Monday, January 14, 2019

Does meditation provide the only way to survive our brain-dissolving technological and political environment?

Both the last chapter of Harari's "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" (abstracted in MindBlog here) and a recent Op-Ed piece by NYTimes tech columnist Farhad Manjoo suggest that the only means of maintaining sanity in the face of the overwhelmingly complex technological and political environment we face is to turn inwards -  away from all the input competing for our attention - and cultivate some insight into our internal body environments and mental practices that provide the basic foundation from which we proceed to experience our outer other words, to practice some form of meditation.  For Harari meditation is:
...not an escape from reality. It is getting in touch with reality…Without the focus and clarity provided by this practice, I could not have written Sapiens or Homo Deus…Over the millennia humans have developed hundreds of meditation techniques, which differ in their principles and effectiveness….but in principle meditation is any method for the direct observation of one’s own mind…Serious meditation demands a tremendous amount of discipline…If we are willing to make efforts to understand foreign cultures, unknown species, and distant planets, it might be worth working just as hard in order to understand our own minds. And we had better understand our minds before the algorithms make our minds up for us…For a few more years or decades, we still have a choice. If we make the effort, we can still investigate who we really are. But if we want to make use of this opportunity, we had better do it now.
From Manjoo, meditation is:
...the subject of countless books, podcasts, conferences, a million-dollar app war. It’s extolled by C.E.O.s and entertainers and even taught in my kids’ elementary school (again, it’s Northern California). The fad is backed by reams of scientific research showing the benefits of mindfulness for your physical and mental health — how even short-term stints improve your attention span and your ability to focus, your memory, and other cognitive functions.
After decades of swimming in the frenetic digital waters, I found that my mind was often too scrambled to accommodate much focus. Sitting calmly, quietly and attempting to sharpen my thoughts on the present moment was excruciating...about four months ago, I brute-forced it: I made meditation part of my morning routine and made myself stick with it. I started with 10 minutes a day, then built up to 15, 20, then 30. Eventually, something clicked, and the benefits became noticeable, and then remarkable.
The best way I can describe the effect is to liken it to a software upgrade for my brain — an update designed to guard against the terrible way the online world takes over your time and your mind...Now, even without app blockers, I can stay away from mindless online haunts without worrying that I’m missing out. I can better distinguish what’s important from what’s trivial, and I’m more gracious and empathetic with others online...I hope you give it a try. I hope everyone does. (The Times’s David Gelles has written a great guide for getting started.)

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