Thursday in Santa Fe

02009-10-30 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

I spent most of Thursday transcribing Stephen Batchelor’s talk from Monday. When Roshi mentioned that Upaya was looking for somebody to transcribe the talk I immediately offered to do it, thinking that I might learn something, certainly regarding the content, but also regarding the English language since Batchelor is a very good speaker. So I sat here and typed away for five or six hours. I am not a fast typist and had to listen to a sentence, stop the recording, type a few words, listen to more… you get the picture.

In the evening I responded to a comment and rather liked what I wrote. So here it is:

Well, not getting stuck would hopefully be a side-effect. I was thinking about the fact that our experience is not a smooth, continuous flow. Instead it is a series of stages. Movies come to mind. We experience a movie as a continuous flow, but a movie is really just a series of snapshots, projected at a rate of 24 images per second. The film appears to move naturally. To a being with “faster” eyes, our movies would appear to stutter.

(((I wonder whether young people who grew up with MTV and computer ganes and movies with fast jump-cuts can notice a single frame being out of place in a movie. Can they see “faster” than their grandparents, and is that an advantage at all, is it a useful ability aside from movies and games? Would they see the bus earlier?)))

Our practice, whether it is a Buddhist practice or a musician’s practice, or any other practice, is like that movie. We take baby-steps forward, towards the goal. Maybe we practice a few bars of music at a time. Then the next few bars, and the next. Eventually we can, albeit haltingly, play the whole piece… now we work on giving the music a natural flow – and that takes years longer.

Buddhism, like music, is a practice, an endless practice. Stephen talked about the stream, the flow. My thoughts were that, maybe due to the evolution of our brain, nothing is a total flow – more like a series of snapshots. Making goals is natural, is human. Make a goal, attain it, make a new goal. Don’t stop, keep moving. Ok, do stop, make a little dance, celebrate with a drink… and then do move on and set the next goal. Endless. Endless. Endless.

It’s all endless, but our brain likes to cut everything into bite-sized pieces. Nothing wrong with that. We just need to be aware of it.

Also reminds me of Dogen, who said that life was one mistake after another. Mistake – correction. Mistake – correction. etc.

It is great to be inside a wave, inside the flow, the stream of whatever one is doing, making music or shooting pool, cooking a meal or transcribing a lecture. But that wave will end, and we want to build tools to transition between these experiences of flow. I mean one can experience flow in the middle of a concert (((you can substitute any other activity))) and then suddenly one gets shot with one of those red laser beams that focus an audient’s camera. One falls out of the flow, but needs to re-enter rather than bumbling along. Recovery. Very important. For everything really, not just performers. How long does it take us to get up again. We are in a good mood when somebody cuts us off in traffic, pushes into the line at the grocer, yells at their cellphone… can we recover right away or do we let that ruin our day? I think practice can make us more flexible and thus give us a quicker recovery.

Working on a couple of new songs. I am not sure that I like them, but decided to pursue them and decide later. Letting them grow a little before I give them the ax.


  1. steve

    Ottmar wrote: “our experience is not a smooth, continuous flow. Instead it is a series of stages.”

    It would seem that not only this the nature of our experience, but it is also elemental to the nature of space-time itself: Quantum field theory, seems to indicate that space-time is discrete at the Planck scale. (Planck units are discussed here:

    J.A. Wheeler, a noted theoretical physicist has indicated that the continuum nature of spacetime would only *appear* as an emergent property, but that space-time itself is fundamentally discrete and information theoretic.

  2. Brenda

    I like what you wrote also. :) Yes, I am very appreciative of the explanation of flow. Thanks Ottmar! I am thankful for the light you shared regarding “flow”. I have much to learn. All New to Me.! Thank goodness for the soundchecks in life. :)


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