Analysis (Services and Self)

Koan Bremner's view on life as a database and data warehouse professional / addict and non-genetic woman

Friday, March 04, 2005

When you know what you know, but don't remember that you know it

I've mentioned often enough in this blog my ongoing battle with insomnia; much as I really try not to let it get me down, it *does* affect the quality of my life. Sure, I can be productive at 2.30 am when my racing mind has woken me and won't let me get back to sleep; but it puts me out of sync with colleagues and friends who live on a more or less conventional circadian rhythm. I baulk at the concept of sedative medication, because a) my body is already under enough strain with the hormone treatment, b) a short-term course of sedatives wouldn't actually solve the long-term problem, and c) a long-term course would be madness. I have to find a better way. Then again, maybe I *had* a better way all along, but had just forgotten that I had it...

I can't recall if I've mentioned it here before or not, but I am closely in tune with Buddhist philosophies, particularly Zen Buddhism. I originally began looking into the subject in the early nineties, but it was only when I was really buckling under a vicious bout of clinical depression in 2000 and 2001 that I began studying it in earnest. I've never viewed Buddhism as a faith or religion; it doesn't require me to "believe" anything, but it *does* require me to examine the basic questions of life and existence, and to consider the teachings of the Buddha (who was not a god, but an ordinary man, albeit a particularly insightful one) and ask myself, "how does this teaching apply to *me*?" I like that; I am by training and inclination a scientist. I need to examine a problem, develop hypotheses that might explain them, find a way to test those hypotheses, examine the results, and either prove, disprove or modify those hypotheses in the pursuit of clearer understanding. Buddhism doesn't just support that; it actively encourages it. It is also, in my opinion, a very pragmatic philosophy, with justified (but flexible) guidelines, rather than strictly mandated or forbidden practices. Bottom line, it works for me; but I recognise that I do not adhere to all the practices, and so would describe myself as having Buddhist tendencies rather than "being a Buddhist".

One of the techniques employed in the pursuit of enlightenment (the goal of any Buddhist) is meditation. Different schools of Buddhism promote different styles of meditation, but as far as I'm concerned, *any* meditation, done correctly, is better than no meditation at all. During the worst depths of the period I mentioned above, such meditation as I was able to perform really helped to calm the chaos in my mind. So, of course, it made perfect sense to continue with that practice thereafter.


The fact that it made good sense didn't mean I actually *did* it. I've just sat here and tried to remember the last time I followed a regular pattern of meditation; probably not since 2002.

So maybe part of the solution has been staring me in the face all the time, but I've been too busy or preoccupied to see it.

I was prompted to think about this when one of the RSS feeds I subscribe to notified me of a new show available for download from IT Conversations. Now, IT Conversations is one of my favourite podcasts; sure, it has a huge range of technology-related content to choose from and listen to, but it also has a wide range of content from outside the Information Technology sphere. I know that I've previously mentioned a recording of a talk given by Barry Schwartz that really resonated with me; well, when I read this announcement of a new show:

Dr. Moira Gunn speaks with psychiatrist Dr. Mark Epstein. While he's not averse to prescribing anti-depressants and other mainstream drugs, he's just as likely to prescribe Buddhist meditation. Sounds different, but the science supports it. [Tech Nation podcast on IT Conversations]

[Via IT Conversations]

I knew would have to listen to it. And I did; and realised just how foolish I had been to have found a fantastic method for calming the whirling chaos of my mind a few years ago, and to then subsequently forget it again.

Prompted by the resolve to be a little more proactive, and to see whether starting to meditate again, on a regular basis, will help my mind to relax enough to allow me a little more sleep than I currently get, I downloaded a file from the Internet Archive which I found in the "Tse Chen Ling Buddhist Lectures" section. The file is a zipped archive of four instructional sessions of meditation. At 150 MB, and with a running time of over five hours for the four sessions, it's a hefty download; but, I'm very glad that I downloaded and played them. Listening to them didn't really teach me anything I didn't already know; but it reminded me that I actually *knew* this material, but wasn't giving myself the opportunity to apply it in my life.

So I have resolved to begin meditating again. Not for any particular purpose, other than the pursuit of such enlightenment as I don't already possess (my tongue is *very* firmly in my cheek when I say that!). But if it has a sufficiently calming influence to promote a little more of the "deep and dreamless", I will not be unhappy... ;-)

I'll let you know how it goes.

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