In my line of work (education), an oft-cited sales pitch is the search query “acid rain.” The topic of “fish” is relevant. The topic on “sulfur” is relevant. So are “fossil fuel” and “carbon dioxide.” But what about “Scandinavia”?
So what about Scandinavia? It turns out that it was in Scandinavia where instances of acid rain were first observed in the 1950s. Without encountering the right material, mentions of Scandinavia would go unnoticed, or if noticed, be deemed irrelevant. Such examples are everywhere. A colleague of mine discovered the connection between ice-cream and Missouri. It turns out that the first ice-cream cone appeared at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Such discovery is accidental. When searching for something, there is obviously a target of search. But when something accidental occurs, one does not veer off course, it is just that the outcome is beyond one’s expectation. There, I believe, lies the spirit of the practice.
From time to time, the meditation practice is peppered with commentary that it ought to be non-seeking and non-judgemental. But these days, people don’t merely practice for absolutely no reason at all. One must still have some belief in its benefits (or the goal of the practice in bringing some benefits). As well, the practice is not entirely free-formed. There are some defined steps. Therefore, it is not entirely non-seeking and non-judgemental. The danger may lie in some variant of “I was told to take Vitamin C because it is good for me.”
The reply on the surface is straightforward enough, that Vitamin C is not good for you all the time. Its goodness is conditional.
There is something else more sinister at play though. It is not the target that is problematic. Vitamin C is good sometimes, isn’t it? It is the attitude that can be problematic.
The earlier search example is illustrative. Say I am searching on a topic of air pollution or acid rain. Say I have some knowledge on the topic. I know that carbon dioxide is relevant and I know the forest is impacted by acid rain. I can continue to chase after references on carbon dioxide and on the forest. In the process, I can become so immersed in carbon dioxide and forest and thereby letting references like “Scandinavia” pass me by.
A few weeks ago, a member of parliament approached me on the topic of meditation. At first, she explained how she tried to organize a meditation session for the employees. Understandably there is a real need given the parliamentary workers are faced with high stress everyday. She wanted the workers to get a chance to do Tai Chi, Yoga, spa and manicure. (Is there something wrong with my hearing?) Finally she asked me how long a typical session would run for. When I said about an hour to an hour and a half, a furrow formed between her brows.
We were in touch subsequently and I tried to soften the time concern as partly an issue of gaining a comfort level between the facilitator and the participants, and that this is not wasted time. (Isn’t it the case for any communal gathering?) She did send her assistant to be in touch, but to a certain degree I couldn’t help but feel that it was a lost cause, that we were not the wedding singer they were looking for. What was wanted was a service and not conviviality.
What is more heartbreaking though is that what is deemed stressful is often a case of “acid rain” vs. “Scandinavia.” There is no superiority in Scandinavia (though I love Gravelax) in acid rain. When you encounter it, it is not what you intended in the first place but it is not the end of the world either. Besides, nothing is lost here!
On the issue of time, especially with our world now, there seems to be a consensus that there is never enough time. When we have a question, we want the answer right now! Certain Buddhist teachings are labelled “secret” and I used to be intrigued by the wording. By “secret” it does not mean it is hidden from you until you pay five thousand gold-pressed latinum. It is a “secret” because it is in your face and you do not see it. And you know what, if you cannot see the answer, why the haste? No matter how you hurry, the answer would not show up any faster.
In the meantime, our door remains open. The English part of VBA will close for the holiday until Jan. 6, 2014. If you have any question, send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org.