My notes from a Coursera course on meditation, Buddhism, and modern psychology - Week 2.

Noble Truths and prescription for what ails humans:

  • Third Noble Truth is the abandonment of craving and clinging. This is the prescription for what ails us.
  • Forth Noble Thuth - eight-fold path that you have to follow to achieve 'nirvana', 'liberation', 'enlightment'. Cultivating the right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration.
  • Intellectual understanding combined with experiential understanding. (this is where thinking and doing go hand in hand, as I've experienced before especially in the context of coding)
  • A spectrum of meditative practice starting from therapeutic all the way to monks shooting for enlightenment. In the middle is 'spiritual' meditation where the goal could be to see the world more clearly, to know the truth about yourself, about other people. To strip yourself of delusions and misconceptions of the mind. So not just as a way to help yourself but to help others, become a more considerate person.

So what's the deal with Meditation in this context:

  • Concentration meditation is about very intently focusing on one thing, like your breath or a mantra or an image.
  • Mindfulness meditation is about observation your mind, your feelings/thoughts in sort of a detached, objective way, without judging them or attaching like or dislike to them.
  • The rebellion of mindfulness against natural selection - natural selection does it's bidding by having our feelings influence our thoughts and perceptions. Mindfulness is about looking at feelings in a way that disempowers them. So mindfulness has an 'edge' to it. Mindfulness has this reputation of being this gentle thing - the idea of a calm, relaxed way of being. But actually it's kind of a rebellious way of being :)

Mindfulness meditation:

  • Default Mode Network is the part of your brain that is active when you're not doing anything else - mind wandering essentially (planning, worrying, analyzing the past, fantasizing).
  • And when people mediate, the Default Mode Network gets less and less active. It gets quieter.
  • Another sign of achieving mindfulness is looking at something objectively. In a non-reactive way. Observing something without getting wrapped up in it. In a non-attached (better word than 'detached') way.
  • When you're looking at a feeling in an objective detached way, it doesn't mean you're creating a distance to the feeling. Actually you're getting quite up close to the feeling. (observed this to be true for frustration, annoyance, irritation, and similar negative feelings)

About feelings:

  • Wisdom, as referred to in Buddhist texts, is precisely about discerning which feelings to engage in and which not.
  • Per evolutionary psychology the reason feelings are not accurate representation of reality is that we now live in an environment which is different from the one in which our feelings evolved.