Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles >> YOUNG: This is going to be both a practice and a theory presentation, so we're actually going to do some meditation and we're going to talk about your experiences and then we'll do some more and then we'll talk some more as Ming mentioned. So, you don't need to have any previous background; I'm going to start you out with a few minutes of guided meditation practice and then we'll build from there. Now, the simple way to understand a meditative state is to compare what people's normal experiences to what a meditative experience would be. So, what's people's normal experience? Well, in the day, we're very alert but have you noticed we tend to be a little frenetic; there could be a driven quality? So the good news is we're quite alert, but we're not necessarily in a deep, restful state while that alertness is there. At night, the good news is we're in a deep, restful state but we don't have alertness; we sacrifice that for the deep rest. What meditation is simply the best of both worlds simultaneously. You're very alert like you are when you had a bunch of coffee and you're doing something exciting in your background world. But at the same time--at the very same time, there's a kind of reposed restfulness, so it brings together the best of those worlds. Now, why we might want to do that, well, we'll talk about that in a little while. So, I'm going to guide you [INDISTINCT] process that will, in time, elevate your levels of alertness but also your levels of repose. So, it's important while we do this exercise, particularly for those of you that have never meditated before, that you do attempt not to fall asleep. There will be some tendency for that to happen, so try to bring yourself back to the practice I'm going to guide you with. One of the ways that you can control of your level of alertness is through your posture. There are direct links between the posture centers in the spine and what's called the reticular activating system in the central nervous system that basically as you posture wilts like this, your reticular activating system turns off and the brain stops processing and at the extreme level, you become drowsy. Conversely, though, if you keep your spine straight, that will physiologically wake up your brain. Now, it takes a little while to learn how to have your body deeply relaxed while at the same time your spine is straight; that is a body learning, a motor learning that just takes practice. But they have found, for example, with Zen monks in Japan for whom they did electromyographic studies--that is monitoring the real-time electrical activity in the muscles, in their posture muscles--they found that those monks could maintain a bolt upright posture for hours on end and their muscles were more relaxed than if they were horizontal and asleep. But that's a long training, that's many years of training. Many of you will be beginning so that's going to seem strange to you; well, how can I keep my spine straight and at the same time, allow my body to be completely relaxed? Well, that comes with time. I would say, basically, the trick is balance. You learn how to align your spine and then just let the whole body just hang from that. So, I'm going to give you an initial concentration exercise where you're going to be straightening your spine, letting your whole body settle, then I'm going to have you focus on the physical relaxation in your body, and you're going to mentally note that as feel rest. We'll use the word feel to refer to anything in the body and well, when you're feeling that you are physically and/or emotionally reposed, we'll say that you're experiencing feel rest; your body is--you're having a body experience of restfulness. And the particular flavor of feel rest that I'm going to help you explore is muscle relaxation. And you can create muscle relaxation by dropping your jaw a little bit and then your face looks smooth, you can let your arms hang limply and loosely. Every out-breath physiologically, your intercostal muscles and your diaphragm muscle automatically slightly relax on each out-breath; it's part of the intrinsic physiology of breathing. On the in-breath, those muscles contract to pull open the thoracic cavity. On the out-breath, it's the stored potential energy in the tissue elasticity plus gravity that does the out-breath for you, so the out breath, all muscles have to do essentially for an out-breath is relax. So, if you tune in to your core of your body, you'll find that the relaxation flavor is present automatically on each out-breath. So, I'm going to take you through a sequence of focusing and your objective is going to be physical relaxation. All you have to do is follow my guidance. After we do that and we have a little experience of concentrating on that, we're going to begin to talk about why one would want to do an exercise like this and so the theoretical considerations of, well, what would happen if you did something like this for--on a regular basis for 10, 20, 30 years? What sorts of changes would you start to see in your daily life? We'll talk about those conceptual pieces, but I wanted to make sure that we begin with something experiential. So, we often start out meditation by one of these East Asian-styled bells, so that's what we're going to do and just listen in and follow alone. Now, take a moment to stretch up and let your whole body settle and notice how that will tend to produce a kind of a global relaxation throughout your body. Focus in on that and every few seconds, make the mental label feel rest to remind yourself that you're focusing on this restful quality in your body. Feel means it's in the body. Rest in this case means nothing mysterious, it's just muscle relaxation, or settling into your posture. You may experience that relaxation in just one part of your body, that's fine. Or it may move from place to place within your body, that's fine. Or you maybe aware from relaxation simultaneously and uniformly throughout your body, that's fine, too. So, whether it's just one place or whether it moves from place to place or whether it's global throughout your body, moment by moment, contact the pleasant quality of muscles relaxing into a posture and every few seconds, to acknowledge that that's what you're focusing on. Say it yourself mentally, feel rest and keep that sequence of mental labels going. Now, as you do this, non-rest is going to arise in the form of internal visual experience of mental images, internal auditory experience of mental talk, other kinds of body sensations, external sounds. You can do this with your eyes closed so there won't be external sights, but all sorts of things are going to come up in your mind, body and outside world other than relaxation. Perfectly okay, totally give permission for all that to activate. But what you're intentionally focusing in on is the relaxation, locally or globally, intensely or subtly doesn't matter, that's your objective focus, and that's it. Mental talk might arise, fine. As soon as you find yourself caught in it, gently return to body rest. Mental images might arise; images of the past, the future, fantasy, that's fine. As soon as you find yourself caught in mental images, gently return to relaxation in the body. Physical and/or emotional sensations may arise in your mind including discomfort, impatience, sleepiness, that's fine. But as soon as you're caught in those body sensations, gently return to the pleasant sensation of relaxation. So, it's an exercise in selective attention. The relaxation may be very mild relative to the intensities of the inward seeing, hearing or feeling or the outwork: hearing or feeling. But that's okay. Like when you listen for a faint sound, you get very concentrated. If in relaxation it's only subtle, then you have to be very highly focused, but that builds concentration. You can create relaxation locally by smoothing your face or dropping your jaw or dropping your shoulders or lifting your arms. You can find relaxation in the core of your being anytime you want, by focusing on how the rib muscles and the diaphragm muscle relax on each out breath. Furthermore, you can create local relaxation anytime you want by straightening your spine once again as we did in the beginning and then letting the whole body settle, creating an overall relaxation albeit perhaps subtle throughout the body. So through some combination of finding and/or creating, try to focus as continuously as possible on the pleasant sensation of being physically relaxed and let everything also rise, but in the background; selective attention on the relaxation frame. Remember every few minute--every few seconds, rather, make the mental label feel rest to remind yourself that you're focusing in the body, which is what's encoded by the word "feel" in the system, and that the flavor of experience you're focusing on is the restful flavor which, in this case, is muscle relaxation. Now, we're going to up the ante on this exercise. We'll make it a little more challenging. We're going to continue to do exactly what we're doing, focusing on body relaxation, but we're now going to attempt to do it with your eyes open. I'll explain how to do that. You de-focus your eyes. You open your eyes, but you sort of look blankly out and that will help you maintain awareness on your body even though your eyes are open. Now, of course, you'll be somewhat pulled into external sights, but you'll sort of de-focus or soft focus or far-focus your eyes, making it easier to focus on relaxation with your eyes open but more challenging because they are open. So now open your eyes, sort of soft focus. This will also help you retain alertness as you're physiologically waking up the brain. Now your eyes are open and continue to create and find relaxation in one part of your body or circulating from place to place or maybe over your whole body at once, continue to mentally label, feel rest. And now your eyes are open but your awareness is back and you're fine. Now, we're going to be--in a moment, be moving from formal practice to practice in life. That means we're going to be talking and interacting. But you might see if you can keep some awareness on finding and/or creating relaxation from time to time as we're interacting, so that the momentum of what we've done is somewhat maintained; not unbroken, but there's some carryover as we go about the more ordinary situation of talking and interacting. So see if, from time to time, you can be aware of relaxing in your posture even as we talk and interact. So as Ming mentioned, my name is Shinzen, S-H-I-N-Z-E-N. And I got that name in Asia, although I was not born in Asia. I was privileged to grow up partially in American culture and partially in Japanese culture, so I grew up bilingual and somewhat bicultural. And part of that was a stay of a number of years in Buddhist monasteries in different parts of Asia. And then I came back to the United States with an interest in how I could take what I've learned--which I view as the pinnacle of Asian technology, which is the internal science and internal technology of meditative states--how could I take that and combine it with the best of Western science and technology to perhaps bring about or fertilize a whole new direction in human history? And that has been my main goal and interest. And one of the reasons that people like Ming enjoy having me as a meditation teacher is I'm a fully professional meditation teacher, but I'm a pretty good amateur scientist and I bring a little bit of that perspective into the way that I present things. So my favorite thing in the world is to give presentations at places like this, like Google or other institutions where there are people with a scientific or engineering background, so that I can sort of put on that little bit of that decap myself. So, we just completed an exercise. Now, those of you with a background in math know that one of the things that you always want to do in mathematics, if possible, is generalize and abstract from specific to broader formulations. So I had to do a very specific exercise to with you're focusing on one sensory quality. Now, let's generalize that, let's speak in the most general terms. What did I have you do? Well, I had you pick a sensory event and I partitioned all sensory experience into that event and then everything else. And the instruction was keep your attention as much as you can on event X and when Y, Z and T pull you away, as they inevitably will, come back to X. What were some of the Y, Zs and Ts that pulled you away from relaxation? Tell me what were some of the things that were in the distraction category that you found you were caught in and had to come back from. Tell me. >> Noises from other people. >> YOUNG: External sounds that came from other people. They could also come from cars, but they're more annoying somehow if they come from other people or more gripping in some way; external sounds. >> Just thoughts about other aspects in life. >> YOUNG: Thoughts. Now, some of those thoughts probably have the form of internal conversations, correct? And you know its--most people tend to point to their head, their ears. But did anybody have thoughts that involved mental pictures where you saw people, places; situations? Did anybody notice that sometime a thought could have both a video and an audio component? You can see the scene and hear the dialogue. So we had external auditory events that could pull us away; we could hear out to the world. We had internal audio events that could pull us away; we could hear into our own mental talk. We could see out to the world now that--when I had you do it with your eyes open, did anybody notice you tended to get pulled into external vision? You could be pulled into inner visions that are mental pictures. And then there were various physical--did anybody notice that the body, other than the relaxation, would pull you? Anybody notice that you had sleepy sensations, for example? How many people had that? Okay. That's a physical sensation. Anybody noticed any aches and pains? Okay. Anybody noticed any antsiness, impatience in the body? Okay. If you were irritated by sound that might've been an emotional irritation flavor in the body, there could be fear flavors in the body. In other words, there could be physical, you could feel the physicality of the body, but also parts of the emotional experience involve body sensations. So what we did do? We partitioned the world into one category of experience called "Physical Relaxation" and then all the other experiences. It turns out all the other experiences are external seeing, external hearing, internal seeing, internal hearing, and physical and emotional body sensations. If we consider smell and taste to be forms of sort of body sensation, then that classifies all the experience. So in general, what we did, if we abstract it from the specific, we designated a class of experience, we selectively attended to that, when the attention was pulled into some other class of experience, we came back. That's a very general formulation and we did that as a formal exercise. We were just dedicating a period a time just to doing that. So now I'm going to ask you some--I'm going to ask you to make some conjectures. First conjecture, do you think that if you did an exercise--oh, first question, do you think that we would've developed a similar skill set if we had picked some other object, some other sensory object? Suppose, for example, I said, "Our object is going to be mental talk." Every time you are aware of mental talk, I'd like you to say, "Hear in," indicate your hearing inward experience and we're going to ignore everything else. We're going to ignore and then we'll go through the list and we'll, of course, be ignoring physical relaxation. Suppose I gave you as the object that you're going to concentrate on internal talk instead of physical relaxation? Now, something would be different because we're focusing on a very different sensory problem. However, I would say that if you were to do the exercise based on focusing concentratedly on mental talk or if you were to do the exercise based on focusing concentratively on physical relaxation that in the end, with regards to your base level of concentration skills, the effect would be the same, okay? Now that's maybe a little counter-intuitive if you might think, "Oh, well, you should only be focusing on pleasant, restful things. What if I focus on something agitative and so forth, will that still develop my concentration power?" and the answer is yes. So, we could've picked any one of dozens or dozens of possible objects; a mantra, your breath, an external candle flame, it could've been anything, anything at all. The fact is when the awareness wandered, you came back. When the awareness wanders, you'd come back. Now, how many people here have ever done physical exercise to build up your body? I think most of us have done it from time to time, nothing mystical-shmystical. If you do exercise on a regular basis, will the base level of strength in your muscles increase? Yes or no? It's not trick set of question. The answer is yes. If you designate some aspect of experience to be an object of focus and you, by implication, designate all other experiences for that period of time to be distractions, and you pull yourself back from the distractions to the object of focus--doesn't matter what the object of focus is--do you think that with time, your base level of concentration power would be elevated? What do you think? It's not an unreasonable hypothesis. In fact, it is profoundly true; a fact that was never discovered very clearly by the Western world, but was very clearly discovered by Asia. And I think if there's one thing that Asia can yell out loud and clear and the rest of the world, the entire rest of the world, has to listen and say, "That's unique and that's important," is the discovery that a person's base level of concentration power is trainable by systematic exercise. So, let's attempt a definition albeit perhaps a circular definition. But those of you with a mathematical background know that formal systems always start with circular definitions, so we start with undefined, okay? But let's just accept the fact that there may be a little circularity in this, but let's define concentration power as the ability to focus on what you want whenever you want for as long as you want. Now, you notice that there is nothing in this definition that says that concentration is a narrowing of your attention. That's one of the common misconceptions that concentration is, by definition, a reduced scope of awareness. All I said was the ability to attend to what you want whenever you want for as long as you want, that's the definition of your base level of concentration power. So if you're driving the car and you would like to have a meditative experience of driving the car, are you going to buzz a mantra in your head? Are you going to visualize a flower? Not if you want to drive safely, okay? Are you going to focus on your breath? I don't recommend it. Then what's relevant to driving the car?