Thursday, 11 April 2019

Good Video: Nathaniel Drew Meditates

Lots of videos on the old blog lately. Down no doubt to the fact that much of my audio-visual consumption comes from YouTube these days.

This week I watched Nathaniel Drew's 19-minute account of a week spent meditating twice a day. And it's not bad.

First off, Nathaniel never set out to sit zazen, so I'm not going to do that annoying religious thing and pick at another's practice from imaginary higher ground. Meditation is common to many religions, and also to nonreligious individuals and movements. For me to complain about Nathaniel's Zen would trigger Karma's infamous So-What response, and that's trouble I don't need.

However, he does say he's looking for mindfulness and clarity, so as a sangha mate that entitles me to an opinion. (And no more.)

From the outset, Nathaniel seems to have mixed intent. On the one hand, he wants a settled, nonreactive mind; on the other, worldly rewards. That's true of all of us, if we're honest; doubly so of beginners. But I do believe he got off on the wrong foot by buying (literally) into something called the Headspace app. Those folks are selling meditation, and I have no faith in commercial gurus.

(By contrast, the "meditation" apps I recently reviewed are just timers, and importantly, non-profit.)

But Nathaniel survives this fairly serious initial stumble. From the outset he's commendably firm, requiring of himself two sits a day, whether it's fun or not. That tempers some of his initial getitude and yields true results. He also adapts his practice to his life and environment, making changes where indicated. In this he bests some Zenners I know.

But the single great weakness in his technique is that he's meditating 'way too long. An hour sit is gruelling, even for experienced meditators. (By comparison, cloistered Zen monks normally sit 40 minutes, give or take.)

Fact is, the most effective way to time meditation is to sit till you're done. Evaluating your practice by minutes earned is slave-think.

When I started, I was typically done by around 15-odd minutes. That slowly stretched (on average; not every time) to about an hour. But I still sit less than half an hour sometimes, and others – rarely – as much as two.

So if a session can be open-ended, sit till you're done.

Some of Nathaniel's stated goals awaken the hectoring religioso in me, so I'll spare everybody that ugly prospect. Instead I'll encourage him to keep meditating, while continuing to avoid, actively and attentively, spiritual and physical materialism. As a Buddhist, I know that's all the task requires.

I'm also intrigued by his interest in Stoic philosophy, aka "Roman Zen". I wasn't aware that was a thing among young people these days. They could do worse. A Zen – Stoic dialogue would be most productive; we could use that kind of kyôsaku.

For the rest, I smiled when Nathaniel apologised for not having life-changing visions, and lamented he'd only attained "surface level".

That's all there is, young brother. If visions happen, put them down before they mess you up.

Anyway, have a look. The guy's asking the right questions, and taking the right measures.

(Readers interested in Zen approaches to meditation will find one here.)
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