Meditation and Sensuality
Jay Michaelson

I have only just started meditating, and yet I've already noticed what a profound effect it has on my traditional religious practice. It's like getting the answer key. "Aha! This is what they were talking about when they said that God is everywhere!" The attention brought to mundane objects renders them everyday miracles, and an opened heart makes davvening a cathartic, healing experience. Suddenly simple phrases that seem like clichés - "Be Here Now" - are full not only of truth, but of invitation. They cease to sound like pop psychology ("Remember, bourgeois busy people, if you just become 'present' you can do all sorts of things and be a more successful businessman/lover/person.") and instead sound like a call to the One.

To some degree, this spiritual dimension is not surprising, even if to those who have never experienced it may sound dubious. People who meditate often talk about rapturous union with Being, or dissolution in the Divine. But I didn't expect how meditation would affect my sensual life. I suppose I imagined it to be a 'spiritual' practice, forgetting that all meditation really is is being present with what's going on right now, either in a concentrated form or in open awareness. And what's going on right now is, usually, an embodied experience. We eat and use the bathroom a lot more often than we pray, and God is everywhere. So perhaps it should have been obvious. But here are four new lessons that I've learned about sensuality and meditation:

1. Why people who use drugs like meditation

When you're stoned, or rolling, or tripping, or on any number of other drugs, certain sensual sensations get enhanced. You can see and feel music when you're on ecstasy. The taste of some kinds of food on marijuana is, as a stoner would say, "intense." Everybody knows this, and it's why many people use drugs. There are, I know, people who smoke pot just to get wasted, and not to have heightened visual, tactile, or other sensual experiences. But for me, and for my friends, drugs are not an escape from reality; they are a magnifying glass held up to it. Intimate details of how the mind works, of how fabric feels, of music. Drugs can make every potato chip a delicate, crispy, greasy delight.

Meditation is about the same process of 'intensifying' daily experience, not by pursuing ever-more visceral thrills, but by quieting the mind enough to - in the words of Warren Zevon - "appreciate every sandwich." (Zevon coined that phrase when David Letterman asked him what effect his diagnosis of terminal illness had on his day-to-day life.) I used to see a contradiction between the ethos of "seizing the day," living as fully as possible, and the contemplative life, which I associated with a withdrawal from much of human experience. On retreat recently, though, I realized that there is no contradiction, and that in fact a contemplative path is the logical extension of living deliberately. There are, really, only two choices available to someone who wants to suck the marrow out of life: either continually seeking more extreme experiences, or making every experience 'extreme.' Some people can apparently do the former, but I find that tiring. Like drugs, but without their nasty side effects, meditation allows me to "suck the marrow" out of this tree, table, soda, or breath. By simply eliminating signal noise and stopping thought, the true colors of the phenomenal universe become revealed, in ever-increasing brilliance. It's not like being stoned all the time, because there is not the disorientation and tripping up of the rational mind that occurs on pot. But it like being stoned in the sense of tastes, touches, smells, sounds, and sights all becoming enhanced, kinesthetically interchanged, and - simply in their non-conceptual presence - enough reason to live.

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Image: Mica Scalin

July 2003

Symposium on
Douglas Rushkoff's
Nothing Sacred

The Sacred and the Profane
A Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff

Reinventing the Wheel: A Review of Nothing Sacred
Michael Shurkin

They Gonna Crucify Me: A 'Lapsed Jew' Responds to Nothing Sacred
Ken Applebaum

Plus these other attractions:

Meditation and Sensuality
Jay Michaelson

Anything You Want to Be
Ben Cohen

Not Mentioned
Hal Sirowitz

Josh Graduates High School
Josh Ring

Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here

David Stromberg

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