Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Gorilla Suit of the World

"Get milk, bread, beans, potatoes..."
Some might wonder why I meditate. Actually I doubt anyone cares, but here goes. Beyond peace of mind and the usual spiritual aspirations and ideals, or maybe directly in line with them, consider the following:

Once, in a psychology class, we watched a short video as a sort of experiment. There were 6 people, 3 in white and 3 in black, all tossing basketballs back and forth among their respectively colored teams, weaving around each other, mixed in, passing the balls. We were told to count how many times the white team passed their ball among themselves. At the end, the professor asked us if we noticed anything strange, and although a reasonable portion of the class had, they couldn't quite name what it was. The rest of us, myself included, didn't notice anything. There were also a couple kids who knew what the deal was, because they hadn't been counting. He replayed the video, and in the middle of it a man in a gorilla suit walks through the group, stops in the middle to beat his chest at the camera, then walks out again.

Imagine the vast quantity of experience we are missing because we're so lost in our little mental movies! Who knows what's passing us by, every second? Yes, I want peace of mind, and I'm interested in so-called enlightenment, but mainly, I just want to see what's really there. I'd hate to miss out on something good. This is why I'm attracted to Zen, psychology, philosophy, science, and the like.  

Ooga booga!
I don't really think of myself as a spiritual person. I don't feel like I'm coming at all this from that direction, not really, (though I suppose it all gets at the same thing). I operate on an experimental basis, meditating in a more practical mindset.

What I mean is, it's not about belief or anything. I just want to be one of the kids who isn't doing the counting. Someone who sees the gorilla.


  1. I saw that video which you speak of online a couple years ago. Pretty interesting. Sometimes there is value in keeping count, and if you focus on the gorilla, you may miss out on other things. I think the difference between the two methods of attention, counting and seeing the gorilla (when not expecting to see the gorilla, in which case the gorilla represents what you are not expecting to see, which could be anything) is that they each utilize a different hemisphere of the brain. Left-brain/right brain, objective/subjective, intuition and logic.

    Both have there appropriate time and place. But you can only focus on one thing at a time. If you are counting, it is impossible to keep count if attention drifts to other things. And if your attention drifts to other things, and is relaxed, not really focusing on any one particular thing, you may then notice the gorilla, but you do so at the expense of seeing other things.

    Point being you can only focus on one thing at a time (at least this is true for me), whether it's something or nothing, not both, though you can fluctuate back in forth between the two.

    You saw the gorilla after if it was pointed out to you, though you probably would have noticed it if you weren't counting, but who knows what else you may have missed, the colors and styles of peoples clothing for instance, all sorts of things were present, which were filtered out as being insignificant details. It is all a matter of perspective which determines what you see.

  2. Some meditation is about neither counting nor seeing the gorilla.

  3. Well, I thought it was a clever metaphor...

    I guess my point was I'd like to open up from the narrow focus that a given culture puts you in. We're trained to see some things, and ignore much of the rest of experience. It'd be great to be able to step out from that focus, at least now and then.

  4. @brandon - Well since you put it that way, I would agree, not that I disagreed before.

    @baroness - The meditation that is neither about counting or seeing the gorilla, sounds like an intriguing blog post.

  5. Oh, it was a fine metaphor.

    I was just thinking about Taoist internal alchemy meditation which actually is very spiritually oriented.

    I don't really like to write about meditation; the Taoist canon is sufficient. More commentary is hardly necessary.

  6. @Cym--Okay, against my better judgement, I did it: