This morning’s Daily Dharma was about simpler meditation instruction.  He says

My problem with detailed meditation instructions is that by their very nature, instructions imply there are good ways and bad ways to do something. They say, this is what you should be doing, this is right, this is wrong. Instructions set up goals, just like in “real” life.

Problem is, there are good and bad, or, less judgmentally, practical and impractical, or as the instructor for the meditation series I just did says, skillful and unskillful, ways to do things.  Today in exercise class, one of the instructors drifted back to me and said “Oh, good, you straightened your wrists.  You need to keep them straight.”  And I had had a conversation Sunday about the various things one can do to one’s tendons, most of which involve repetitive motions while not keeping one’s wrists straight.

It seems to me that telling someone to just sit quietly and pay attention in order to meditate is as likely to be successful as my botanic drawing instructor bringing in an orchid and saying “Just draw what you see.”  Well, yes, the key to meditation is to just see what really is, and the key to drawing is to draw what you really see and not what your brain has built out of it.  But in either case, there are lots of steps, and techniques that others have figured out.  We could all start from scratch, but it could take while to discover everything.  And meanwhile, we may get tendonitis.

On the other hand, I think what the writer on meditation was saying was also true.  We can get bogged down in the rules and the detail, doing things by rote, especially if we do not discover for ourselves, or do not have explained, the reasons for sitting with our backs straight, working with our wrists straight, keeping our eyes closed so we are not distracted or slightly open so we don’t fall asleep.

Elements of Practice

There seem to be several elements to practice:

Sheer repetition – Malcolm Gladwell says research show about 10,000 hours, consistently in many different fields

Challenge – doing something you can already do well doesn’t help you grow

Feedback – practicing something wrong will make you expert in doing it the wrong way

This article on The Making of an Expert from the Harvard Business Review is a good overview (from a very unmystical standpoint.)

Food Politics

The comment I added to this petition

Re: Docket No. APHIS-2007-0044

While I am not opposed to genetically modified food plants and animals in principle, I am opposed to genetic modification for the purpose of making plants (or animals, for that matter) more or less vulnerable to proprietary chemicals, or in any way turning plants and animals into pieces of a factory system. We have seen over the last 60 years what chemical fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and other methods of production (strip mining, plastics production, widespread use of antibiotics) have done to our health and environment.  Our regulatory agencies, including the USDA, need to be much more conservative in approving any of these methods.