Sunday, December 19, 2010

Moving Meditation

Meditation amidst activity is a thousand million times superior to meditation in stillness. Hakuin (Zen master, 1685-1768)

There is an amazing exhibit at the Japan Society ( in Manhattan featuring the brush paintings and calligraphy of Hakuin Ekaku. He’s the guy that posed the immortal koan, “What is the sound of one hand?” Many of the images will be instantly recognizable to even the dabblers among us. The moment I entered the gallery I was transported to exquisite state of insubstantiality that only got more rarified as I went on. The exhibit of 78 scrolls is only there until January 9th, and is not to be missed.

The one thing that burned into my memory from my walkthrough was the above quote. Taijiquan is sometimes called a “moving meditation” and I have spilled some ink over the years addressing that aspect. So it was striking to me to see such a major figure as Hakuin say that “meditation amidst activity” is not just another way of doing it, but it was a “thousand million times superior to meditation in stillness”. Pretty unequivocal.
I don’t think Hakuin was belittling the importance of stillness meditation at all. I’m pretty sure he logged his hours of zazen. Sitting is certainly an important part of my practice. I think he was emphasizing how important it is to be able to access an openhearted transrational state regardless of circumstances.

This is one of the core principles of taijiquan. “Seek stillness in motion. Seek motion in stillness.” Taijiquan practice begins in stillness—central equilibrium—and extends from there. Central equilibrium is not just balancing the body’s mass. There is also a shift of consciousness where the nervous system is calmed as the body/mind becomes more coherent. We move into a transrational state of consciousness, which is also characteristic of meditation.

Simply doing a taijiquan form begins the process. To reap the rewards Hakuin talks about though, we must take our gongfu deeper. That requires not just diligent practice but constantly challenging and refining our process. The form does not self-correct. We can make the same mistakes for decades unless we are willing to question our beliefs and submit them to testing.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Negentropy Part 3

Thanks Noah for your insights on negentropy/syntropy. Great stuff. Your comments take more of a macro view, while my post was specifically targeting the inner state of the individual. You bring up a good point: “Where does the entropy go in a negentropy state? How does it affect everything else? ”

Like you I’m not an expert on thermodynamics. My understanding is more metaphorical than technical. That said, we both agree that some familiarity with the concept is valuable in getting a handle on describing how things work.

I’m going to take a crack at integrating the macro and the micro here. Your description of the universe moving toward entropy jibes with my understanding. What you call “low entropy bubbles” are what I call Life. Energy is trapped in a given structure/system for a finite period, but eventually returns to the big bouillabaisse. It’s a matter of perspective: from the inside, a life form coheres to use the energy that is available; from the outside it is just part of the Big Entropy. Both perspectives are necessary to get a “true” view (conceding that some inaccuracy is inevitable).

“The more information and structure we want to create and maintain, the more energy we are going to have to come up with (and lose)”. I’m not sure about this. It’s a key assumption in your post and may lead to some insight about efficiency. When we talk about relative entropy, we have to compare similar stuff. My IPhone can do some amazing things and uses a (relatively) tiny amount of energy. It is much more complex than the technology of a generation ago, which would have sucked up vast amounts to do even a small part of what this little bugger can do in its sleep.

Another example: the six-cylinder engine of my ’64 Chevy was a triumph of simplicity. I could fix many of its problems with a wrench and a screwdriver. I can’t even change the oil in my 21st century Maxima, it’s so complex. But the Nissan gets twice the MPG as the Bel Air did.

I think this sheds some light on the relationship between coherence and complexity. The IPhone and the Maxima are both more complex and more coherent than their older counterparts and thus more efficient. The magic ingredient to make this alchemy happen? Consciousness. The consciousness that designs the technology is aided by the artificial consciousness (computers) that maintain it. The non-stuff organizes the stuff to use energy more creatively. Evolution. Less becomes more. So I don’t think that the “stuff of non-stuff” is bound by the same laws of entropy. It can create stuff out of non-stuff.

I agree that “we are not reversing entropy”, at least not globally. I don’t think it’s accurate, though, to say “we are basically moving it somewhere else so that our internal order is maintained.” I don’t think it’s zero sum. A highly coherent system/structure may not reach zero entropy, but it can approach it. I believe that the coherence of the system can actually reduce entropy in the surrounding environment, rather than just exporting it to its neighbors.

Nor do I think that zero entropy is the ideal for life forms. Humans enjoy a relatively narrow comfort zone. There is an optimal range for any living thing, and all life dissipates some energy. That’s what makes it interesting. A brick is a near equilibrium structure and dissipates little energy. The kiln that fires the brick is a far from equilibrium structure and dissipates a lot of energy. Neither environment is ideal for most living creatures. When you play your guitar you dissipate energy, but the forms you create have the potential to generate increased coherence in your environment. A school bus full of children eats up lots of dead dinosaurs, but may contribute to the evolution of the community it supports. And it may be more efficient/expedient than dozens of school kids pedaling miles to and from school. We have a choice in how we spend our entropy.

Anyway, that’s my take on integrating micro with macro.

I wonder if consciousness can actually reverse entropy in the inner world. Maybe that is what is happening with “enlightenment”. Coherence extends beyond the well-ordered inner world and radiates out to enhance the lives of others. Isn’t that LOVE?

Thanks for playing along! I hope this is just your first installment.