Friday, June 03, 2016

Stir fried cucumbers in chilli sauce

Stir fried cucumbers

I'm not a big fan of salads with cucumbers in but I seem to eat a lot of cucumbers these days - mainly in smoothies. Anyway, they make a nice stir fry if you like something different from the usual beansprouts and bamboo shoots.

Ingredients - serves 3 as a side dish

2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cucumber
2 tablespoons of chilli dipping sauce
Oil for frying


 1. Prepare your cucumber into little batons (see picture). I cut the cucumber length ways into four, remove the seeds and then chop into baton shapes.
2. Put the cucumber batons in a colander and add a couple of tablespoons of salt. Leave for an hour or so.
3. Then, squeeze the cucumber batons to remove as much water as you can from them.
4. Heat some oil in a wok until it is starting to smoke. Add the garlic and then quickly add the cucumber. Stir fry for a couple of minutes until the cucumber starts to cook through.
5. Add you chilli sauce and a tablespoon of water. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Very tasty.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Zazen - just sit

Just sit

When I started formal meditation practices (to see what was going on with various things I'd experienced over the years), I started with zen and zazen meditation. It was a good place to start because there are essentially no instructions other than "just sit". This prevents the mind from looking for things and focuses your attention on the present moment experience. So here's how to do it:

1. Take an upright sitting posture - assume the sitting position, relaxing but upright. This is very important as the body becomes the meditation practice.

2. Just sit. Pay attention to the rising and falling of the belly.

3. Keep sitting. The mind will wander off - bring it back to the rising and falling of the belly.

4. Allow the mind to calm itself through the body breathing.

5. Sit for as long as you can.

And that's it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Stage 1 - breathing and body

Here's a simple introduction to meditation. This follows the initial stages of the anapanasati breathing meditation technique - the stages of anapanasati meditation can take you into very deep territory and we'll be following them on this short course. Let's begin:

1. Find somewhere quiet to sit. Close your eyes and become aware of your breathing.

2. Notice breathing in.

3. Notice breathing out.

4. Place your awareness on breathing in and out. You might like to put your awareness on the belly or the area under the nose.

5. Now, resolve to follow one breath in and out.

6. Next, resolve to follow 10.

7. Keep doing this for around 15 minutes. The mind will wander off. This is normal. Bring it back gently to the breathing and start counting again.

8. After a while, imagine the breath going into the body. Imagine it filling the whole body as you breathe in, and then imagine the whole body relaxing as you breathe out.

9. Continue with this practice until your awareness fills the whole body and the breath appears to come in and out of this space. You should be able to follow each breath in and out in this way.

10. This state of awareness is highly useful. Next, simply relax into this space. This is a highly useful meditative state to be in - let's call it STATE1. Know what it feels like, know how to hold it open in your mind.

When you are ready, return to normal and reflect on this significant but simple technique.

Mind shifting music

Stage 2 - pleasure and thoughts

This is the next sequence in a set of meditation instructions based around the anapanasati stages of breathing meditation. You can't really go wrong with this sequence. So then, let's assume you've completed stage 1 and we'll take it from there.

1. Establish a unified body and mind. This means that you are relaxed and that each breath is felt simultaneously by the body and the mind - there is nothing else going on.

2. Spend a few minutes breathing in and out of your relaxed, open awareness.

3. Relax a bit further and pleasure will start to arise out of the body. There may be rushes of energy, shaking, intense pleasure. You can cultivate this by feeling the pleasant energy of the in breath, and the relaxing sensations of the out breath.

4. It feels very nice, but it is quite energetic. Stick with it for a bit.

5. The pleasure will subside and a more gentle sweet, blissful state will present itself to you. Relax into it. Soak in it.

6. Now, as you breathe in and out you will be feeling pretty, jolly good. This is a nice place to be. Then you might notice a thought arise, or the activity of your thinking mind. Let's leave it there. Notice the distinct difference between the thinking mind and the relaxed open state of awareness. Know that there is a difference.

7. Next, relax the activities of the thinking mind and settle back into the unified, pleasant state. There is no need to think or chase thoughts or solve problems or do anything like that.

8. Hang out here until your time is up.

Then return to the world and take a moment to reflect on the meditation.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stage 3 - heartmind and equanimity

This is the third stage in the meditation series on the stages of anapanasati breathing meditation - if you want to go deeper into meditation then this is how to do it. I'm assuming you know that it's best to sit in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.

Before we begin, it's perhaps wise to attempt to define the word mind in these instructions. Mind refers to the wider aspect of your mind that encompasses your heart and body, and not your mental processes.

1. Establish a unified body and mind as best you can (use the other stages to get here). There can be thoughts but you'll not be attached to them.

2. Soak in a unified state for about 15 minutes.

3. As you breathe in and out, notice the mind (the heart mind). Know that you recognise the mind as a greater part of yourself and that it is distinct from your thoughts.

4. As you breathe in and out, gladden the mind (the heart). Allow a faint smile to cross your lips and feel compassion towards yourself and everything you've ever come across. Be glad that you are able to do this thing. Be happy. Soak in contentment and gladness. Be a friend to the universe.

5. Now, establish samadhi - this is a calm, contented mind. It is a distinct state of mind that is very stable and open and pure. Know that you are in samadhi.

6. Rest in samadhi for as long as you can and then surrender into the deep silence of your being. It will feel very, very quiet. Let go, surrender, release yourself. This may just happen and it's best just to let it go.

And then bring yourself back into the room. You may like to reflect on your meditation and what you may have experienced - better to do it after rather than in the middle.

Stage 4 - wisdom and freedom

This is the final set of instructions for these meditation lessons based around the anapanasati stages of breathing meditation. These instructions are pointing to some profound ideas so you'll need to bear that in mind - it may take years to fully appreciate them. If it all sounds like gobbledygook, then go back to a previous lesson or try something else for a bit.

1. Establish some form of samadhi or very calm state of mind. Ideally, you want the body and mind unified and everything stable (not wandering off).

2. Spend 15 minutes kind of blossoming in this state.

3. Notice impermanence. You might use the sensations of breathing in your mind to become aware of this, or you might use sounds. Your brain activity is never still, you are constantly in a state of change. This happens at a deeply molecular level. Things are constantly coming and going. Everything is in flux. Rest in the middle of this flux. Know it as known experience of yourself.

4. Next. Feelings of pleasant and unpleasant come and go. See the underlying desire of your being to seek pleasure. Know this desire as a kind of empty longing. As you see this desire in your self to chase ephemeral phenomena, it will naturally subside. It feels coarse. There is something more pleasant in sublime abiding. See the desire to concretise experience fade.

5. (Still with me). Now we no longer chase experience, we recognise the whole cycle of arising and passing away. We relax deeper into letting go and experience is like sitting in a train going backwards. We know this is happening. Things are constantly fading away. Reality is no longer a separate thing. We are immersed in reality. Floating in it. Untethered.

6. We reach the end of the journey. We surrender. We let go completely. There is no you, I or this and that. The mind is a quivering membrane, part of a greater reality. Our whole perspective of reality is altered, we see things differently. There is a great relief at this moment. We don't need to burdening by our stories anymore. We are free.

And then we come back into the room.

(I'm not claiming anything, by the way, so don't start that.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Turning towards happiness

I attend a small meditation group and we have been reading a certain book that shall remain unnamed that, by and large, focuses on suffering and difficulty. I'm going to fast forward over my opinions but, for me personally, it gets a bit grim looking at the harder aspects of life all the time. Suffering is there, life is brutal, and it's good to know that there's no magic unicorn land waiting for us even if we can just do the right thing in the right way at the right time. Let's forget all that, let's file it under 'hard truths' and move on. (There is a way of working through suffering but we'll leave that for now).

So then, over to the other side. Happiness.

Happiness also exists. It comes and goes (you might have noticed), but it is definitely there. We get happy if we go for a massage and have a nice meal. We get happy if we think happy thoughts. AND, we get happy for no real reason other than we are simply wonderful. Let's have some of that.

So, acknowledge the crap bits (suffering).

Then, recognize the good bits (happiness).

Pay attention to the good bits - watch the causes, see them come and go.

Learn to relax into the good bits.

Let go into the happiness.

And well, see where that takes you.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Butternut squash soup

I'm getting into vegan food these days after feeling better on a dairy free diet. Here's a very simple pumpkin soup. I like to serve it with drops of Tabasco on top - this gives you a nice little zing at the beginning.

Ingredients - serves quite a lot of people
2x medium sized butternut squash, peeled and chopped up
2x onions, chopped up
2x celery sticks, chopped up
a good pinch of cumin
a good pinch of ground coriander
a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper
black pepper
about 1.5 litres of stock
extra virgin olive oil

1. Gently soften the onions and celery in olive oil.
2. Add the spices and the butternut squash and fry for a couple more minutes.
3. Add the stock - enough to just cover the squash. (It's up to you really depending on how thick you like it)
4. Simmer gently until the butternut squash is soft.
5. Use a hand blender to get everything blended.
6. Season to taste.

This is a very tasty soup.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Can I download myself into a computer?


There are people actively looking into this as a viable technique for preserving themselves and all their wonderful memories and experiences. The theory is that a human being is a set of information and, if you have a computer big enough, then you'll be able to take a copy of that information and - hey presto - you'll be in a computer. I already covered some of this in my rather depressing post "thought experiment regarding transferring myself into a computer" but let's not get bogged down in NoSelf. Let's focus on something different.

So, we are a brain with neurons. Let's imagine we take a copy of that brain and all the neural connections - surely that's us. Well, it was briefly. The brain is super plastic and changes all the time - that's why we are so brilliant at doing stuff. The brain never stops changing. Perhaps we might be satisfied with the snapshot of our brain but then, even if we did manage to do it, it would be just some kind of static data store. It's not us anymore, it's just a photograph and we all know what happens to them.

Now we need to snapshot our brains and build a system that is super dynamic and mirrors the way our brains work - perhaps someone will invent something like this. At this point we need to model causality. Call me old fashioned but it's going to take an epic sized computer to be able to model causality in such a way that it could create something as flexible as a brain - think about weather forecasting and then some. However, perhaps one day, before the sun swallows the earth, we will have such a machine and this machine will contain a snapshot of our brains and a responsive causal system that allows it to rewire things and change to whatever might be happening.

Finally, we have the problem of consciousness. I am awake. I exist. How do we get that into a computer? Well, you can't because it does not exist in the way you think it does. A rainbow is a good example of something that clearly exists but which you can't put in your pocket and keep in your fridge. A rainbow is a coming together of conditions just like you. You can't capture a moment in time that creates these conditions and replicate it because it becomes nonsense - a paradox.

Perhaps, you might say, an artificial rainbow is still a rainbow and that will do. But who knows what monster that might create ....

Anyway, that's enough for now. I have other things to be getting along with.