The brain can only function excellently…at its highest capacity and energy, when it is completely secure…when it is not believing, or holding onto some illusions, some concepts/beliefs/fate…some fantastic ideas. Or- the ideas of Marx, and Lenin, [krishnamurti,] and so on. Or- our own democratic ideas and holding onto them.
“haha Ian I love being in public with you it’s so funny and weird”
“what’s THAT supposed to mean”
“the way you just yell up at crows and talk to them”
“i talk AT them I do not talk TO them”
“i’m serious. i talk AT them. i can’t talk to animals”
“uh huh. i’m suspicious”
Cold again. Cars pass outside kicking up rain-sounds, each tire spewing and screaming that wet white noise. It really is like a shriek…or some type of awful bodily process. Slept 11 hours. Haven’t done THAT in a while. 4 or 5 hours is the norm. Made eggs, set eggs down, grabbed a pound of ground beef (left it out yesterday to thaw) and threw it outside for the crows. Was initially unsure that any would be out and about. Earlier before I was totally awake my mind jumped to the beef – the question arose as to whether I should refreeze the beef or put it outside. In my sleepy state I figured that crows & ravens stay home on such grey days. But it seemed worth a shot. Sure enough – before I could even finish slicing the package open I heard one outside. & threw meat out & it yelled. Threw the rest of the meat out & it yelled again. Came downstairs, sat in chair. Decided I should pull the curtain to make myself less visible. A few moments later I realized I needed this pen & had to reach around the curtain to grab it off the windowsill. Just then – 2 large crows, or maybe ravens, headed south directly over the west end of the Selby house. They were flying quickly, as if having been in flight for some time already, leaving me unsure if they had been immediately on or near the house. So for the time being I;ll wait. Have about an hour before I should go to class which is enough time.
10:12 am @ home – wasn’t feeling acting class today. The corvids are gathering. All of the meat is still there which is a surprise. But it might not be for long. Another across the street – southeast, flying eastward over (but close to) the roof of the buildings. Each car is another shriek, a sort of steel pulmonary expulsion.
Birds aside, it is strikingly green. Grey/white sky yields to the immense and bright pine, verde, grassy, weedy, ivy, flowery, lively, springish, GREEEEN. What are other words for green? Only a few days ago the trees were seemingly barren, suggesting just a bit of buddery at their fingertips. But those distal bits of leaf of leaflet (whatever theyre called) after some time have erupted. In less than a week the trees have grown hairy with neon glo-stick lemon lime fringes. It’s as if that bit of spectrum between green & yellow were scribbled onto twigs. Moments ago as I was seeking another ‘green’ word a massive green garbage truck drove by. Its exterior (the upper half) was also an immensely bright shade of green, though obviously much more discernible and uniform in its coloration. Some bit of the truck was bright orange & that admittedly was offputting. Mostly it was a funny coincidence to see the greenness rolling by – i guess some of those wild wheeled wagons are worth the wily while.
Smaller birds on the roof now – it’s time to figure out exactly what they are. Finches? Sparrows? As two of the littler ones flit onward pas the window & THUD across the street. The shades are thin, sheer white whisps, & thru their ripples a man in a driveway. Also in driveway a truck, red rained on truck, red rained on truck with a bike on the back. Guy lowers back half of truck…unloads bike. My hand cant keep up – I look now and he is nowhere in sight. Neither is bike. Red rained on truck still is and the back of the thing is still down. These mini-moments have grown more compelling in the last year. Truthfully I feel sad or at least a bit silly for having never made an effort to meet any of my neighbors. This regular habit of street- and bird-watching has allowed some small view into the consistencies of their lives. The lady across the street who walks her dog in the morning – almost always walking east and then returning from that direction or perhaps from around the block (westward).
The red rained on truck guy just got back. Engine on. As it lurches out from its receptor site I see in my mind’s eye a vesicle, or vacuole, whose cargo has been successfully delivered to the new home for it, which is here, in this part of the cell. I see the purpose (at least the momentary purpose) of that truck & its driver, which is to deliver the red rained on bicycle, not unlike a vesicle or vacuole would deliver some protein or water or hormone or molecule, and I then see some protein or water or hormone or molecule being delivered, and then the purposeful repackaging of the vesicle or vacuole must take place, because its cargo has been successfully delivered to its new home, so the tail lights are going on and Im seeing this empty vesicle or vacuole take on a new momentary purpose, which is to be returned to the cell for other use. In the span of a few moments these images fly firmly and rapidly through my visual field, which is not to say I literally see them before me, but rather within me an imagination of them briefly occludes my ocular/mechanical sight. The image of a massive cell or organism has been powerful for some time now, and in the likeness between the truck and the little pictures in my neuroscience textbooks (which vaguely show zillions of little vesicles or vacuoles delivering their cargo, which is some protein or water or hormone or molecule, before being purposefully repackaged [once empty] such that it can take on a new momentary purpose, which is to return to the cell for other use). These types of analogies (if analogy is the right word) are occurring in my mind constantly. At the sensory level they can be distracting or begin to invade my–
Crow on the roof. A big baby. Well, it’s huge.
It made me swell, chest still thumping. It landed on the west end of the roof, walked over, grabbed a big bit of meat. Held it in beak.
last wednesday i was finishing up acting class at Macalester when my tummy began to rumble. time to stuff some food into my abdomen! despite receiving some 200 hours of acting training from professor Harry Waters Jr since last year he and I had not yet grabbed lunch together – big mistake. we walked down to the St. Clair broiler & sat down in a booth next to the uncomfortably large fish mounted upon the wall.
mr marvin berry & i discussed some of the more topical/superfluous/symptomatic elements of our conscious experience: how things are going lately, a few stories about youth & a bit of personal background, etc. it was the typical type of conversation that most humans have. amidst our conversation about parenting, teaching, and life there was an older gentleman sitting one booth over reading a book. when we finished our dessert & got up to leave the fellow, wearing a red sweater and a friendly smile, got our attention.
“Sorry to interrupt you two, but did I hear you talking about teaching a few times?”
“Well, yes, you did!”
“Are you a teacher? Or, I mean, do you teach? I teach. I used to be a professor over here at St. Thomas, which is why I ask.”
& so the conversation began. Harry had to leave after a brief period of time but professor Tom Sullivan and I went on to chat for over an hour. he’s a philosopher who is extremely well respected and well versed in the areas of philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and theology. it was quite enjoyable to have an extended conversation about consciousness with someone who is equally (or more) informed, intrigued, and stumped by the hard problem of consciousness. we discussed the merits of nagel and chalmers (duh) and the shortcomings of koch and crick (sorry, boys). Tom was nice enough to offer an extended explanation of what he finds to be the problem with creating a theory of consciousness. In a later blog post I will lay that out (or perhaps just upload my notes from the conversation).
By thus being set face to face, however weak the mental faculties may be, there is no doubt of one’s gaining Liberation. Yet, though so often set face to face, there are classes of men who, having created much bad karma, or having failed in observance of vows, or, their lot [for higher development] being altogether lacking, prove unable to recognize: their obscurations and evil karma from covetousness and miserliness produce awe of the sounds and radiances, and they flee. [If one be of these classes], then, on the Fourth Day, the Bhagavān Amitābha and his attendant deities, together with the light-path from the Preta-loka, proceeding from miserliness and attachment, will come to receive one simultaneously.
I’ve gotta admit it, guys. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is really messing with me.
Tibetan Book of the Dead? What’s that? Google it. Read it. There are a few different editions and .pdfs you can find online [if you’re too cool to go to your local bookstore]. Many of them have commentaries and commentaries and commentaries and commentaries throughout or preceding the text. Whether or not that’s helpful for you is completely your choice. When I first starting reading this text towards the end of last year it was fantastically fascinating.
Here is a book that seems practical. In fact, books about death seem extremely and incomparably useful for any human being that might have to…you know…..anyway.
In extremely lucid and relatable language this text (AKA the English translation I quoted above) describes the process of death. Whether or not the authors of this arcane, ancient anomaly managed to accurately articulate the post-humous experiences of sentient beings is unknown. But in any case the document serves as an incredible artifact and, for me personally (and many others), a touching and eerie account.
Should law enforcement officers engage in on-the-job meditation practices as a regular part of training or workflow? Might the use of certain contemplative exercises such as mindfulness training enhance the ability of police officers to perform their job safely (or recover afterwards)? Or, more simply: would meditating be good for cops? Should the police meditate? This note is written in response to a few online publications about this question that briefly describe the increasing osmosis between law enforcement and intentional, secular meditation practice. Only several online pieces from the early 2000s will be discussed [rather than the history/subject matters of police practice & contemplative practice in general]. If anyone doubts that exploring all possible strategies to reduce police violence is important, let’s just step into the comment area. Before initiating or joining any critical conversation about something as subjective as meditation (or something as serious as law enforcement) we might want to take a few things into consideration.
First, as your author, I am not [& never have been] ordained or certified as a meditation teacher — nor as a law enforcement officer. This places me in a position of relative inexperience when it comes to the following topics, and I encourage any and all from these communities to provide input (or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org). My relevant expertise will be mentioned below but it is not of primary importance for our conversation anyway.
Second, both law enforcement and meditation are kind of hard to talk about with any truth or accuracy. This is because law enforcement and meditation are both quite common and and varied – they happen all over the place, and in a lot of different ways. This piece of writing you are looking at is coming from someone with no experience as a police officer and no authority on meditation. This means that we will fail in covering the breadth and scope of both of these practices…oh well.
Third, the observations to come are not meant to be judgmental or laden with approval/disapproval – they are simply observations. Those individuals working in both the meditation & law enforcement communities have my support, & it is from a place of interest that I enter the discussion about them.
Why would the police meditate? (We’re talking about on-the-job meditation – not any personal practice at home.) There have been a few internet publications about this recently [see list below]. There are at least some of us who are of the opinion that when it comes to police and law enforcement, the United States is in a crisis. This crisis, as described by Buddhist dharma teacher and former police officer Cheri Maples, is characterized by “[an] unnecessary use of force, racial profiling, militarization of police departments, lack of trust between communities and police departments, lack of strategies to address trauma and emotional health of police officers, unconscious and unspoken organizational agreements in police culture, and a lack of informal safety nets for people across the country….” All of these issues warrant immediate and honest speculation on how to improve our state of affairs. And for the past several years, especially in the midwestern United States, the quest for solutions has been a hot topic. Among existing thoughts on how to reform police practices is the idea of introducing and/or standardizing traditional mental and emotional training techniques for law enforcement.
A healthy amount of the existing chatter in this conversation comes in from the angle of affective neuroscience. Affective neuroscience is the multidisciplinary study of the nervous system in the context of mood, emotion, and affective processing. One of the pioneers in this field who has publicly offered thoughts about police work is the research psychologist Richard J Davidson, a Harvard-trained buddy of the Dalai Lama who does most of his brain research in Madison, Wisconsin. Richie is a righteous dude who gave me the chance to chat with him when I was 19 – not too long after I had some experiences at the hands of the Madison Police Department that were not ideal. A year later, just as my own personal Zazen practice was deepening, he let me volunteer in his laboratory in Madison. I am grateful both for his input on my experiences and career at that time, and for my current opportunity to reciprocate.
Because a lot of Davidson’s work has focused on the neurophysiology of mental illness, well-being, and other emotional states, it seems clear why he might be interested in the neural correlates of (and effective steps towards) compassionate police work. Not only do police officers deal with homelessness, mental illness, and behavioral crises on the job – they also go home with personal trauma. This is notwithstanding the myriad instances of police brutality in the news, including some shootings in Madison and some unfortunate practices in Dane County Jail. Mediating stress, fear, anxiety, and panic responses under pressure are certainly complex issues at the level of media social discourse, but also at the level of the central nervous system – Dr. Davidson seems to be interested in connecting the two. He is already helping to get the police to meditate. According to a 2015 article in the Atlantic he has been helping the police in Madison, Wisconsin to either learn some contemplative practices or to connect them with someone who can. (I’ve reached out to the handful of officers that I know in the MPD to see what they think about it – updates to come.)
This seems like a great idea to me…generally speaking. But what are the specifics? What benefit(s) to police tactics or police work overall might be found in sitting practice? As much as I love both topics I wonder why the MPD first chose to talk to Richie: in other words, I am skeptical about the immediate intersectionality between police practices and high-level neuroscience research. Certainly as a prominent researcher of meditation (and a personal meditator himself) Richie likely some great insights about how the practice works, as well as great connections in terms of teachers. But is he really the best (or only) individual to be providing such practices or consultation to the police? With no information about the program in place at the Madison Police Department I can’t say much. But my academic familiarity with Richie’s research, experiences in his lab, encounters with the Madison police, EMT training, my personal Zen practice, and role as a law enforcement instructor for the Barbara Schneider Foundation have given me a thought or two: I have some initial doubts about the application of “mindfulness” to law enforcement. My opinion is that the types of mindfulness practices – at least those being explored at the Center for Healthy Minds (previously the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds), where Davidson is in charge – are likely beneficial for the emotional stability of police officers, but perhaps less relevant during actual fieldwork or crisis intervention. Elsewhere there are similar programs – a quick Google search shows that meditation programs are appearing in a variety of police departments. A mindfulness program in Oregon has been implemented for several years now, and some initial results and data shared at a conference in April 2014. There’s also some similar stuff happening in India. As a certified EMT and supporter of technology I have wondered about the possible efficacy of some type of an App for blending these skill sets – a mindfulness trainer for law enforcement and EMS that could fit in one’s pocket. Maybe that will be the subject of further research and another brief piece. Time will tell how these law enforcement/meditation programs play out and it is my modest prediction that the futures of neuroscience research, public interest, police work, and federal/municipal/private funding may continue to overlap in a big way.
(fall 2011) http://www.ntoa.org/massemail/RyanFA11.pdf