Before we dive back into full-time practice (and off the internet) for a good long while, I thought I'd post David Brooks' Op-Ed, "Lost in the Crowd," a response to Gladwell's book, Outliers. While Gladwell notes how social forces determine our destiny, Brooks argues that individual will is
also a key part of the equation. In particular, Brooks holds up attention as the key to human potential: "Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People [with attentional stability] are not prisoners of the stimuli around them." They can "rewire their brains" towards the development of exceptional "self-control," "resilience," and "creativity."
And a whole lot more. Attention is the foundation for compassion, joy, wisdom, productivity, patience, lovingkindess, equanimity, and more. As a reminder, the training of attention is a central focus of The Shamatha Project. Until a few years ago, Western scientists believed that attention was a fixed trait. Now, they're realizing that it's trainable. And more than that: there's no limit to how much one can improve attention. Studies have shown that even half an hour a day can make a big difference to an individual's overall well-being. Science is poised to do for contemplative training what it's done for green: bring it from the fringe and onto Main Street. As research studies build, it seems likely, for example, that these practices will become standard to the school curriculum. Follow the logic here, and you can't help but end up with a starry-eyed question: if these practices spread into the mainstream, could we be entering a new era of human potential? In other words, a new era of free will, resilience, creativity, compassion, joy, wisdom, productivity, patience, lovingkindness, equanimity and more?
Unfortunately, as I've been reminded these last few days of 'semi-retreat' -- with access to the internet for the first time in a long while -- Gladwell also has a point: we're much more a product of our environment than we realize. The internet's not so helpful when you're trying to train your attention full time. There's a good reason that meditation centers restrict access to the internet.
So we'll also heed Gladwell's advice, and set up the right environment by signing off the internet for a good part of 2009. First, train the mind; then back to the worldwide web.
Warmest wishes to all. We look forward to reconnecting in the new year.