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The path of insight

It may come as no surprise that there are many people out there meditating to a deep level and getting enlightenment experiences. The path of insight is one of the clearest and quickest ways to get yourself some genuine experiences, and you can read all about it on various web sites. I've refrained from talking about it because I've avoided it, but there comes a time when you have to make sense of what is going on.

So then, here's the sort of thing you might encounter:

1. Establish some level of awareness. Establish the difference between the felt sense in the mind, and thinking about stuff.

2. Establish the difference between mind events (feeling, perception, thoughts and consciousness) and the body. See thoughts as mind events.

3. See cause and effect. Sound, hearing sound, pressure feeling pressure. Scan the body - tense muscles relate to some holding in the mind. Relax the body to loosen the mind.

4. See impermanence at work. Nothing lasts very long in the mind. Sampl…

Vedana, elections, luddites and xenophobia

There is a lot of horror among educated people about democracy and the way things are currently going. Clearly, as enlightened people we should be looking after everyone and making the world a better place. I don't think anyone would disagree with this. The trouble is that human beings are driven by a complex set of animal mechanisms that makes them abhor "otherness" and makes them want to protect a mythical state of "the good old days" even though those days were patently rubbish - people don't like change but they also don't like being left behind.

Now, it doesn't matter who we are, these things will always induce a sense of unpleasantness (negative vedana) in us. Unobserved this unpleasantness will attach itself into thoughts and opinions that get us into a lather and we become these rather unreasonable people. We may find ourselves consumed in fear and hatred and all these other emotions that attempt to deal with the unpleasantness within us. We…

The yearning for peace

Once you've been meditating or contemplating for a while, you begin to realise that it's more a question of getting out of the way and letting it happen to you rather than you making it happen. I think we all know that we want a peaceful and stress free existence - we get a taste of it as we go through life - a sunset, an open vista, an afternoon on the riverbank, walking through a snowy field, etc. We yearn for these moments but we don't know how to get there. We don't know what it means. Well, don't worry about meaning, just create space in your life to access these moments more and more often. There's an unstoppable force in all our lives and it lives through all of us - we just need to let it happen.

And it will happen. If you let it.




What is mindfulness?

I like to have a crack at this every now and again because my appreciation of it seems to change as the years go by. This time I'll do it through a series of questions.

How do I know I'm being mindful?
The simplest way to do this is to label your experience as it happens. Keep it casual. Pay attention to what is going on and give it a label - sitting, seeing, thinking, feet, pressure, breathing. If you are able to label what is happening then you know what is happening. This knowing is mindfulness.
Is that it?
That's the beginning. Once you know what is going on you can begin to explore experience and what your mind is doing. This gives you some space around experience and this gap is where the freedom happens. This space separates out the details of your life from what you really are.
Why does it come and go?
The mind is a complex instrument that is rapidly switching between different modes of operation (for want of a better phrase). Mindfulness is not a mission critical thi…

Exploring unhindered awareness

It turns out that the ultimate feel good technique is to find a state of peace and equanimity and just hang out there. Thoughts pop up every now and again but they are not bothersome, we tolerate just about anything, and we can work up some kundalini excitement whenever we feel like it or we can disappear into a state of nothingness. However, we are not zombies - we still do what we need to do but we are clear why we are doing it and what needs to be done.

So then, it seems as if I am nearing the end of this feel good journey, but I've said that before. The final piece of the puzzle is the exploration of unconditioned awareness - that is to say, the presence that exists in each moment of knowing. This where it gets tricky - you can't investigate awareness because it is not something in the mind, but something that arises to illuminate each moment in the mind - a bit like dust particles and light beams or a rainbow. This kind of awareness is the fabric of physical reality inter…

Going a bit deeper

Not wishing to leave you with half a story, this follows on from my other post 'go deep' - I felt myself shying away from continuing, but, you never know. Hang on to your hats, as it becomes a more of a story as we delve into the mind - the language and words become a little more fantastic.

So then, we have let go of our regular concerns and we are gathered in our body and mind, just a creature resting within ourselves, quiet and still. This allows the background workings of the mind to become available to our awareness. We may notice sprinklings of light, a flux of sensations, sparkles coming and going. We may recognise light in the mind and see it like a flock of starlings whooshing in sweeping waves in response to the bodily sensations of breathing. We may experience a flush of pleasure in the body and see it tingle through the mind's eye. We feel an invitation to go deeper and the mind seemingly becomes brighter - we may feel like we are sitting under floodlights. P…

Vegetable and coconut curry

Here's a tasty vegetable curry I knocked together the other day - rich, flavoursome and satisfying.
Ingredients
Olive oil for frying Black mustard seeds 1 star anise 1 cinnamon stick 1 sachet of creamed coconut Garlic, ginger and a small onion - chopped up 1 tin of tomatoes Cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli seeds Salt and pepper
2 courgettes 1 butternut squash 1 cauliflower 1 yellow pepper About 200ml of vegetable stock
Method
1. Add some oil to a large pan. Add the mustard seeds, star anise and cinnamon. Put the heat on and wait until the mustard seeds start popping. 2. Add the ginger, garlic and onion. Fry for a minute. 3. Add the courgettes and pepper. Keep frying for a minute. 4. Add the remaining spices and keep on frying for a minute. 5. Now add the tomatoes and coconut. Add some vegetable stock so the mixture is loose. 6. Add the butternut squash. Boil gently for 10 minutes. 7. Add the cauliflower. Boil gently for about 15 minutes until the cauliflower is done.
Delicious. Sprinkle with cashew nut…

We are all thinking the same thoughts

The older I get, the more I realise we are all thinking the same thoughts (mainly because we are living in the same world). This has become even clearer with the widespread adoption of social media - in fact, we are so samey it almost becomes boring. This is perhaps a good thing - you might also like to play with the idea that we are all variations of one person.
Anyway, we receive broadly similar stimuli and broadly the same thoughts pop into our heads. From there, our particular conditioning shapes what we do next - we verbalise, we internalise, we blame, we love, we forgive - all these responses is what philosophers have been mulling over ever since they had a chance to wonder about such things. It turns out that our responses are governed by our early life conditions and whether we were raised poor or with abundance. Not surprisingly, if you were raised poor then your response is generally not going to be as positive as someone who was raised with plenty - but let's not go ther…

Mind as a membrane

Hang some washing on the line and it will be blown by the wind, roasted by the sun.

Imagine your mind like the washing, a membrane vibrating in the world.

We are not responsible for how the mind is affected by the world, nor the thoughts that it makes. We are, however, responsible for what we do with these things.

Dealing with a common meditation problem - nothing happens

After you've tried doing simple meditation for a few weeks, you may have gone beyond wandering mind and you may be able to stay with your breath for an extended period of time - breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out. I have a friend who very expert at this but she says that nothing happens beyond this - she just watches her breath go in and out. This may be happening to you.

One of things the mind is gone at is picking things up and doing it - this is what we learn at school. Pay attention, concentrate, work hard. If we are skillful at this method of doing things, then we transfer this skill into meditation practice. However, meditation is psychosomatic response to the process of letting go and doing nothing - it is the successful act of relaxing and allowing ourselves to uncover our true nature.

So then, how do we switch off this intrusive mind that wants to be there as we meditate and be successful at it?

Here are some steps I find useful:

1. Establish your at…

Two paths of meditation

Learning to meditate is fairly straightforward - we sit, we relax, we find an object for our mind to focus on and then we see what happens. This is the same for everyone - it's what we see that tends to develop over time - this is called insight.
Before we get there, we have two paths we might like to follow to get our minds under control. We can choose mindfulness or we can opt for samadhi (tranquility or concentration meditation). One path is the dry path and the other path is the wet path - I'll let you figure out which is which. Mindfulness requires paying relaxed attention to what is going on whereas samadhi is the skill of bringing the mind and body into a single unified experience of being and then letting go into progressively funky states of mind. 
For now, see what happens when you meditate. Next time I will look at the five obstacles and six hindrances - the things that you will find your mind enjoying day in day out.






Reviewing simple meditation

If you tried meditating for fifteen minutes, then one of two things probably happened:
1. Your mind kept wandering off. 2. You became very relaxed.
There's no right or wrong way, just openings for different paths. If your mind wanders then you have an opportunity to see where it is going - the mindfulness path. If you become settled and calm then you're likely to find the tranquility path opening up for you. Ultimately, these two paths lead to the same place. 
You need to meditate regularly or cultivate a peaceful life to understand your mind. Once you establish a practice (however small), you will have a platform to investigate and explore. That's what I'll do next.

Meditation is simple

Here are the simplest instructions I know for meditation. It's a good place to start:

1. Find somewhere quiet and comfortable.

2. Pick something you want to rest your mind on: your breath coming in or out; staring (eyes half down) at an object; listening to a steady sound. As you breathe in and out, maintain relaxed attention on the object. Maintain attention on the object as you breathe in, as you breathe out and during the gaps in between.

3. Your mind will wander off.

4. Cultivate a laissez faire attitude to what is going on. Let things come and go. Return to gently to your object.


Do this for 10-15 minutes to begin with. Observe any relaxation that may occur: your body giving way, the mind calming.

From here, you can begin to investigate what is happening, but this is where you start.

The delusion of democracy

Those of us in the mind control business understand that the mind and the thoughts in it are a product of the external influences that surround it. Control the messages and you will manipulate minds. Clearly, in democracy you can make up anything you like. Is this a flaw? Is it a feature? Are we reaching an age where we can see through this nonsense and move to a consensus view of what is beneficial to everyone?

Stir fried cucumbers in chilli sauce

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

Method

 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.

Zazen - 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.

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 th…

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 …

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 every…

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 unpl…

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,…

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
salt
black pepper
about 1.5 litres of stock
extra virgin olive oil

Method 
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.

Can I download myself into a computer?

No.

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 …

Give yourself a bit of nice

Once you accept that nothing really happens, that there are no winners and losers, that there is no intrinsic fairness in the universe, that you don't really exist in the way you think you do (the evidence for this is fairly overwhelming), then you might find yourself feeling a bit grim. You'll meet a lot of grim people in your life and you probably know a few right now, but you don't need to become one of them just because life is meaningless and you're just an organic spec transforming energy from one form to another through the mechanics of an evolutionary machine. This is to understand things incorrectly.

You have found yourself alive in a body. How you interpret that is up to you, but you've got a life and you're a human being (unless you are a dog that can read). A human being means something - you need people, you feel happy, you feel sad, you want to swim with dolphins, eat pleasant food, not be tortured and killed. This is what we are: and, it turns ou…

The paradox of existence

So then, we might like to ourselves - "how do I engage with life and feel good at the same time?" No-one can escape the inevitable difficulties we will all encounter, but let's not let that stop us from being jolly young things.
I'm not going to get through the entire philosophy of suffering and freedom in one blog post, other than to say that we live in a paradoxical situation - nothing matters and yet things do matter. Or, nothing really happens but, clearly, things do happen. This paradox is life (as in being a living creature). We are living things that go through life and die at the end of it (at some random point) - this is important to us. We also have needs - friends, family, a sense of purpose, a sense of home. These all matter. At the time, nothing really happens and it's not really important - all of us will be forgotten at some point. Everything will be gone. 
Here's the trick. We have to embrace the paradox. Things matter and do not matter all at t…

Utilitarianism and well-being

I came across this recently and it gets quite complicated pretty quickly but the main idea is this:
Utilitarianism specifies that the best moral action is one that maximises the overall well-being of those involved
We might like to think about this as we try to make decisions about things like electing presidents of the United States or whether the UK should remain fully engaged with Europe. Do we decide what is best for us as individuals or do we decide what is best for the group (humans in general)?
It's a big dilemma but perhaps we should not worry too much as the general trend in human history is towards maximising the well-being of the group. Things like poverty and education have greatly improved for the planet as a whole, even if there are local dips happening all over the place. We all know what is good for everyone once we become aware of it. 
Perhaps I'll leave it at that because it gets tangled pretty quickly. The world is a better place than it was because we are achie…

Mindfulness of vedana

I recently went to an interesting day retreat on vedana and it was packed. I've also had some interesting discussions with my meditation group on this topic so there's clearly an appetite for it. So then, the first thing to address is: what is it? As always there are different levels of understanding from the  broad to the intricate but let's start off simple.
Vedanais the sensation of pleasant and unpleasant, or something in between.
How do you know when you experiencing vedana? Well, here are a couple of examples: if you stab yourself with a pin you will experience unpleasantness (generally);if you stroke your cheek you will experience pleasantness (for a while). And that's it. Actually knowing vedana in your mind is where it gets tricky because its something you feel and know rather than think about. So relax, stop thinking and tune in to the ambiance of feeling that accompanies you everywhere you go.
That's probably enough for now. Pay attention to everyday vedan…

Mindfulness app (minpa)

I'm a big fan of software technology that helps us get through the day. Anyway, I knocked together this new app to help remind me of the 16 stages of mindfulness practice (anapanasati) and it was very helpful. Then I added a couple more techniques to give it a bit of variety and I thought I would release it to the wider world for those souls who like to sit still for long periods and forget what to focus on next.


As usual, I have massively grand plans to make it into a meditation personal assistant but, well, time is short and I don't have a software team anymore.

Anyway, it's on Google play and you can find it here:

A really great mindfulness app

The comforts of people

Now I'm a bit of a recluse when it comes to socialising although I generally like being with other people (probably why I go to coffee shops and restaurants all the time). Anyway, I recently went to a small gathering of practitioners and its safe to say we shared something that afternoon. I guess you'd call it unconditional kindness. I didn't know these people and they didn't know me but we went through some practices and had a go at projecting kindness at each other and, well, it just worked . There was no judging, no batting of eye lids, no career aspiration ugliness, no expectation of anything, and it was beautiful really. On reflection, we connected with each other in an unconditional way.
So, find some people and drop all pretense and be amazed at what you might find within each other. You might find dropping all pretense tricky at first, but stick with it.

Dress to unlock your better self

You know the one.

We might think clothes are annoying things that cover our hairy, fat bodies, but they are quite interesting really. I like the book "101 experiments in the philosophy of everyday life" by Roger-Pol Droit and there is a clothes experiment in there that best describes what I am trying to get it = Experiment no.43 is "try on clothes". It's quite interesting. We should all try it.

Get the outfit that unlocks that thing in you...

Measuring up to Utopia

We have Thomas More to thank for this word, which basically means a perfect society. We might like to think about a perfect society, given that the one we live in has a few sub optimal features. Thomas More's idea of a perfect world was an island in the Atlantic where everyone was equal (apart from the slaves which everyone had and the women who had to report in every month with their husbands, but let's not worry too much about that) and no-one really owned anything. People generally worked six hours a day and were distributed evenly across the island in houses. It's starting to sound a bit communist so we'll leave it there.

If you look at any Utopian society you will find the equality is important, as is the eradication of poverty (it turns out that poverty is key determinant to future happiness). Leisure seems to feature strongly although working good land is a feature. It's also important that humans live in sympathy with the natural world - there needs to be b…

Positive psychology movement revisited

I was half way through my post yesterday - had to go and make dinner and then I forgot about it...

Anyway, I'm getting on a bit now (not that old but old enough to sound like an old person when I talk to students) and I can sense a shift in the atmosphere of the world - there's a new generation who want to achieve things! Interestingly, they don't know how mechanical the world used to be, and they have completely bought into this digital-always-connected paradigm. And they don't seem to mind.

Now, these are exciting times. This new generation can take the ball and run with it. One thing that is emerging is the positive psychology movement which is like a little flower of awareness that is opening, helped in due course by mindfulness, etc. Interestingly, if you go on tumblr or twitter you get a blast of positive psychology back in the face, which is kind of nice. There's a kind of bubble of positivism moving through the Internet - this is creating a kind of awarene…

Enlightenment - digging up potatoes

You'll need a leap of imagination to follow this one.
Imagine your mind is a potato plant. There are the roots, tubers and potatoes, and the foliage that sits on top. Your everyday mind is the foliage, interacting with the sunlight but driven by the system underground. We can use awareness to see the everyday mind, and we can even get a sense of the potatoes lying beneath, but by and by, we live in the foliage.
OK. That's the analogy bit. You see your thoughts coming and going, you try to control them but after a while you realise that there is something deep within driving your behaviour. You cant see it directly, it is visceral, huge. It is the architecture of you, of your mind, your being.
Now, go deep, deep, deep. Your mind is infinite but there us kernel of your mind still being you - yes, you guessed it, your inner potato. Release this potato and experience the relief of being potato free. Will it feel good? By golly it will. Enough said.

Whatever it is, you can deal with it

Human beings are tremendously resilient things. We fear the worse, but when it happens we rise to the challenge, we survive and we make things happen. Even if it breaks us, we can rise again and take on new challenges. So, don't fear disaster, don't fear failure, don't fear being a fool or weak or helpless - because these things can be dealt with when they happen.

How is this possible? you might not ask.

Well, you just need to change the way you see things ....

One thought away from mind blowing insight

Aristotle was said to be the last person who knew everything, who knew the world completely. Clearly he was deluded. However, we might like to ask ourselves if we could summarise the whole of humanity (our world) in one thought. Can we hold everything human in one idea?

Well, the answer is yes. It is possible and, if you are fortunate enough to have the thought, then it will take your breath away and set your heart racing. You probably want me to tell you what that thought is, but I'm going to keep it under wraps for now. Needless to say, it is something you realise for yourself in a kind of mind blowing fashion. This thought in particular is an especially amazing one.

Here are some pointer thoughts to investigate. The old favourite: what am I? (or what are we?). You might like to contemplate existence - there's a nun in "tales of the heike" who reflects (I will paraphrase slightly): "My existence is no more than a brief thingy. May it bring wisdom to others. T…

Can art (or culture) engender a sense of contentment?

Can we use external stimuli to lead us into the mu state? (I am using mu here to refer to that place of noble silence, where we are present but there is no-one there (I realise that this clarification may not have helped)).

I will cut a very long story short. We can attach external stimuli (images, sounds, smells) to mental states - I do it all the time with music. We can even engage in a join the dots exercise - this kind of music makes me feel calm, this new piece is interesting, I listen to it intently, I start to feel calm, happy even - now I am content. Here we have a new concept - novelty, or beginnersmind (Shunryu Suzuki wrote a book all about this). There is also another interesting thing going on - contrast, or noticing opposites - I was not content, now I am content. Noticing change also stimulates interest in the mind.
So yes, art can help us get into calmer states of mind, but it is not actually the art that is doing it - it is the natural curiosity that it stimulates in o…

A well conditioned mind is a lovely thing

You might be wondering what a well conditioned mind is - you don't find many examples walking around the modern world. It's something like:

- flexible, happy, responsive  - open - kind - aware / awake - sensible - generous - wise
I use wise in the sense that it knows what is actually going on,  i.e. Free of delusion.
Enlightenment is around here somewhere.
Cultivate positive qualities and the rewards will become evident.