will see many situations where something happens (someone says something, or a memory or thought comes up), some thought or feeling reactively pops up in your mind and tends to take your mind over. In turn, related thoughts and feelings come up…and come up and come up and….for way toolong! Your initial perception of what happened may be unclear because you didn’t have concentration, things kept changing too fast, too automatically, for you to get a good look. When you are able to concentrate better on things that come up, you may then see more clearly exactly what it is, or, realistically, at least more clearly what it is even if not exactly see it, and this gives you a possibility of intelligent change.
Sometimes just seeing one of these automatic aspects more clearly once or a few times is enough to drain the emotional and cognitive power out of it so it stops happening, sometimes it’s tougher than that (there is a whole chapter devoted to this in my Waking Up book, and it’s touched on numerous times in my other books, Living the Mindful Life and Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People on mindfulness) and you have to do something more specific to change it. So clarity is about both slowing down the rate of change in something, it’s hard to see what it is if it’s replaced almost instantly by something else, as well as a clearer perception. One aspect of increased clarity, for example, is that sometimes you see that what you thought was a single emotional quality to an experience actually consists of two or more, and you won’t really understand it well until you can separate out these different aspects. Concentration supports Clarity and Equanimity, Clarity supports Concentration and Equanimity, and Equanimity supports Concentration and Clarity. They’re different ways of looking at aspects of a single mind in operation.
Now, when I divide things into CCCE, in some ways that’s a linguistic maneuver which hopefully will communicate more clearly what I’m trying to point your attention to. But the reality is CCCE is a convenient, but not absolute, analytical division of what happens in your mind, and different parts of it may be interacting or essentially the same at times. To give an example:
My truck is 19 feet, 6 inches long, has 4 wheels, and is painted blue. (My wife says it is painted teal, which just shows what an insensitive male I am) :-).
My truck is a Ford F-150, with 8 cylinders, and runs fine on regular gasoline, not requiring higher test gasoline.
Which is the truer description?
Of course that’s a silly question. A more realistic question would be which is the more useful description? The answer to that, of course, would depend on what you want to do. If my problem is the engine running irregularly when I’m on the freeway, the first description is of no value whatsoever, the second allows a mechanic to start thinking about more relevant things. If my problem is that I would like to have the truck painted a different color but I’m not sure whether I can afford it, the first description is much more useful to allow an auto painting shop to begin to make an estimate of what it would cost.
If you took a momentary slice of your experience in time, you could make some estimates of how concentrated were you, how clear were you on what was happening, how equanimous were you about what was happening, how genuinely curious were you. But remember the point is to have more focused, more clear, more equanimous perceptions of what’s happening to you, rather than making intellectual distinctions about aspects of the process. Unless making those distinctions helps you carry out the process better, of course.
A very important point to consider though is to be careful not to fall into grandiose, absolute definitions of CCCE. There are extreme values, but I don’t think they mean much to us who are learners rather than experts.
Some meditators, for example, judging from their self-reports, can put their attention on a single concentration point (their own breathing is a common example) and report that they didn’t think of another single thing for an hour of more! I think of that as Olympics level Concentration. That is so far beyond me that I have to remember to not automatically assume that they are lying. Some meditators will report experiences of Clarity where the thing being focused on at the moment was the absolutely only perception they had and it was brilliant, glowing, psychedelic, full of meaning and wonder! Some will report horrible memories of, say, torture arising in meditation but they were able to let the memories just flow through their mind, cognitively and emotionally, with little or no emotional reaction. As to Curiosity, that’s tougher, but some people report suddenly understanding something during meditation as if they finally know the Absolute Truth about it, and whatever Curiosity they might have had is completely satisfied.
My advice about these absolutes? Forget them!
I’m talking about a strategy for learning to get better at this, of course, not any absolute rule about the way to deal with life. For whatever reasons, I tended to judge my own meditations in absolute terms for many years, as I’m sure some others do. Why couldn’t I be aware of one thing for more than 2 seconds at a time before something else came in? Why were my thoughts, feelings, perceptions kind of fuzzy, instead of possessing a kind of psychedelic clarity where I would jump up and say “Wow! Now I really understand this!” Why would I notice that when anything came up that I didn’t think was properly “spiritual,” much less pleasant, my mind automatically tried to change it into something that met my standards of spirituality better? And I didn’t even notice that for all my conscious commitment to being Curious about the workings of my mind, I was manipulating, or at least trying to manipulate, my experience instead of really paying attention to what it actually was at any moment.
So it might help to take half a minute at the beginning of a meditation session to consciously remind yourself of your goals. That might even involve saying your goals out loud. “In this session, I want to have my mind be steadier so I can learn better Concentration.” Or “In this session I want to be less reactive to whatever arises in my experience, without immediately trying to change it.”
Note very carefully that I did not say “steady,” but “steadier.” I did not say “un-reactive,” but “less reactive.” My experience is that if you remember these things are on a continuum, then you will slowly notice you get better and better at these practices, even though there are occasional reverses. But if you judge them according to absolute standards, you’ll probably have the kind of experience I had for the first few years of attempting to learn meditation, that I was no good at it at all! :-
In all of the teachings in our webinar, I constantly put things on a relative basis, as I think it allows almost everyone to progress much better.
>2. Once in a while during meditation, I felt like coughing, yawning, sneezing, adjusting body position or taking a deep breath. Should I go ahead just do it or just experience the sensation of wanting to do it during the meditation?<
I think the main thing that matters here is that you remind yourself of what the rule is for this particular session at the beginning. If you constantly interrupt your meditative focus by coughing, yawning, etc., such that it’s a real problem for you, then it would be good to have practice sessions where your conscious goal was to indeed notice the sensations but not act on them. This runs a danger of getting too harsh on yourself, but you should be able to control sensations when it’s necessary. But to think that you always need to control every sensation that might lead to an action is pretty extreme, so I generally prefer the other Vipassana type rule that when you have that need to move, or the like, do it slowly and mindfully. That way you’ll mindfully come into motion from where you were just before that and make it easier to mindfully get back into where you were going after that.
Thank you for the questions! As you can see, as I’ve gone on and on, I think it was a good idea to clarify these things. You certainly will find teachers and systems that have more rigid rules for dealing with all these, but my own preference is developing mindfulness in changing situations, like life, that is more useful for most of us, so mindfulness of whatever you do in various situations is a good idea.
But, careful! Part of my mind says, saying that will make people think they’ve got to go around being really uptight and fanatically examining every sensation every moment of life! No! When you’re lying on the couch reading a good novel, forget your body, the sight of the room, the sounds of the room, and enjoy! When you’re walking down the street, on the other hand, do not look at the tiny screen on your phone and block out outside sounds with your headphones, you may get mugged or run down… Practicality, sensibleness!
Tags: attention, awareness, Buddhism, Charles T. Tart, Charles Tart, concentrative meditation, emotions, enlightenment, equanimity, glidewing, Gurdjieff, intention, Living the Mindful Life, meditation, mind science, mindfulness, ordinary mind, Shinzen Young, spiritual teachers, Transpersonal, vipassana, waking up
Out of Body Experiences — Half A Century On
About half a century ago – have I really been me, doing my stuff, that long? – I had an amazing stroke of luck.
As part of trying to make sense of life, particularly reconciling the religion I was raised in and modern science, I had read extensively in books about psychic research while still in my teens. Psychic research was a very small, but I believed very important field of inquiry, launched in the 1880s by intelligent people who had also been having difficulty reconciling religion and science, and who had the brilliant idea that science was a method, much more than just its contemporary findings. So why not apply the method of science (observe, theorize, test theories, share) to human experiences that had religious/spiritual implications and see what was real, as opposed to what was, as many fervent devotees of science proclaimed then (and now) that religion was all superstition and nonsense? This has been a major theme in my scientific career ever since reading about it.
One of the human experiences which struck me as very important in forming religions was the out-of-the-body experience (OBE), where a person unexpectedly finds themselves located somewhere else than where they know their physical body is, but their mind is fully clear and conscious. They can reason logically about how what is happening to them, floating up near the ceiling, e.g., while looking at their unconscious physical body below them in bed, is impossible — and yet there is no doubt it is happening! The typical aftereffect of having an OBE is the person saying something to the effect that “I no longer believe that I will survive death — I know I will, I’ve been alive and awake outside my body!” This is a conviction which usually lasts the rest of their life. Clearly OBEs happening to some people are a major source of the idea of a soul.
But aside from an occasional trustworthy person reporting OBEs, that was about all we knew about them, with one major factor added: in some cases, the person acquired by observation (seeing it) correct information about what was happening at a distant place they felt located at, when there was no reasonable way for them to otherwise know about it. Without that, OBEs could be thought about as merely an altered state of consciousness (ASC), something like a dream but with full and clear consciousness rather than the fuzzy state typical of dreams. And indeed there is a relatively rare kind of dream, the lucid dream, in which the dreamer feels their mind is awake, but they classify their experience as a dream. In practice some apparent OBEs are probably misclassified lucid dreams and visa-versa, but that some OBEs involve clear ESP functioning intensifies the question: “Is it really possible for a person’s mind to be elsewhere than their physical body, sensing that distant place?” I would have liked to have studied OBEs, but aside from one experiment while I was still a college student, had little opportunity, and with unclear results. No one else was studying them. Indeed, OBEs were taboo.
My wife and I had become friends with a young woman who occasionally baby sat our children. When she knew us better, and it became clear that we were people who could be talked to about unusual experiences, she began telling us about the OBEs which she had been having since she was a child…
This was the beginning of my luck. Not long after receiving my PhD, I also met and became friends with Robert A. Monroe who had also experienced many OBEs by then. His three books have been of great help since then to many people who have had OBEs but didn’t know what to make of them. I was able to do three studies with him over several years.
And also I was lucky because I carried out several years of research on using hypnosis to influence both the content and the process of nighttime dreaming, and the grant supporting that allowed me to have a sleep laboratory that was also useful for investigating OBEs.
Overall I have published six studies of OBEs. They can be studied with the increased precision of laboratory work (although that’s not the only way), not just be memories of spontaneous experiences, e.g., and I found out some things about the physiological state in which they may occur – you don’t have to be near death, as in near-death experiences (NDEs), e.g. – and sometimes it does indeed look like the OBEr’s mind really is perceiving physical reality from a different perspective than that of their physical body. You can read an overall summary of my research at
and if you want more details, you can go back to the original journal articles. The comments below will be richer if you read the above article first…
Fifty Year Karma?
Being young and naïve, I thought the scientific world would be electrified that OBEs could be studied in the laboratory, but almost no one followed up any of my research for many years, and I myself became involved in many, many other research projects. For better or worse, I’m interested in so many things, I don’t specialize well.
Yet for those fifty years I have always gotten occasional inquiries about my studies, so the OBE, an archetypal experience of “soul,” remains of great interest to many. Here’s the most recent inquiry and my response to it. I described myself as naïve above, perhaps idealistic would be a better term, as I still hope that what little I’ve been able to do will stimulate others to research OBEs and related areas!
I have some questions on OBE’s with your studies.
The main question is that do you have a logical explanation why some of the results were “not the best”. (I’m implying that they actually were out of their body) For the first one, what do you exactly mean by “occasional resemblances” and what you do mean by the comparison was too subjective exactly? I’m a little confused about the results exactly for the third one. The fourth one I’ve heard that Robert described your house correctly but not the things you were doing. I find that weird. Do you have any explanation for the sixth one? (Why none of them described the target right) I find this whole thing incredibly strange.
And my response:
I picked up on the enthusiasm in your email, and was pleased by it. So many people claim to be curious about psychic phenomena, but actually already have fixed opinions, just want to argue, and are not interested in what the facts were.
As to actual facts, you’re asking me about studies that I carried out and published decades ago, and I consider the accounts I wrote of them, particularly the original articles which are more extensive than this review article you’ve read, to be the authoritative description. Like any scientific study, I did the best I could trying to accurately describe conditions and outcomes. Recollections evoked many years later are probably true, my memory is pretty good, but I wouldn’t give them as much status.
Without actually taking the time to reread the studies—I’ve got a chapter for someone’s book on transpersonal psychology to edit—let’s see if I can answer your questions.
>The main question is that do you have a logical explanation why some of the results were “not the best”<
I assume we’re both taking an ideal point of view here, and the “best” would be to say, e.g., that the participant was asked to describe a location 1000 miles away, that he had never been to or heard about, and he correctly gave the exact street address, a photographically correct description, and the results could be statistically evaluated so you know that by chance the odds would be several million to one of that degree of correctness. The vast majority of psychological experiments, of course, simply aren’t that good. They show that under reasonably controlled conditions the experimental group, e.g., scored 10% higher than the control group and that is statistically unlikely, etc., more research is called for. I stress the latter point, more research is called for.
I considered all my work on out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs) as initial explorations where hardly any exploration had ever been done, and hoped (naïvely – it’s still too taboo a topic) that it would stimulate dozens of other researchers to explore these topics much more thoroughly. OBEs are one of the main sources of the idea that we have a soul, that’s pretty important to understand better! That research did not happen. There have been almost no studies of OBEs until recently, and I find most of them quite disappointing. They don’t seem to be studying actual OBEs as real people report them, but rather strange distortions of body image mislabeled as OBEs. Anyway, none of my studies were the “best” simply because when you’re doing something for the first time, there’s things it doesn’t occur to you to control for. For example, many times when I’ve mentioned in lectures that Miss Z, as part of her reported OBE in the laboratory, correctly reported a 5 digit number, somebody invariably asked if I knew what the number was — and then argued that she probably wasn’t really out of her body, it was “mere telepathy.” Oh dear! First time in the world it’s been tried and I forgot to control for “mere telepathy.”… Or control for possible quantum hyperloops in 14 dimensional chronically dampened strings undergoing stochastic interpolation for that matter… (this last sentence is attempt at humor…)
>For the first one, what do you exactly mean by “occasional resemblances” and what you do mean by the comparison was too subjective exactly?<
The target consisted of some unusual objects placed on a table in a distant basement, with the objects unusual enough that you wouldn’t expect to find them any place in particular, but if a subject said “What I’m seeing is rather unusual…” would you really give that any significance? I wouldn’t, I think any intelligent subject would assume that whatever the target was, it would be something unusual. It’s not like the case with Miss Z where we know exactly what the odds of guessing a 5 digit random number are with one try.
Right now I’ll give you a “psychic description” of your house. “I sense there is an entrance, and a number of openings in the walls, and soft surfaces, not too soft, that you walk and stand on, but seldom sit on.”
Are you impressed? I’m not. These are probably 100% correct, but these are generalities, almost all houses have a door, windows, and some rugs, and we walk and stand on the rugs but seldom sit on them. It wasn’t until sometime later that parapsychologists worked out techniques for dealing with complex targets like this, where you had a number of randomly selected control targets or locations, and the blind judges had to rate the degree of coincidence. Since the judges were blind as to what description was supposed to go with what target, their prejudices for and against psi balance out, and you can get a statistical figure on how likely the supposed psychic description actually matches the real target locations. It would’ve been nice if I’d figured out that technique on my own before other people did but hey, I was only a sophomore in college when I did that study…
More generally, if you look around your room right now, do you really see it? You probably think so, and what you perceive is generally quite adequate for practical purposes of life, but we know enough about the human senses, brain, and mental processes to know that you don’t. Right now, you, I, every human is actually inside a virtual reality. Although it feels real to us, it’s not a 100% accurate simulation of the environment around you. There’s a neural process known as lateral inhibition, for example, parallel to a similar engineering process called edge detection or contrast enhancement, which makes the visual world you see have sharper contrast between different objects than it actually has just in terms of the light rays being reflected from them. It helps us discriminate one thing from another. Perception is not simply registration of what reaches our senses, it’s very rapid, automated thinking about sensory input in terms of our previous experience and human nature, so a representation appears in the virtual world, the bio-psycho-virtual reality (BPVR) we live in.
Okay, why assume that in an OBE you’re completely out of a virtual reality and finally perceiving the real world? Admittedly the OBE is psychologically very impressive: it goes against what you think is possible, so you tend to give it a lot of weight. “I know my mind can’t leave my body and go somewhere else and look around, but here I am, feeling wide awake and rational, and I know my body is in bed at home!” But maybe even if you’re “mind” is now doing the perceiving without any assistance from the BPVR circuits of your brain, who’s to say the mind per se doesn’t have some aspects of creating a virtual reality? That virtual reality may partially reflect the physical reality distant from your physical body that you seem to be in, but only partially. It might not bother to represent aspects of that distant reality which are not important to the mind, and/or it may accurately represent “non-physical” or “spiritual” aspects of that reality which are not apparent to physical description so you think you’ve imagined things that aren’t there…
As someone who has studied consciousness for my whole life, I would be delighted to know that there is some particular altered state in which you now have a 100% accurate perception of the truth, and while I know that people may think that’s the way it is sometimes, I tend to doubt that it happens. As to the last study with my deeply hypnotized subjects, one way to describe a deep hypnotic state is that the hypnotist has a great deal of control over the construction of the subject’s BPVR, so it’s quite possible to have a very realistic simulation of an OBE that is not actually an OBE.
>I find this whole thing incredibly strange<
Good! I find it strange too! And I suspect when we stop finding anything strange, our mental processes have gotten pretty ossified and life doesn’t have much joyful flavor in it anymore. Keep thinking!
Charles T. Tart
 Another way I was very lucky was that in my 1969 Altered States of Consciousness book I reprinted material on lucid dreams, which had been essentially totally forgotten as existing by the scientific community, and this stimulated both widespread popular interest and scientific research on lucid dreams.
Tags: brain functioning, Charles T. Tart, Charles Tart, materialism, OBE; OBEs; astral projection, out-of-body experiences, Parapsychology, perception, RAM, Robert Monroe, Transpersonal, unusual experiences
Some years ago I started a private discussion group to connect the few people in the world who have published scholarly and scientific research on the question of whether we survive death in some form. Although there is an enormous amount of relevant evidence suggesting that some aspect of us survives death, there are very few of us bothering to look at this evidence, unfortunately. I have what I guess must be a strange idea that evidence as to whether we survive death or not may have a powerful effect on how we decide to live our lives, but this is obviously not a cultural priority. Anyway, the small group has had many interesting discussions over the years, and I want to share something I recently contributed to it.
One of my colleagues rightly challenged me when I wrote about the evidence for survival:
“I’m still on the fence.”
My colleague found it puzzling and exasperating that I said I was still on the fence, noting that my last book, The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together, argued decisively that total materialism, a philosophy, which believes that consciousness is nothing but an outcome of the physical operation of the brain and nervous system, and so totally ceases at death, is an incomplete way of looking at the world, and is just plain scientifically wrong with respect to many aspects of our possible spiritual lives. My colleague is a philosopher, and reasons that it follows logically that if materialism is incomplete, applying only to material things, then it’s only logical that something in us survives death. So why was I claiming to be “on the fence?”
I take his reaction as useful and legitimate stimulation to think about why I would say I’m still on the fence, and share what I find, as it may be useful to others, as I doubt my psychodynamics are absolutely unique to me. What I say may be particularly useful to students going into science or young scientists who think that it’s all a matter of finding certainty. Too, my reflections are also part of my life-long research project of figuring out how my mind works….
Conscious, Logical Reasons:
First, what I might call the conscious and relatively logical reasons for being on the fence.
Essential Science: A big one is that much of the time I am trying to function as I think a competent scientist would function, and my understanding of the essence of science is that data is far and away the deciding factor on anything and theory, while we love it, is secondary. This way I could technically say that some kind of postmortem survival strikes me as an excellent theory to make sense of the evidence we have to date, and so I take survival as a working hypothesis, but scientists must always be careful of finally accepting any theory, no matter how good, as a final answer. When you do that, you move from discovery to what historian Thomas Kuhn called “normal science,” which is very valuable, but which usually means your mind is now shaped to see further evidence in ways which fit your already accepted theory, and so you’re now working with reality with perceptual and intellectual blinders on. So survival is my working hypothesis, I give it a very high probability of being correct, but I’m willing to consider alternatives and my mind is always open to having to change my theory if future evidence calls for it.
Public Relations: Another big and conscious one is public relations. Psychical research and parapsychology are an embattled, persecuted, very small field of science, and one of the ways the bullying pseudo-skeptics constantly unfairly attack us is by calling us “believers.” By I and others talking about our working hypotheses, not that we believe, it makes it much harder for this discrediting adjective to be used in describing us.
State-Specificity: Another big and conscious one is my understanding that our ordinary style of thinking is a state-specific way of dealing with reality (see my article in Science)***, very good in some ways, poor in other ways, and we probably don’t know whether it’s good or bad in many other ways. My limited experience with altered states of consciousness (ASCs) has shown me that there can be quite different ways of understanding the world, and while those ways are not available to me in my ordinary state, nor do I have much talent for experiencing any altered states, at the least my old experiences of ASCs should remind me to not get overly attached to the understandings reached in my ordinary state of consciousness. There may be ASCs in which the data of survival point to a quite different understanding and, in that state, this new way is “obviously” true and matches the data.
Less Rational Reasons:
Now thinking about factors that are less rational and scientific, more a matter of personal psychology, but which are there.
Prestige: One of these is that to be considered a scientist is a relatively high prestige position in our society, certainly usually much higher than a “believer” in anything, at least in the social circles to which most of us move, and I enjoy this prestige. Here I, Charley, am an ordinary human being, but when Prof. Charles T Tart, PhD, speaks and writes, he gets more attention and prestige than most ordinary people. That’s a two-edged sword of course, it means the things I’m wrong about get more attention than they should, but all in all I like it and think I do well in mostly sharing factually correct and useful ideas. I discipline myself to not allow feelings of prestige to distort my teaching, lecturing and writing.
Fear: Another less rational factor, one I’ve admitted to over the years but which most of my colleagues never do, is a fear factor. The childhood religion that I was conditioned into when I was young may be consciously rejected by my current adult self, but I know it has effects at times. That includes a fear of punishment by a vengeful God if I believe the wrong things, and a fear of social rejection. Consciously I can reject this factor, but, as a psychologist and someone who has studied my own mind for a lifetime, I know I also have to respect the psychological level of my younger self, and deal with it skillfully, not just forcibly deny it or pretend it isn’t there.
Hate Being Fooled! Another less rational factor, probably stemming from some childhood experiences as well as a general aspect of the way we humans are built, is that I don’t like to be fooled. It’s embarrassing! Once I say I believe, I can be shown to be wrong and foolish, while as long as I talk about formulating and testing working hypotheses, I’m doing a great job of being intelligent and rational, scientific, even if it turns out that these hypotheses turn out to be wrong.
What the balance of these various factors is it any given time obviously course varies with the situation and my personal psychological state.
This has triggered some useful thinking for me, I hope sharing it is helpful.
Although I can’t put my finger on the quote right now, another colleague of mine summed it up quite well by saying that he teaches his students that to seek The Truth is excellent and noble, but it’s very dangerous to ever think that you have arrived at The Truth.
To think about….
When we research whether Person A survived death, the kind of material we consider evidence is of several kinds. A very important one is getting factually correct information about Person A (usually through a medium) while she or he was alive, information that we could not reasonably expect would be known to the medium through ordinary means. A second one, given considerable emphasis in some cases, is whether the ostensible spirit of Person A shows distinctive mannerisms of speech or behavior that were characteristic of Person A while alive, and, again, which we did not expect to be known to the medium by ordinary means and which are distinctive and uncommon.
My best working hypothesis at present is that when I die I am likely going to survive, although the form of my consciousness, without a physical body and nervous system to constantly shape it, will probably change significantly. To use an analogy, the “user” may survive, but the “user” is so used to functioning through certain programs, embedded in my body and nervous system, that it will be quite different to not have those familiar programs to work with. But, judging by mediumistic material, surviving spirits must be able to recall enough about their embodied lives to come up with unique, factual memories and have habitual mannerisms manifest.
To quote from the article, “Memory researchers used to believe that there was just one kind of long-term memory. But in 1972, Endel Tulving, a Canadian psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, introduced the idea that long-term memory comes in multiple forms. One is semantic memory, which allows us to remember how to spell a word like say, autonoetic. Years from now, you might recall how to spell it, but maybe not when and where you were when you first came across the word and its definition, perhaps in Wired.”
“Tulving argued that autonoetic consciousness is crucial for the formation of another kind of long-term memory—episodic memory—which integrates time and sensory details in the cinematic, visceral way remembering where and when you learn how to spell autonoetic: that’s in episodic memory.”
The article reports on studies of a woman therein called McKinnon, who simply does not have any episodic memory. For example, she and her husband took many vacation cruises, but “McKinnon makes clear that she has no memories of all those cruises.” No memories of buying the souvenirs displayed in her living room, in front of her and the interviewer. She doesn’t remember any vacation she’s ever taken. “In fact she cannot recall a single moment in her marriage to her husband or before it…” It’s not that she doesn’t remember these memories are in losing them, she’s never been able to remember them in the first place.
By and large she functions quite well as a mature adult. As the article notes, “McKinnon first began to realize that her memory was not the same as everyone else’s back in 1977, when a friend from high school, who was studying to be a physician’s assistant, asked if she would participate in a memory test as part of a school assignment. When her friend ask basic questions about her childhood as part of the test, McKinnon would reply, “Why are you asking stuff like this? No one remembers that.” She knew that other people claim to have detailed memories, but she always thought they embellished and made stuff up—just like she did.”
So what would happen if McKinnon died, her spirit survived, she was contacted by a good medium, and she was asked to prove her identity.? Assuming her consciousness survived pretty much as it functions now in life, she probably could certainly produce all sorts of every day, factual material, but no really personal memories. And so we would conclude that?
We have thousands of well-documented mediumistic cases, but this kind of memory loss is apparently quite rare, so I don’t think we’ll be in luck and find such a case…although those who know that literature better than me may find something…
It reminds me that one of the most basic questions in survival research is not so much survival per se but what is consciousness itself? A computer could store all sorts of facts about our lives, but, at least so far, we’re not willing to attribute consciousness to any computers….
Anyway, it’s a very rich article, and I recommend it. Being terribly old-fashioned, I subscribe to wired as a printed document, but I’m sure there’s some way to get it on the web.
I’m not sure where I’ll go in thinking about this, but it’s an unusual and interesting entry point for thinking….
Tags: attention, awareness, belief, Charles T. Tart, Charles Tart, death, dreams, emotions, materialism, memory, ordinary mind, Parapsychology, reincarnation, science, survival of death, Transpersonal, Tulving
NDEs, OBEs – What Did I Experience?
Charles T. Tart
I recently received a note from P. M. H. Atwater, an authority on near-death experiences (NDEs), about the vague and confusing way people were starting to talk about NDEs. This struck a chord of sympathy in me, as I’ve had similar problems in my work, and I thought I’d share my response to her here. It might help some of you figure out what happened to you. Although the reality of your experience and its meaning to you is, of course, much more important than some intellectual classification put on it.
I empathize with your frustrations over the way people (mis)use terms like NDE’s. If I were trying to clear things up for them, I would start by pointing out that the word experience is an inherent part of an NDE, so if you want to have a useful term, you have to say that certain experiences cluster together often enough that you can define that, ideally, as an NDE. I say ideally, because in the real world there will always be various extras missing from some accounts, and some will be ambiguously reported enough, or maybe the actual experience was somewhat ambiguous, that you won’t feel happy giving it any particular classification. That’s okay. For research purposes, it’s fine to have a category of “Hard to classify, we’ll ignore these for now.”
I also note that advances in science and understanding generally are often triggered and facilitated by really clear definitions of what we are talking about. Even though, of course, NDEs typically involve altered states aspects that are hard to grasp or explain in ordinary consciousness…
When people start applying it to experiences people might have simply when they came medically close to death, but perhaps had no special experience at all, they are confusing the possible induction method of an experience with what the experience was like. Like you, I would emphasize that there is a cluster of experiences that go together to form an NDE, and if you want to talk about the induction method, or, since we’re not always sure, the likely induction method, that’s fine but we have to distinguish that from our definition of an NDE itself.
I’ve had the same problem with out of the body experiences, OBE’s. I don’t count an experience as an OBE simply because during it the person had a thought, “I’m out of my body.” I can have that thought right now, but my headache is still pounding along, and my body feels oh so real… :-)
So I define an OBE as (a) experiencing yourself at a location other than where you know your physical body is at the time and (b) experiencing the quality of your consciousness as pretty much like your waking consciousness. That is, you can think clearly, you know who you are, you can have fun “logical” arguments with yourself that you can’t possibly be out of your body, even though you obviously experience yourself that way, etc. Although I don’t usually make it explicit, I could add that usually you don’t change your mind about it later. There’s something rather real about an OBE or an NDE such that very few people will downgrade it into some kind of dream or illusion later. With the possible exception of some people so desperate to maintain an ordinary belief system that they push away the obviously real qualities of their experience.
Note here that like what I’ve said for NDEs, I’ve said nothing about how you got there for defining an OBE. It’s the experience of being out while in a clear state of consciousness. Whether you have no idea how you got there, or were asleep, or had a dream transform into an OBE, or almost died, that’s all very interesting, but a separate issue from defining the OBE.
Anyway, good luck on trying to get people to use their terms more clearly! I may have influenced a few people to be clearer about OBE’s, and distinguish them from NDEs (I usually note that an NDE may or may not include an OBE, and may start with consciousness feeling quite ordinary, but moves on to a clearly altered state of consciousness (ASC). I’m sure there are some NDEs that are so short they only start with an OBE and don’t really go on to the ASC aspect.
An amusing historical note: When I first wrote about OBE’s, I coined the abbreviation OOBEs, which created heavy semantic karma. It never occurred to me that people would pronounce that and tell me about their Ooh bees! ;-)
Occasionally I get questions from students that strike me as of general interest, so here are some from a young woman and my responses, with my responses not at all comprehensive, but, hopefully, stimulating thoughts…
———- Forwarded message ———-
Subject: Questions about the field in Parapsychology
To: Office of the Parapsychological Association <email@example.com>
Hello my name is ***** and I am doing an Inquiry report on the necessary prep and day-to-day realities of the field of Parapsychology for my English class. If you, Charles Tart, or Carlos S. Alvarado have time to answer a few questions for me that would be amazing;
1.) Why do you think people look so down on the study of Parapsychology?
2.) What have people accused you of being because you are a Parapsychologist?
3.) What have TV shows and movies done to make people confused on the reality of these Phenomena? What TV shows or movies do you think have really made people confused?
4.) What are some scientific methods Parapsychologists use when experimenting or researching?
5.) What is some of the best evidence you put forth that a debunker still tried all they could to debunk?
6.) What made you want to go into the field? How can I try to get into the field?
Thanks again if you have time to answer these for me!
This email was sent through the contact form at The Parapsychological Association.
Dear **********, Date Composed: February 18, 2016
So many questions! I’ll try to give you some information to think about.
For my general understanding, though, you should see a book I published in 2009, The End of Materialism, available on Amazon as an e-book, and for career advice you should see my article on that at http://blog.paradigm-sys.com/careers-in-consciousness-research-parapsychology-andor-transpersonal-psychology/ .
I don’t have time to be comprehensive, but will toss out things to start you thinking.
1.) Why do you think people look so down on the study of Parapsychology?
It’s only been a few centuries in the West, a very short time in human history, since we stopped burning people at the stake that we thought had paranormal abilities, and murdering such people still happens in many cultures. There is an element of fear of the paranormal, heightened by the entertainment industry, and the unadmitted fear has nothing to do with scientific evidence. I don’t spend much time worrying about someone zapping me with their telekinetic powers, each of us is infinitely more likely to be “zapped” by some idiot driving a car while not paying adequate attention…
The people who look down on the study of parapsychology also, in practically every case, actually have no scientific knowledge of what it’s about, so you’re talking about irrational religious convictions rather than science.
2.) What have people accused you of being because you are a Parapsychologist?
Basically I’ve been accused of being stupid to think that there’s anything to parapsychology. This must mean that I have a very complicated personality, because I seem to be reasonably smart in most areas of life. In general, parapsychologists have been accused of being stupid and taken in by fake psychics or of being charlatans themselves, and while there are a very few charlatans and some fake psychics, that reality is not what’s behind these kind of accusations. In science, demonstrable results are what counts, not what you believe about the universe. Since the people who make these kind of accusations have almost never actually ever carried out a parapsychological experiment, you have to be very skeptical of their claim to be rational or scientific.
3.) What have TV shows and movies done to make people confused on the reality of these Phenomena? What TV shows or movies do you think have really made people confused?
I don’t follow TV and movies that much.
4.) What are some scientific methods Parapsychologists use when experimenting or researching?
See my book, mentioned above.
5.) What is some of the best evidence you put forth that a debunker still tried all they could to debunk?
On the rare occasions when there is a debate between a parapsychologist and one of the so-called skeptics, the so-called skeptics will make all sorts of vague general statements about the inadequacy of parapsychological experiments, but when asked to start commenting specifically on some of the thousand or more experiments that show evidence for parapsychological functioning, they will try to change the subject, or perhaps finally break down and admit that they haven’t actually read any of the experiments. After all, since they know parapsychology is all nonsense, and there must be flaws in experiments even if they can’t figure out what they are, why should they waste their time reading experimental accounts? That’s why I generally call these people pseudo-skeptics.
Actually being a skeptic is an honorable position. It means you are interested in something and not particularly impressed with our current explanations about it, so would like to learn more about it and have better explanations. But when you don’t bother to look at the evidence, that just means you’re not at all skeptical, you already have some other belief system that you think is being threatened, so you attack what you think of as your enemy.
The data of parapsychology don’t invalidate any of our best science, although they do indicate that there’s still a lot we don’t know. That we don’t know a lot is, to me, exciting and challenging, and motivates me to try to find out some things.
6.) What made you want to go into the field? How can I try to get into the field?
As a psychologist, I’m interested in what things mean to people, as well as the way the world really is, so my initial interest in parapsychology came as a teenager when I became familiar with science and realized that the religion I was raised in was pretty questionable in lots of ways. I discovered parapsychology and its early and more widely focused forerunner, usually called psychical research, and thought that it’s idea, that we could apply the methods of science to find out what might be real phenomena in religion and what was indeed nonsense looked like a very sensible way to start clarifying our knowledge. I’m still working on that!
Good luck with your thinking!
Charles T Tart
Impermanence: Why Do Buddhists Go On and On About It?
Charles T. Tart
I have been very interested in Buddhism for many years. Two reasons are its emphasis on psychology, what you do with your mind, and its emphasis on meditation, which I see as a way of developing what you might call a microscope to begin to see the finer details of how your mind works. Although I’m not that good at meditation, I have seen that many of the basic Buddhist ideas about the mind are indeed true for me, and understanding and gaining a little control over them is very helpful.
Impossible Mess or Cozy Office?
One of the things that has always puzzled me, though, is that the very frequent emphasis on the idea of impermanence as a basic foundation of Buddhism. Yes, of course, things change, and it’s clear that if you are too attached to something not changing, you set yourself up for more suffering than you would otherwise experience. It’s also true that we do frequently get overly attached to things and so suffer when they change, and it’s helpful to be occasionally reminded that just about everything is impermanent, it’s subject to change, it’s influenced by changing conditions.
Yet this seems fairly obvious, so why is impermanence mentioned over and over and over again in Buddhist teachings?
There are probably reasons for this that I don’t comprehend, but this morning I had an insight as to one possible and quite important reason for this emphasis.
In my studies of altered states of consciousness (ASC’s) throughout my career, I came to realize that any strong emotion could usefully be understood as an ASC. It changed the way you perceived yourself and the world, the way you thought about yourself and the world, and often the way you acted in response to your immediate situation. But something that struck me that I began to recognize about emotions some years ago is that, by and large, they lie.
Emotions lie in that besides the specific feeling and worldview of a particular emotion, they usually carry an additional message, namely that “This feeling and understanding is eternal truth! It will be this way forever!”
Once understood, this insight seems obvious. But many times over my years of teaching students about ASC’s, I’ve seen a look of wonder and relief on their faces when I talk about how emotions lie. They hadn’t realized it, and they glimpsed that they no longer have to take certain emotional feelings quite so seriously.
Since one of the functions of emotions is to get your attention focused on something that part of your mind or brain considers important, this “This is eternally true!” component probably helps. But it makes it easy for the emotion to prolong itself and continue biasing your perception of yourself and your world in line with the emotion.
To create an example, suppose I was feeling rather depressed right now. Emotions tend to alter and bias your perceptions, so I could look around my office, which I normally find a very pleasant place, and see how messy it is, how disorganized it is, how worn the furniture looks, how impossible it would be to even get started on straightening it up, the things that ought to be thrown out but I’m such a hoarder, etc., etc.
But if I remember impermanence, ah, okay, I feel this way at this moment, but it’s going to change. I could get stuck in this altered state of depression and perhaps it might last for hours or days, or the phone could ring, a friend could call, and I would forget all about these depressing thoughts and stop feeling depressed in just a few seconds. Oh, okay, I’m not denying how I feel at this moment, but I know it’s impermanent, so I can relax without worrying that I’m ignoring or suppressing my emotions and get on with what I need to do, or what I prefer to do.
I don’t know whether Gautama Buddha intended the emphasis on impermanence to be a support for not getting stuck in negative emotions or not, but it can certainly work that way. On the other hand, I suspect too much emphasis on impermanence can lead to a kind of psychological and emotional flattening or neutering, where you start automatically not letting yourself care about anything, with the rationalization that it’s impermanent, emotions are just going to create trouble anyway, so it’s best not to have them. I prefer Gurdjieff’s idea to the Buddhists’ here, that emotions are, at least in part, a way of analyzing the world, a way that has advantages as well as disadvantages, so what we need to do is develop our emotional intelligence, rather than suppressing emotions.
Tags: attention, awareness, Buddhism, Charles T. Tart, Charles Tart, emotions, Gurdjieff, impermanence, intention, mindfulness, ordinary mind, pain, peace, perception, spiritual teachers, Tibetan Buddhism, Transpersonal
Souls in Religion?
I recently heard from a colleague in a private discussion group for those who research the scientific evidence for the possibility of survival of some aspect of consciousness after death. He was rather triumphant in getting a university course approved dealing with evidence, scientific, philosophic, humanistic, etc. as to whether or not we have a soul.
But the director of the Religious Studies program at that University made it clear it couldn’t be offered for any credit in Religious Studies…
When I was young I used to enjoy learning more and more about the world and thinking I might figure it out some day… Oh well…
How to Meditate in Public Without Looking Like You’re the Kind of Weirdo Who Meditates…
Charles T. Tart
I’ve been talking with a friend lately has had to move to a new home, such that a 2 hour long commute to and from the airport every week is part of life now, and she’s not particularly happy with it. I tried to cheer my friend up with some general advice, talking about whether you see the glass, to use the old analogy, as half-full or half-empty. Half-full is the optimist’s point of view, what can you add to it? Half-empty is the pessimist’s point of view, it will probably get worse. And then there is the engineer’s point of view, which says perhaps you can redesign the glass to be the optimal size.
A few days later I thought I’d pass along an idea I’ve used for some years, as I realized it could be helpful to a lot of us who occasionally want to meditate in public places, like sitting in a park or riding on a bus, but realize we live in a society where a lot of people are going to look at you like you’re really weird if you do that.
So, falling into my reengineering the glass mode…
Let’s say you have about an hour each way on the shuttle to and from the airport. For a devoted meditator, that’s an opportunity to practice, and an especially good opportunity because you can generalize your meditation skills to a wider range of settings than sitting in absolute quiet in a perfectly upright posture where nobody will bother you, either because there’s nobody else around and you’re meditating in solitude, or you’re surrounded by other people who are meditating also.
Learning to meditate in quiet, supportive settings is probably the best way for most people to start learning various forms of meditation (Gurdjieff work excepted in many ways), and spending time meditating in supportive settings helps to develop the skill of quieting your mind and going inward. But my current understanding is that a very important outcome of some kinds of meditation is learning to be present and spacious in everyday life, where lots of stuff is happening around you. So if somebody looks at you funny or says something you think is a little hostile to you in an everyday setting, it’s not really very practical to say “Excuse me while I sit down with crossed legs on this little black pillow and induce my meditative state to evaluate what you said more accurately and spaciously…”
And my observation should be followed by an emoticon for humor? ;-)
An emoticon for sadness? ;-(
But, given the nature of our world, and if you’re not yet that skilled at mindfulness practice under difficult conditions, and/or you like meditating with your eyes closed, do you want to be seen by others sitting on the bus or the park bench with your eyes closed, sitting up unnaturally straight? Maybe you’re crazy? Maybe you’re a good candidate for being robbed? Even in California, I don’t think meditators are quite that socially accepted yet.
But, you have been saved by Apple’s success with iPods and iPhones, the fact that so many people are now wearing earbuds or earphones, listening to music or the like recorded on their iPods or cell phones. So you put on a pair of old-fashioned headphones, which immediately cuts down the outside noise. Then plug your headphone into your iPod or phone or other music player, for which I’m sure you can get an app that produces some nice, steady masking noise, surf or rain or something like that. Now it’s like you’re on retreat in some wonderful place that’s got lots of nature!
But you still might look a little bit vulnerable, so, rather than looking like a meditator, lay an open notebook in your lap with a few scribbles in it, and a pen in your other hand. So even though your eyes are closed, you could be a businessperson listening to a transcription of an important meeting, getting ready to take notes on the best phrasing for your next big contract. Ah, that’s one of those Type A people, not really out of it, better leave them alone…
I know, I don’t look that much like a high-powered businessman, but by California standards my Silicon Valley startup may be selling for zillions tomorrow… Such an interesting dream… ;-)
Big headphones too odd? Not fashionable enough? Earbuds will do, although I personally don’t like them…Big headphones cut down outside noise better. The kind of headphones they sell for use on airplanes with active noise reduction probably would not be good for this, as they pick up steady sounds, like the hum of the engines and produce a duplicate, but out of phase sound that cancels the hum, but do little for changing noises…
There’s more to improving life and psychological and spiritual growth than just messing with external circumstances, but why not bias them in a helpful direction?