Welcome to the Meditate or Die Newsletter.
The week ended with a bang!
And the newly designed website is now complete. Such a relief to have it completed. I’m quite proud, and also pleased, with how it turned out.
But it was a grind to be sure! What saved me during the last three weeks was a good walk with family.
Indeed, each day, or as often as we can, my wife and I walk our dog Molly. We take the same path. And walk the same way—every day. And on our way home, we walk past a home with two big and angry dogs.
Now our dog Molly is a gentle thing. She’s soft and loving and never gets angry – but she does have her issues! But these two dogs are just plain angry. They hear Molly coming and immediately start to bark. As we walk past the house, they follow her—barking and snarling at her. Luckily there is a 12-foot steel fence because they sound as if they would rip her head off!
Why am I telling you this? Because it illustrates the idea that what we “see” to be the “truth” is not always the truth. That is to say, the mind, or at least my mind, can be like an angry dog at times!
And we all know, you cannot argue with a mad dog!
Not that I am angry, but rather, my mind can get caught in the belief that what is standing in front of me, metaphorically speaking, is a threat.
Just as an angry dog sees one thing, believes it is another and acts out accordingly, the mind can see struggle when it is not there. It can see worry. Fear. Lack of resources. Lack of results. Lack of money. Lack of love. But often, the real truth is different than how our mind sees things.
We are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And these stories can lead to years of bad relationships, struggling to get ahead, or worse. Some people will even kill themselves as a result of being tortured by their mind.
But this is where meditation can help. Not because it will make you “calmer.” Meditation can help unveil these stories, sometimes quite slowly, over time, such that we are able to see the deeply innate dispositions we call “me” are nothing more than an elaborate construction of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
So is there anything we can do about this problem?
Yes! And that is a nice segue into this week’s reading.
* still need to find a better title for this part of the newsletter! If you have an idea, let me know! *
This Weeks Reading
This week’s book reading comes from the American philosopher Daniel D. Hutto called Folk Psychological Narratives: The sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons.
This book is a fascinating read, as can be seen by the opening quote:
The Cognitive Revolution…was intended to bring “mind” back into the human sciences after a long cold winter of objectivism…Some critics, perhaps unkindly, argue that the new cognitive science, the child of the revolution, has gained its technical strategies at the price of de-humanizing the very concept of mind it had sought to re-establish in psychology and that it has thereby estranged much of psychology from the other human sciences and the humanities. – Brune, Acts of Meaning
The reason I picked up this book, this week, is the idea found inside called, Enactivism.
Enactivism is the idea that cognition arises through a dynamic interaction between an acting organism and its environment.
Enactivism comes from the word enaction, which was first coined by the Chilean biologist and philosopher Francisco Varela in his groundbreaking work on biology found in the book—The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience.
The idea of Enactivism is very close to a philosophical notion found in Buddhism called dependant origination—pratītyasamutpāda. And this is not surprising as Varela was a co-founder of the Mind & Life Institute—an institute that brings science and Buddhism together in a discussion (often with the Dalai Lama) to better understand the mind and thus create positive change in the world.
Now, it is worth noting, and also to bring this discussion back around to the start of the email: Buddhism is not a religion in the sense that it is a set of beliefs that one adopts—if there is any wisdom found in the ideas of Buddhism, they are ideas found through the practice of meditation. And it is through the practice of meditation that one can begin to tease out the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
If you can see how dependant origination works as a philosophical idea, you can begin to understand there is no “truth” out there waiting to be known. And as Verala beautifully says, “cognition is not the representation of a pre-given world by a pre-given mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind on the basis of a history of the variety of actions that a being in the world performs.“
To me, this is philosophy as practice, and meditation is a key player in said practice. As the Greeks would say, know-thyself, as it is through knowing deeply how we manifest into being that life can be truly meaningful.
Till next week.
p.s. I’ve been thinking about developing material like this and having weekend meditation retreats for the community. If this is some you’d be interested in, let me know by replying to this email.
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