We are not continuously present.
A Zen master once told me that Master Dogen, a thousand years ago, wrote that our lives are one mistake after another.
What he meant by that is that we cannot be totally present for long… we are present, then the attention drops, wanders, and then we may return the focus, or continue to wander.
In that respect the digital world seems to reflect our mind. That is, perhaps, the incredible allure of it.
In Zen the aim is to be continuously present, which is just about impossible and we have to settle for more continuous instead. That is akin to raising the resolution.
Greater continuous presence is generally only possible through training, practice. Higher resolution requires more attention or resources.
Why do we have those gaps of attention? They seem to be built into the system, at root admin level. Is it because of the many different types of hormones that are constantly squirting into our brain/body and are affecting constant, if often miniscule changes. Each squirt a diversion of attention? Is it, as Brian Eno said in his Rolex speech, because we are a race of paranoiacs – who perhaps survived (this far) because we imagined something dangerous around every new corner?
Over the last few decades we have moved backward by moving into digital. The vinyl LP was replaced by the inferior CD and then the CD was replaced by the inferior mp3. The general public has never heard a HD recording of 24/88.2kHz or better quality. In fact they are getting used to the inferior quality – just as the public got used to buying cheap Chinese goods at Walmart.
I remember speaking to an architect who decried the lack of resolution in CAD systems. He said, one had to select from a given number of curves. He told me he was still drawing his curves by hand and then spent hours finding available diameters to match his drawn curve – stitching many diameters together to create the smooth curve he had drawn.
Granted, eventually things may catch up to where we were… or not. Maybe all music will be offered at 24/88.2kHz or better and CAD software will automatically find the multiple diameters necessary to draw a complex curved line. Maybe… Or we’ll simply get so used to what is now available that we have no interest in obtaining or developing a higher resolution.
When recently asked what effect meditation has on mind, I wrote this:
I think we agree that a higher resolution is desirable. Music sounds better, the curves on a CAD look more natural, images have more depth and so on.
The same is true for life, where a higher biosphere resolution would mean greater bio-diversity, for example. (and yes, we are failing here as well: Walmart, mp3s and the great killing of species…)
In terms of our mind a higher resolution means being more present, having more snapshots of presence, having more moments of attention versus more moments of drift. The data shows that happiness is directly related to attention or presence.
There is much more data coming online, because the first long-term meditation studies have been concluded and computers are crunching the data. I hear that a wealth of information on meditation and what it does to the brain will become available over the next few years. (By the way, I have been asked to perform on the last evening of the June 2011 Mind & Life meeting and am looking forward to talking with some of the scientists there.)
Meditation is a practice to increase the resolution of your mind so that you are more present. Few people reach the analog full-on, and usually only for short periods of time – deep meditation – but it can be done and has been done.
Or we might say that meditation is training. It is to the mind what say Pilates is to the body.
So, to answer your question, I will say that meditation increases the ability to be present, to be in the moment, to be aware. I have also noticed, and confirmed this experience with others, that meditation creates a “buffer” between my mind and what happens in the world. Maybe translator is a better word-choice than buffer… Not in the sense of feeling less and sitting in a cloud, but quite the opposite: feeling more and minding less. Developing more compassion for others, but not getting crushed by that compassion. I am tempted to say that there is a sense of play. Playing hard, for sure, doing my best, but still understanding that it is all “lila” (a Sanskrit term you can find on wikipedia).
Interesting photography – I like the blurring of photography and drawing.
One of my favorite quotes:
Life must be understood backwards; but… it must be lived forward.
– Soren Kierkegaard
The above quote is most often used, but the full quote is:
It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. And if one thinks over that proposition it becomes more and more evident that life can never really understood in time simply because at no particular moment can I find the necessary resting place from which to understand it — backwards.
– Soren Kierkegaard
And I would like to end with this. (YouTube)