It's not that what is in Mindfulness in Plain English keeps you avoiding painful experiences. It's that, that is the level of your practice right now. That's the distinction that Daniel Ingram made between concentration exercises and insight meditation. In the latter, you start by gaining access concentration to your object (breathing, or whatever), and then deliberately seek out one of the Three Fundemental Characteristics: things come and go (impermanence), they don't satisfy (suffering), and it isn't you (no self).
So for example, once you reach access concentration on breathing, you can see hone in on the specific physical sensations and try to find any part of it that is actually "permanent". You're looking for the transience of not only the inhale and the exhale, but also the transience of what appears to be solid neural signals are actually high-frequency sensations. Go deeper, and you start observing how these sensations trigger other, in kind of a cascade effect -- exactly what was mentioned in Chuang-Tzu on the wind blowing through the openings of the world.
I point this out because it's not that the teachings lead you to the practice, but rather, the teachings come from the practice. You are essentially "reverse engineering" the teaching with your personal practice. When I look around, I see how teachings from around the world derive from the insights realized (experienced) in practice. And since the practice is "experience reality, all of reality", then of course there is a commonality.
Heh, having said that, some teachings are easier to absorb than others, depending on where you think you are and who you think you are. I guess I want to leave open the possibility, to not to have strong attachment to the specific teachings themselves when you practice.
Thats something that bothered me regarding mindfulness vs. concentration. Mindfulness presupposes that the "Three Fundamental Characteristics" exist, and have the form described by Buddhist metaphysics. It tells you to take this on faith and go looking for them.
As a secular meditator I would prefer not to make the assumption that Buddhist metaphysics is correct.
I would like to see the creation of a kind of mindfulness meditation informed by secular western developments such as the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger for example.
I think that while the experiences of meditators and shamans of different traditions are genuine, in order to describe and systematize these experiences, they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place.
The experience might be eternal, but the material of understanding and explication is historical and tied to all kinds of hoary assumptions which often pass without examination.
The critical tools of modern philosophy and continental philosophy in particular can be extremely helpful for the meditator.
I think it is awesome you want to create a mindfulness practice informed by secular western developments. If you have a chance to participate in a (genuine) shamanic ceremony, your philosophical training will bring a lot to the experience. (There is a mind-to-mind phenomena you can observe in vipassana retreats or in shamanic ceremonies; the content of your mind doesn't just inform your experience, it also affects the collective. So when you bring your Western secular experience into the mix, it brings a, in my opinion, vital perspective into the experience).
I suggest that there is a allergy/aversion to religious traditions that should be investigated by a meditator at some point. Likewise, there are aversions to secular methods as well that needs to be investigated.
You don't have to presuppose that they exist. You can simply observe their comings and goings. It will take a lot longer but it is still possible. You become the observational instrument to see if those characteristics do, in fact, exist.
The critical tools of modern philosophy has been disconnected from direct experiences for this, so it's not as useful as you think it is. At least, not until you have direct realizations.
Where I've found them useful is when (1) you experience said insights, (2) you're off the cushion and trying to integrate them into your daily life and habits. I've also found that " they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place." is not as big of an influence as you think it is. (And the reverse is true: you experience how modern critical tools have their own built-in biases). But if you have not had experienced for yourself, then I'm not going to be able to persuade you to that view.
I would love to hear philosophers frame these experiences having first experienced these themselves. Otherwise, there's no point. I am, in fact, going to engage a philosophy friend in a discussion after he participates in a few shamanic ceremonies. That will be interesting.
Thanks for your reply. Going on a vipassana retreat and participating in a shamanic ceremony are definitely things I'd like to do at some point. All of my investigations have been solitary, for the most part, so I am ignorant of the collective side of things. (as a nerd, I am generally ignorant of the collective aspects of life anyway!)
I think if meditators were to study continental philosophy in particular, they would find many fruitful parallels to concepts in Eastern thought. Phenomenology involves examination of arising phenomena in a similar fashion to mindfulness, though I don't think it is ever as clearly explained. There is within it an attempt to overcome the subject-object distinction, and to re-frame the relationship between scientific objectivity and the lived experience of the human life-world. Unfortunately it is also some of the most impenetrable stuff ever written!
>>I've also found that " they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place." is not as big of an influence as you think it is.
I will take you up on that, but it might take me a few years. :)
Oh yeah! Though my knowledge of Western philosophy is shallow, I know there are not only parallels, there are outright convergences. The key is in the experience.
I see this in all the wisdom traditions, so that includes a reading of Jewish, Christian, and Islam.
Check out Terrance McKenna some time if you haven't. There is in which he does a trialogue with Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph Abraham. While I don't precisely agree with some of McKenna's comments on religions, his works are excellent sources of questions. :-D