Meditation Retreat Feb 2015

Posted: February 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Buddhism | Comments Off

Meditation has a reputation with most Westerners as being this mostly harmless, likely very boring activity that improves concentration and opens your heart for for the diligent. I can say that yes, meditation can improve concentration and open your heart. In fact, you can access some pretty blissful states with dedicated concentration practice that beat the pants off sensual pleasures.

However, there’s a dirty little secret in meditation too. If you start getting pretty far down certain pathways it gets terrifying.

A few days ago I did a half-day meditation retreat with my local Buddhist meditation group. First Buddhist retreat ever. My intention was to practice concentration the whole time and see if I could reach said blissful states of concentration once again. We had divided into two groups where one side would do walking meditation outside and the second would do sitting meditation. 45 minutes a session, four sessions, no breaks other than moving mindfully from one area to another.

I got put in the group to do walking first. Fair enough I thought, I’d do walking to start up the process of concentration and then drop into it deeply during the sit. But after a few scant minutes into the sit, the other side of Buddhist meditation started piping up. Loudly.

See, there’s this other type of meditation, a more important type in some respects, called insight meditation. It’s a process of seeing things as they really are. In walking meditation, this is on the sensations in the bottom of the foot while you walk. My mind must have been primed cause I dropped into a deep perception of impermanence.

If you’ve hung around Buddhist circles long enough, you may have heard of impermanence and its friends unsatisfactoriness and non-self. They’re called the three characteristics. Everything has these three characteristics according to Buddhism, but in order to get to the goal of Buddhism, the complete elimination of suffering, these have to be seen fully.

Now I have had glimpses of impermanence in the past, but this was a whopper. Not only could I see the impermanence of my sense contacts, but could infer it to all sensory contacts experienced by anyone and across all times. It also tried to spread to certain mental aspects as well. My ego did not like this and sent me in a terror spiral for hours. Huffing for air like water was getting thrown on me. Visceral. I’m proud I didn’t run out screaming.

I told my teacher about it, and he said this was an excellent sign. In retrospect, I also know it’s an excellent sign. But damn is it rough to see that, even the little glimpses I’m seeing afterward. He also said I needed to let go even more and to do more of the heart practices so that these deeper experiences aren’t so rough. He’s given me this advice before, but now I think I really need to take him up on it.

What’s Your Kung Fu

Posted: January 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off

Kung fu isn’t a martial arts style. It is any skill achieved through great effort. I have been a kung fu (in the martial sense) practitioner for about 4 years now in Wing Chun. One of the things my sifu tells his students regularly is to reflect on why you’re putting yourself through the training. It’s hard work. Hard on the body and hard on the mind. I’m typing this right now with an ice pack on my knees.

I’ve been rolling around this question a lot lately. My original desire to train involved three components:

1. Martial arts are very fun to me. I like the physical challenge, especially since I’m not really a physical person to begin with.

2. I wanted to attain a nebulous goal of “self-mastery”.

3. Ego. I wanted to feel like I had a skill that no one could criticize. Even if they didn’t like martial arts, I didn’t want someone to say that I didn’t have skill in it.

I figured by the time I got to the intermediate level and learned the second form, I would know whether I wanted to continue or not. That was reached a year ago. I’m still learning new things, but to jump up to the advanced level would require that I take a commitment to the school that I know I can’t take at this time. Nor do I know if I’ll ever be able to do so.

Looking at the reasons now, the martial arts are still very fun to me. I like going to class, but my body is wearing out. Everyone in the intermediate level has sustained a joint injury at some point. This gives me pause. I’ve also found a much better method for self-mastery through the practice of the teachings of the Buddha, which also fulfills the third goal in a far more admirable way. Indeed, I would rather that Dhamma practice be my kung fu.

Yet I still like the idea of attaining a high level of skill in Wing Chun even if I don’t go through the entire system. I will continue to think on this problem, and get my knees checked out, and see if I want to stay.

The Internet is Enchanted

Posted: January 26th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off

John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Crystal_BallThe longer I use this wonderful thing we call the Internet, the older I feel. It’s not the same anymore and hasn’t been for a long time. I’m old enough to remember when I first got onto the Internet back in 1994, though not old enough to remember things prior to the Eternal September or any BBSes. At that time, the Internet was far different. The entire spirit of the thing was different.

What happened to the spirit of freedom and the sharing of knowledge? The joining of disparate communities into a space that made it feel like a giant convention? The feeling that we have created something that is truly for the benefit of humanity rather than the benefit of commercial activity, tawdry entertainment, and the solipsistic circle-jerk that is social media?

A great enchantment was laid over the users of the internet. At some point, take your pick on exactly when, we stopped communicating ourselves on the internet and started advertising ourselves instead. Instead of sharing knowledge and forming connections, we burnished facades of ourselves into perfect pictures and demanded attention for anything we said. Sure, the net has always been a little narcissistic (welcome to my corner of the web!) but it was nothing like it is now.

It’s crazy what they can do with your data these days. You’re a predictive analytics statistic ripe for customer intelligence (as if our minds and behaviors were foreign countries!)  and marketing automation strategies. The net is becoming like some Cenobitic torture device that sucks in your eyes and attention and lifespan and transforms it into data and money while exploiting your psychology against you. Feels like I’m in The Invisibles sometimes.

Thankfully there are people that are fighting back. Indieweb is fighting things on one front by rigging websites to show a strong chain of authorship for a person’s content no matter where it might be. The goal is to take back ownership of an individual’s data. Unfortunately, it also requires you to really dive into social media. There’s an expectation that users of Indieweb will want to have all their stuff jammed into social media silos. More power to them. Maybe Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu would be a useful vision document for them.

Closer to the mark are sites like and several others that are rebuilding the ways. I really like this idea and I think it should spread further. Why not have your friends hang out on a tilde server, using PINE and chatting with one another? It’s like IRC, hand-crafted pages, and old-school email came back to life. It’s a beautiful thing and the closest thing I’ve found so far to that old feel. The story of how it started is a great read.

I also have a fondness for 1990s static website design. Hard to replicate on WordPress, which by nature is a dynamic site, but I do what I can. There’s probably users of the net that have never seen a static page, more’s the pity. Why static pages though? Aren’t they boring and clunky? Not at all. Anyone with half a sense of good desktop publishing principles can make a beautiful static website.

It’s the modern dynamic sites that are clunky! If I have to use third party plugins like Ghostery, AdBlock Plus, No-Script, and Social Fixer to get usability out of your site, there’s a problem. With a static website the medium doesn’t get in the way of the message. Isn’t the communication of knowledge what the internet is really about?

I have no illusions though. Even if every social media site on the planet went down tomorrow there would be dozens more that spring up from fetid leftovers. There’s too much money to be made in that game. But we can at least inoculate ourselves by paying attention to what we’re saying online.You can add real signal into the noise Then, just maybe, some of that old feeling might come back again.


Starting over

Posted: January 25th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off

Another year, another reboot of this blog. But this year is going to be a little different.

It’s not going to be focused on magic, martial arts, and minimalism. It’s not going to be focused on a commentary about Agrippa.

It’s just going to be me. I write for a living, and I wanted to carve out a little space for writing for myself on whatever came to mind. No agenda. No trying to cultivate an audience or push a product. I do enough of that crap in my day job as a freelance writer.

So let’s see what happens when I just let myself go.

Since I’m starting over, might as well talk about what you can see so far.

Why “The Unlikely Mage?” There used to be reasons, but now it’s a moniker that has stuck in some circles. It’s as good a name as any.