On Waking Up and Living The Mindful Life
June 15, 2004 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Our discussion of the human condition centers around a basic but seldom accepted or understood idea: We are "asleep", compared to what we could be. We are caught in illusions while thinking we are perceiving reality.
On Waking Up by Charles Tart, who provided my introduction to Gurdjieff. I am currently reading his Living The Mindful Life. As a perusal of his site will reveal, he is interested as well in the psychedelic experience, altered states, the paranormal, psi, out-of-body experiences, near death experiences, remote viewing and the whole woo woo schmear. All these are of less interest to me. He does provide a good introduction to Gurdjieff, however. There are more links within.
posted by y2karl (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

thanks y, i really needed this to start the day. cheers!
posted by moonbird at 4:08 AM on June 16, 2004

What is "waking up", anyways? Is waking up the personification of ones (or anothers) idealisms?
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:09 AM on June 16, 2004

> What is "waking up", anyways?

It's utterly pointless to try to explain in words, since words are only pointers that can, at most, remind you of things you have already experienced. However (to put this at its most empirical, for the alt.atheists who are so rampant among us) -- we have a method, just like the methods section of an experimental physics paper. The method involves meditation, and is pretty much uniform across a large number of cultures, including western ones (c.f. The Cloud of Unknowing). The result, a most extraordinary spiritual event/state of awareness, is widely reported and attested to, but good sceptics will naturally want to replicate the result for themselves rather than taking anything on faith.

Or not; one can of course decide a priori and without trying that there's nothing to this "awakening" business. But if not, then one has, in Dr. Johnson's phrase, made no effort to investigate the truth of religion -- and hence really shouldn't talk about it. But mere ignorance never stopped the idle chatter yet.
posted by jfuller at 5:06 AM on June 16, 2004

What is "waking up", anyways?
I think it's (in a much more limited/practical way) a little like when you're doing something you love, and are completely focused and devoting all your energy and concentration, and very happy/contented/better than you usually are, and you don't even notice the time passing (like when people say they're "in the zone" or "being in the moment").

someone correct me if that's not related at all.
posted by amberglow at 5:16 AM on June 16, 2004

oh, thanks y2k--good post...the compassion stuff, especially could be very useful here
posted by amberglow at 5:21 AM on June 16, 2004

I feel compelled here to mention Stanislav Grof, one of the giants of recent western consciousness studies.

Here's an interview with Grof - one of the early pioneers in the therapeutic uses of LSD who later developed a frug-free method of his own to achieve non-ordinary states of consciousness and has done extensive research into "transpersonal" awareness :

"....In the worldview of traditional science, the material world exists objectively in an unambiguous way. The observer reflects more or less accurately this "objective reality", but his or her presence does not change anything - the world is uninfluenced through the act of observation.

In non-ordinary states, the material world is experienced as a dynamic process where there are no solid structures and everything is a flow of energy. Everything is perceived as patterns of energy and behind patterns of energy there are patterns of experience. Reality appears to be the result of an incredibly precise orchestration of experiences and the observer plays a very important role in the creation of the universe. This is exactly the picture that is now emerging from various areas of new paradigm science. It has become apparent that consciousness has a very fundamental role in the cosmos. It is not a side-product of inert, dead, and inactive matter that somehow appeared in the universe more or less accidentally after billions of years of evolution. Consciousness and creative intelligence permeate all of nature and the entire universe has an underlying master blueprint. This is also an image that comes very close to the mystical worldview and to the understanding that one finds in the Eastern spiritual philosophies."
posted by troutfishing at 6:04 AM on June 16, 2004

Oops. I'm NOT awake. It must be all the frugs - the first of which, this morning, was coffee.

Emotions can - of course - also function as frugs, and so I'd have to say that this morning I took a moderate dose of those as well.

Here is your awakeness.

Here is your awakeness on frugs.
posted by troutfishing at 6:07 AM on June 16, 2004

Ages ago I read a book by Charles Tart - Altered STates of Consciousness? Or something like that. It was a really interesting book and I have been vaguely meaning to get ahold of it again, so thanks for the reminder. The part I remember best that I found so exciting was the discussion of hypnotizing patients to "see" differently - a series of painters, I think, were hypnotized to see in different styles of painting, in different numbers of dimensions, and series of colors.

The ones hypnotized to see in more flatten styles, or more muted tones, were depressed, while the ones hypnotized to see the world as more fully three dimensional or bright were euphoric. I can't remember if someone was hypnotized to see in cubism or I'm just making that up... Anyway, it was fascinating (and easily confirmed by eating psychedelic mushrooms, if one thinks it is simply impossible for something to be "more" three dimensional, or for colors to be "enhanced")

Anyway. thanks for reminding me & I look forward to perusing these links more closely.
posted by mdn at 7:10 AM on June 16, 2004

a basic but seldom accepted or understood idea: We are "asleep", compared to what we could be. We are caught in illusions while thinking we are perceiving reality.
y2karl -- I'd take issue with the assertion that this idea is "seldom accepted." The notion that we are all operating on only half-power until receiving some advertised "enlightenment" is the basis of all mysticism going back to the beginning of time, and virtually all of 20th Century psychology and psychiatry. It is an essential strain of Christianity, especially the Book of John. "I was blind but now I see." Whatever's good in Gurdjieff can be found into plain old Protestant fundamentalism -- with better music.
posted by Faze at 7:11 AM on June 16, 2004

Whatever's good in Gurdjieff can be found in plain old Protestant fundamentalism -- with better music.

Not true. Gurdjieff has a much, much better sense of humour than John. Also, he derives partly from the sufi tradition, which has also produced some pretty cool music.

I faintly remember music being important in the practice of G and his followers. I think they even distributed recodings.
I wonder how hard they would be to track down now.
posted by Zetetics at 7:36 AM on June 16, 2004

Whatever's good in Gurdjieff can be found into plain old Protestant fundamentalism -- with better music.

What Gurdjieff was about is another thing entirely to my mind--

Most of my experience is in what you call dry mindfulness. It's been work I've done in the Gurdjieff tradition, which says develop this self-remembering, this quality of presence in the here and now, a simultaneous awareness of body and psychological self coupled with simultaneous enhanced awareness of that is going on around you. Certainly there is no special posture involved; you do it in the midst of life. For me to practice traditional meditation, where I'm sitting still in a quiet place, is very different.
posted by y2karl at 7:41 AM on June 16, 2004

There are many altered states of consciousness and of spirituality that are relevant to the concept of "waking up" from a non-enlightened state. But the most relevant, and the most practicable, is lucid dreaming.

Judith Malamud spelled out in her 1979 dissertation how the practice of achieving lucidity in the dream state could be applied to life in the dayworld. Although the "total lucidity" concept - which as I understand it is closely analogous to Buddhist "enlightenment" - is used more theoretically than as a scientifically measurable state, there are many dayworld benefits to be gained from looking at your so-called waking life and seriously questioning whether you're dreaming - or even, to what extent you're creating the situation you've been placed in.

Since Charles Tart is the main subject of this, I should mention that Altered States of Consciousness (mdn, it went out of print in the 80s, but apparently a 1990 reprint is still available) is almost single-handedly responsible for popularizing lucid dreaming and codifying the phrase "lucid dream" to describe the state (by reprinting Van Eeden's 1913 essay where it was coined). Celia Green did, of course, publish "Lucid Dreams" the year before, but it was Tart's encyclopedic compilation that placed the lucid dreaming phenomenon in a continuum of both real-world and quasi-real-world phenomena (instead of being tied completely to parapsychology as Green had), showing the ties between lucidity and drug states - and which, some would argue, probably spurred Carlos Castaneda's "memory," a year later, of how Don Juan had taught him the practice of dreaming many years previous.
posted by soyjoy at 8:39 AM on June 16, 2004

Music was very important to Gurdjieff. He and de Hartmann (a russian composer) produced a series of piano recordings, which are available.

you can download some of them here

jfuller -- when you say "we", are you involved with a Gurdjieff group?
posted by badzen at 9:27 AM on June 16, 2004

Another great post, y2karl. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 12:12 PM on June 16, 2004

Whoa! I just read the Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences. It confirms my first-hand observation of scientists and physicians, based upon a wide acquaintance, that they are just as big a bunch of goofballs as any group of random people who have never heard of Occam's Razor, or the demand that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs. I especially enjoyed the meteorologist who experienced a "the peace that surpasseth understanding," and declares that "this proves the validity of astrology" because afterward he discovered that Uranus was at that moment moving through his... whatever. Here's the truth, folks: You will experience large or small breakthroughs, insights and illuminations throughout your life. They will come and go for no discernable reason and to little permanent effect. All efforts to cultivate them or hold on to them cannot succeed. The search for causality beyond the biological or material is doomed to failure, simply because the ineffable cannot be effed, so forget about it. Or go to the church or temple of your choice.
posted by Faze at 1:04 PM on June 16, 2004

Well, that about covers it then. Drive safely, everybody!
posted by soyjoy at 8:07 PM on June 17, 2004

reminds me of :D
Is there actually an identifiable self with continuity of existence which is typing these words? I really don't know. How much would that self have to change before we decide that the continuity has been disrupted? I think I don't want to find out.

Most of those kinds of questions either become moot or are easily answered within the context of standard religions. Those questions are uniquely troubling only for those of us who believe that life and intelligence are emergent properties of certain blobs of mass which are built in certain ways and which operate in certain kinds of environments. We might be forced to accept that identity is just as mythical as the soul. We might be deluding ourselves into thinking that identity is real because we want it to be true.

It may not be possible for mechanistic atheists to give answers to these kinds of questions which are rigorous and defensible. It's one of the ways that atheism is different from other religious beliefs; it leaves me as an atheist feeling uncertain and insecure about questions that those who are religious are not really forced to confront.

That doesn't mean atheism is false; such a contention would be an argument from consequences.

I do not harbor any doubt about my atheism. But it cannot be denied that atheism is cold and uncomforting, and that there is a price to be paid for believing in it. An atheist must at all times live with the idea that in the end nothing we think or do is really very significant, and we may not really matter at all.
also see!
posted by kliuless at 9:34 PM on June 17, 2004

I have been reading Tart's Living the Mindful Life and came across, in an appendix, Extending Mindfulness To Every Day Life, an article Tart wrote for the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in 1990. Here are six paragraphs therefrom:

In one sense, mindfulness refers to a clear, lucid quality of awareness of the everyday expereiences of life. Much of ordinary life is spent in abstractions and fantasies about what might happen or abstractions and fantasies about what has happened. We seldom live in the present, the only fully real moment. If you are eating an ice cream cone and become more vividly, mindfully aware of just what that tastes like right now, instead of being lost in thoughts about past and future ice cream cones, leading on to thoughts far removed from ice cream cones, you are being more mindful.

In another sense, mindfulness refers to a clear quality of awareness as applied to deeper and more sublte processes of the mind. For example: As I attempt to be clearly and directly aware of my ongoing bodily sensations while practicing vispassana meditation, I might suddenly note that there is a covert belief or bias operating at the fringes of my awareness but exerting some control over that awareness. Perhaps it is a belief that vertain kinds of bodily snesations are ''better'' or ''more meditative'' than another kind. This may lead to insights that covert biases are generally operating in all of my life experiences. I have been mindful in the second sense of the word, seeing a more subtle level of mental functioning.

In a third sense, mindfulness refers to what we might call awareness of being aware, to full self-consciousness. I do not mean self-consciousness in the ordinary use of the term to mean feeling awkward and inhibited because of internal doubts, or because of superego processes, but rather self-consciousness in the sense of not being completely absorbed in or totally indentified with the content of ongoing experience: some part of the mind, a ''neutral observer'' or ''fair witness,'' remains aware, in a relativley objective way, of the nature of ongoing experience as related to the immediate here and now. As I sit here typing, for example, I can be completely absorbed in what I am writing, such that only strong sensory stimuli can manage to attract my attention, or I can remember myself, to use Gurdjieff's term: thus, a nonordinary part of myself is aware that most of me is abosrbed in the writing task but I simultaneously know that I am sitting in a bouncing van on my way to the university, portable computer in my lap, hearing other conversations on the periphery of my awareness, having a body with many snesations in, and so on. I am mindful in the sense of being aware that I am aware of these things. I remember myself.

In the fourth sense, mindfulness can be described as a continuous and precise awareness of the process of being aware, such that a thought is recognized at the time as a thought, a perception as a perception, an emotion as an emotion, a fantasy as a fantasy, and so on, rather than mistaking a thought or emotion or fantasy for a perception.

In practice the for senses of mindfulness mentioned above often overlap. Too, verbal definitions can only point at mindfulness, not adequately capture it. My focus in this article becomes the question: How can we maintian some or all aspects of miindfulness outside a retreat situation, in the complexity and turmoil of ordinary life?

I have been attempting to cultivate mindfulness, especially the self-remembering kind, for a number of years, with varying degrees of success. One of the most interesting observations I and others doing this practice is not at all difficult to be mindful in most circumstances. A tiny effort, a small shift of attention is all it takes. What is difficult is to remember to make that effort.

I think this might catch a hint of what Gurdjieff was about while not quite the same thing as Faze was about above when he wrote The notion that we are all operating on only half-power until receiving some advertised "enlighten-
ment" is the basis of all mysticism going back to the beginning of time, and virtually all of 20th Century psychology and psychiatry
. But his mileage may vary.

Practicing mindfulness seems to me quite like practicing guitar. Unless I play every day, it takes me so much longer to get up to speed. A tiny effort, a small shift of attention is all it takes. It's just that remembering to remember part that is so easy to forget. Waking up is so easy and yet so very hard to do.
posted by y2karl at 11:13 PM on June 17, 2004

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