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Schouborg, Gary (2001). "Review: Mind Science:

Meditation Training for Practical People, by Charles T. Tart".

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8 n.8, 93-94.

 

 

Charles T. Tart, Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People (Novato, CA: Wisdom Editions, 2001, xii + 236 pp., $18.95, ISBN 1-931254-00-1 (pbk).

 

 

Mind Science offers meditation for readers with a contemporary, scientific world view. Charles Tart, who coined "altered states of consciousness", confesses that he’s a "thoughtaholic" who doesn’t know what enlightenment is. He hypothesizes that by struggling over a lifetime to reduce his personal "endarkenment", he has grown toward enlightenment. He therefore presents himself not as a seer, but as a fellow muddled human being. He shares with readers to test for themselves tools that have improved his own quality of life.

 

Tart plays three roles in Mind Science: teacher of meditation, promoter of meditation, and critic of scientism.

 

He is an excellent teacher who gives clear and simple instructions, anticipates common misunderstandings, and is sensitive to individual differences among his students. He explains meditation in contemporary terms, an approach that those readers will particularly appreciate who find traditional language of spirituality mystifying.

 

He begins with concentrative meditation to calm your mind, asking you to focus on your breathing. If you are like most of us, you will be surprised at how busy and chaotic your mind is and how easily you are pulled away from your target. By liberating you from your preoccupations, concentrative meditation prepares you for "opening up" (vipassana) meditation, which awakens you to the various sensations that your body offers you. Tart believes that therein lies a field of consciousness ripe for scientific research. He also notes that the resulting calm has a uniquely satisfying quality that will probably find you wanting more.

 

At this point in the book, you have experienced the benefits of meditation by temporarily withdrawing from ordinary activity to be quietly with yourself. Must you then make a forced choice between experiencing the satisfactions of meditation and enjoying the usefulness and excitement of everyday activity? Tart offers Gurdjieff’s self-remembering as a third meditative technique to bridge the gap.

 

In self-remembering, you split your consciousness to include both your ordinary activity and the sensations of your body, thereby allowing yourself to conduct your everyday affairs without being overly invested in them. Tart has you focus on the sensations in your arms and legs, since he believes that the feelings in your torso are often associated with past psychological trauma. However, ignoring past trauma creates a problem for the intrinsic dynamics of meditation and for self-remembering. Whereas meditation is a means of awakening to what is and accepting what is not, unresolved trauma is repressing what is past and not accepting what is. Meditation therefore tends toward addressing past trauma. Furthermore, let me suggest that somatic feelings embody your attitude of clinging or non-clinging to your personal reality. The need for splitting your focus to include both your activity and your feelings is necessary only to the degree that clinging has interfered with the natural flow of feeling, which inherently enlivens every conscious act. Self-remembering is naturally whole, not split.

 

Tart is an honest and charmingly self-deprecating promoter of meditation, carefully distinguishing the benefits that he himself has experienced from others’ claims that he has not personally or scientifically confirmed. He has improved concentration and self-control, reduced stress and even pain, discriminated immediate experience from abstractions, improved both his science and his personal relationships by reducing dogmatic rigidity, restored feeling to a life emotionally impoverished from too much focus on abstract thinking, discovered what is really worthwhile in life, achieved an inner calm. Tart readily admits that he has achieved only a modest degree of these benefits after 50 years of practice, that he took three years to diminish (not eradicate) his murderous reaction to tailgaters, that it takes years of self-observation to really know yourself, and that you should not try to change yourself for the first few years of self-observation.

 

You may wonder if the game is worth the candle. His answer is that even the modest benefits achieved have been worth the effort to him. He therefore provides this book to give you a taste of meditation so you can decide if you want more. The key is not to commit to years of practice, but to experience some small benefit now and then decide what effort is acceptable to you now to experience more.

 

Tart is least successful as critic of scientism, which mistakes particular scientific methods as ends in themselves rather than as means to the truth and thus ignores important areas of human experience that cannot be studied by those particular means. As cure to that methodological scotoma, Mind Science offers meditation as a research method into aspects of consciousness to which we are ordinarily blind. To this useful suggestion, he adds an unfortunate critique of scientism as enemy of spirituality, which conflates theory and experience. Fortunately, even if you are a radical materialist, you needn’t revise your theory to benefit greatly from Mind Science. The theoretical issue between materialism and idealism is conceptually independent of the life experiences that are the main topic and effects of this book.

 

Gary Schouborg

GaryNini.com