November 13, 2007

The Happiest Man In The World?

Posted in Christianity, EasternPhilosophy, Productivity, Rants, Religion, Work at 1:57 am by a11en

A very quick blog-post regarding a recent TED lecture I listened to (posted recently from 2004) on the training of our minds to focus on happiness… I’m supposed to be working on a journal article review, so I must make this short…

Matthieu_Ricard‘s TED lecture regarding happiness touched on something I have come across before (just found his Google lecture– will have to watch that also). During his talk, Ricard discussed how Anger and these types of emotions can be destroyed, by focusing on the actual emotion of anger, rather than the event of the anger which frustrates you. Surprisingly, a light-bulb went off above my head (I have it on my desk now- well, ok, maybe I’m joking… ). You see, this sounded very very much like the talk of a great man I truly admire- C.S.Lewis in his discussion of his search for Joy in Surprised By Joy. [note- this is not the complete focus of Lewis’ book, but it does play a role in his discussion about happiness and his pursuit of it.] You see, Lewis realized (as the great philosopher he was), that every time he was truly happy and went to observe what happiness meant, he all of a sudden was no longer happy. The conclusion that Lewis came to, was that Happiness itself cannot be studied, aside from the event of happiness which could be experienced. In otherwords, observing his emotions technically, meant that his motions ceased to be. And this very much ties in with Ricard’s discussion of Mind-Training (say through meditation). Basically, observation of the state of being Angry, turns your focus from Anger’s object, and upon the object of You and how you are experiencing anger in its pure form- your emotional response only… say the physical response of your body to your emotions, etc. A very interesting twist on a concept I had heard of before.

Frustration reared its ugly head for me in my work these past few weeks, and the action(s) of a supposed friend/mentor has me quite fuming. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to complain, and so I must move forward, not to let my emotions dictate my actions or my ability to act. In fact, a negative response to this likely won’t do any good at all. And so, this week, I think I’ll take a page out of Ricard’s book, and observe my physical and mental response technically in regards to my emotions of Anger, and see if I can’t make them more fleeting, as Ricard says… as birds flying across the sky, leaving no trace on my mind.

There are many things that Christians can learn from the mystics and philosophers of the east- just as Chesterton saw them, I also see them- they are philosophers and scientists, not solely religious focused practitioners. Buddhism and the like is a religion, and then again, it isn’t. Very much like a koan itself… it has no specific god, but sees all as god at the same time. What is much more interesting, is to look at how Buddhists (and Toaists) see Man’s position in the world, and how one copes with one’s existence, and the mystical explanaitions of such existence. Very interesting.

Oh, and as much as you can believe f-MRI (and I have my doubts sometimes), Ricard and his fellow Monks were completely off the charts in the studies [2] they participated in. So, meditation does change the brain…

Not only do we have to learn good habits in our work, etc, we must also learn good habits in our mind. Ricard’s closing statements about how much we focus on our exterior, good health, exercise, etc., and contrastingly, how little we spend on our interior, mental processes, health, and internal happiness, was very poignant.

Update- Wednesday; November 14, 2007- Reading more has been interesting. I wanted to add a few points.

• It’s clear that some of the Catholic Astheticists have a link of common experiences with monks of the East. Merton recognized this, and it led to a long discourse (which still exists to this day) between Tibetan Buddhism and Catholicism (here the Trappists). It’s also clear that there is a wariness occurring in the Catholic church about the amount of Buddhist practices which are entering into many churches and retreat centers etc. In fact before he became Pope, the new guy also was discussing this. It appears that the “grass is always greener” syndrome is happening here for many western Christians.

• I think there is a delineation that should be made between a mental practice of a methodology know to alter the mental state, bringing about this “mental training” that Ricard discusses and practicing religious aspects of a methodology that should likely raise some warning flags for Christians in the process. For example- the concept that all is the same and all is nothing… this is somewhat Nihilist and should raise some flags… while we may not know for sure, a Christian believes this is not correct. I.e., that there is a truth and a wrong in the world, and that there is a divine truth and a divine good. And that man is separate from this divine good etc. Much of this discussion will not jive with many aspects of Buddhism. But, this does not mean that a philosophy separate from a religious practice cannot have portions of truth in it for the Christian believer. As C.S. Lewis would say in regards to the earlier religions that had aspects similar to the death of Christ, etc.- it is not these earlier religions that show the fault in Christianity, in fact, it is the very fact that they harken to a truth that is Christian that upgirds Christianity. They share partial truths, namely because there is such a thing as the full truth. It shouldn’t surprise us if man every once in a while stumbles across a truth which we find also in our Christian teachings.

• I focus on the philosophy of the eastern thoughts, not on the religious aspects (unless I’m doing comparative religious readings), and find the majority of this all quite interesting. Those who are familiar with Sin should immediately recognize reflections of it in Tao “The Way”. C.S. Lewis did, and commented on it in his “The Abolition Of Man.” I.e., to live a sinless life, one needs to flow around obstacles in one’s path like a river around rocks… (that east-west image I just created should give you a sense of the richness of this type of discourse)

• So, I step forward here, deeply interested in meditation again since reading of the fMRI results. Anxiously awaiting the future publications of this work. And, I am now reading what I can about practices etc., to determine if I can mix meditation “mind-training” into my current spiritual life. BTW, I see some practices in the Eastern Christian sects that have this meditation history (Jesus prayer etc.), and so it is likely that there is a synergy here. Merton and the Dalai Llama certainly noticed it… it should be an interesting experience…

• ps- “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome actually works both ways… in my experience, a good portion of the Chinese students who arrive in this country are just itching to talk about Christianity with anyone who seems open to it. They have a real curiosity. So, it goes both ways. 🙂 They also will chat about ConfuTse and ChuangTse etc., if asked… which can be quite interesting as well. [ps- I love ChuangTse more than both ConfuTse and LaoTse. While LaoTse may have been the first, ChuangTse was the one who expressed it the best.]