Tag Archives: retreat

Being Mindful of Transgressions

Friends,

The video counterpart for this post can be found here.

A few years back I attended a Vipassana meditation retreat in Cooksville, Ontario. It was a ten-day retreat based on the teachings of S.N. Goenka, and in addition to the long hours of meditation there were also a series of observances each attendee was required to accept. The complete list escapes me, but the most important ones were: no talking, no electronics, no eating of meat, no killing another living creature, no meals after midday and NO STEALING. Quite unexpectedly, this last observance was problematic for me and breaking this guideline led to perhaps my greatest lesson about mindfulness,

It was late February and snowy during the retreat and when entering the meditation hall we would ditch our jackets and boots in the foyer area which would, not surprisingly, get wet and dirty. At one point I was the last one into the hall and since the outer door was ajar and my own boots were a pain to slip on and off, I slipped into someone else’s boots to close the door. Instantly, and very unexpectedly I was overcome with a feeling of guilt; I had just stolen.

Was it temporary theft? Yes, only three to five seconds.

Did it cause any deprivation? No, the owner of the shoes was already in the hall starting his practice.

Was it for a good purpose? Yes, I was closing the door to keep us all warm.

But I knew all of that didn’t matter from a morality perspective.

Now, at this point I want to reiterate that I don’t really buy into morality myself, but I still was troubled because the person who owned the boots likely did. And this transgression, paltry and trifling though it may have been, was still an act of theft.

I brought this up to one of the meditation leaders, Bob at the next day’s optional counseling session. He was shocked when I mentioned I had stolen but as he heard me out he asked if, out in the real world I would have thought twice about slipping on those shoes. I told him “probably not.” According to him, it was a good thing to have happened because it showed that I was starting to think in more mindful terms, looking at the implications of my actions and considering the damage they could do in their ultimate expressions (i.e. larger theft, mugging or the taking of life-giving essentials). For me, it was an important beginning of looking at the things I was doing in my life and extrapolating them out to their logical conclusions and ultimate ends.

I think that very often we glaze over the fact that we let our ends justify our means because the negative means we employ on a day-to-day basis very often seem so trifling and paltry. For example, we would all likely have at least some compunction about taking a life, even if it was for the positive end of saving many. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s called empathy and it’s a good thing. However, our empathy is rarely sensitive or trained enough to consider that even something comparatively benign, say the act of marking up a price so that you can feed your own family, even that is a negative means for an ostensibly positive end. It is causing deprivation to one group to alleviate the deprivation of another. Survival at the expense of others cheapens the lives of all.

I don’t mean to come down on anyone here who has to eke out their survival at the expense of others. If that was my intent, I would be coming down on everyone including myself; such is the nature of our competitive socio-economic system: we are all complicit in instituting deprivation against each other. Nor do I mean to give a scathing indictment of our current scarcity-based socio-economic system; I have done that ad nauseum and I will certainly do so again at certain points in the future. Rather, I simply mean to shed light on the fact that we should be mindful of our actions, no matter how trifling or benign they seem and be aware that if those actions were amplified by orders of magnitude, they just might be more violent and deprivation-causing than we realize.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo
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Demo Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gdwhemiqzc

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The Spectacle: Breivik’s Sanity

***As of when I posted this article, Anders had been deemed sane.***

My Friends,
   The latest media debacle to catch my eye is the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian O.G. who shot/blew up 77 people, including children, because he hates Islam.

Looks like my friend, Nick

The debacular (sic.) aspect in this instance is that the prosecution is trying to argue that Anders was sane when he committed those actions and remains sane today, while his defence claims he was insane.  Now I will preface this by saying I understand that the prosecution would like him deemed sane so they can push for jail-time/harsher sentences, but really, how do you argue that a man who massacred several people is sane?
   You don’t.  That motherfucker is crazy.  I mean have we really set the bar for crazy so high that mass murder isn’t an instant qualification?  Is crazy an exclusive club now?  The way I see it, if you wanna call him crazy but also label him the Norwegian equivalent of a Dangerous Offender so he can be locked up indefinitely/executed,* do that.  But please, whatever you do, don’t insult the families of the victims and their memories by trying to prove this man was sane when he went on a killing spree.

On the other hand….


   Now I have been wrong before, and now that I think about it perhaps the prosecution is on to something.  Nobody does anything without seeing potential gain in it, And perhaps after examining Anders’ testimony and statements they saw that he was acting as one who was/is of sound mind and body and simply trying to achieve a goal.  Anders himself is a proponent of this view:

   “Breivik himself has insisited he is mentally stable and demanded that the
   attacks be judged as a political act rather than the work of a deranged man.”

Certainly a diagnosis of sane, though it would carry a harsher penalty, would render the man a tad more credible.  If deemed insane we could dismiss him as an aberration,** ignore his cause and go about our lives.  However, if we deem him sane we should examine his motives and try to understand him: it is a serious cause indeed that would drive a sane man to massacre people.  We probably won’t do this.  Instead, Norwegian society will want to have the best of both worlds: punish him as a sane man but dismiss him as a crazy one.  This is a mistake in my opinion.  Certainly most people would be reluctant to give Anders a forum to spread his views in light of his crime, as it presumably sends the message “if you commit atrocities you get to have a voice.”  There is merit to this view and I don’t think bad behaviour should be rewarded, but it occurs to me that Anders probably felt voiceless long before he committed his crime.  People like him (“terrorist” is what they are calling him) are screaming to be heard and when no one listens they might start to feel like they have to make a big noise to get people’s attention.  Or 77 big noises.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

*I’m not sure what Norway’s laws are on capital punishment, and I’m too lazy to google them.  Please don’t take my casual allusion to the death penalty as a cavalier attitude toward life.  I will explain myself in good time, but that will be another entry.

**I don’t believe crazy people should be wholly dismissed either, but that also is another entry.

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