Excerpt for Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

MIND SCIENCE

by Charles T. Tart, Ph.D.

Published by Fearless Books at Smashwords

© 2017 by Charles T. Tart, PhD.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgements

Dedication

Introduction

The Tucson III Workshop

Ch 1 ▪ Science and Meditation are Compatible

Ch 2 ▪ Concentrative Meditation

Ch 3Practice: Concentrative Meditation

Ch 4 ▪ Opening Up Meditation, Vipassana

Ch 5 ▪ Practice: Vipassana

Ch 6 ▪ Links, Expansions, Concepts

Ch 7 ▪ Self-Observation, Self-Remembering in Everyday Life

Ch 8Practice: Self-Remembering

Ch 9 ▪ Toward A Science of Consciousness

Ch 10Practice: Vipassana to Self-Remembering

Ch 11 ▪ Taking the Practices into Life

Appendix 1: Sources of Further Information and Training

Appendix 2: The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences

Appendix 3: References


Acknowledgements

This book would not have been possible without assistance from many people. Special thanks goes to my wife Judy for her support in so many ways and her detailed editorial help, as well as being a vital teacher to me.

Many people have acted as teachers and exemplars to me and so made this book, and what understanding I have, possible. As I do not know how to exactly weigh each teacher's contribution to this book, I will thank the more prominent ones here (under the socially acceptable convention of alphabetical order): James Baraz; Lama Anagarika Govinda; Arthur Hastings; Ernest Hilgard; Henry Korman; Jack Kornfield; Harold McCurdy; Claudio Naranjo; Jacob Needleman; Sogyal Rinpoche; Kathleen Riordan Speeth; Tarthang Tulku; Frances Vaughan; Roger Walsh; and Shinzen Young. I want to also thank my various Aikido teachers, who patiently and repeatedly forced me to learn the vital importance of body knowledge and body intelligence, usually by throwing me, lovingly but forcefully, across the dojo, until I got some understanding. Robert Frager inspired my wife and me to begin Aikido, and Alan Grow, Bruce Klickstein, Steve Sasaki and Pietro Maida trained us well.


Dedication

This book is dedicated to all those who suspect an important part of the answers to the questions and problems of life will come from becoming better acquainted with our internal, psychological functioning and by waking up from the dreamlike fantasies that blind us from having and practicing insight and compassion.


Introduction:
Why is a Scientist Writing a Book on Meditation and Mindfulness?


As we enter the twenty-first century, too many people suffer. Much of this suffering is from factors way beyond my ability to affect, but a good deal of it is needless suffering that I can do a little about, suffering that stems from a widespread conflict between science and religion.

On the one hand, we have a science that apparently long ago showed that all religion and spirituality is superstitious and pathological nonsense left over from more primitive times, best thrown out as quickly and thoroughly as possible. On the other hand, we have both traditional religions and "New Age" spiritual movements appealing to something deep within us, but operating in a way often dissociated from scientific knowledge or with thin and dubious rationalizations on the order of "quantum physics is very mysterious, maybe religion is Okay after all?" In between are we real human beings who need (psychologically as well as spiritually) a view of reality and our place in it that is much bigger and more meaningful than the apparently scientific, life-as-meaningless-biological-accident view associated with contemporary science, but who can't simple turn their backs on the great knowledge we've gained through science or deny its power.

Science gives us power, power to improve the world or destroy it, but gives us no moral guidance on using that power. Spirituality can give us compassion, morality and connectedness, but nineteenth and twentieth century science seems to have undermined spirituality, leaving us with increasing power but no clear morality. We cannot survive in this new millennium if this trend goes on.

I have struggled between these poles of conflict for many years and now reached a stage where I am comfortable with, indeed proud of, calling myself both a rigorous, no-nonsense scientist on the one hand and a spiritual seeker on the other.

The kind of resolution I've reached resulted in 1998 with my teaching a workshop on how to practice meditation and mindfulness, as foundational keys to, among other things, direct psychological and, hopefully, spiritual experience about the mind instead of beliefs and dogmas about our nature. This workshop was for a group composed primarily of scholars and scientists at the University of Arizona's third "Toward a Science of Consciousness" meeting in Tucson. I believe the way I was able to successfully teach basic meditation and mindfulness practices for this audience is useful for all of us who've grown up in a culture that is dominated by science (and distorted ideas about what science is), whether we personally make our living as "scientists" or not. What we think of as scientific truths about the world have major effects on who and what we think we are and what is possible and impossible for us. This book is based on that workshop, deliberately keeping the informal style of a workshop but with the considerable improvement in phrasing that comes about with the wisdom of hindsight. My aim is to help others resolve the science versus spirituality conflict in at least some small way, so this new century can bring these two major forces together, not force them further apart.

This book is focused on giving the modern, Western reader, who is at least partially oriented toward scientific ways of thinking about things — that is, pretty much all of us — enough of a taste of basic methods of formal meditation practice and enhanced mindfulness in daily life to see what they are like and their advantages. There are suggestions for finding more advanced instruction and/or getting into the research literature, but this is not a scholarly book about meditation, nor a comprehensive review of the scientific research that has been done on it.

Nor is this a book about religion — but Western religion has affected all of us strongly, whether we consciously accept it or reject it, so let's talk more about religion.

Like many of us, I was raised with strong Western religious beliefs — Missouri Synod Lutheran in my case — and, as a child, I basically believed what I was taught. The universe was created by God and existed for His Reasons. Our job (a tough, if not impossible one!) was to avoid sin and be good — or else! But at least life made a kind of sense and the rules were clear.

By the time I was a teenager, reading a lot and thinking for myself, problems arose with this simple faith. I wanted to be "good," but interpretation of exactly what was good and bad got quite difficult at times, and the behavior of many adults I knew, who professed to be religious, often seemed inconsistent and hypocritical.

I also became more and more fascinated by science, reading voraciously, and the conflict between science and religion became very real for me — as happens for so many of us in modern Western culture. While some scientists of the past saw their work as revealing the glories of God ever more deeply, most scientists today apparently have no use for God or Divine Plans in a scientific world view, and many have claimed and continue to claim that all of religion is primitive, superstitious nonsense that we should leave behind, indeed that religions have vastly increased craziness and suffering in the world. As I now could recognize many examples of pathology in common religious doctrines, practices and ideas, this was a powerful argument.

And yet… was religion totally nonsense? Or was there some core of valuable truth hidden down among doctrines, theologies, rituals and customs? I struggled a lot with these kinds of questions in my teenage years.

Many of my contemporaries went through similar struggles, and I suspect many of you have also. As an adult, with the wisdom of hindsight, I was able to see the most common kinds of apparent resolutions people found. One common pattern was for people to become materialists and thus reject religion entirely, as indeed being nothing but total nonsense. This pattern of resolution varied from simple agnosticism at the one extreme to a strong denial of God's existence in those who became passionate, atheistic materialists. In some of my friends this kind of passion was a reactive anger to disappointment in practicing their childhood religion, a kind of "If God won't answer my prayers (the way I want them answered) I won't believe in him!" response, later rationalized as a logical decision to reject religion for lack of evidence.

Another common pattern was one that, as a psychologist, I can retrospectively call mild dissociation or compartmentalization. Religion was put into a mental compartment that was only opened for a few hours on Saturday or Sunday, and that compartment was kept shut the rest of the week so as to not interfere with materialistic, secular life.

Sound familiar?

I was lucky to find a third way which, again with the wisdom of hindsight, I think is a healthier one that does not involve totally ignoring religion nor reactive anger nor the fragmentation of wholeness that's involved in any kind of dissociative coping strategy. In my extensive reading in many fields of science, in religion, metaphysics, psychology, philosophy and parapsychology, I slowly learned three crucial distinctions, which might be expressed as follows:

Science  Scientism

Spirituality  Religion

Belief  Direct Experience

Science  Scientism

With respect to science, I discovered that because it's such a valued activity with high social prestige, practically everybody wants to be considered scientific. So we have many outspoken people denying or attacking religion who claim that they are being scientific, but these claims often mask simple human beliefs, arrogance and prejudice that cause people to take quite unscientific positions — something we will occasionally look at in detail in this book. When current scientific theories about the physical world that work well (even if not perfectly) undergo a psychological shift to The Truth, are held with arrogance, and are used as a rationale to attack facts and beliefs that don't correspond with them, we effectively have a dogmatic religion made of current scientific theories, scientism. This distinction between science and scientism, as sociologists took to calling it back in the 40's (see, e.g., (Bannister 1987) (Schoek and Wiggins 1960) (Wellmuth 1944)), is very important.


Spirituality  Religion

With respect to religion, I discovered that there are what we might call primary spiritual experiences, which are the mainsprings powering religion. Religion is a social development that usually started with important, alive, personal spiritual experiences by the founders of the religion. But, too often, the ideas and injunctions supposedly rooted in those experiences have gotten so far from the original spiritual experiences, and gotten so altered by ordinary social and personal needs, as to become a very distorted and pathological system indeed. It's a long way, for example, from Jesus' injunction to love one another to the all-too-common "Kill the heathens!" attitude that has too often manifested in our culture.

These two discoveries, that science is not the same as scientism and that spirituality is not the same as religion, are hardly unique to me, of course, but since my struggle was affecting me, the personal understanding of these was important to me. Because my struggle between science and religion was similar to that of so many of us today, these distinctions are important to us all.

There is a genuine scientific enterprise, carried out in accordance with the goals and principles of what I like to call essential science, that is discussed in this book, leading to working hypotheses, tentative conclusions, always subject to further test against data, including the data of experience. There is genuine spiritual inquiry which, carried out with humility, a quality usually deemed essential to spiritual development, also leads to working hypotheses, tentative conclusions, always subject to further test against data, including the data of experience. I find these two activities compatible in principle, and, as I mentioned above, can say that I'm comfortable calling myself both a rigorous scientist and a spiritual seeker.

Then there is the "religion" of scientism versus traditional religion, which will always have many conflicts with each other, conflicts often motivated on both sides by fear and anger, insecurity and reaction to childhood disappointments. In both cases what should be tentative working hypotheses/beliefs, the best we can do for the time being but subject, with humility, to further test, become Truths which are defended against perceived Heresy. When people are psychologically and illogically emotionally attached to their beliefs, they will always be threatened by others who don't share them or question them.


Belief  Direct Experience

Now, why am I saying so much about religion, spirituality and science in a book that focuses on meditation and mindfulness? This brings us to the third distinction I slowly learned, that belief is not the same as direct experience. Our Western religions are generally quite authoritarian. "This is the Truth! Believe it and live by the Rules, or go to Hell! If you doubt, if you question, that's a sin!" Quite aside from all the nasty psychological consequences this attitude brings about when it's forced on children or adults, it's completely incompatible with the basic scientific attitude. This scientific attitude assumes we're pretty ignorant about the nature of reality, but that we can find out more and more about all of reality through disciplined investigation. It's an attitude that wants to find out.

Meditation and mindfulness practices, our focus in this book, are not doctrines or religious "truths," except in the very minor sense that it's believed that becoming more mindful will lead to better outcomes in life than being insensitive and ignorant. I think that's an essential working belief if we are to move on from where we are: after all, if we believe mindfulness won't help us we won't try it and, sure enough, it won't help us — which doesn't tell us anything. Meditation and mindfulness practices are methods for discovering fundamental truths about yourself and about reality for yourself. Methods for getting more direct knowledge, data, instead of being satisfied with beliefs and theories given you by authorities. Methods that you have to practice and see what happens, not beliefs to hold or reject.

Although there have been Western meditation and mindfulness methods, as rather esoteric parts of Judaism and Christianity, we had pretty much lost meditation and mindfulness practices as a culture until the infusion of workable methods from Eastern cultures, starting in the 60's and continuing through today. This is not to say, of course, that Easterners can't be as stuck and blinded in religious beliefs as we can. I have been a student (not the best student, by any means, but a pretty serious one) of Eastern spiritual meditation and mindfulness methods for several decades. While I still primarily see myself as a scientist, and certainly not an accomplished meditator or a "mystic," I have learned enough to be able to teach the basic methods in ways that work for modern Westerners, especially the scientifically trained and inclined. And, given the pervasiveness of science throughout modern, global culture, we are all scientifically inclined, whether we consciously know it or not. So this book is intended to be helpful to everyone, not just those who are socially identified as scientists.

If you are personally curious about yourself, the world, life, if you would like to see us develop a better scientific understanding of the mind, of consciousness, then I think you will find this book not only intellectually stimulating, but practically useful. Put aside, for now, the religious beliefs that may have been forced on you as a child, that you may still actively hold or react against, or may hold in that special Sabbath compartment. Put aside, for now, the scientistic and materialistic doctrines that automatically deny any reality to your spiritual side, whatever that may be. Try collecting your own data by learning and practicing the basic meditation and mindfulness practices presented here, and see for yourself what it's all about.

As mentioned above, this book is the outcome of a pre-conference workshop on meditation and mindfulness practice that I gave in April of 1998 at the University of Arizona's third Toward A Science of Consciousness conference. Giving this workshop was an interesting experiment for me. My students were almost exclusively working scientists, or people with a strong enough interest in the scientific study of consciousness to travel to Arizona and pay to attend a five day conference on scientific, scholarly and philosophical attempts to understand consciousness.

I have something of an ironic sense of humor, and I originally thought of calling the workshop "Meditation and Mindfulness for the Scientifically Handicapped," as I am very aware from my own experience and work with others that science can so easily turn into the corrosive, unhealthy pseudo-skepticism of scientism. Scientists may have an especially hard time getting beyond these habits. As I reflected, though, and with good advice from my wife Judy, I realized this was a poor, if humorous, title. Perhaps a compromise, "Meditation and Mindfulness for the Scientifically Talented/Handicapped?" After all, the training in disciplined thinking and action, and the innate curiosity that draws most scientists to such a profession in the first place, are definite advantages. I ended up with "Observing the Mind: Basic Training in Skilled Means," which was perfect for Tucson III, as many people studying the mind are beginning to recognize that getting a really scientific understanding is not a simple matter of better data than just anyone noticing what goes on in their own mind and thinking they have observed the Real Phenomena of General Mind. It will indeed require more skillful ways of observing the mind than we ordinarily have, and "skillful means" is a classical description of meditation practices.

The workshop was a great success, both from my view as the teacher and from the reports of the 40-some students. The scientifically inclined — practically all of us Westerners — do indeed have talents for this kind of learning, as well as blocks. I have kept the informal workshop style in this book, as so many people prefer that, but have added clarifications and information on resources.

Don't be discouraged if initially learning meditation and mindfulness in life is hard for you. It's easy for some people, but it was especially hard for me, with an overly active, overly skeptical mind, yet I eventually learned enough that meditation and mindfulness are some of the most valued parts of my life. If you learn these basic meditation and mindfulness techniques, perhaps you'll become a better scientist. Perhaps you'll become a better person. Perhaps you'll have some spiritual experiences — perhaps you won't. Perhaps you'll just become more practical, intelligent and sensitive through a clearer perception of what actually goes on in your own mind and in the world. That's mainly what's happened to me, but that's me, not you. And perhaps....who knows what you might learn as you become a more skilled observer of your own mind and self?

But you won't know unless you give it a good try! Modern science arose as a reaction to the authoritarian attitudes of the Church, which said that if you wanted to know Truth, just read the accepted Scriptures, believe what the approved authorities said. Science claimed the right to go out and actually look at data! The authorities said that the heavier a body was, the faster it fell. Science went out and looked at actual falling bodies and discovered that, once you ruled out air friction in light objects, all bodies fell at the same rate.

We have a lot of opinions, received truths about the mind from authority figures, many of them conditioned into us when we were children but still operating today. The skilled means of meditation and mindfulness in life give us a chance to find out what's really there for ourselves, and quite "ordinary" people can go a long way — if they learn and try.

As Henry Ford is supposed to have said, "Those who think they can and those who think they can't are both right."


RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS



The Tucson III Workshop

Good morning!

This is the workshop on meditation and awareness for the scientifically inclined. Here's the "official" description of what we're about today:


The Consciousness Studies Program at the University of Arizona

Presents

Tucson III: Toward A Science of Consciousness 1998

Pre-Conference Workshop

On

Observing the Mind: Basic Training in Skilled Means

With

Dr. Charles Tart

In the last century, psychologists tried to develop a science of the mind using introspective data and failed. A major reason for this failure is that the ordinary mind has little skill at observing itself. The "normal" state of consensus consciousness is like a virtual reality, generating apparently real experiences based on cultural conditioning and often distorting perception to support these scenarios. This workshop will introduce participants to three basic techniques for calming the mind (concentrative meditation), developing deeper understanding of the mind (insight meditation), and becoming able to observe deeper mental processes under ordinary life conditions (Gurdjieffian self-remembering). The emphasis is on learning actual skills. These skills can make us better scientists, improve our ability to obtain actual data about consciousness, and apply to personal efforts such as stress reduction, and clearer reality contact. Prior reading of Tart's books Waking Up and Living the Mindful Life would be helpful, but is not required.


So if you’re in the wrong workshop, you're not very mindful and you’ve flunked this course already, without even having had to try anything!

Just kidding! I know that I tripped over the rug coming up onto this platform a minute ago, so everybody who saw that has good reason not to acquire any delusions about how aware I actually am.

Mindfulness is wonderful stuff to think about. I can recall riding in my car pool up to UC Davis once. I had some wonderful ideas about the nature of mindfulness, made some notes on my laptop and, as I got out of the van, I was telling some people about these wonderful insights into mindfulness I'd had. And I tripped over one of the concrete barriers in the parking lot. Since I wasn’t paying attention to what I was actually doing!

That’s a funny anecdote, but it presents one of the most important things that I’ll have to keep coming back to over and over and over again. Thoughts about being more mindful are not the same as actually being more mindful!

Now due to the nature of our society today, I imagine — either sometimes because of personal involvement or to be supportive to a friend — everybody here has been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or knows about AA meetings. So I thought I would start this workshop by introducing myself in AA style.

Hi! My name is Charley and thoughts are my drug of abuse. Thoughts get me high! I love them and I can’t get enough of them! Some kinds of thoughts are better than others, like abstract concepts, and especially theories! Oh boy, I can really get high on theories!

We very much live in a world of thought, which is good in a lot of ways — except that we’re really carried away by thoughts too much of the time. One of the consequences of this being carried away is that it impairs our reality contact. We think we’re in touch with what’s going around us and with ourselves, but much of the time when we think that, we’re actually significantly lost in concepts and beliefs, in hopes and fears about what’s going on, concepts and beliefs and hopes and fears about both outside events and inside events. As a consequence, we generate consequences, what Easterners would call karma, or to put it in more straightforward terms, we do stupid things: if you don’t really know what’s going on around you, the actions you take, based on distorted conceptions, based on living in your head instead of in reality, lead to trouble.

I’ve worded the description of today’s workshop differently than I usually do. I occasionally lead workshops on meditation, or on increased awareness in everyday life, and the people who come are primarily people who are interested in some kind of spiritual development, or in some kind of psychological self-improvement. That may be true today but the official "Toward A Science of Consciousness — Tucson III" description we’re here under is that we’re people interested in the scholarly and scientific study of consciousness, so we’re all scientists and scholars. An implication that we’re a “higher” class of people than just ordinary folks. Yes?

(Affirmative and amused responses from workshop participants)

Okay, that’s what I wanted to hear. Now I’m going to work within that “fiction,” partially because it’s true, and also because, as a result of my own work over the years, I’ve come to see that being both a good scientist and being someone interested in spiritual psychological growth are quite compatible. There is not an inherent conflict between the two as many people seem to think. Indeed they can be synergistic — and that’s the basis I’m going to work from today.

I’m going to give you some background first — the "why to" — and then we’re going to spend a good deal of our time together practicing various kinds of techniques, the "how to." There will be a lot of emphasis on techniques, because I don’t want to give you just some more “high proof ideas” for you to get intellectually drunk on. I want to give you some actual practices you can take home with you, work with to develop your own mindfulness abilities, and begin to get a little direct knowledge of what is being talked about when we talk about mindfulness.


RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS



Chapter 1: Science and Meditation are Compatible

Essential Science versus Scientism:

The background framework I want to remind you about is what I call essential science, which I will end up distinguishing from what most people mistakenly think science is, which tends to be scientism.

Essential science is basically a four-stage process. It starts out with curiosity about the world, about yourself, about any particular subject you’re interested in, combined with a certain amount of humility. It’s curiosity plus the fact that you realize there are a lot of things you don’t know that you’d like to know.

If you think you know everything about the area you’re interested in, then you’re not into investigating anything. You may be into trying to convince other people of the rightness of your position, to cram your “truth” down reluctant throats, or something like that, and while it may look externally like what many people think is science, it’s not real science. So essential science starts out with curiosity and humility.

Getting the Data:

Given that recognition and the motivation to learn, the first and most important step in the process of essential science is getting the data. Go out there and observe what actually goes on. If it’s an area in the “external world,” outside immediate “internal” experience, observe it. If you’re interested in some aspect of botany, for example, don’t just think about it, go out and look at the plants. If you’re interested in the way your mind works, instead of just thinking about it, try to somehow develop a way to observe how your mind actually works.

In all of these cases, because you have a certain amount of humility, you go out and get the data but you also realize, “I’m probably not the world’s best observer. It may be I don’t look at things very carefully. I might even be biased about some things.” This must be a personal understanding, not just a concept. My wife, for example, tells me I’m a terrible observer. She is absolutely amazed at how I can get by in science when I can’t find things in the house when she says they are right in front of me. Okay, but I don’t claim to be a good observer in all areas of life! So you have or develop some understanding that you’re not the world’s best observer: how can you improve your ability to get better data, to see what’s really going on?

In the physical sciences, this question is usually answered by working to invent instruments for seeing things more clearly. So you invent a magnifying glass, for example, and suddenly you can see fine aspects of the structure of plants which you couldn’t have seen with your naked eye. For a psychological parallel let’s say you're interested in the psychology of aggression when people are in bars. After trying to make observations for a while, you realize that sometimes things happen too fast and/or complexly for you to observe what’s going on very clearly, so maybe you have to set up and train a team of observers, each of whom is only looking at one aspect of the action. Then each one can observe that one part much more clearly without getting distracted by the rest of the action. You put these various observations from your “instrument” together and you can learn something.

If you’re interested in the psychology of your own mind, maybe you can develop some kind of instrument that gives you clearer access to the data of your own mind. That’s a major part of our work together today.

The main techniques I’m going to teach you today, which we will call (a) concentrative meditation, (b) insight/opening up/vipassana meditation, and (c) self-remembering/self-observation in everyday life, are three major techniques to enable you to get a clearer idea of what’s going on in your own mind.

Theorizing:

Okay, you find ways of getting the data, you try to see as much as possible about whatever part of the world you’re interested in, take good notes on it rather than depending on your memory, somehow systematize what you've seen, and you’ve got data. That’s the most important part of the essential aspect of science, but science doesn’t stop there because, by and large, we don’t care that much about what the data is. We want to know what the data means. Why does this plant grow in this particular fashion, not the way its neighboring plants grow? Why do I get agitated in certain kinds of situations and my neighbor hardly even notices them, she stays so calm? Why does my mind go off in this kind of emotional loop when other people’s minds don’t seem react in the same way to the same situation?

So the second step in essential science is to theorize, to try to figure out the underlying reasons the data turns out the way it does, the causes behind the phenomena. The basic rule is to try to theorize logically. (Or to express the theory logically in its final form, no matter what mental processes got you there.) It turns out there are lots of different logics, of course, but if you’re going to pick a logic (differential calculus, for example) you use it consistently, follow its rules, and so you theorize logically about your data. You do that until the moment of “Aha!” comes, the moment when you say “Aha! That’s why things are that way!”

The experience of insight and discovery is a wonderful moment in life! It’s one of the most satisfying things in existence when you figure out why things happen the way they do. That’s also why I’m a thoughtaholic. I love that moment of insight!

Now both essential science and real psychological and spiritual growth add a vital discipline requirement at this point. They both have a recognition of what I like to call the universal principle of rationalization. In retrospect, you can take any set in the world of observations, of facts, of experiences and come up with some idea that seems to plausibly fit them together, even if they are not connected in reality. We are all world class rationalizers. We can always connect things in some way that seems plausible. And that’s very satisfying, but the discipline is to recognize that your wonderful theory, which may be mathematical, elegant, and logical, which may incorporate all the currently popular buzzwords — “Oh I observed that data because of quantum fluctuations in the chaotic tensor fields of the morphogenetic resonance vectors.”- may not be right. It may have all the things that make it a socially acceptable, really hot sounding theory, but that is not sufficient. It could be (as you learn in retrospect) a rationalization; I emphasize again, you can always come up with some intellectual framework that makes apparent sense of something.

Testing, Testing, Testing:

Constantly remembering that theory is always secondary to, always to be judged by data, is a vital discipline in science and should be a vital discipline in spiritual and psychological growth — but often it is not, in both areas. So when confronted by a wonderful set of ideas, a wonderful theory, you say, “Okay, here’s my great sounding theory, here’s my logic that puts everything together. Fine! Continue to work with logic and make predictions about things I haven’t observed. Then go out back into where I gather my experience, my data, and test to see if the predictions come true.”

For example, I postulate a universal theory of gravitation whereby every material object will be drawn toward any other object, and I make a prediction that when I let go of this particular cassette tape box, which I’ve never dropped before, it will fall. (CTT drops tape box, it falls.) Ah, once again my theory works!

I’ve been waiting for the day this example fails! That’s going to be quite exciting, but so far that old theory of universal gravitation has been very reliable.

We have some theories that work very well. They predict things in a lot of situations. This example was a specific, new prediction. Nobody’s ever dropped this particular tape box in this particular room. On the other hand, it’s pretty trivial, we’re so used to that kind of thing working. But this is the discipline that is essential in science. It says no matter how satisfied you are with your theory, no matter how much you feel you know the Truth, no matter how elegant it is, you’ve got to make predictions about new things you haven’t observed yet and go out and test them. See if it works. If it does predict correctly, good, you’ll feel very satisfied. If it doesn’t work, your theory is in trouble. It doesn’t matter how obviously true it is, if your theory says “If A, then B,” and you set up A and B doesn’t happen, your theory’s in trouble.

Now maybe sometimes a minor modification of the theory will do the trick, but maybe sometimes no modification of the theory, no working within that framework of belief and logic will do anything to reconcile prediction and observation, and you’ve got to come up with a whole new theory. It's back to the basic data, to come up with some whole new ways of thinking about them.

The Social Dimension of Science: Consensual Validation:

As I’ve described the process of science so far, it can be done by a solitary individual. I’ve said this basic observation-theory-prediction/testing cycle should happen within the spiritual disciplines and the psychological growth disciplines too, as well as in essential science, but its not clear that it always does. Again that deep intellectual and emotional satisfaction of “Ah! I’ve figured it all out!” is so satisfying it can stop further mental activity, whether that figuring it out has been some kind of reasoning process applied to the data of the external world or of your own experience, or whether it's a result of some mystical experience, some altered state experience, where the light has suddenly struck and now you know that you understand everything. The fact that we’re human, whether we’re functioning as a scientist or non-scientist, means we really do tend to stop at that point of satisfying “understanding.”

Then, of course, we get emotionally attached to our wonderful insight. We don't want it to be wrong or trivial, and so we may end up constricting our life so we don’t run into any situations where our theory might not pass the test of making correct predictions. We fall in love with our theories. So, for example, let’s say you have a “mystical experience” and know, deep in your heart, that, say, Love is the only real force in the universe. Now you walk up to a stranger on the street and enthusiastically say, “Love is everything.!" She slaps your face and walks away. Well, at the very least, the theory needs some modifications, Okay, love may be important but there are some adjustments needed, some other factors that need to be brought in. And maybe the theory is wrong no matter how appealing or "obviously" true it is.

In spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, the problem with our falling in love with our theories would be referred to by the technical term attachment. You get attached to a particular concept, a particular set of beliefs, a particular emotional experience — and, from the perspective of the psychology of Buddhism, all attachment leads to trouble. It doesn’t matter if it's attachment to a wonderful idea versus a sickening idea, attachment leads to trouble.

Okay, so science as I’ve described it, spiritual growth as I’ve described it, can be done on the individual level. This is what one person can do and it’s done as a continual, cyclical process. You start out really ignorant but curious, you make some observations, you come up with some ideas that make some sense of the observations, you test them. Some of the predictions work, some of them don’t, so then you go back to the data. Then you come up with a better theory that makes more correct predictions, etc. As time goes on you gradually make better and better observations of whatever it is you’re interested in and you come up with better and better ideas/theories to put it together. This is one-person science or one-person growth.

The problem with this is that each one of us is undoubtedly strangely and uniquely flawed or biased in ways that are almost impossible for us to see ourselves. To compensate, science becomes a social enterprise and spiritual growth may become a social enterprise. You add an essential fourth step to these three other steps of data-theory-prediction, namely the step of full communication with your peers. We can define your “peers” as being people you think know something about your area of interest, people whose opinions you have respect for.

So when you observe things, you tell other people, your peers, exactly what you observed. They can then go out and take a look. They might then say, “I went out and did that experiment or went to that place or did that meditation technique and I didn’t notice that thing you reported to me at all.” Hmm! Well, maybe there is something else you need to specify in order for others to be able to observe what you reported. Or maybe your or others' observations were flawed; there was some kind of shortcoming or bias.

Or someone else might say, “I observed those things you reported as data with my new super-duper instruments, and I can give you a more precise report of exactly what it was you observed.” So by adding the communication process to observation, other people expand your own observations, your own experiences, and act as a brake on possible biases you may have. The same thing can happen when you do your theorizing, when you explain the logic of your theory to other people. Someone else may then say, “Well that was pretty good at first, but then in this equation you said 2 + 2 = 3. Since you said you were using the logic of ordinary arithmetic, that does not compute.” So other people may catch your errors in the logic of your theory, and/or they may say, “Ah! Very good. Now I can add a chaos theory perspective to this particular thing and it explains more.” Your theory now has a whole new dimension added to it.

For spiritual growth, we also come up with theories and understandings based on our experiences/observations, so we can have the same social dimension with the requirement to go out and test your predictions that are based on your understanding. Other people can test your theory’s implications/predictions in different, more extensive ways than you can, other people can communicate back to you and come up with other confirmations you might not have thought about. So you get a decided social advantage in that your individual abilities are both multiplied and checked by the abilities of many.

So science and spiritual growth become a social process. Instead of just you alone doing your best, but perhaps being seriously blocked by biases and distortions you don’t even know you have, other people try it in a variety of ways and that helps compensate for what your particular shortcomings might be. In the case of spiritual growth, for instance, you may learn some meditation technique, practice it for a while and have some wonderful experiences. Lets take a classical teaching story from Zen Buddhism.

A student had been practicing for several years with a meditation technique of single-minded concentration on the breath. While practicing one day, he was suddenly transported to the heaven realms! Gods and goddesses appeared and bowed down to him, flowers rained from the air and sweet scents wafted by, and he knew he was Blessed and Chosen! After he came out of it, he ran up to the Zen master and breathlessly told the Zen master about it! As he was waxing on rhapsodically, though, the Zen master interrupted and said, “Excuse me, were you aware of your breathing all of this time?.… No? Go back and practice more, remember to keep your focus on your breath.”

Please be clear that I am not devaluing unusual, "spiritual" experiences in general here by recounting this teaching story. Such experiences, in other contexts, can be vital growth steps for a person, and my TASTE web site (1) is intended to respect and facilitate the sharing of such experiences. But within the context of trying to learn to concentrate, distraction is distraction, even if it seems wonderful.

Other people can act as a way of keeping you focused, as a check that you’re following directions. Whether that check is in the direction of freedom-depriving mind control, to just briefly introduce a dimension we will come back to later, or whether it’s in the direction of clearly increasing the full range of your knowledge — well, that an interesting and vital question! In a spiritual discipline, a teacher may indeed help you keep widening your horizons — in Zen, rapturous experiences with gods and goddesses are seen as a diversion that can turn into a serious trap, keeping the student from real enlightenment — or, on the negative side, may subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, narrow your experience so that you stop growing.

Okay, I’ve given you an introduction to the essential science background I’m bringing to our work today. Essential science is to get out there and see what happens, observe, get the facts, get the data whether its outside stuff or your own or others' experience. Then you go and figure out what that’s all about, theorize, try to be logical about your thinking, and keep it up until you feel you understand. Once you understand, don’t be satisfied with that “Aha!” feeling, though, test the consequences of the logic of your theory. If they don’t work, come up with a new theory, and if they do work, fine! Keep working with it and refine it.

Now there is an interesting psychological event that happens that’s particularly important to understand with a scientifically oriented group like this. Sometimes, within science, we get a theory that is really, really good, a super theory. One theory, one new way of understanding things, suddenly makes so much sense out of almost everything considered important in the field that people now forget that the essence of science is that the data is always what’s most important, that theories are important but always subject to test. Instead they implicitly feel that they now know the Truth.

Here, I’ll drop this tape cassette box again. Okay, why does this fall? I’m sure the words that automatically come to a lot of people’s minds is it fell because of the operation of the Law of Gravity, with a capital L on that “law.” When a super theory comes along, when the paradigm, as Thomas Kuhn (Kuhn 1962) called it, comes along, we make a subtle but very important psychological step where we forget that facts, data, experience, are primary, and instead we now become kind of arrogant. We are so smart, we figured out these fundamental laws of the universe!

Now a paradigm does a lot of good for a field of science in many ways. A theory that obviously works very well tends to then tightly focus scientists' efforts in that field, so they can investigate phenomena in immense detail, which frequently also leads to great progress. Kuhn called the stage after a paradigm developed for a field, leading to scientific activity within the guiding framework of the paradigm, normal science. The paradigm explicitly and implicitly focuses people on “significant” problems in the field to refine, rather than having their efforts be scattered.

The negative side of paradigmatic science comes, first, from the attitude of arrogance, whether that attitude is conscious and explicit or unconscious and implicit. Taking that attitude of knowing Truth, I now implicitly or explicitly think, “Since I understand everything important about (my part of) Reality, if you mention anything to me that doesn’t obviously make sense within my paradigm, you’re either ignorant or some kind of fool, and I don’t have to waste my time listening to you.” The paradigmatic attitude is not quite that obvious most of the time but that’s the effect it has. It narrows people’s openness to look at all aspects of reality. The fact that people making claims that don't make sense within the paradigm sometimes turn out to be ignorant or fools reinforces this attitude that we already know everything important and anyone who makes claims that don't fit the paradigm must be mistaken or a fool.

The second problem is that the paradigm narrows your perception because its been so successful. It defines what’s important to investigate further and what’s not important, what’s “trivial” and may be ignored. It defines certain problems and getting finer and finer solutions of them (within the paradigm) becomes the core work of the discipline, and it makes other things trivial or nominally of no importance whatsoever. That, coupled with the tendency to automatic arrogance, essentially means a paradigm is a tremendously narrow focusing. You’ve got a telescope or a microscope, as it were. Within those instruments’ fields you see very, very well, but you tend not to see things outside their fields of view at all. If people mention things outside those fields, you tend to pity these poor fools that don’t have a nice microscope or telescope like you, who don’t know anything.

Okay, we are all members of fields of knowledge dominated by various paradigms. We are all immersed in many paradigms, both interlocking and unrelated, simply by being members of Western culture, not to mention any specific scientific discipline we’ve been trained in. And by and large, we don’t know we have them: paradigms tend to become unconscious.

When I took physics in high school and college, no one taught me about the theory of gravity, but that’s really what the so-called Law of Gravity actually is. The idea that masses have an inherent attraction for each other, that is a theory. It makes excellent sense out of enormous masses of data, but it’s a theory and, in principle, it’s subject to more tests. But nobody ever taught me that. They taught me about the Law of Gravity, and obviously you can’t have any exceptions to the Law.

We have paradigms in the sense of habits of thinking, ways in which our mind automatically focuses in certain directions under certain circumstances and, by and large, these habits, these implicit paradigms, come to seem “natural.” We don’t even know we have these habits. That’s just the "natural" way to think.


Early Psychology as a Science of Mind:

Our presence at this "Toward A Science of Consciousness" conference indicates that we want a science of mind. When psychology started out as a new field in the last century, it was going to be a science of mind. It was going to follow the rules of essential science. We would get some trained observers who would observe certain aspects of the way the mind functions and report on them, thus generating our data. We would then come up with theories to explain these observations, go on to test and refine the theories and so forth, following the process of essential science.

What happened? This attempt failed miserably. We ended up having prominent laboratories, many in Germany, who had their trained introspectives, their observers, who would say, “The taste of chocolate is smooth,” and another laboratory whose introspectives would say that the taste of chocolate is obviously bumpy. (These are not actual examples, just the kind of thing that happened.)

Now, it’s hard to develop any science if people can’t agree on the basic data. If you can’t start out with clear and reliable observations of what’s out there, your theorizing about it doesn’t make all that much sense. Introspective psychology, our first modern attempt to create a science of mind, failed, and was replaced by rigid Behaviorism, which essentially decreed, “Ignore everything that goes on inside the mind and we’ll look only at how people behave. Observations of behavior are reliable but reports of experience are not, so we can build a science of behavior. But introspection is hopeless."

Observing behavior is indeed far more reliable than trying to observe experience: you can get a hundred percent agreement on whether or not I lift up this tape box and put it down at this time, but probably far less than a hundred percent agreement on what I really meant to illustrate by doing that. Studying behavior has been really useful, there is no doubt about that. But when you say studying behavior is the only thing you can possibly be scientific about and come up with a worthwhile psychology about, that’s silly. You’ve thrown out too many of the most interesting things in life.

So what happened with the early introspectionists? Why did this first attempt at a Western science of consciousness fail?

I am aware of several problems when I look back on that history. For one thing, they believed they were having introspection done on various phenomena by trained observers. What was a trained observer? Someone who had received 10-20 hours of practice in how to observe some particular phenomenon. Are they really “trained?”

If you look from the perspective of an Eastern psychological tradition, Buddhism, where people work on observing the mind with techniques that we’re going to start talking about and practicing in a few minutes, they were not. The general guideline I’ve gotten from several experienced teachers of Buddhist meditation practice is that after perhaps 5,000 hours of basic meditation training, a person is getting into a position to actually begin to observe something worthwhile, instead of being caught up in their own delusions! Our early introspectionist observers really had no clear idea how to observe their minds, they were totally untrained by Buddhist standards.

Let me use another analogy to bring that point home, too. This is a Hindu analogy, which says that in the depths of our minds are great treasures — but there is a problem in getting them. Our minds are like a lake on which a storm is blowing. The waters are constantly agitated. When you try to look through the surface of the lake to see the treasures in the depths, you generally can’t see them, or you may sometimes get a momentary, but generally distorted, glimpse of them because of the agitation of the water. What you think is here is actually over there, size and shape are distorted, etc. No way are you going to clearly see the treasures in the depths until you learn to still the waves by calming the storm. Until you learn to still that incredible agitation that is ordinary consciousness, agitation that is so habitual you hardly even notice it, you can forget about observing the really worthwhile stuff, the treasures that are inside your mind.

So there was one major failing of introspective psychology. They had no idea how much training it took, nor how to train people to begin to allow a new kind of depth observation of our own minds to be possible.

Secondly, there was a major problem of bias. I mentioned a few minutes ago that having a spiritual mentor can be a very helpful communication process, like the full and honest communications process in essential science, that may help you to expand your horizons as you discover things about your own mind, or that it may act as a form of thought control, as a form of “Forget that experience, concentrate on this experience because its doctrinally correct,” or something like that. We had a similar bias problem in earlier introspective psychology. Remember much of it was done in Germany, a highly authoritarian culture at the time. The introspectors were laboratory assistants working for Herr Doctor Professor Great Man, who had his own theories about what should be observed. To say that bias might have been communicated at times as to what they were supposed to see, is probably to put it mildly.

So, we have two essential elements to think about then if we’re going to establish a science of consciousness per se. I don't mean some other field that then explains consciousness away, but a science of consciousness per se, where direct, interior observation of consciousness is the primary field of data. The first is that we’ve got to cut down the agitation of ordinary, everyday consciousness so that we have a chance of seeing past the surface of the lake, and the second is that we have to be very careful of creating biases, or not recognizing already existing biases, that are going to distort what it is we manage to see.

Okay, we’ve had too much theory for a workshop that intends to emphasize experiential work, but I warned you, I’m a thoughtaholic! But I’m sure I’m not the only thoughtaholic in the room, so it’s been important to establish a basis for scientifically oriented people to find it legitimate and sensible to work with meditation and mindfulness. I can’t help getting conceptual at times, and I will undoubtedly share more conceptual material with you off and on all through the day, but lets actually begin now with some practice.


RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS


Chapter 2: Concentrative Meditation


I’m assuming most of you are relatively new or totally new to something like meditation. If you’re a really advanced meditator you’re going to be disappointed in me!

It’s funny, when the Tucson III conference program came out, one of my meditation teachers, who I think is one of the best meditation teachers in the world, called me up, and said “I saw you will be giving a workshop on meditation and mindfulness.” This is Shinzen Young, who I will recommend anytime as a meditation teacher. I thought “Oh boy! The real teacher has caught me faking it!” So I told him “Well look, you know, when you’re around, I’m just a student, okay, but for the man in the street, I am a pretty good meditation teacher.”

In fact, actually I’m an especially good meditation teacher for novices when it comes to the difficulties of learning meditation, because I’ve experienced them all, but no one would ever call me a really good or talented meditator. I’ve had to struggle at length to get the little bit of knowledge of meditation that I have, so I can say things about the difficulties people experience that I think are meaningful.

All right, let’s move on then. I’m going to teach three major techniques today. One of them is concentrative meditation. This is the basic quieting and focusing exercise. This is the one to cut down that raging mental storm so you start to have a chance of looking at what’s underneath the surface of ordinary consciousness. In scientific terms, it’s cleaning the instrument, as it were, so you have a chance at making useful observations instead of just looking at all the dust on your microscope lens. Concentrative meditation is also very useful in many other ways, but I’m pitching it today primarily in terms of making better observations possible.


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