This morning, for the first time in years, I lost my place in chanting. I was utterly lost, not connected with what was being chanted. It has been truly shocking. As usual, it is this need to have no choice but multi-task, onscreen in this Livestream, that has my mind divided into two parts sometimes during practice. There is no tech-helper here in the Zen Center to assist “in real time” this livestream broadcast every day, the sound connection or someone commenting too much while others are practicing. There is this multiplicity of functions which need to be monitored, on a screen nearby, to make sure all of the connections are happening, so that people tuned in are getting this connection we have offered publicly to anyone anywhere, and which they have set aside time in their busy days to practice with others alone together. Being techie/sound engineer for every public practice online, while also carrying the unforced calm of practice, something gets rattled on a synaptic level. There is a different kind of a firing. It feels like the neurobiology of both states — meditation practice, and thinking your eyes through YouTube and livestream software and remote mic transmission through an iPhone nearby perpetually on– are just completely different. The tech brain is predatory electrical aggression, while you “hack” the problem: the meditation brain, if we can even continue this error of saying there’s a “two”, is resting, unmoving non-differentiation, an infinite early-morning pond-surface of Moment.
As was shown this morning, during the YouTube transmission of what is, in effect, just my private daily practice, some of the participants expressed some problem with sound after practice had already started. The message came in while I was chanting: sound problem. I noticed that it drew the attention of some. While chanting, I kept needing to make some technical micro-decision in one part of my head to stop and check the mic at the end of the chant, or else look at the live-feed and see if the “problem” is said to be resolved by itself for that person, and however many others. This thought goes through my head, because I have brought these people to an experience: I need to hold up our end, technically speaking. It can’t just be ignored. That would be so rude.
So I froze, during the chant.
Needing to function as a kind of “control tower” on this public event, with my own native nervousness with tech, there was this contracting mental force happening while I even chanted — I froze.
Too much constant multi-tasking because there is no help to carry these obligations to make the daily transmission work, because we have invited people to it and Google brings this daily happening to the attention to unknowns through its algorithmic fractal swirls.
it causes all sorts of thinking in the practitioners when a tech issue appears while I am leading practice, and then commenting appears, when some problem is perceived and then bodhisattvas rush out of attention to practice to leave some (helpful sometimes) comment to them or “the group” or to me. And there can be these little exchanges — good to the core — that take the settling in and shaking it all up again. The practitioners’ synapses also freeze, back into smartphone or laptop screen-checking, breaking that non-dual settling into this borderless void before thinking arises.
But I froze. Froze hard.
The first time I have done this in a long while — literally choking up in the middle of the first chant. I was totally stuck. It floored me to be so lost in it. This multitasking required to troubleshoot a “problem” with the transmission to others WHILE chanting — getting information only from a SCREEN located now always right at my seat, the easier to confirm things — I was thrown off. Chanting and needing to connect with YouTube simultaneously, or check with a microphone clipped to my back hip-band, while chanting a beautiful opening chant: it’s a recipe for Anuttara Samyak Sam Bodhi or total meltdown into brain-freeze, not don’t-know. Its opposite sister, actually. Froze-know.
Wow, that was a truly weird experience.
Well, there are these little invisible inner-checks that are becoming quite habitual, almost, in my practice, since I have needed to shoulder this live public broadcast stuff. Even while gathering the “prana” in to relaxed awareness, beginning chant and then sitting, there are these simultaneous systems-checks. Leading right up to the beginning of the practice, and even into it, I am going through simple check-lists in the head. Several times, I went through an entire set of Evening Chanting and did not learn until beginning the sitting, that the entire practice transmitted no sound: the batteries in the microphone had run out of charge. This is no major tragedy for the world. But the pile-up of chat-messages while this was happening, showed me that the technical mistake here had given some material for people to all worry or comment or joke about the experience. I had given thinking — people found it either funny or just questionable or whatever. I am often finishing that check-list only in the moment of the first three bows. And there are a few checks of the phone briefly even during practice, if I notice a string of messaging rolling down during the chanting. But I have to check that — this is the only tech guy here. I kind of check it out of my eye once or twice during chanting, to alleviate the concerned mind that builds up. I check quite scantily. But there is that needing to check. This used to be done by Ioannis, when he lived here. He had his eye on all the tech, everything, and I was able merely to focus on practice, without a trace of functional distraction.
Maybe some things might be susceptible to multi-tasking: Cooking while having a video call with a friend, while not optimal awareness, is susceptible to multi-tasking. Taking in a Huberman Lab or Alex Fridman But meditating publicly (this spiritual flasher in his raincoat), while also needing to monitor the tech and Internet dimensions of the transmission through YouTube: these are not susceptible to multi-tasking. You do one, or you do the other. Other things might be susceptible to multi-tasking. But I think there is a special clenching-up of the synapses that has to happen in order to interface with tech — LIVE! — and this clenching-up in fits and starts during the practice, due to tech-awareness. The student-meditator’s unfrustrated experience with that precious time they have set aside to do this, some people twice per day!
True chanting is the “anti-multi-tasker”. As I learned when I bumped head-on into the “Wake up!” wisdom of “The Homage to the Three Jewels” this morning during practice. Great experience, though positively mortifying as it unfolded. With all sorts of digital eyes watching. Wow — now that‘s intense. An intense way to have to realize something. And what can we do? Everyone is barely surviving in this lockdown — many are distracted by life and death multi-tasking. One hopes that one day someone good for the practice appears here one day wishing to do “tech karma-yoga” and be offered back room and board and practice and teachings. This is would be great! This meditation app we are making — The Mirror of Zen — is being produced solely to provide a digital, always portable version of the online livestream experience, of practice itself. Whether there is an internet connection or not. Hopefully this app gives the basic architecture for people to continue building their individual practice, whether they have access to a meditation center or not. And through that I may more easily let go of this obligation to “livestream” whose complications are the reasons for this morning’s dreadful moments and this post. It would be the best to have a tech-assistant helping us to bridge from livestream to app, and I don’t get snowed in with all sorts of work going from Beta-version on up. It’s good if I just practice, and can have others to share the work with.