Shinzen Young: Deep Concentration in Formal Meditation and Daily Life (Theory and Practice)

Uploaded by GoogleTechTalks on 24.05.2010

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?
Whether there's certain sites that you have to see, there are certain sounds you have
to be aware of, and then there is the body physically linked to the car, to the seat,
the steering wheel. So there's a visual component, you've got to see out to the road, you have
to hear out to the road and you have to feel your body linked to the car. So the sight,
sounds and body sensations relative to driving are what's relevant to that situation. If
you're focusing on that and that only, you'll be in a deep meditative state even though
you maybe driving in traffic with a lot of going on. When you arrive at your destination,
it will seem the same to you as though you had been silently in a room for an hour, say,
focused on a mantra or your breath. But you're object of focus was none other than the activity
of driving a car but in a highly concentrated state. So we'll define your base level of
concentration to be--we'll define, yes, your base level of concentration as how easily
you can stay focused on what you deem relevant at any given time. Have you noticed that your
concentration power fluctuates during the day? Have you noticed? So, everybody's noticed
that. There's nothing mystical-shmystical about it. Have you noticed that when you're
spontaneously more focused, you feel better and perform better? How many people have noticed
that effect? Okay. That's an important fact. Now, that combined with the fact that concentration,
your base level of concentration power, can be elevated with systematic practice, gives
us something quite significant for human beings. It means that you can always be feeling better and always
be performing better and dramatically so. Can I add 50 years to your life right now?
No. Can I multiply your base level of concentration in each moment by power of--by 100% or 200%?
Yes, that I can do. That means if you are twice as focused in each moment, you're living
twice as big. So although we cannot additively, dramatically change your life span, we can
literally stretch the scale of life from the inside by elevating your base level of concentration
power. Now, your base level of concentration power is how concentrated you are when you're
not trying. The second miss--so there's a confusion in people's minds between the exercises
that you do that will elevate your base level of concentration which are small, formal things
like what we did, and the base level of concentration itself which is a permanent or trait change.
So your base level of concentration is how focused you are when you're not having to
work to be focused, it's just what you dropped into. So if we double or triple your base
level of concentration, that means without you having to do anything special, just as
you're going about your daily life, you will be two or three times as focused. Now, that
means you'll be living two or three times as large. So that's like--I rank that as one
of the huge discoveries of the human species that we can actually do this, that this is
trainable. So there's a metaphor that I'd like to use, once again, based on science.
Let's say that your goal is to understand plants, you really--you want to be like an
ace botanist. So you want to understand plants, but you want to really understand plants.
So here is understanding of the plant. But since plant is a life form, if you really
want to understand plants, you have to back that up with biochemistry and molecular biology.
So you need this chemistry background to freely understand the structure and function of plants
at a very deep level. Chemistry is a broader subject than botany, it's a deeper subject.
It gives you a deeper perspective on things; it's also a little harder for most people
to learn. Of course, if you really want to understand chemistry, you have to understand
the underlying physics including the quantum physics so that takes you into the world of
physics. Physics is broader than chemistry; it's about building bridges or the behavior
of galaxies as well as maybe the chemistry of a solar surface. So physics is broader,
deeper, most people find it a little harder. But if you really understand physics, then
you understand quantum chemistry and then you can really appreciate the deep principles
underlying the world of plants. However, there is a discipline that is broader, deeper and
many people find harder than physics. And what would that deeper, broader, discipline
be? Mathematics. Now, most people would say that mathematics lies at the base of the pyramid.
When I cited that I wanted to be part of the East-West inner science outer science dialogue,
I didn't have any background in science. I wanted to acquire a background in science--that's
many decades ago--and I was given a very good piece of advice by a scientist. He said, "Just
ace math, okay? Just totally learn it and learn it, you know, to the post graduate level
and then you'll be able to walk into any science class and pretty much figure out what's going
on." That was a good piece of advice, to start at the base of the pyramid. And so that's
where I did start and I found that was very true. But--now, math is much deeper than physics.
It can--you can use matrices to model an economic system or you can use probability theory for
gambling. There's even human values, utility functions, even human perceptions, there are
attempts to make mathematical models of these socio-metric matrices and so forth. So math
is broader than physics, it's deeper. Most people find it abstract and more difficult.
But if you ace this, you've got this and you've got this one, got this one. So what is the
purpose of this rather extended metaphor? Well, I would claim that there's one more
level; something deeper, broader, perhaps in some ways even more challenging, but even
more productive to learn and that's concentration skill. For one thing, with concentration skill--I
mean, I don't have any native ability in math whatsoever, I failed all my math classes in
school. But when I came back from Asia, I had something going for me that I didn't have
when I was in high school. I had vastly enhanced concentration power from years of living in
monasteries. Well, that allowed me to overcome my native lack of ability in this field. I
just made up for it by pure concentration power and with time, it allowed me to learn
these things. Of course, my interest is not botany, my interest in neuroscience and how
neuroscience--what neuroscience can tell us about meditative states and the other way
around, what meditators, how they can collaborate with neuroscientists to suggest the most productive
experiments based on their--in their experience. So, my specialty is neuroscience, not botany.
But to understand the neuroscience, you still have to understand all of this stuff down
to the math. But what allowed me to understand the math was my concentration skills that
came from meditation. But the concentration skills are not just good for learning science.
They'll improve your tennis game, they'll improve your experience of making love, they'll
deepen your prayer life, they'll allow you to have psychological insights; they'll allow
you to experience physical pain without suffering, even emotional pain without suffering. So
concentration skills are very raw. They cover--they will empower every significant dimension that
is called human, whether it's a physical human, emotional human, a social human, the relationship
human, the I-want-to-make-a-fortune human, the I-want-to-have-a-good-reputation human.
Whatever it is, if it's humanly important, it's going to be facilitated by greater concentration
power. We don't have time in a short talk like this to connect all the arrows, to connect
the dots. But if you were to bring up anything, I mean, anything in your life that you would
like to see--I'd like to see it move in this direction, I'd like to avoid this other direction,
I could connect the dots, okay, general enhanced level of concentration will allow you to do
this, that'll allow you to this, and that will allow you to achieve your ultimate goal.
So I would claim that at the basis of the pyramid of all human knowledge--both engineering
and science knowledge here, but all the other kinds of knowledges that are important for
human beings--at the base of all of those knowledge pyramids lies the most basic human
trainable skill, and that is the skill at attending to what is relevant, which is equivalent
to the skill of not being caught in what is irrelevant. Remember it, once again, as we're
interested in elevating your base level. That means when you're not trying, when you're
not working at it, can you be two or three times as focused as a normal human being?
And the answer is yes. What kind of time investment would it take to achieve that training? What
I tell people is a minimum of--a minimum of 10 minutes a day of formal practice like what
we did here, plus four hours a month of intensive practice. I have something that I call the
Home Practice Program, which you access by telephone wherever you are in the world and
we give it in four-hour increments on weekends--you can look me up on the internet if you want
to do that--and that gives you that intense retrieve practice every month if you do four
hours of continuous formal practice and most days if you do 10 minutes of formal practice.
As the months and years and decades of your life progress, it's reasonable that you will
become two or three times as focused as a normal human being in your daily life. I repeat,
that means that you will live your life two or three times as big as any normal human
being. I call that a good investment. Give me 10 minutes each day and four hours each
month and I make your life twice as big. Additively, we've taken away--I'll need that--but you
could see that the end is, "Do the math," as they say. So that's–-so as---I'll take
your comment and question in a second. As time goes on, if you do these exercises, your
concentration gets deeper and deeper and it gets broader and broader. By deeper and deeper,
you can perhaps have an intuitive sense of what that's like. Broader and broader means
you're in a special concentrated or in the zone state in more and more complex life activities.
Right now, I'm giving this talk to you; my meditation is giving this talk. I feel that
I'm in a very deep meditative state just by giving this talk. I feel, as I'm talking to
you now, in a deeper state that I would've felt in the middle of a silent retreat 20
years ago if I had been meditating for a month without talking to anybody. The state I would've
been in 20 years ago under those very special circumstances is not nearly as deep as the
state I'm in right now in interacting with you; that's what I mean by base level. So
it gets deeper and deeper and it gets broader and broader. At first, meditation is an event
within life, then at some point, it could be two months, two years or, let's be honest,
you know, 12 years or 15 years, at some point, a figure-ground reversal takes place; life
starts to happen inside meditation. It's like the meditation is always there. Life comes
and goes. At the beginning, life is there, meditation comes and goes. Once that figure-ground
reversal has taken place, your growth goes exponential because now you've got the proverbial
positive feedback loop. The more you grow, the faster you grow. Your initial experience
on that exponential growth curve, if you just look at the first part of it, might seem linear
and not very dramatic because you can't see the big picture. But once that figure-ground
reversal takes place, then that's where the derivative goes high [INDISTINCT]. And when
you start to meditate, it seems like you're a million miles from any goal. And in the
first year of practice, it seems like you walked a mile, and it's like, well, you know,
where is this going? But what you don't realize is in the next year, you go 10 miles in the
next year, you'll do 100 miles, roughly speaking. The base of the logarithm may not lead to
the base count, okay? Or--and it may not be in years, but roughly speaking, we are talking
in statistical trend, if you'd look at a lot of people that mediate and you look over a
lot of--a long period of time in their career, there is a tendency for meditation to grow
exponentially. So that, you know, in relatively few years, you can start to have these stunning,
earth-shaking changes in your life. That's why I say this discovery primarily from Asia
of the trainability of concentration ranks as--along with fire and the wheel and simple,
you know, levers and things like that. I rank it right up there with the most important
things that our species has discovered because I place it at the base of all other human
endeavors. So, that's the wrap. You had a little taste of it. Now what I would like
to do is--it's 2:30, so we've been here for an hour--maybe we'll take a couple of questions.
Also, I'd like comments. I like challenges. I even like it if you disagree with me and
we could discuss that, so feel free. We'll take a couple minutes to just open it up for
any reports on your experiences, questions you may have and so forth. Yes?
>> How does discipline figure into concentration? Does concentration take discipline or is it
discipline depend on concentration? >> YOUNG: I would say pretty much chicken
and egg. In other words, you need a certain minimum amount of discipline to set up a regimen
of practice. A regimen of practice is, as I mentioned, a little bit each day, a lot
every once in a while. By a lot, I mean at least four hours unbroken practice. And then
the other thing in the regimen is at least a couple of times a year, you have a personal
interaction with at least one coach. I don't believe in the whole guru system of gurus
and disciples. I look upon myself as a competent coach. So you want to touch base with a mediation
coach every once in a while who's looking at the big picture of your practice and can
give overall, so if--overall guidance. So if you can establish enough discipline to
get that in place, then as your concentration grows, your discipline grows. Now they start
to reinforce each other. Unfortunately, the beginning, then working at, you know and have
that going for you because people in general are not concentrated and people in general
are not disciplined, so you try to start somewhere. Now, I say if you can't–-if you can't be
disciplined, be clever; that's what I did. I trapped myself in a monastery in Japan with
no ticket back and no easy way out so--because I knew I wasn't disciplined. And then I was
trapped--now trapped in that environment and believe me, if there had been any easy way
out and back to the U.S., I would've taken it, but I was trapped and fortunately. So
what you can do here is you could sign up for retreats and then you can pay your money
and write it in ink, and put that every like, as I say it, every month I give these 4-hour
mini-retreats. You can go to, it's my main website. And so if you sign up
for the retreats for a year's worth and you play in advance, that's a way of trapping
yourself if you're not too disciplined. Good. Did you have a question or comment?
>> Yeah. You mentioned a few exponential growth and intuitive trends to improve concentration.
How do you measure that? >> YOUNG: We, at this point, only have the
anecdotal measurements of, you know, centuries of teachers teaching this and seeing what
their student experience is. We're only now starting to be able to quantify all of this.
That's part of that east-west dialogue that I talked about. I can--you can find a few
studies but these are--it's hard to find longitudinal studies that go for 10 or 20 years, for obvious
reasons, right, because Western science has only been studying this stuff for 10 or 20
years. So the answer is how do we know now, because teachers like myself observe--and
I've had students that have been with me for 30 years, and I see, okay, the ones that stayed
with it--I see as a general trend what tends to happen with their practice. So right now,
I can't point you to multi-center, actively controlled, double blind, you know, bulletproof,
scientific evidence that it works this way. I think we will have that in the next century.
Right now, it's the anecdotal evidence of hundreds of teachers, our experiences sort
of in this direction. Yes, Billy? >> I have a comment and I have a question.
>> YOUNG: Sure. >> So my comment is William James, the father
of modern psychology, it could basically be the same conclusion as you did and he called
the bottom layer. He said it's the basis of judgment, character and will. It's that important.
>> YOUNG: He said that? He called concentration? >> Yes, he call attention.
>> YOUNG: Attention? >> I believe it was attention and [INDISTINCT]
the basis of judgment, character and will. >> YOUNG: Yeah, that's a pretty good quote.
>> I think he say--he say--if--he said something like only that was possible. [INDISTINCT],
that'll be great. So that was the comment. The question is that when we play video games
on the Xbox--I don't know if you have it in Japan, do you have it now? And it's like,
it's very easy to concentrate on a game, and I'm wondering whether that form of concentration
is generalized because it's so pleasure [INDISTINCT] run.
>> YOUNG: Excellent and very interested point. But I'm not--I'm going to write down your
James quote. >> Yes, I have that for you.
>> YOUNG: That's really good. William James also said some other amazing things. He once
said--when he was lecturing, I believe, at Harvard, then there was a Buddhist monk in
the orange robe--probably a Southeast Asian--in the audience and he invited that Buddhist
monk to come up on the stage and now, this would be what, about hundred years ago? And
this is William James and he said, "In the next century, these are the people that you'll
be learning your psychology from." And it's from the past. Mindfulness is not a marginal
piece in Western psychology at this point. Mindfulness is the coolest, hottest thing
in psychotherapy at this point in history and mindfulness, although it's defined differently
by different people, is a notion directly taken from Theravada Buddhism, taken from
early Buddhism. So James actually literally correctly predicted the future.
>> James Date. >> YOUNG: Flip? We're going to flip the tape.
So now, go back to relaxation, see how quick you can go back. Comments? I love taking [INDISTINCT].
>> [INDISTINCT] >> The Xbox question.
>> YOUNG: Oh, the Xbox. That's right. You can--okay. It doesn't have to be as modern
as video games, it can be old. When you watch TV, you tend to enter a concentrative state.
Is that generalized? Does that build concentration skill? In general, no, it doesn't. And unfortunately,
I would suspect that playing the video games does not build skill. My metaphor: passive
exercise. If I grab your hand and raise it up and down 500 times, are you strengthening
your muscle? Not very much because it's happening to you; you're not exercising. There's not
an effort. So in the exercise that I gave you, your attention wandered, you brought
it back. The attention wandering would be analogous to the force of gravity. Coming
back to your object of meditation would be analogous to lifting the weight; that's going
to build strength. If you just let somebody move your body for you, you're not really
developing strength. So certain things will put you in a concentrated state but don't
have much potential to build concentration. Playing video games, watching TV, I'm afraid
do not build much concentration. Now, is there a way that you could--let's take--let's take
those--something like listening to music. Is there a way that you could do that where
it would build concentration? And the answer is yes, but there has to be a disciplined
technique. How about watching television? Could you watch television in a way that you
actually elevated your base level of concentration in daily life? And the answer is yes, but
you would have to have a very disciplined, focused technique. And in fact, I teach people
how to do it. I teach people, but I teach them in incremental steps. First, eyes closed,
just listening to the sounds. Now, can we still be in the meditative state with that
sonic impact? Okay. Now, open your eyes; turn off the video, the audio. Can you look at
the pictures and still keep meditated? Okay. Now, can you look at the pictures and listen
and still be--in a minute--in a consciously meditating on the television experience. If
you can do that, then you can use TV to build, otherwise, video games and TV will probably
unfortunately not. We developed a program--well, let's put it this way. Just historically,
three years ago, the Dalai Lama spoke to a group of scientists. I think many of you know
that the Dalai Lama--well, let me just say there's no central organization in Buddhism
like Catholicism; you have a pope and that's like--that speaks for all of Catholicism.
Buddhism is at the other end of the organizational spectrum. There's no central organization,
no one speaks for all Buddhists. Nobody even speaks for large groups of Buddhists officially;
it's very decentralized. However, if there was someone in the world--who the world listened
to as representing the Buddhists of the world, that would be the Dalai Lama of Tibet. And
some of you may know that this Dalai Lama is very gung-ho on science and is very much
a believer that not only is Buddhism and science compatible, they are actually natural allies.
So, that--in other words he, the Dalai Lama, takes the same stand that I said I just--that
I hid upon 30 years ago, 40 years ago. Forty years ago, it occurred to me, "Oh, Western
science and Eastern science, they're natural allies. They go together. They can learn from
each other, they can reinforce." Well, I hid upon that for my own reasons independently
but other people, as is often the case, were having similar ideas, and one of them, fortunately,
is the Dalai Lama who speaks with this enormous voice that's heard all over the world even
though he doesn't actually technically have an official status. So he is in favor of an
active collaboration between the Western science and Buddhist meditation experience, and he
has--I have personally like literally been standing six feet from him when he made the
statement: "If anything ever comes up in science that clearly contradicts traditional Buddhism,
then we'll simply have to abandon that aspect of traditional Buddhism." And that's an amazing
statement. Imagine the Pope, this Pope, for example, saying, "Oh, by the way, and we really
apologize about Galileo and all the other people and from now on, you know, any conflicts--if
it looks like we're wrong, we're wrong; science wins." I mean, you can't quite imagine that
happen, right? What to say if the real fundamentalist types in Islam, Protestant Christianity and
Judaism, you just can't imagine them saying anything like that. But here we have the Dalai
Lama saying, we're confident enough that there's a core experiential truth in Buddhism that
we will--we will completely--he wants Buddhism to disappear basically and simply become part
of science. That's an amazing statement on the part of a so-called religious leader.
So anyway, the Dalai Lama--we got a little off track, but you may not know these things
and they are interesting to know what our world has become, why our world is very different
from the world of the '50s that I was born into. I would never, in my wildest imaginings,
thought that such a culture shift would take place in my own culture in North America.
But in many event--so the Dalai Lama got together with a bunch of scientists, some of whom are
friends of mine, and charged them with the task of finding a way that we could teach
legitimate meditative skills, which essentially needs concentration skills, that we can teach
those to the children of the world. The young people of the world, how can we reach them?
So I knew that there had been this sort of call, so I started--I put on my thinking cap
and it occurred to me that if you're 14 years old, there--this is relevant, by the way,
to my comment even though it's long winded. If you're 14 years old, what are two good
reasons that you don't want to sit still and focus on something with your eyes closed?
Well, the first good reason is it looks weird and when you're young you don't want to do
anything that looks weird. Second, it's boring and you don't want to do anything that's boring.
However, if you think about it, there is something that--there is something that kids will be
doing, okay? Their eyes are closed and they're attending to something and then not moving
for a period of time and what would they be doing?
>> Listening to music. >> YOUNG: Listening to music on their iPod.
So we designed a music-based mindfulness program. The concentration object is music or your
emotional reaction to the music or your mental reaction to the music or any state of restfulness
that the music may produce. You can--we have this on YouTube. So, we've created a thing
where kids could listen to whatever music they wanted but they had to listen in a certain
way and report on their experience. And then they would start to go into high concentrated
states as they're listening to the music while the experience of the music becomes more ecstatic.
So we developed a way of listening to music where it's not passive exercise but they're
enjoying themselves; it's not weird, it's not boring, but within 18 months at the Youth
Center in Burlington, Vermont, where I come from, we--actually, with music-based mindfulness
completely revolutionized that entire subculture to where they now want to give us our own
dedicated building just for an iPod-based meditation for teenagers in Vermont. So there
is a way to make use of that concentrating force in external media but you can't just
do it passively, there has to be some structure and discipline. Do you have other questions
or comments? Yes. >> Do you think it's possible to build concentration
by trying to build a skill like say, Lance Armstrong doing a bicycle race where he's
to [INDISTINCT] now and focus on being the first person to finish the race? Does that
build the same kind of concentration that focusing on physical comfort for a long period
of time with the brain? >> YOUNG: Yes and no. What happens is that
people that do certain performances like music or sports will have transient, short experiences
of being in a high concentrative state, an extraordinary concentrative state, maybe a
profoundly altered state where time slows down and there's like this distance in this
very altered state. Now, the locker room term for this is to be in the zone, okay? That's
a great term. And Ted Williams, the baseball player, he described what--when you're in
the zone, which is just a secular sports term for being in a high concentrated state while
you're playing, how Ted William said he knew he was in his zone was when the ball came
at him, he could see the stitching. I think that ball is traveling close to 100 miles
an hour, okay? That his concentration was such that he can see the individual stitches
on the ball. So--and I know of musicians that enter the zone. There's another term that
is used, a flow state, that's another secular term for a concentrated state that you enter
naturally during some activity. Well, here's the deal. People that enter these states associated
with a certain sport or a performance art typically are not aware that it can be generalized
and they don't attempt to generalize it, and as soon as that performance art is over or
the sports event is over, they're very much out of the zone. So unless somebody points
out to them that you can--remember I said that it would get deeper and broader? Unless
somebody instructs them and they discipline themselves in attempting to broaden it, what
happens is that they have a temporary state that does not generalize to daily life, so
that they miss out on that window of opportunity. Now, what the Zen teachers did in Japan is
they realized that people were interested in arts whether we're interested in tea ceremony
or playing the koto or flower arranging in the traditional society, right? This is hundreds
of years ago. And men we're interested in fighting because it was samurai that ran the
country. So they realized that, because people were doing these arts, that they could instruct
people in doing the arts in a way that would then generalize to their life, and that's
where you get Zen and the art of sword fighting or Zen and the art of the tea ceremony. But
what happens is--what the Zen masters in Japan complain about is all people want to do is
they just want to do the art part, that they don't want to do the Zen part. Where they
would say don't want to do the work of carrying it from--they want to be in a focused state
while they do their art but they're not willing to extend it to daily life, so that's not
really a Zen and the art of it. So the--most Zen teachers are contemptuous in Japan of
Zen and the art of because they see that the art always ends up dominating rather than
the Zen. So the answer is--and that's sad, even tragic because you know the expression
"So near yet so far?" These people, when they're performing like when they do the extreme endurance
sports or whatever, they are really, really, really in the meditative state and deeply
so, but they'll--most of them will never broadly be so. It will always be confined because
the conceptual horizon is limited and there's no one like me say, "Oh, you ain't seen nothing
yet." Wait--okay, so when you--like I knew this piano player. He was, like, as good a
piano player as any piano player that ever lived, but he had a lot of psychological problems
and couldn't get his shit together basically. But this guy was as good as any, as good any.
And when he would play, he would absolutely go into a meditative state but as soon as
he wasn't playing, he was just screwed up. And I tried as best I could to teach him,
"Hey, you're playing in that state, now the next morning when the reviews in the newspaper
come out, stay in that state as you read the pros and cons about," okay, "and stay in that
state when you attempt to have a manager to get your life together," but he just couldn't.
He would do it when he played and he was just not wanting to extend it. And so when you
hear about this person, he could've been as famous as anyone because he just couldn't
make it broader. He could make it deeper while he was playing. So the potential is hugely
there but seldom realize it was performance arts. Yes?
>> Just like you said for a sports sector, some people have natural talents for some
things, and you're saying, in your experiences, there's a big, wide fluctuation in ability
that people bring into the development of concentration?
>> YOUNG: Very intelligent question. >> Most people aren't...
>> YOUNG: Is there a range of natural abilities for meditation? And the answer is yes. Have
we yet to quantify that in a scientifically acceptable way? No. We're not there yet, but
it is my anecdotal experience that there's a huge range. Now, the danger in telling you
that is the assumption is I'm at the low end of the tail. I'm at the--you know, I'm the
free standard deviations to the non-desirable. Okay, that's the assumption, right? Everybody
makes sense. I say well, actually, there is, you know, there's a sort of bell curve distribution.
The assumption is I'm all these--I'm three sigmas in the direction I want to be. Okay?
That's what everybody thinks but of course, most of you are pretty much in the middle,
right? And meaning that with rare exception--well, even if you're three sigmas from the mean
in terms of lacking native skills, if you stay with it long enough, you could make up
for that. I would say, in my case, that I probably have a little less than average native
ability at meditating, somewhat less than average. But I was clever; I trapped myself
in a situation where, for the extended period of time, I just had no choice, so I became
professional level meditator. And I think the fact that I don't have the natural proclivity
is actually good because it took me a long time so I had to go through a lot of frustration
and difficulty and failure which actually now makes me a good teacher because when other
people are experiencing that, I've experienced that myself. So I think that it was bad in
the beginning but it's paid off at the end. But are there the equivalent of geniuses in
the field of meditation? Yeah. One of them was the historical Buddha himself who basically
was able to do every meditation technique that anybody ever taught him just instantly.
He seemed to just have an ability to do that. I have had students that basically could master
everything pretty much instantaneously; that's rare. Then I've had people that are still
struggling after 15, 20 years but it was still moved even though they're still struggling
in their techniques and their concentration is sort of a little dicey but still their
life has changed enough that it was worth those 10 minutes a day and, you know, that
four hours per month. It was still worth it. So even if you're not--if you don't have a
lot of native ability, you could make up for that by staying with it. But I do think there's
a range. The traditional explanation for that range is former lives. That may or may not
be the case. When we encounter students that just couldn't do it and just could do it;
they can do everything and they take classical enlightenment very quickly. Sometimes on their
first retreat, they actually--like it just happens. Traditionally, they had said, "Well,
that person had practiced that in a thousand lifetimes previously," et cetera, et cetera.
I'm not saying I necessarily believe that is true. In fact, it's highly improbable;
it's not true but that is the truth, that's sort of the explanation why the differences:
karmic effect from previous lives. I tend to think more genes and upbringing but, you
know, pick your paradigm. We'll take one more. That has been excellent questions.
>> Just going along with the exercise analogy. Do you think that there's a meditative equivalent
to eating junk food or like something that would be detrimental to your concentration?
Like some activity that would train your concentration [INDISTINCT].
>> YOUNG: Well, training out of concentration skill. So then, here's the sad news: yes,
there is the equivalent of, whatever you say, anti-exercise. It's called all human culture
at this point in history. Not just western culture, all human culture. So, you know,
you develop the skill at throwing a certain kind of ball through a certain kind of target
or plucking strings in a certain way to make certain sounds and you get huge celebrity,
huge credibility or huge everything because you develop those skills and all cultures
in all of the world will reinforce that skill set. Playing the guitar, shooting basketball,
okay. So where are the Academy Awards for most outstanding example of equanimity in
the year 2010? Okay, longest continuous meditative sit, longest continuous meditative sit by
a non Asian, okay? We could help the Academy Awards, you know, for meditative skills. We
could have a society that constantly reminded you that those are more than fundamental,
but no human cultures does that. Now there are artificial cultures, monastic cultures
that do that and that's why people go off and live in these artificial cultures. East
and west, it's the same. Christianity has its own monastic culture, which at one point,
was absolutely central to the Christian endeavor. However, ever since the 16th century, reformation
and counter-reformation and many other social upheavals, even people with a strong background
in Christianity don't realize that at one point not that long ago, their religion was
primarily meditative. But there are monasteries all over Europe and St. Benedict, who set
up the monastic system, said there's one reason and one reason only for going into a monastery,
and that's not chastity, obedience and poverty. It is to attain the recollected state. What
is the recollected state? Well the word "recollect" in modern English means to remember, but that's
not what it literally means in Latin. Recolligere, "Re" means back, "con" means together, and
"legere" means took place. So what does it mean to pull back together or it means to
take scattered around us and re-concentrate your soul? The recollected state is the Christian
term, the traditional western term for what in the east is called Somadi, which morpheme
for morpheme, means to say, it's like "som" means together, "A" means back and "da" means
took place. So Somadi is bringing your attention back and "recollectio" it means exactly the
same thing. So, in the Western--at the Christian monasteries, people went into an artificial
culture that would constantly be reminding them through silence, through symbols and
their prayers, whatever, "Hey, you're here to develop the recollected state." And a deep
recollected state is called infused contemplation which was taken to be a direct experience
of the Christian tribute of God according to that formulation. In the east, same thing,
we're on the monastic cultures. In East Asia, Southeast Asia and so forth, those are artificial
environments where, everyday from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, everything
in that culture is reminding you of concentration, sensory clarity, equanimity, and other meditative
skills. So, the equivalent of anti-meditation is human culture. That's not to dishuman culture,
okay? We want the best of both worlds. At one time in the past, it may not have been
this way. In the distant past, the prehistoric past, in the pre-literate lives of our remote
ancestors, if you interact, if you've been privileged as I have to have intimate interactions
with tribal people who have not been completely culturally be genocided, you'll see that many--I'm
not saying all--but many of them, their lifestyle puts them into a meditative state. If you
look at Amazonian Indians, okay, that have not had much contact or you look at American
Indians that have kept up their own culture, you'll see that they have the same eyes as
meditators, as advanced contemporaries. So, there was a time in the past, before things
got technological, where our remote ancestors--presumably, the lifestyle reinforced these values. That
has not been the case for 10, 20,000 years. What is to follow? Well, I think what is to
follow, I would hope, would be the best of both worlds. Meaning we have all this technology
and all this power and all this culture, but we also are able to go back to this more primordial
human experience where your way of dealing with challenges--because you don't have technology,
you don't have knowledge--all you could do is just become one with what's happening in
a high concentrated state. Now to me, I would see the future of humanity, the ideal I would
hold out for the future of humanity is an integration where our technology and our science
continues to move forward but in a way that allows large numbers of human people to go
back to a meditative world, so then we have the best of both worlds at the same time.
That's what I and people like me, many others that sort of share this east-west vision,
are seeking to bring about. And that's what gets me up in the morning and what keeps me
from being down because I can't say what the future will hold--who can say that? That would
be completely irresponsible. However, I say based on what I know of science as a pretty
good amateur and based on what I know about meditation as a definitely confident professional,
it is not hard for me to imagine that the future of humanity will be very different
from what it's been for the last thousands of years but in a way that is the best of
both worlds. So that--because it is not hard for me to envision that and because I know
that in a little way by things like what I'm doing here, I am participating in moving the
culture that way. Now, I don't get bummed out, burned out, or freaked out when I see
the labiate horrors that is the 6:00 o'clock news, because to me that's local and I see
global. I see--okay, what's the next century going to hold? When I think about that, what
I see is that the best of the west and the best of the east have begun a mating dance;
they're dating. They haven't even really seriously made out yet, okay? But when they finally
get around to making children 50 years from now and when you start to have teams of enlightened
neuroscientists. Because now you're getting--you get a feel. There's a man named James Austin
who wrote--what's his latest one? >> Hold on, the Zen and the Brain.
>> YOUNG: Yes, but is--I think it's non-self-awareness, selfless awareness and the right, something
like that. Anyway, Jim Austin is part of this group that I consider myself part of. So he
was a--he was a neurosurgeon. Went to Japan, did traditional Zen training, got traditional
Zen enlightenment, sign, sealed, affirmed by an authentic Zen master. What's the first
thing he again--then he started writing books and what does he say? He says, okay, something
really, really changed inside of me. And it changed suddenly and it's dramatic, and it
has, you know, completely turned my world, my paradigm upside down. I got to ask myself,
okay, this happened under the tutelage of the Japanese Zen master, but it's a westerner
who knows the brain. I got to ask myself, what changed inside, functional role anatomy,
because something had to change. If there' this big change in perception, then the neuronal
base, there's got to be neuronal correlates of this. And he's writing books, not giving
an answer to the question but posing a question. A case could be made, a case has been made
that in sciences, the most valuable thing is not the answers. It's not even what the
questions is--the questions are. I would claim that the question that Jim Austin and myself
and people like us are asking which is what are the neurophysiological correlates of classical
Buddhist enlightenment. That is perhaps the question of--maybe of all time because if
we ever crack that that would utterly change and dramatically change and quickly change
the course of human history for the better because we would have a scientific paradigm
for something that we not only have anecdotal paradigm for. And I see that as coming in
the next 100 years. I see that as feasible and therefore, as I say, you know, I look
at the big picture and I'm excited, I'm happy. I don't get bummed out by the local vagaries
of history. I mentioned the great quote by the great William James. I'll give you another
quote by Arnold Toynbee, famous historian who said when all is said and done, it may
turn out to be the case today that the single most important event of the 20th century--now
think of all the things that happened in the 20th century. Toynbee, who is a big picture
historian, says it may turn out that in the end, the single most important event of the
20th century will be seen as the discovery on the part of the west of Buddhism, because
it will change Buddhism and essentially eliminate the superstition that--it represents a large
part of traditional Buddhism, but it may change the whole world. Because scientists will begin
to ask the question like Jim Austin is asking, "Hey, what's going on here neuroanatomically?
And what does this mean?" And once you have your science, then you have your technology.
And my happiest hope, my happiest thought is that someday meditation cushions and bells
like this will be in museums, okay? No one will--you won't have to do it that way anymore
because I'm not going to be able to do it. Now, what's that other way? Well, we can't
know because before you have to do technology, you have to have the new science. And we don't
have the new science, but at least we have people asking the questions that will lead
to the new science, and now you're a part of that. So, thank you.