Concentration School: Distraction Versus Forgetting

After minutes of aimless mind wandering, you’ve had the a-ha moment, waking up out of the reverie and now you actually have a choice again about what to do with your attention! Congratulations, but it is what you do next that is absolutely crucial. Most people, even many very experienced meditators would say, “as soon as you wake up and remember, immediately bring your attention back to your breath.” That is what you’ll read in most books, what you’ll hear in most teacher talks, and it’s what I taught my own students until recently. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but I’ve become aware of a subtle tweak that I believe will help to radically speed up the development of stable concentration.

What Practice?

I often meet people who say playing music is their practice, or taking a bubble bath, or walking in nature. The implication is that whatever happens in meditation can happen in these activities too.

Is this true?

Thunderbolts of Reality

It’s called a “vajra,” and it’s one of those ubiquitous symbols seen across the Indian subcontinent. In Tibetan Buddhism it points to the whole Vajrayana “Diamond” Path. Different people describe the vajra’s symbolism in different ways. One wildly ambitious way is as the sum total of reality itself, or at least, three fundamental ways of experiencing reality.

Nonduality vs Meditation

There is a long and confusing and ultimately useless debate in spirituality between nondual camps, who argue there is nothing to do and no where to go, and more developmental camps, who argue there is something to do and somewhere to go. The debate is useless because both approaches are right. It’s a paradox, and there is no getting around paradox in the wooly and contradictory world of spirituality. A few thoughts on a very old discussion.

Spiritual Terrains and Challenges

We created this primer for people dealing with challenging or troubling experiences linked to spiritual practice. The idea is to give people an overview of the terrains, and to point out a few common traps. We’ve done our best to present a non-dogmatic and inclusive perspective that embraces many belief systems. To do this we use a basic five-stage model of the spiritual process, which makes it sound ridiculous, like the digestive “process.” That right – this is what it feels like to be digested by reality.

How Zen Masters Die

Meditation and other contemplative practices seem to accelerate the aging-gracefully gradient. They are ways of thinning out in the prime of life – a kind of dying in the midst of the everyday. This gives you time to get used to living from an unfixed address – indeed, to ride on the spontaneity and grace that such freedom affords. Then when death does come, as it comes for us all, there’s nothing to fear: the things we’ve learned to care for will continue.

Living Nonduality – Panel


I hosted this panel at the 2013 Science and Nonduality conference in Holland. At least two of of the participants – Lisa Cairns and Gary Weber – claimed to be in a permanent state of nondual consciousness. For those who don’t speak the lingo, they are what some Buddhist might call “enlightened” – i.e., their sense of being a separate self has collapsed, and they now apparently reside in a state of open unfixed “oneness” – whatever you take that to mean. Actually, what the hell that actually means is the subject of this panel.

Enlightenment’s Evil Twin

The benefits of mindfulness meditation have very quickly become one of the good-news mental health stories of our time. But meditation also has a shadowy seam. Is there a link between some forms of mental illness and the freedom promised at the heart of meditation? A column on the infamous “Dark Night of the Soul”

Nonduality, The Literary Genre – Talk


This talk from the Science and Nonduality conference is about how nondual books seem to work their magic on the reader’s consciousness, and how they might do so more effectively and more often.

Among the Nonduals

The proponents of nonduality tell us that we take a leap of faith and actually live our lives from the truth of direct experience, eventually the age old barrier between inside and out will erode. A report from the 2013 Science and Nonduality conference in Holland.

The Neuroscience of Suffering and Its End

Fourteen years ago Gary Weber’s thoughts completely disappeared. His suffering vanished with them. Was it the disappearance of his thoughts that saved him, or is something else going on?

The Anxiety of the Long-Distance Meditator

New York Times piece on advanced meditation and the quest for “stream-entry” – also known as “initial enlightenment” in Theravada Buddhism – as a way to address anxiety and alienation. Followed by a response to reader comments.

Why Meditate – Talk


Maybe meditation is something you want to pursue, maybe it isn’t. In this ten minute mp3 I lay out my own reasons for practice, and discuss an experience I had on retreat that brought the whole thing home to me.

Animal Empathy – There’s an App for That!

Communications technology is often accused of dissociating us from the natural world. A little thought-experiment that explores how the next generation of “augmented reality” technologies might close this gap, and help us hear like an elephant and think like a squirrel.

Journey to the Center of the Mind

By the end of the twentieth century, scientists had scoured the far reaches of the material world. It was then that a few brave travelers turned in a different direction: inward! Past the shallow scrim of waking consciousness, to uncharted territories of the mind. The dawn of a quest to revolutionize our understanding of perception, memory, and reality itself. But to get there, someone would have to make a journey ….

Here Come the Animals


Scientists and philosophers have long erected an insurmountable barrier between humans and animals. This seems to be changing. The human imagination is moving outward. The animals are coming. Hide the nuts!

Whale Rising


This piece on whale consciousness and animal personhood won a Gold and a Silver medal at the 2012 Canadian National Magazine Awards. Whales are people too; the science proves it. Are humans ready to see them as equals?

Environmentalism and the Mind

tree brain

What kind of mind do we need to address climate change and environmental degradation? A mountain eco-laboratory in northern New Mexico looks at four possible answers: a social mind, a creative mind, a receptive mind and an equanimous mind.

Mansion of the Mind – Animation


An animated tour through waking, sleeping and dreaming consciousness, made by a Discovery channel animator after Head Trip came out. Features a fire-breathing dragon, a psychedelic tennis ball, a LOT of hand waving, and one very embarrassing pimp roll.

Mind and Technology – Talk


First We Make Brains, Then We Make Love! The power of communications technology to shape our brains and behaviours is a little scary. It may also be the greatest design opportunity of our generation.

How Understanding Enlightenment Could Change Science


Any science of mind worthy of the name must try to isolate, describe, and understand the full continuum of changes that come about as a result of meditation and spiritual practice – including claims of awakening or enlightenment. Otherwise, the paradigm of the power of spiritual practice is missing its cornerstone.

Enlightenment: Is Science Ready to Take it Seriously?

Western psychology is still outgrowing a reactive skepticism towards the subjective anecdote that it inherited from behaviorism. Fortunately, this is changing. These days, there is a growing appreciation among investigators that if you want to understand consciousness – as opposed to just brain activity – you have to start taking first-person reports seriously. This will soon include reports of human “enlightenment.”

The Tourists of Consciousness


This piece about mind, nature, and the fashionable jungle brew ayahuasca won a Gold Medal for best personal journalism at the 2011 Canadian National Magazine Awards. What can psychedelics tell us about reality? Less and more than you might think. With an update an end.

Lucid Dreaming: The Next Frontier


An update of some of the intriguing scientific literature on ” lucid dreaming;” some of the experiments being done are so strange and improbable they read like Hollywood scripts. Includes one recent German study that established two-way transworld communication between waking and dreaming consciousness: you can get messages in, and you can get messages out.

The Future of the CEC

CEC Meditator

Over the next year and a half, the CEC is moving towards becoming an actual physical place, a multidisciplinary centre in downtown Toronto dedicated to the exploration of consciousness in practice and in life. Click to read more.

How to Explore Consciousness – Talk

There are few activities more thrilling than exploring consciousness, particularly in the form of intelligent spiritual practice. In this talk, Jeff Warren – founder of The Consciousness Explorers Club and author of The Head Trip – introduces us to the terrain and describes some of the attendant risks and benefits. What begins as an exploration can become a transformation. The question then is how to talk – or not talk – about your experience, in a secular world often suspicious of spirituality.

Two Tribes


There’s a new mind theory out there … The theory is worth paying attention to because, well, it’s about you. Or at least two of you: the careful, analytic you, and your misguided shadow, who spends altogether too much time in the “wrong” section of the bookstore. One of you is a Mechanist. The other is a Mentalist. Though you may not realize it, you are two foot soldiers on opposing sides of a battle that began in utero…

Dolphin Minds – A Conversation


What would we learn if we could merge parts of the human brain with those of other species? Might we hear the sounds of the past? Live in naked troops, swapping intimate experiences without words? Or build a new social network? A fun and wide-ranging conversation with two smart friends – Lori Marino and Ben Goertzel – published in the Christmas 2011 issue of New Scientist.

Making Art in Dream Space

The Dream Director is not unlike a set of DJ turntables, only the medium it remixes is the mind – the proto medium. As the DJ, the user can select from an infinite number of effects. The weirder the combination, the stranger the conjured world… come remix the dreaming mind.

The Laws of Dreaming


What might science look like in another reality? In lucid dreaming, an investigator can form a hypothesis in waking, fall asleep, become lucid, and then – in rainbow lab coat and marvellous wind-swept Vidal Sassoon hairdo – test her hypothesis as the dream surges around her.

The Animal in Us, The Human in Them


“They have no future without us, the chimps, the elephant, the whales and the rest. None. The question that we, the keepers, are facing is whether we’d mind a future without them ” – “whether we’d be bothered by an Earth with no living vestiges of our own differently shaped selves.” – Charles Siebert

Into the Whale – Talk


Can we know what it’s like to be a non-human animal? Most scientists and philosophers say we cannot. Others disagree. A talk on whales, kinship in nature, and the limits of human empathy and imagination.

Wheel of Consciousness – Presentation


How well do you know your own mind? The Wheel of Consciousness is an audio-visual journey through twelve distinct states of waking, sleeping and dreaming consciousness. Although informed by science, the show’s primarily focus is first-person experience, what it feels like to be aware at different times of day and night…