Comments on “The dead don’t think”
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So, as I read the first experiment, my thought was “I know this one, and the point is that it’s impossible. Still, I can probably do it if I cheat just a little.”
So, I held my inner voice at a constant 1kHz (ish) tone for the duration of the experiment - no mental imagery, no inner speech (apart from the internal 1kHZ tone), no thoughts at all apart from hearing the tone. And held like that until the timer went off for the end of the meditation.
An obsessive jungle cat tries nonthinking
Disclaimer: I am not usually a meditator, since meditation tends to be great while I’m doing it and then make me a little nuts. Like spending the evening wanting to bite and claw things and feeling like I’m a tiger after an afternoon of intermittent meditating. This effect could be fun maybe, but it does not feel very civilized, and it can be a bit alarming as it’s not exactly a controlled state. (I think this could be an obsessiveness side effect ??)
I tried the first exercise. I can easily focus on something like breathing, but it feels like that’s a thought. Thoughts follow each other like the knots in a khipu. There always seems to be an active connection to the next one. I banished breathing focus and switched (accidentally) to noticing sounds. Then I managed to not notice the sounds of the fridge and the cars passing and the kids thumping around upstairs and moved on to involuntary visuals. After getting rid of the images, I tried to imagine myself as dead, which led to the unfortunate urge, a thought, to be actually dead so I could win this game and achieve nonthinking. Not great! As you have pointed out elsewhere, it might not be advisable for some people such as an obsessive person-tiger to do much meditating! (Don’t worry, I’m fine.)
So after a bit of self recrimination about the unexpected urge, “Cheap Thrills” by Sia popped into my head, and it was game over. About 20 minutes. Fun exploration. ;)
When I read Shantaraksita, I thought: some diacritics missing there: Śāntarakṣita
Trying to not stop thinking
I feel like having the meta-intention of thinking non-stop brings you into the mode of awareness of your thoughts. This awareness to a certain degree precludes thought.
I find the exercises have the same issue as most Buddhist teaching, they fail to define “thought”. Which then becomes something like “god”, everyone has their own definition.
This isn’t necessarily bad, mind you, might even be useful.
I usually arbitrarily choose to define “thought” as “something that’s verbal or in some other way trying to clearly divide or predict the world”
In so far as this definition goes, I find the exercise “fail” for me, it’s mainly when my attention slips (from the goal, i.e. I forget my intention) or disolves itself (sleepiness)
Attempting experiment 1 put me in the mood to try something closer to conventional nāda yoga.
At night, when it is dark and quiet, I turn out the lights and try to halt my internal monologue. This isn’t fully successful: there are short bursts of internal mental audio chatter between the silences. Although it is completely dark, occasional visual imagery flashes like magnesium flares. At one point, I see meaningless cursive calligraphy in black on a dark red background, like old linoleum (dakini script :-)) In between the bursts of mental audio chatter, I listen to see if I can hear anything else through the silence, And there it is: a musical note like B3 on the piano, amplitude modulated at about 1hz. It’s not a real sound, and it’s not internal monologue either.
I worked my way through the exercises. First one: couldn’t manage it, but to the extent I could I felt light and peaceful, and that lingered afterward.
Second one I kept up a buzzing confusion in my head for about five minutes, but by the end I was so cognitively fatigued I was barely able to recite the alphabet. There was lingering fatigue afterward for a bit.
The last one started out well – well, except I had this idea to will/imagine myself detaching from my thoughts, which left me euphoric and just generally seemed unwise after a bit – and with time the thoughts faded. But it left me deeply sad for some reason I can’t quite identify. Besides the sadness is a numbness. Maybe some existential despair in the mix? (I also have this admittedly-excessive fear of turning myself into a zombie through meditation, ever since I read your article on the dangers. I wonder if that fear got amplified by the practice, somehow?)
It’s fading now as I move and bring myself back into the world. Maybe I just overdid it doing all the exercises back to back late in the evening.