When I realized that I was essentially a Buddhist (without even deciding to be, mind you) and a scientist something snapped and it all came together.
In my view, Buddhism and scientific inquiry are two sides of the same coin. While scientific observation and testing deals with the outside world, Buddhism deals with the world within. Both approaches seek to understand what is through careful attention and observation. An often-suggested approach in Buddhism is to seek to have a mind like a child.
What is a child’s mind like? Do you know any two or three-year-olds? What word is so often on the tip of their tongue?
It is: why?
When you let go of something and it drops — why?
When the sun comes up in the morning — why?
When someone sees a wobbling star way out there in space — why?
When we shock the heart and it stops fibrillation — why?
When I’m in a bad mood and I want to lash out — why?
When I’m happy and I feel on top of the world — why?
When I’m impatient and I get that twisty feeling in my stomach — why?
When I’m obsessed with figuring something out — why?
You probably get the picture, but there’s more. There’s a twist. Neither one works if we ignore what we find because it’s not what we think is true when we seek the answer. We have to make a completely earnest effort to get as close to the truth as we can, and if there’s no objective truth to an issue or no clear-cut answer, to find out as much as we can about it and act accordingly.
The bad mood thing is a particularly good example of the power of Buddhism (for me in particular, Zen) and the harm of clinging to what we think we know. I’m sometimes in a bad mood, but I don’t know why. I may attribute it to anything that annoys me at the moment, but addressing those annoyances doesn’t eliminate the problem. It becomes clear after a few attempts to fix things that even though I think I’ve found the problem and fixed it, I have not. To rage on that the problem is unfixable when I’m fixing the wrong problem is folly, and it’s oh-so common. This is when two things have to happen:
- Recognize the state of off-centeredness
- Take a moment to sit and observe one’s thoughts
The first bit requires some practice beforehand. If you’re not used to having a quiet mind, it’s hard to notice when you’ve deviated from that state. (click — just remembered where Getting Things Done fits here) With regard to the second bit, it seems impossible, in the arena of one’s own mind, to make objective observations. However, after a little practice by meditation, it becomes possible to do just that. Depending on the type of meditation you practice, the approach may be different, but the results are similar. If you can arrest the active part of the mind, the part that is in the thoughts, and just let thoughts arise from the subconscious or wherever, then you can observe. The mind is pretty good at finding patterns, and if you sit back and just pay attention to the thoughts that arise for a few minutes, usually a pattern emerges. Once you know what the problem is, it’s a lot easier to fix it.
Back to the Getting Things Done bit. I had meant to post about how Buddhism, Science and GTD are interrelated months ago, and couldn’t figure out how to write about it. I lost the epiphany I’d had about it. I gave up and decided to just write this post on science and Buddhism, but then it clicked as noted above while writing. An underlying principle in GTD is that if your mind is clear, you can properly recognize and deal with new input. Really Science and GTD are linked by Buddhism, as such:
Science <— Buddhism —> Getting Things Done
What Buddhism and Getting Things Done have in common is their ‘rest’ state. There’s a saying in the GTD community that, “If it’s on your mind, it’s not Getting Done.” In GTD, everything that you need to do or be concerned with should be out of your head. When it enters your head, you dump it to a capture device, and process it later. Then you make sure it’s in your system in such a way that you will see it again when you need to. I won’t get into the details just now. In Buddhism, all of the “other stuff” of your life should be out of your mind. Your only concern should be what’s often referred to as “The Now” (as compared to the past and the future).
The neat thing is, GTD actually facilitates living in The Now. By removing all of those thoughts that bounce around in the head, reminding you of things when you don’t need to be reminded and so on, the mind is cleared.
It is then possible to (a) be in the moment and (b) focus with full intent, clarity, and creativity on what you’re doing. In fact, that sentence is nearly redundant, because (a) and (b) are practically the same thing.
I think there’s a particular synergy in these three things, and now that I’ve finally laid it out in words I hope to have more observations about this synergy to share in the near future. Questions? Comments?