tale of two selves

I’ve been dreading this week’s posts.  In fact, I’ve procrastinated long enough that I’m not sure this is going to be the incisive summary of Richie Davidson’s talk at Zen Brain I had hoped it would be.  It was the last presentation of the retreat and probably the most complex exploration of self.  My notes are very legible.  That does not bode well because it means I had lots of attentional bytes to give to penmanship.

Let me peel this back a a few years.  When contemplative practices met neuropsychology on a pre-arranged date, I had and expressed openly many misgivings about the way in which each might be compromised by the other.  I mean, you’re talking about the rational left-brain joining up with the emotive right-brain.  Where in the universe has that union been found to produce good things?

Since then, Davidson on paper has dragged me reluctantly into admitting there might be some scientific merit to the research that has come out of this partnership.  But there are caveats.  Although I happily embrace research that supports the positive consequences of long term practice, it simply means that I’m willing to admit science has something to say about practice.  I’m not going to surrender my stance that science would have little, if anything, to say about faith.

Davidson on the cushion has definitely sold me on the power of practice in two ways.  First, the research on the consequences of long term practice is compelling and you can read about his innovative approaches and intriguing evidence at The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.  Second, watching him negotiate the complexities of neuropsychology in a way that made it comprehensible to a mixed audience was reassuring.  It made me retract my concern that the entry of science into religion would drag in its wake reductionist and dualist attitudes.  A long time ago, I watched Thich Nhat Hanh walk across the stage from his seat to a whiteboard.  Later I watch him turn around to deal with a carafe of hot water for his tea that spilled as he sat down on the stage edge.  There was nothing special in any of this.  Davidson embodies that sense of “nothing special” which is, for me, the biggest selling point of a teacher, along with a quiet confidence in our self-awareness.  So, when he says to understand our experience is to explore a tale of two selves, self as subject and self as object, I have to admit it’s a breathless wait to see where he’s going.

And here’s the fascinating question he posed:

Which is the target of contemplation?

Thank you for practicing,


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