Sunday, October 03, 2004

Thoughts on Automation -> Pure Awareness

This blog is the result of a lot of thoughts: my post on typing my date of birth, my experience with Feldenkrais yesterday, my habitual mismemory, my mother worrying whether she hadn't locked the car etc.

I think most times when I forget things are because of some of the automation, or lack of automation of some habits. Most of the automation does not leave a great memory in our minds because their is no cognitive effot put into it (this I learnt in class). My mother did not weigh up her option whether to lock the car or not. She simply did what she always did. As a result, after walking away from the car, she had an eruption of uncertainty: Did I lock the car? For me, I recently CCed what I wanted to BCC, which caused me some annoyance at the time (you use BCC for a reason).

In some forms of meditation, it asks for total awareness, but my experience of learning about learning tells me that you cannot get that through meditation alone. You might be aware of the environment for the moment you are sitting (and hence relaxing all your internal mental processes) but soon as you talk, you will be back to habitual, automatic mental processes. I guess it depends on the purpose of the meditation (whether someone actually gives meditation a purpose).

For example, all speaking and writing requires you to construct your meaning into verbal form. Listening and reading requires many skills including constructing meaning. If I say: "What are you looking at?" the meaning received is built by you in your mind in response to the verbal stimulus by me. It takes effort. Most of this is automatic (although not necessarily done accurately).
That is where Feldenkrais comes in. It calls for total awareness of your bodies actions, breaking down each of those actions you do regularly, simply turning to the right for example, and breaking it down into what your eyes are doing, your shoulders, your waist, your shoulder blades, where is your centre of gravity etc. That is probably as close to awareness you can get for a single action. But that is with the physical body... The mind seems more difficult to break down into steps.

Expressing my thoughts here as I am now works on several levels of automation. I am constructing ideas in English, most of which is not conscious. I am typing without reference to the keys I am pressing. In a way this is similar to speaking your first language, where you don't need to monitor where your tongue is, lips are and so on, you just say. Would you like to lose all automation of these processes and do them "manually?" Just stopping now. I seek the keys I press. But my eyes flick automatically to the right keys. And then I press the shift key without thinking either... Automation saves the burden on our minds. Can you communicate while having pure awareness?

Of course, you can do little experiments with yourself to test:

Can you consciously stop understanding what you are hearing? (impossible)
Can you stop yourself building your own meaning to words when you hear someone say something to you?
(interesting just then my mum said she'd have a shower, but without stopping typing or doing the above experiment I said: Yep! without thinking, automatically constructing it)
Can you consciously co-ordinate your speech without resorting to automation?
Is it possible to type without habit once you have developed habit? (or is it impossible)

In my cognitive psychology class (called Learning and Teaching) we are told that causing students to have automation of accurate/good processes should be what we should aim to do. That is our jobs as Teachers. Maybe once you are mature that is when you should deconstruct your processes to an extent and reconstruct them willfully. Or is that impossible?

Hmmmmmmmmmm... Maybe I should try and meditate again.. (I have been quite unsuccessful at the several times I have tried).

15 comments:

ideacat said...

Why do you need to break down the processes of the mind in order to be aware of it? In Zen, words are seen as limiting because they divide reality into fixed bits rather than treating it as a whole. Besides, not all things happen during a day. Just because you can't do it today doesn't mean you can't do it in a year's time.

Crypticity said...

How can you be aware if you don't know what is happening in your mind? It doesn't need words. Just like feldenkrais. Those were just examples when you go passed the words.

I do meditation today because I never get to tomorrow. I sat down to do a simple breath meditation and relaxed myself quite well, on the ground beside my bed.

Next year I may have no desire.

James said...

I found it difficult (and an unnecessary burden) to consciously coordinate my speech without resorting to automatism. I would need to make conscious choices about words to use, word order, how to conjugate verbs, etc.

I am more conscious about how I speak Dutch. Forming a sentence feels like solving a mathematical equation. I am aware of the grammar rules, I have a basic vocabulary and I use these things consciously to express what I think "the answer" should be.

It will be much nicer when I can communicate like I do with my English.

As for typing, I can type letters without thinking about them. But, I need to look to type numbers and I usually just use my right index finger! I have never bothered to develop the unconscious habit!

ideacat said...

I just remembered another thing I read in "the way of Zen": It is impossible to grasp the mind with the mind. It is just like one of those paradoxical sentences: "This statement is false".

James said...

Sort of. It requires going to the meta-level - which fits in nicely with the play we're about to perform.

You need to be external to a system in order to understand it completely. That's why it is impossible for someone to understand their own mind - they are attempting to do the analysis with the thing being analysed!

Anonymous said...

>>Maybe I should try and meditate again.. (I have been >>quite unsuccessful at the several times I have tried

Just like to ask what's your meaning of a successful meditation? When I first started meditation, I was taught to do it without expectations & judgements. When you go into meditation without these things, you can drop the perception of it being successful or unsuccessful, and isn't that what it's about in the end? So even if you sit there with a thousand things in your mind, who is there but yourself to judge whether it's successful or not?


About awareness, I had some interesting experiences this year, during which I just observe thoughts in my mind without language or words, and I find that thoughs were formed very quickly, many many times faster than the forming of words.

Without using words, my thoughts come and go at a much faster rate, and then, for the first time in my life I became aware of the empty spaces between each of my thoughts. It is the moment when a thought was gone, and the next one hasn't arrive yet, nothing exists there, except awareness.
Perhaps that's a form of pure awareness?

--Edwin--

Crypticity said...

James: Yeah. When you learn a language, you realise how much you would like to have certain processes automated. But then to correct them (if you were to learn something incorrectly) you would need to be aware of exactly the process by which you do the mistake, taking it apart and then making it up together again.

Xin: Perhaps. Perhaps not. Like the driver in the car. You can't see the whole car from the driver's seat. You might infer the mechanisms of the engine, might be able to judge when your rear bumper is about to touch the following car but in the end it is just inference and inductions based on experience. But induction and inference are mental processes and might be the only way to know more. Many of my awarenesses about myself have come through observation and thinking about myself.

Edwin: Perhaps another sign of dualism in my mind.
Who is to judge it unsuccessful? I do.

I called it unsuccessful because both times (Zen Meditation in Taiwan and Sri Chinmoy Meditation in Auckland) my body was so tied up in physical discomfort that I would be less relaxed and ready when I meditated. One of my biggest troubles is compulsive swallowing. Soon as I try to meditate I become aware of my throat and feel the need to swallow, and the feeling of saliva gathering in my mouth, and so I swallow and swallow. Also at the Zen centre in Taiwan, in addition to the swallowing problem, because of my lack of flexibility, I tended to rock back and almost fall over backwards.

So for relaxation, for focus, for anything, both times were not successful. I probably meditated best once at home many years ago just by myself. When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to find I was in my room.

Crypticity said...
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Crypticity said...
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Crypticity said...
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ideacat said...

I have the same feeling as Edwin. Thoughts forming much faster than words. Sometimes I find myself reading pages of words but end up realising the author was only trying to explain a simple idea. It might partially due to the fact that I am not very articulate. Or just that my ideas exceed my ability to express them. What a pity that mind-reading is still not widely achievable, we'd save so much time and paper and phone bills and typing!

James: Alan Watts actually said that once you achieve this metaphysical level, you will need another level above it to understand the metaphysical level, then there will be an endless loop of levels, which doesn't do much. Luckily our play only has three levels!

I don't think you have to sit in a certain position to meditate. The Zazen literature I have read so far does not mention anything about Chakras. So the Chan meditation you had in Taiwan must be different from that in Japanese zen buddhism.

ideacat said...
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ideacat said...
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Crypticity said...
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Crypticity said...

Oh no! Xin fell for the same trap I did.

If when you send a comment and it goes to a page saying that the page wasn't found, relax, it has gone through~