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To dream in VR

When I cue a Vrse film on my phone and pop it into a Google Cardboard Virtual Reality viewer, I enter a new world that is slow, sumptuous and filled with wonder. Like a dream, it’s enveloping and satisfying. I enter a world I don’t want to leave.

The experience is slowed by the processing requirements of rendering richly detailed, 360 degree animated landscapes and — in the case of live action films — the fact that VR camera rigs are clunky and for the most part stationary. This more contemplative pacing makes VR films a welcome respite. Like in meditation, my task is to arrive fully, using all senses to observe and explore my surroundings. Again like meditation, the best VR films are ones that spend just enough time with “nothing” happening so that the eyes and mind adjust to see everything that stirs beneath the surface.

While gaming companies invest millions in creating experiences that are like the fast, action-packed narratives we know today — where the player is the protagonist, hero, shooter, quarterback, etc — I believe the biggest promise is in what one might call “Slow VR”.

Slow VR calms and feeds the senses. It invites wonder and exploration. Rather than giving us the chance to see something through another’s eyes, the veil is pulled away from our own as we visit new places and spend time with new people — letting go and experiencing fully embodied, with all senses through the safe remove of a cardboard viewer.

What a gift this calm and wonder can be. Not just in those few moments we spend slowly turning in circles in our living room, a small cardboard box strapped to our faces. But in all those moments when our VR training could incline us to fully arrive, be present, observe and invite wonder wherever we are.

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after the transhumanist apocalypse

…Continuing from my previous post from a few months ago on Transhumanism:

The ultimate rub of the Transhumanist movement for me is that it seeks to achieve something that already exists and yet is unattainable by the means Transhumanists want to achieve it: fundamental human transformation.

In my last post, I daydreamed with a Sci Fi fan’s optimism about the potential of tens of millions of people being interdependently linked by technology so that our fundamental brain chemicals, hormones, energy levels, thoughts and practices could come into line — and closer to Enlightenment. But here’s the thing: we already are.

In my last post, I daydreamed with a Sci Fi fan’s optimism about the potential of tens of millions of people being interdependently linked by technology so that our fundamental brain chemicals, hormones, energy levels, thoughts and practices could come into line — and closer to Enlightenment. But here’s the thing: we already are.

It didn’t start yesterday or with the invention of the internet. As long as the universe has existed as we know it, it has existed in what Thich Nhat Han calls “Interbeing.” It’s the First Law of Thermodynamics. In this isolated system called the universe, energy can neither be created nor destroyed — it can only change form. We are made of the stuff of the stars and being permeable on a molecular level, we are all of us beings connected to one another.

The path I’ve chosen to overcome the anguish and suffering of illness, old age and death, is accepting them. I can only hope my right effort will bring me closer to uprooting the egoic personality structures that causes me to cling to this body and this lifetime and my sense of who I am or must be. I strive to embody that in every moment and then let go of the grasping and sense of lack that drives me to be smarter, faster and better. I aim to just be.

Well, easier said than done, right? There’s a part of me that thinks there’s a certain inevitability to the coopting of Buddhism and Buddhist practice into Transhumanist pursuits, as it is already happening in Silicon Valley, and to Transhumanism. Even though it’s fundamentally wrong-headed, I think the Transhumanist adoption of decontextualized Buddhist ideas will happen anyway. So I get lost in my own imaginings of what a post-transumanist apocalypse would look like.

Well, like this: a world in which narcissism and the perception of resource scarcity coopts spiritual traditions like Buddhism into an effort to “get” Enlightenment through technology and shortcuts, and not deep practice and radical reinvention. Science is mistaken for spirituality and information with insight (nod to Richard Eskow). The privileged — mostly white and male — drive this effort and pour resources into the transhumanist effort as “the answer to all of mankind’s problems”. But what fundamentally lacks is the expansiveness of true compassion and the radicalization of true Wisdom — and the participation of the poor, the uneducated and the disenfranchised.

What are we left with? A world in which a privileged few skipped crucial rungs on the ladder to become awakened but not purified of mind, and they’ve given birth to an artificial intelligence in its own image that can justify cruelty, exclusion and oppression just as privileged humans do to protect our own narcissism.

I’m gonna write a scifi/fantasy novel trilogy about it one day.

 

*-* metta *-*

 

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#openpractice

Having just moved to Bloomington, IN about a month ago, I find myself lonely of sangha quite often. The meditation room (with altar) helps a great deal, but it’s certainly not the same as having a group of sweet friends who help you stay on your meditation game by meeting every week or swapping realizations, insights, and jokes.

It turns out that I’m not the only meditator feeling this way in the world, though – as evidenced by the many meditators on Twitter (Tweditators?) using the medium to create a virtual sangha.  Folks are posting musings, sharing, and quoting favorite passages.  But they’re also encouraging each other to sit, and sitting together through hashtags like:
#openpractice
#OMCru
#wannasit
#sitwithme

It’s so lovely to send a tweet out to the #OMCru at 6:30am letting folks know how long I plan to sit, and inviting people to join me.  And then finish up and see that a few folks from all around the world (!) have checked in alongside me.  After a lonely sit in which I’ve been nodding off or getting distracted, it warms me greatly to feel less alone in my practice.  Sweet.

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SUNDAY SCHOOL: Bowie

I’ve been wanting to start a series of posts with Sweetheart on music for a long time.  His knowledge of music, past and present, is really encyclopedic – and full of awe and appreciation.  He is the best of rock music history teachers, full of enthusiasm and heart.

So here is the first installment of a Sunday series to educate all us brash Millennials who think we know all about music because we listen to lots of indie bands (aka SUNDAY SCHOOL (w/ SWEETHEART)):

It’s hard to know where to start.  But one place we could start is with David Bowie.  Because the music that people are so infatuated with now, the stuff they’re going crazy about today, pretty directly comes from this guy’s brain.

From the arrangements to subject material to key signatures and gender politics, you can hear echoes of Bowie everywhere – it’s just a matter of listening.  One of the hallmarks of Bowie’s music is the big sound and dramatic effect he creates with just a few instruments.  It’s something you can hear in Spoon, for example, today.  Another hallmark is in his subject material, specifically his ambivalence about modernity and change, which you can really hear in the two selections here from 60s and 70s Bowie but also, say, in Radiohead and Hot Chip.

The most amazing thing is just how crazy Bowie was getting and how much of an impact he had in a short, short period of time.  He’s been making music for 40 years, but the 60s and 70s were a time of upheaval that he definitely played a huge role in fomenting.

The one thing we don’t want people to come away with after reading this post and listening to these two songs is to be like, “OK, that’s interesting.  I see what you’re saying.”  It’s almost an injustice to not have a stronger opinion about Bowie’s music, given how world-changing it was in its time, and the impact it continues to have today.  His records are so intense, if you really listen, that they can’t be consumed in a neutral fashion.  A milk toast reaction is not acceptable.

It was really hard to pick a track off of Ziggy Stardust that encapsulates the whole album and 60s Bowie.  We ended up choosing Five Years (as opposed to Ziggy Stardust, Lady Stardust or Starman), because it’s so incredibly evocative and tells such a story.

Five Years is about a Britain in transition.  It’s about race, sex politics, the cult of celebrity in a mournful, simple song.  We thought it was harpsichord in that shit, but it’s actually a 12-string guitar.  But that’s the sound – almost idyllic.  The thing about this song is that it’s about shocking violence, new technologies that people don’t know how to deal with.  It’s all this weird shit that Bowie (or Stardust) doesn’t even know how to deal with – even though he’s actually at the helm of that revolutionary change and the record’s all about modernity.  He’s young, untethered and adrift – quite unsure about where things are going.

Oh You Pretty Things, on the other hand, reflects an older Bowie.  It’s like a wake-up call – and literally begins “Wake up, you sleepy head”.  The world just changed overnight and Bowie’s singing this song to let everyone know. What’s changed is that, almost without anyone noticing, a nightmare of strange golden-faced children is walking about, driving their parents insane.  He tells this story while also warning an older generation that they’re about to be out-competed and pushed out by a younger generation, an almost Darwinian evolution of man (homo superior).  Bowie also speaks to the youthful naivete of this new generation of children because they don’t even know the threat they’re posing and the upheaval they’re bringing.

This song was also the soundtrack to watching the Northern Lights from an airplane window on a redeye flight from London to NYC when I was 16 (Little 900).  Everyone on the plane was asleep and I just kept rewinding the tape on my walkman to listen to this song over and over for as long as we were south of Iceland and could see the lights.  Epic.

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Jill Bolte Taylor’s “Stroke Of Insight”

I just found out that this amazing woman is an adjunct lecturer at Indiana University.  I will most definitely be staking her out at the farmers market and at campus events.  Wow, what a town I live in!

So Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who experienced a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain at 37.  As the stroke debilitated her left brain, she found enlightenment in her right brain.  Veeerrry eeinteresting.

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the 5th precept


Every morning before I begin meditation, I chant 5 of the 8 Buddhist Precepts we lay practitioners (urban monastics) often observe. I chant them in Pali and give myself a little time to reflect on whether I’m really honoring them in my life. Most I cruise through:
1) Not killing other living beings
2) Not taking what’s not given
3) Not harming others with sexual energy
4) Not using false or unwise speech

But then there’s #5.

Sura meraya majapammadattana veramani sikkhapadam samadhiyami

I refrain from alcohol and other intoxicants which cause heedlessness

 

I like beer. Especially good beer. And I really like tequila (and just found some exceptionally priced, high quality anejos and reposados at the liquor emporium nearby). And thankfully, after unraveling a lot of old difficult issues that had lain just beneath the surface, I no longer get (as) testy and punchy when I drink. I’ve become more used to a happy tipsy, and enjoy sharing a drink over dinner or at a local bar with Sweetheart and/or friends.

But that’s not actually where #5 gets me. I guess I have Thich Naht Han to blame (thank) for that. That Thich Nat is a smart guy. “Plugged in,” you might say, because he apparently put forth an expanded, modern meaning for the fifth precept on intoxicants that includes drugs and alcohol, sure, but also includes media. Read more

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Dharma Talks & Yoga Playlists: Installment 2

THE TALK
Tonight’s class theme comes from the movie Tron: Legacy.  Jeff Bridges plays a computer hacker trapped for two decades in an electronic world called The Grid.  When his grown son happens to find his way into the Grid, the movie then focuses on their attempt to escape back to the real world, accompanied by a third character named Quorra.

At one point, Quorra is telling another character that Bridges’ character has “been teaching me how to take myself out of the equation.”  Appropriate that Jeff Bridges is a yogi and meditator, by the way, and brings a ton of that to his character and the film.

But what does it mean to take ourselves out of the equation?  I see it as subtracting our own baggage, expectations, and timelines from a given problem or situation so we can actually see it for its constituent parts, what’s really there.  Maybe once we do that, we can see that the solution to a problem doesn’t necessarily run through us.  Maybe the solution can come about in spite of our actions.  Maybe once we remove our own expectations and past experiences, we can see that there isn’t even a problem to be solved.

Heavy stuff.  But, in essence, this is what we do every time we step on the mat.  If yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind and the cultivation of equanimity, then we are building the muscles that remove our internal chatter, countering our striving that says we have to reach up into that full bound Half Moon or we’re a bad yogi, seeing simply what is in front of us.

As we move into meditation and you set an intention for tonight’s practice, I invite you to set the intention of simply being with what is here, with what presents itself.  With a balance of proactive and receptive  effort, maybe we can really see new ways into a pose or clearly see our limit or what’s needed most tonight.

THE SEQUENCE
This was the class on which I was evaluated for my teacher training, so I basically stuck to the template.  It was well rounded with no particular asana focus, but I did bring the theme of removing ourselves from the equation in several poses in particular – Virabhadrasana (Warrior) 3, Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolved Half Moon), and Savasana (Corpse).

THE PLAYLIST
Unlike usual, I started the music during meditation.  The feel was generally space agey, which was fun for me anyway.  Listen here.
1. Events In Dense Fog (Brian Eno)
2. Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (Spiritualized)
3. Hanna’s Theme – Vocal Version (The Chemical Brothers)
4. Solar Sailer – Pretty Lights Remix (Daft Punk) [off the Tron soundtrack :)]
5. Lex (Ratatat)
6. Sun (Caribou)
7. Star Fire Power (Gardens & Villa)
8. Home (LCD Soundsystem)
9. My Girls (Animal Collective)
10. Reckoner (Radiohead)
11. Approaching Pavis Mons By Balloon (The Flaming Lips)
12. Beautiful People (The Books)
13. Black Hills (Gardens & Villa)
14. Unknown title (Helen Money & Krista Franklin)
15. Woods (Bon Iver)

And for post-class fun music:
16. Make’e Ailana (Dennis Pavao)
17. Tomorrow (The Cardigans) —> because I was leaving town the next day, literally

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Little 900

is an affectionate nickname my sweetheart gave me.

I have toyed with pseudonyms, pen names, and nommes de guerre in the past, but like this one best.  It may not be as romantic as some of the ones I’ve come up with in the past – Yuzina and Yemin, for example, traditional Burmese names – but its balance of diminutiveness and strength in numbers feels right.  I am timid – though I aim to be humble – in presenting my ideas, dreams, and memories in writing. But I hope for a robust and engaged discussion as a result.

I am writing under a pen name for several reasons:
1) I am going to write about very personal things.  I’m ok with some people knowing these things about me, but not every netizen in the world being able to confront me with my own truths at every turn. Similarly, I’m comfortable frolicking in a bikini in front of some people – and even baring it all with one person in particular – but I’ll usually opt for a fashionable cover-up when visible by the general public.

2) I am wary of encouraging pridefulness and seeking praise. This is a big thing with me, as I’ll get into in a later post. I would like people to read my blog, and comment a lot. But I know that to do so, I’ll have to promote it a bit.  I’m trying to assuage my own concerns about praise-seeking by promoting Little 900, and not myself/my self. We’ll see how it goes.

3) I am committed to a cultivation of anatta, a Buddhist principle of many definitions and descriptions.  For some, it is easily encapsulated in ‘non-self’.  For others, anatta is more about an ineffable interconnectedness and interdependence; therefore, there is no separate and permanent self like a soul or God. Writing and spending time in front of screens are activities that make me feel isolated and individuated. Playing outside, soaking up the air and sun, and being present to what is around me makes me feel interconnected – humming in tune with the solid, accepting ground of being. Again, because Little 900 will hopefully be less explicitly tied to my sense of self (atta or Atnam), I aim to be able to write and live present to the world at the same time.

A warning to my readers (right now, just myself): I have started and abandoned blogs before, and this – despite the months of touch-and-go thought that have gone into it – may turn out no different.

You are duly warned.  And I thank you for reading anyway.

With metta, Little 900