1998-08-08: The Wooden Bowl

The Wooden Bowl

Simple Meditation for Everyday Life (1998)

by Clark Strand (?)

In the Smithsonian Associates catalog of events and classes, Susan saw a notice of a course titled Meditation without a Guru, given by Clark Strand and thought Chris might be interested. Chris thought it was too expensive for her friends, but would go if one of us went. I said I would go. Before going, we ordered Strand’s book through Amazon.com; I only glanced at it before the class (10 to 4:30 on July 25).

Strand said something interesting: he said he wrote the book to create a meditation culture in America, not a guru culture. This struck me as a very ambitious goal. I’ve looked into Zen and some other meditation-oriented traditions, but was always put off by some details of the belief systems. Strand is promoting meditation without any extraneous belief system, only the belief that there is some benefit to meditation.

Interestingly, in the workshop and this book, this is the key belief that he never mentions. He seems to assume that his readers and attendees already are interested, needing no motivation to begin meditation. This may well be true for most of the people who would find his book (it is not heavily promoted) or attend most of his workshops. However, there seemed to be several people in the Smithsonian Associates community who attended out of curiosity, rather than previous interest.

The approach (to the book and the workshop) is simple. A series of exercises leads to a state in which the meditator stops the otherwise-ceaseless sequence of random, free-associative thoughts. Strand made the point in response to a question that many meditation traditions (he mentioned Yoga) strive to create a particular state of mind. He is trying to eliminate states of mind, to give the meditator awareness of mind itself. He used the image (due to Fr. Thomas Keating) of a river with boats (thoughts and other states of mind) on its surface going to and fro. The thinker is in the position of jumping into one boat after another, while the body of water supporting this activity is not perceived.

The book is worthwhile, and I expect to reread it.

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