Data Science R Programming Language
I have been involved in data science for a few years (when you include website analytics, since 2004), but I haven't focused on the R Programming Language until recently. While I have preferred Python for data science, I decided to take this online course offered by Harvard University (HarvardX).
Data Science Certificate
I was discussing meditation by phone with a friend in Aotearoa New Zealand. He was talking about one of the most popular meditation apps and I listened attentively. After he had finished, I said something to the effect of, "Yes, guided meditation apps have widened experience of meditation generally in the West, but they are not the 'goal' of meditation." This lead us into a discussion that lasted some time and he suggested that I share this online, so here I am.
Guided Meditation Historically
Guided meditation was something that people new to meditation or who were somehow struggling were taken through. The purpose has been to introduce to meditation, not to replace meditative practice. The whole point of meditation is to learn to focus - to learn to be "alone" with one's mind.
Guided Meditation As A Hinderance To Practice
What does it matter, you might wonder? If you start to imagine that meditation is something that is "meant" to last 10 - 20 minutes and that you should have someone talk you through it, you will never learn what meditation is really like.
What is it like? It can be wondrous. It can be peaceful. It can bring insight that has always been just out of your grasp, because your mind is not still enough. You will never get to these levels when someone is talking to you. You will never get to these levels when you limit your time to what you get from an app.
Guided meditation is like riding your bicycle with the trainers on - you can never go fast with these tiny wheels dragging you back, you can never take corners gracefully with these trainers dragging the ground, you will never learn to balance yourself and truly experience the joys of bicycling while limiting yourself to training wheels.
Prepare to Grow Beyond Guided Meditation
There is nothing wrong with learning from or with another, but in time you need to grow. Meditation is something we have to do for ourselves. That is why it is called a "practice". By all means try guided meditation practice, but know that this is only a very humble beginning for something that you can spend a lifetime exploring - your own mind.
May you find peace.
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Focusing on Compassion
When I began meditating in 2003 while waiting for my son to enter the world, I read everything I could find online and offline on meditation. There was not much I could find online. Most centred around texts translated from other languages to English, which seemed to have lost their context in translation. I also found a few books - I was in Christchurch and Book Depository was not yet a thing. Most books were by the Dalai Lama and were introductions to Buddhism. It took a lot of patience to explore meditation on my own in this scenario. I stuck with it, though, and by 2005 I was finding more texts (we had moved to Australia) and I was in a local meditation group.
During my initial study, I noted that there were multiple types of meditation. I won't go through all of them here, but insight (vipassanā) meditation and compassion meditation stood out. Insight meditation was what I had assumed meditation to be and I quickly took to this. The benefits began to come and I was convinced of the value of vipassanā meditation. What about this compassion meditation, though?
My initial reaction was not positive. How can you teach compassion? Don't we just have this or not? Isn't it "artificial" to teach compassion this way? I had many doubts and chose not to focus on compassion meditation, sadly.
In early 2019, I was doing further research into Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. I had bought yet another book online and was eagerly making my way through the first pages. Compassion-Focused Therapy was mentioned. What was this? I put aside that book (I have yet to pick it up again - I have hundreds of books) and I ordered two books on Compassion-Focused Therapy. I decided to have an open mind about this topic. In addition to the books, I found the ABC Australia podcast linked to below in a tweet of mine from that time.
We all have the potential to be compassionate. Paul Gilbert (see podcast above or google his name and Compassion-Focused Therapy) believes that this is part of how our brains are wired. When I look at how other mammals are able to care for their young tenderly, I tend to agree with Paul. Compassion and kindness help us survive. None of us would exist without it. Because it is something we cannot see and quantify, we tend to want to dismiss it. Fortunately, more modern approaches to psychotherapy, including Compassion-Focused Therapy and the emerging fields of Positive Psychology focus on these parts of ourselves which, while hard to quantify, make our lives worth living.
Changing Ourselves Through Our Thoughts
When we change our thoughts, we not only improve our relationships with others, we can also improve our own bodies. Positive, nurturing thoughts - not just for others, but also for ourselves - change our heart rate, improve digestion, lower stress chemicals in our bodies, in effect allowing us to live happier and longer lives.
Beginning Compassion Meditation
There are many ways to begin compassion meditation. You can buy one of Paul Gilbert's books which will take you through some beginning steps. These are not heavy on the meditative side, but might increase your interest in the topic and overall happiness. Another approach is to try compassion meditation for yourself. I have included a very brief example audio link below.
Practicing Outside of Meditation
Efforts to practice compassion throughout your life will help and will also come from your meditation on compassion. These will build upon each other. One thing not to forget is that compassion is not just for others, it is also for yourself! I spend some minutes before drifting off to sleep feeling compassion for others and myself. It is an incredibly powerful time where I am receptive to these thoughts. It also brings more restful sleep. I hope you are able to find compassion growing in yourself. It is one of our greatest gifts and powers.
May you find peace.
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
My mother has always stood by me. She worries about me. She calls to check up on me. She is proud of what I have tried to do with my life. She is a doting grandmother who my son loves dearly.
Like all of us, she has her doubts. She imagines that she could have done better. When you look back on your life, you imagine how things could have been. While she has those doubts, I do not.
Bouquet of Flowers, Odilon Redon (1900)
Thank you for your example, your patience, your insights and always loving me, Mum!
It was my first night alone in the 6+ weeks since lock-down started in Aotearoa New Zealand back in March. I won't deny a certain amount of trepidation, as I thought of being home without my son. We are close. I might be coding. He might be working on his art, his guitar or school work, but we always take a moment or two to express ourselves. It is a wonderful relationship and also very comforting.
So, my first night alone as he goes to his mum's! I began to imagine all of the things I could do. There is cleaning to be done, my Cannondale is a bit dusty and could use a trip around the coast, there is always website work to do . . . I then realised that what I really needed was time with my own mind.
I am in no way religious. When I first began meditating before my Jack was born, one of the things I wanted to avoid was Buddhism. Over the years, I began to see Siddhartha as someone who observed pain around him and wanted to understand and help. This one to whom we generally refer as the "Buddha" - "Enlightened One" - wanted to help others suffering and (like many in his world) believed the solution was somewhere within his grasp. Some imagined they could torture the body to make it give up its secrets. Siddhartha tried this, but realised it was a dead-end. After years of struggle, he sat under a tree and decided not to move until he had the solution. He focused on his breath. When he believed he had the answer, he refused initially to share it. It is all too easy. No one will believe me, he thought.
He found the answer was within him and within all of us. We could minimise suffering by an attentive life, what came to be known as The Eightfold Path. When others asked for supernatural explanations, Siddhartha brushed away their questions. Some have argued, such as the former Buddhist monk, Stephen Batchelor, for a Secular Buddhism. Deities are not required for Buddhism. Reincarnation is not required. Actually, the historical existence of the Buddha, although rarely seriously debated, is not even required, as long as the conclusions are "true" (contrast this with Western theologies). The message is that there is suffering and there are ways to help. Some, like me, consider the Buddha to be a proto-psychologist (to give a Western context) whose words were later used to create power structures we often refer to as "religion".
So, I sat and focused on my breath last night with another seeker.
May you find peace.
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns