A Curious Effect of Meditation? Smarter and Faster? Just Coincidence?

Friday night and Saturday morning (March 12, 2011), my wife and I participated in two telephone-conference type meditation trainings/explorations led by Shinzen Young (www.shinzen.org ).  This morning’s focused on what Shinzen describes, in his most up-to-date, comprehensive reworking of the language of meditation practices, as Focus on All.  In this form of vipassana, the basic instruction is to observe the entire flow of experience with concentration, clarity and equanimity.  I won’t try to summarize his ingenious conceptual system for relating all aspects of meditative experience here, but there is material on his website dealing with this.

After about an hour-and-a-half of this kind of guided meditation Saturday morning , we took an hour’s break, with instructions to practice this kind of observation of All in whatever manner seemed best suited for that break time.  Shinzen’s given many instructions for that kind of work in the past.  You could continue formal sitting practice or bring this kind of concentration, clarity and equanimity to various worldly activities.  The latter kind of practice is usually done with psychologically and physically simplified tasks to make it easier, such as mindfully washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, walking slowly, etc.  It’s similar to Gurdjieff work.

I had been moderately successful in observing the whole flow of experience in the initial practice period, but was pretty sleepy by the end (a common experience of mine – I too often can get sleepier while trying to meditate than when trying to go to sleep at night…..), so I decided I’d like to try a more demanding physical/mental task than usual, one requiring good thought, to see if I could maintain any sense of presence in spite of heavy thinking.  So for about 10 minutes I worked at a crossword puzzle (from a book of Los Angeles Times Sunday puzzles) and, to my amazement, worked on it with much more immediate knowledge and speed than I usually do, while still maintaining some sense of presence!  Hmmm.  I hadn’t expected the earlier meditation to result in enhanced intellectual work….

With a few more minutes to go in the break before the guided meditation with Shinzen started again, and still feeling somewhat sleepy, I decided I would play a little computer game, I often play when I want some relaxing diversion, Bubble Shooter (http://www8.agame.com/mirror/flash/b/bubble_shooter.swf).  This game is a lot of fun, but, in terms of developing mindfulness and presence, a real mind-sucker, as the fun seduces my mind and I get drawn in and speedy and forget all about maintaining any sense of presence.  Could I play with any presence now?

To my surprise and pleasure, yes!  I played mindfully, more slowly than usual, and kept some presence much of the time.  And I also played quite well for the 10 minutes or so before it was time to go back to the telephone meditation training….

Hmmm…..Maybe just coincidence, maybe a little reminder of the value of mindfulness in life…..

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