Crystal Nights by Greg Egan

“The Phites who’d invented the boost had had one big advantage as they’d tinkered with each other’s brains: it had not been a purely theoretical exercise for them. They hadn’t gazed at anatomical diagrams and then reasoned their way to a better design. They had experienced the effects of thousands of small experimental changes, and the results had shaped their intuition for the process. Very little of that intuition had been spoken aloud, let alone written down and formalised. And the process of decoding those insights from a purely structural view of their brains was every bit as difficult as decoding the language itself.”

—Greg Egan, “Crystal Nights.”

Struck me as an interesting example of how lived experience cannot be reduced to language and abstraction.

Books I’d Like to Read in 2021

A short fiction where I pretend to you, dear reader, that I am still capable of reading more than a book a week.

  1. Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel M. Ingram
  2. Fool on the Hill by Mark Sargent
  3. The Omnibus Homo Sacer by Giorgio Agamben
  4. Cargill Falls by William Lychack [x]
  5. Black Imagination by Natasha Marin (Editor)
  6. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth by Marilyn Waring
  8. Deep Adaptation by Jem Bendell [x]
  9. The Carrying: Poems by Ada Limon [x]
  10. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen
  11. Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle [x]
  12. How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong
  13. Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions by Martin Gardner
  14. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology by Gregory Bateson
  15. Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues by Catharine A. MacKinnon
  16. War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires by Peter Turchin
  17. Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind by Alan Jacobs
  18. Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
  19. Take the Long Way Home: Memoirs of a Survivor by Susan Gordon Lydon
  20. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
  21. Ball Four by Jim Bouton
  22. The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men by Robert Jensen [x]
  23. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
  24. Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World by Olga Khazan
  25. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics by Christopher Lasch
  26. Modernist Cuisine at Home by Nathan Myhrvold
  27. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
  28. Another Birth by Forough Farrokhzad
  29. Darkness Spoken by Ingeborg Bachmann
  30. So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ
  31. Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt
  32. The Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
  33. Machines in the Head by Anna Kavan
  34. The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos by Rosario Castellanos
  35. Mad in Pursuit by Violette Leduc
  36. The Wedding by Dorothy West
  37. The Hebrew Bible by Robert Alter
  38. The Red Book: Liber Novus by C.G. Jung
  39. New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
  40. Heart of the Original by Steve Aylett
  41. On the Brink of Paradox by Augustin Rayo
  42. The Commonwealth series by Peter F. Hamilton
  43. Notes on the Synthesis of Form by Christopher W. Alexander
  44. Sandworm by Andy Greenberg
  45. Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis
  46. A Passion For Friends by Janice G. Raymond
  47. The Precipice by Toby Orb
  48. Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump
  49. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  50. Primeval & Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk
  51. Consuming the Romantic Utopia by Eva Illouz
  52. Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich

Your Cup is Full

“We found that if you really want a new idea to come into your mind, you need to deliberately force yourself to stop thinking about the old one,” said co-author Marie Banich, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU Boulder.

“Once we’re done using that information to answer an email or address some problem, we need to let it go so it doesn’t clog up our mental resources to do the next thing,” he said.

-University of Colorado at Boulder, “How can you declutter your mind? New study offers clues.” EurekaAlert. December 17, 2020.

Reminds me of the classic story of scholar Tokusan going to see Zen master Ryotan and how he kept pouring tea into his glass after it was full to illustrate how what we already know is sometimes an impediment to learning something new.

DharmaSeed

“Dharma Seed gathers, preserves, and freely shares recordings of teachers inspired by early Buddhism for the benefit of students, teachers, and dharma centers worldwide.

The talks and meditations available through the Dharma Seed website are largely, although not exclusively, teachings from the Western Insight Meditation tradition, as taught at centers like the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Gaia House and New York Insight.

A growing number of teachers, retreat centers and local meditation groups across the US and around the world make their teachings available here. Over 30,000 talks and guided meditations are currently publicly available. These range from talks given last night at Spirit Rock to talks offered over 30 years ago during the early days of IMS.

Dharma Seed’s origins can be traced back to 1983 in IMS’s basement when Bill Hamilton, then a work retreatant, began making some recordings from the meditation hall teachings available on cassette tapes. Much has changed since then – the number of teachers and centers that we support has grown exponentially and all of our materials are now available through our website.”

https://www.dharmaseed.org/

Why Meditate?

Note: The following is a summary and paraphrasing of Ayya Khema’s Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. Boston, Mass.: Wisdom Publications, 1987. It’s the best book on Buddhism I know of.

Meditation is not something extra. It is not a hobby to be done in our spare time. It is essential to our well-being. We are all sick and meditation is the medicine. Medicine is of no use if we don’t take it. Don’t just read the label, swallow the pill!

Everything is mind-made. Most lives are lived in dreams of the past and the future, good and evil, likes and dislikes, yes or no, mine and yours.

But, the mind can only do one thing at a time. If you are meditating, you cannot do anything else. The dream ends. Thinking stops. Awareness and calm sets in.

Calm is the means. Insight is the end. The means are essential and necessary but they must never be confused with the end. Without calm, we cannot have clarity and insight.

When there’s no one thinking, there’s no ego confirmation. Non cogito ergo non sum. I do not think, therefore I do not exist. If there is no one, how can there be any suffering?

Thinking is suffering no matter what we think. Learn to think what you want to think (or to not think at all) and when one learns that one need never be unhappy again.

Meditation is practicing non-reaction. In meditation, we experience a feeling. We learn to not react to that feeling and then to let go of it. The more skillful we become at not reacting, the quick and easier will be the results. But full attention must be on the use of the tool – not the result.

What is felt in the meditative experience, one knows. What one knows from experience, nobody can dispute. Intellectually, we can know that thoughts and feelings are phantasms. But, if we still react to them as if they are real, do we really know?

There is no substitute for experience. When we see that we don’t need to pay any attention to our thoughts, it becomes easier to drop them. When we see that we don’t have to react to feelings, it is much easier to stop reacting.

Going back to the breath again and again will lead us toward the attainment of calm. Thought is not an intruder trying to bother us. It’s a teacher trying to teach us. As thoughts arise, we can acknowledge them, label them and let them go. Just as we can see a bird, or a robin, recognize it and go back into a larger awareness experiencing being outside.

In the last analysis we are all our own teachers and our own pupils and that is how it should be. But we need to know what to look at in order to be taught by it.

In meditation we have the opportunity to get to know the mind – the thinking that’s going on – and learn not to get involved with it. Most thoughts the mind produces are much better experienced, acknowledged, and dropped.

The Story of Khantivadin, The Teacher of Patience

Note: khanti = patience, and vadin = teacher

The king of Kausala was a very rich king… [with] five hundred wives. One day the king decided he we wanted to go on a picnic and he let his wives know this. The cooks were alerted to prepare the food, the servants to get the elephants ready with seats and decorations and the soldiers to get ready in their best uniforms.

The next morning the whole palace, the royal servants and the royal wives, set out. They came to the forest and found a beautiful meadow for their picnic. The king ate and drank too much. Immediately after lunch he fell asleep and the wives said to each other, ‘Now’s our chance. We don’t often get to go out of the palace. Let’s look around.’ They all trooped off and looked at the butterflies, the greenery and the trees and enjoyed the beauty of the forest.

Very soon they came to a little bark hut in front of which sat a very famous old sage whom they recognized as Khantivadin. All the women sat down in front of him, paid their respects and asked him to preach a sermon to them. He very willingly obliged and spoke about moral conduct, loving-kindness, and generosity.

Meanwhile the king woke up and their wasn’t a single wife to be seen anywhere. He was furious. He called the soldiers and said ‘Go! Get my wives back immediately.’ They obediently ran off into the forest and found the wives sitting in front of Khandivadin’s hut listening to a sermon.’ But the king was still under the influence of all that food and drink and couldn’t listen to reason. He told the soldiers to chase all the wives back to the meadow and then tie Khantivadin to the nearest tree. Since they were in the employ of the king, they could not do otherwise. They chased all the wives back to the meadow and tied up Khantivadin.

Then the king took a huge knife, ran up to Khantivadin in a great rage and said, ‘You old scoundrel, you. You’ve been trying to take my wives away from me.’ And he cut off one foot and said, ‘And where is your patience now?’ Khantivadin replied, ‘Not in my foot, your Majesty.” Then the king proceeded to cut the old sage to pieces while repeating the same question and each time getting the same answer, which increased his fury.

When Khantivadin was on the point of dying, the soldiers who had witnessed the spectacle, said to Khantivadin, ‘Sir, please do not curse the whole kingdom. Just curse the king.’ And Khantivadin said, “I do not curse anyone. May the king live long and happily.’ And then he died. The story says that the earth then swallowed up the king.

The next day the Buddha was informed of this happening whereupon he said, ‘Who does not act in this way has not understood my teaching.’

-Ayya Khema, “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.” London: Wisdom Publications, 1987. pgs. 66-68.

There is No Preparation for the Present Moment

“Generally, we tend to prepare too much. We say, ‘Once I make a lot of money, then I will go somewhere to study and meditate and become a priest,” or whatever it is we would like to become. But we never do it on the spot. We always speak in terms of, ‘Once I do something, then …” We always plan too much. We want to change our lives rather than use our lives, the present moment as part of the practice, and this hesitation on our part creates a lot of setbacks in our spiritual practice. Most of us have romantic ideas–‘I’m bad now but one day, when I change, I’ll be good.”

-Chogyam Trungpa, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.” Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, 1987. Pg. 237.

The Knowledge Ornament

“Knowledge must be burned, hammered and beaten like pure gold. Then one can wear it like an ornament.”

—Tibetian scripture referenced in Chögyam Trungpa, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.” Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1973. Pg. 17.

Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings

“Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.”

-Order of Interbeing, “Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.” orderofinterbeing.org. April 22, 2012.

Worth reading the entire list on a regular basis.