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Friday, January 01, 2010

Buddhist's Lament

New Years Day is typically a day of reflection and anticipation.  Since this blog is about looking back on history and projecting our future, this would seem like to perfect opportunity take apart some element of the day’s events in that context.  But, being the contrarian that I am, I choose to talk about “now.”

The Buddhists have a saying: “be here now.”  It speaks to the moment in which we live our lives – “this” moment.  Sometimes, I find myself realizing that it is only “now,” which I can truly control.  Even during the seemingly mundane tasks of life, small decisions are made that can have great impact.

For example, I was chopping an onion once and I was balancing it on the cutting board so that I could make nice round slices.  As I cut off more slices, it became more unstable, but I was in a hurry.  The onion finally slipped and I also sliced a chunk of my fingertip nearly off.  I taped it back on and it eventually healed with only minor permanent nerve damage.  It was a small, momentary decision, yet it has become a permanent part of my future.

One of the things that I love most about being a musician is within the context of the structure of the song being played; there are infinite variations of rhythm and harmonic structure.  Each moment is a decision.  Because of this, it forces me into a state of concentration in the moment that is not unlike Buddhist meditation (or any meditation for that matter).

Meditation is simply the act of focusing on “now.”  When you are sitting quietly with your eyes closed in a quiet place, thoughts can only take you in one of two places – the past or the future.  Reflection on an empty moment doesn’t require thought.  Westerners believe that a moment devoid of thought is a waste.  They are wrong.  Everything must have balance.  To have great pleasure, we must know great pain.  To be fully alive, we must know death.  So, it only stands to reason that to truly appreciate thought, we must know the absence of thought.  Yet, many westerners go through their whole lives never experience even two minutes of absolute mental silence. 

I know this because I meditate from time to time and I know that it takes a significant amount of practice to be able to vanquish all thought for even a full minute.  Buddhist monks and others trained in the practice of meditation can clear their minds for hours.  Imagine it.  I know is sounds like nothingness, but it is not.  It is an inward journey.  It takes you to a place you’ve never been.

If you could go to another universe where the laws of physics are completely different, would you consider that the adventure of a lifetime?  If so, then your chariot awaits – and it won’t cost you a dime.  Ironically, instead of being in the moment, most people spend their whole lives dwelling on the past and the future trying to find the things that are easily found “now.”  Love and joy!  Have a happy new year.


  1. and now, a thought from everyone's favorite mental philosopher:

    "The crows seemed to be calling his name, thought Caw."

  2. No way can the human brain attain nothingness. Not possible. One needs a flat EEG to achieve that state. I don't believe you have ever thought nothing. When I used transcendental meditation, I was given a mantra, as you know, and I was supposed to think of of that word, which I did, but that ain't nothing.

  3. I didn't say "nothingness." I said absence of thought. There's a difference. One can still have a sensory experience without thought, it just takes practice.