Meditation Tip #2

Following on from Meditation Tip #1 :

Meditation Tip #2: Breathe
Take deep relaxing breaths from your diaphragm. Belly breathing may or may not come naturally for you.  To practice, exhale and rest both hands lightly on your stomach with the tips of your middle fingers touching. As you breath in you should feel your fingers separate, touching again together on exhalation.

Some schools get excited about exactly which orifice you breath through. I’ve heard several yoga instructors even claim that airflow through one nostril or another will affect which side of your brain is more active (hmmm….). Outside of hayfever season, I prefer relaxed breathing through the nose. Do whatever works best for you.

Another aspect is the pace of breathing. I read a paper pointing out that many relaxing activities such as meditation and singing share a common element of a controlled exhalation. The theory is that replicating this breathing pattern may give the same relaxing effect. Try it and decide whether it works for you. The technique is simple: time your inhalation for around 4 seconds and your exhalation for 6 seconds.

Thoughts on: Whatever works

Not a movie review – head over to salon.com’s review of Whatever Works for that – rather, my thoughts on the film, assuming the reader has seen it.
Despite a veneer of cynicism, “Whatever Works” is ultimately a optimistic philosophy of love. Indeed, the movie title is our protagonist’s view of love explicitly expressed in one of his speaking-to-the-audience asides. While that philosophy might be an admirable one, the movie labours the point.
This film is also more than a bit deceptive in its presentation of this view of romance: it’s not about two people finding each other and accepting each other for who they are. Rather, each of the main relationships in the film starts with someone falling in love based on some unknown initial spark – so far, so good: the ingredients for attraction are mysterious ones. However, the object of desire then conveniently finds a completely different, previously undiscovered, side of their personality. Each member of the Celestine family from Mississippi turns out to be one neurosis-resolution away from happiness and true love. While this may all be part of the joke, it comes across as more than a little contrived. The daughter, Melodie, discovers a suppressed intellectual curiosity. Her father has an almost insulting easy adjustment to the realization of his homosexuality. Melodie’s mother, in an entertaining performance, discovers her talent for photography. Apparently photographer-artists are obliged to live in polygamous relationships; this aspect of the film is lifted directly from Allen’s previous, and more satisfying, movie Vicky Christina Barcelona.
While a big part of a romantic relationship is self discovery, the personal growth resulting from the couples in Whatever Works is one sided. I’m not willing to credit Boris Yellnikoff’s (Larry David) realisation that “maybe loving a human being isn’t that bad” as being that much of a breakthrough.
My main problem with the film may be that the movie rests on Larry David’s character whom I struggle to appreciate. Again from salon, Heather Havrilesky points out that Jason Alexander plays the “Larry David” character – as “George” in Seinfeld – better than Larry David does. In the recently concluded television series “Curb your Enthusiasm” Larry David portrays himself. The character George comes across as a lovable loser. In contrast, we get to see how much Larry David delights in showing us just how cynical and unlikable he is really is – it’s the George character with mean-spiritedness replacing the goofy charm.
Overall, I didn’t get many laughs from the film. This may in part be because I watched it on a long-haul flight with crackly audio on Swiss airline’s mediocre entertainment system in economy-class squinty-vision. Comedies are usually better seen in a theatre to get the social proof of the rest of the audience laughing along.

Meditation Tip #1

A friend asked me about meditation and it occurred to me that I’ve learned meditation on at least 3-4 different occasions. Despite being wrapped in a lot of mystique, there seem to be a few essential points that are common across schools of meditation. I’ll share my take on them over a few posts.

Meditation Tip #1: Relax
Find a comfortable position. I suggest lying down: leave your arms sightly away from your sides, palms and feet relaxed outwards.

Other schools suggest you sit. Qigong even goes for a standing position. Whatever works for you.

I keep my eyes closed. Alternative is to focus on a point in the distance and soften your gaze.

See also
Meditation Tip #2
Meditation Tip #3

Review: Shadowland

Piloboulus’ Shadowland is in Zurich for November and the show is breathtaking. Describing this as “shadow puppetry” doesn’t begin to do it justice. The show brings elements of dance and gymnastics and the shadow artistry itself is very creative. Shadows are used to convey an impressive amount of narrative while leaving the details to be filled in by the imagination of the audience. This is creates an incredibly immersive atmosphere.

Thematically, the piece is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland or, more contemporarily, the darker Coraline. Shadowland is darker still. Unlike the pre-adolescent protagonists Alice and Coraline, our heroine is a teenage girl. Her fantasy world is correspondingly more ominous and more sexual. These elements are compellingly combined.

Diminishing returns of verbosity of ideas

A great insight in one sentence seems obvious, no matter how much of history [or] how many people have spent [time] not coming up with it. The same insight alluded to and digressed from for hours on end seems like a fantastic mountain of understanding.

This is from Meteuphoric.

Certainly many of the “great ideas” books I’ve read could be neatly summarised in a pamphlet, yet the author stretches the concept out to several hundred pages. There are certainly diminishing returns when expanding on an idea or investing time in reading one.

Let’s take the following (reasonably well known) advice for idea generation:
1) Immerse yourself in all the background material
2) Forget about it for a while to let it digest
3) Wait for the solution to occur to you
I once read a book (link anyone?) that openly and unashamedly expanded this concept out to 30 pages. I guess just scrawling the points on a toilet wall (or, um, a blog post) wouldn’t get the same audience or revenues as publishing a book.

This phenomenon is also apparent from many of the TED talks I see. Many of the talks are authors presenting a shortened version of their books. The key ideas of Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness are neatly summarised in his TED talks on happiness. I found Alain de Botton’s book Status Anxiety an unsatisfying read, while his TED talk on the philosophy of success is sensational.

None of this will stop me from buying every second book that is implicitly plugged on TED. The value I find in reading those books is not so much in expanding on the idea, but giving by giving myself the concentrated time to absorb the idea more.

Thus, succinctly summarised ideas aren’t necessarily more obvious. Rather they perhaps just require more effort to absorb. So I disagree with the statement “a great insight in one sentence seems obvious”. My counterexample is the Meteuphoric blog itself. A main reason I subscribe is the surprisingly regularity of exactly those one-sentence great insights. A half-formed idea of mine recently crystallized from the description, almost in passing, of corporations as a form of super-human intelligence. Another great insight is the idea of vegetarianism as a form or martyrdom – the same concept is particularly revealing when examining the recent backlash against geo-engineering solutions to climate change.