Episode 8 - Backlit parallax enlightenment via monastic notification, the evolution of the Buddhist Geek?



  • What is Buddhist Geeks? 
  • The intersection of contemplative practice and science.
  • The Buddihist Geeks Conferences 
  • Virtual vs Non Local Community
  • What's the difference between a Buddhist Geek and a Buddhist or a Buddhist Geek and a Geek.
  • Characteristics of a Buddhist Geek, Skepticism, Awareness of technology from a 1st person experience.  
  • The difference between "new practitioners" in 2013 vs. 2003
  • Integrating practice and life. 


Monastic - of or relating to monasteries or to monks or nuns




Mindful Cyborgs - Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration - with your hosts, Chris Dancy and Klint Finley.

CD:      Welcome to Mindful Cyborgs, Episode 8. Sometimes Version 8, but Episode 8. Mr. Klint Finley, fresh back from Hong Kong, how are you doing?

KF:       Good.

CD:      Now you know last show I was struggling with ... do I qualify for Buddhist Geeks? Am I even good? Do I need to be a Buddhist? We were talking about that.

KF:       Yes, have you changed your mind or come to any conclusions yet?

CD:      We made a pact that I would come out of my Buddhist closet if I felt it was time and I want to say that I’m getting more comfortable with the chiffon, not quite ready to come out of the closet but I have someone on the show today who can help me.

VH:      Yes, good to be here. It’s dark in here but good to be in the closet with you.

CD:      Vincent, I’m new to the Buddhist Geeks community. I found out about you through Amber Case, a friend of this show, a friend of Klint, and a friend of mine. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about Buddhist Geeks and maybe a little bit of history?

VH:      Yes, sure. Buddhist Geeks is a media project that I and a couple of friends started in 2006 and it started off just as a podcast where we were interviewing different teachers, different authors. Mostly in the Buddhist tradition at first and then eventually we just started going crazy and interviewing anyone who we thought was cool and had any relationship to what we were doing. And it really just started as a hobby project, but for some reason people really resonated with the kinds of topics we were exploring in the intersection of contemplative practice with technology and science. Those are some of the biggest things we tended to cover. We ended up having a really big audience of people listening to the show and eventually a few years ago started doing a local in-person conference each year. You guys have talked about the conference a couple times on your show, which I really appreciate by the way and I know Chris, you’ll be there this summer. So, it’s sort of gradually grown into what’s now I sort of think of it more as a kind of virtual or nonlocal community of people who consider themselves kind of Buddhist Geeks. So that’s kind of what it’s turning into at this point.

KF:       Cool.

CD:      I’m absolutely fascinated you went from virtual and then pivoted and used the term nonlocal.

KF:       Yes, I don’t know what the difference is between those two but it seems like they’re two different words that describe something slightly different.

CD:      The conference that’s coming up in Boulder this August, where can people find out about it? On the Buddhist Geeks website, or where would be the best place to get information on the conference?

VH:      Yes, Buddhistgeeks.com. There are some tickets still available. Yes, I think we got maybe twenty tickets at the moment so yes, we should have some space for some more folks to come and join us.

KF:       Cool. So let me ask you again on the topic of what Buddhist Geeks is. What’s the difference between a Buddhist Geek and a normal Buddhist or a Buddhist Geek and a normal geek?

VH:      Yes, it’s a good question. Well, let’s see. I’d say one difference is that most people that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks are not so sure that they are actually in fact Buddhist. That’s one interesting characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that I’ve noticed.

CD:      Like me.

VH:      Yes. Which is why we’ll see if you’re still in the closet by the end of this conversation. Yes, that’s one characteristic that’s very interesting. The folks that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks often are very skeptical, I don’t know if that’s the right word, or they actively question the validity of any particular model, especially one that originated 2500 years ago in terms of its absolute ability to explain things. I’d say that’s one characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that’s sometimes different than your average Buddhist practitioner. Some Buddhists are like that and others aren’t. Other people treat it much more like a religion in which they’re looking for all the ultimate answers to life and think that religion or the people who started it do have all those answers. Buddhist Geeks tend to question that assumption, and I think that’s a fairly healthy thing to do.

In terms of on the geek side I’d say one of the big differences between a geek and a Buddhist Geek I think ... I’m sure you guys in Mindful Cyborgs know this. Most geeks tend to lean in the direction of becoming completely absorbed in their technologies without asking questions about why they’re using them or how they actually support or serve the deeper purposes or aims in life. Certainly there may be a lack of awareness in most of the geek culture about how these technologies actually impact our consciousness or direct first person subjective experience as we move about our day. I think the Buddhist Geek, not by any means rejecting technology, in fact we’re geeks so there’s a lot to be praised and loved about technology, I think Buddhist Geeks tend to ask questions about how that use of technology affects them in terms of their first person experience in terms of their ability to show up in life and participate in a meaningful way.

I think that’s one of the things that Buddhism really has to offer the geek culture is more of the sense of awareness of how our merging with these technologies is changing who we are and how we are and not to do that in some sort of deterministic way where we think oh, we have to, we’re going up in light in a singularity therefore we have to just surrender to what’s evolving. I think, no we actually have to look at these technologies and make determinations about what we’re going to use and what we’re not going to use. Are we fetishizing the technology or are we using it for deeper aims? I think those are questions that we’ve been asking with the Buddhist Geeks project. I think people who identify as Buddhist Geeks, although that’s a weird identity, would probably say they care about those kinds of questions.

CD:      Makes sense.

VH:      Does that answer your question?

KF:       I think so, yes. Definitely.

CD:      I was listening to Trudy Goodman who was live on Buddhist Geeks, and you can join the community and there’s a bunch of stuff like that that you can find from the website, and today I asked her a question. The question was ten years ago, if she was working and you can look up Trudy on the internet, a teacher, but I said ten years ago if you were looking at a new practitioner, someone just meeting you today versus someone you dealt with in 2003, how would you say they were different or do you see any differences in them. Her answer really interested me. She said in context of today the people who come to her who are new practitioners are much more concerned with continually being connected in their teachings, to their world. Whereas in the early days, it was actually encouraged that you withdrew from the world to practice.

VH:      Yes.

KF:       And I guess that’s a huge difference just in ten years that people are more concerned about having it all. The other thing I thought was interesting was she said because life is busier - she made a nice comment about we always think it’s busier than it was before - that when we do practice we literally have to pour so much more energy and times when we do practice that it seems much heavier than it did ten years ago. I was wondering from your point of view as a teacher and someone who has a blog where you write about this sort of thing, do you have any take on ten years ago versus today in a new practitioner?

VH:      Yes, I mean it’s funny because I started my practice just a little over ten years ago.

KF:       Remember we are Mindful Cyborgs so we would know this.

VH:      No, it’s totally fine and I’m just saying that because I remember pretty vividly the kinds of people that I was practicing with at the time and what they were interested in and stuff like that. One of the things that I really noticed was there was almost zero young people around my age who were participating in the communities of practice that I was involved in. One thing I noticed that’s quite different is that the people now getting into practice, there’s a huge influx of millennial getting interested in this type of contemplative approaches including the Buddhist ones.

I was talking to a teacher named Jack Cornfield who’s sort of a well-known teacher in the west coast Buddhist scene and he sort of is suggesting that from his observation interest in the stuff kind of skipped a generation. It went from the boomer generation, skipped the genexers, and kind of went more to the millennial, which isn’t to say that individuals within those generations haven’t been interested but more as a kind of generational trend. So one thing that I see changing quite a bit are the kinds of people in terms of their age and background that are getting interested in this stuff, so there’s much more young folks who are more intimately connected with information technologies that you guys explore so much on the show.

CD:      Nice.

VH:      That’s one huge difference. I think the one that Trudy mentioned is also true, and I think this might be part of the generational thing. There seems to be a general shift in these different practice communities toward integrating practice and life and not seeing the penultimate aim of practice to be kind of like the old monastic model, which I think every religious tradition has a monastic model of some sort where you literally divorce yourself from the world and you go live in an environment that is coned simply to help you develop your contemplative and spiritual awareness.

We’re seeing I think a lot of people who, because they can’t do that or simply aren’t interested in doing that or not willing to do it, are really trying to find ways to integrate a depth of practice and a depth of awareness into their lives. To me, that’s one of the most exciting trends and it’s also one of the scariest I think from the older boomer teacher generations perspective because they had a very different form of training. They went to Asia, many of them, and sat on these really long intensive retreats, sometimes for years at a time. That’s the model they learned, so we’re taking their model and we’re breaking it and we’re trying to do other stuff and I think there’s some scariness in that, that previous generations probably are feeling, which I can really respect and understand on some level because it’s bound to be the case that we lose something actually. But I hope that what we gain is something that’s related to being able to live in a contemplative way in such a way that isn’t distanced from or removed from our lives and concerns, not just individually but as a global community.

CD:      That is a beautiful answer and I’m so thankful that we could have you on. We’re going to move on to news, but before we do that I think in the spirit of giving some people a place to go to. If you listen to this show and you’ve made it this far, head on over to our Facebook page and we’re going to go ahead and give away a pass and a flight and a hotel to the Buddhist Geeks Conference on the Mindful Cyborgs show’s budget. So go head over to the Facebook page. Leave us a comment on this show about why you want to go and why you think it’s important to get away and be with some other Buddhist Geeks and hopefully we’ll get one more of those tickets sold in the next week.

VH:      Wow, that’s really generous of you guys. Thank you.

CD:      It’s the least we could do. You guys do so much. [00:12:38], you need to be in the United States. The Mindful Cyborgs budget is not that great.

Klint. Klint’s by the way what do Christian’s do? Klint’s like, Chris, you’re paying for that. What do you got for news this week?

KF:       I guess it’s not exactly news but it’s a really interesting essay that I read on the site medium.com Shanley from ... I guess I won’t say her workplace because she doesn’t like to mix her work and life, but it’s a post about work and the essay is called Microaggression and Management.

CD:      Aren’t they the same thing?

KF:       It covers a lot of body language and sort of really subtle ways that managers can reinforce sexist and racist in classes, power dynamics in the workplace. She mentions, for example, this is one that I thought was really interesting in the way that sometimes managers in a meeting with a subordinate will be over casual and slouch. I would have thought more of like the way like the more aggressive posture would have been to sit up and kind of lean in, but she makes a really interesting point that the opposite approach can be just as unusual and strange to a subordinate who’s not in a position to actually be that casual with their managers so you create an asynchronous situation. One person had that really professional and accountable and the other person can just be like I’m just going to sit here and slouch and not really pay attention to what you say because I’m the boss and you can’t do anything about it.

CD:      The first thing I think of is the whole hoody CEO syndrome, if your CEO is wearing a hoody but your comptroller has to wear a suit, is that some type of microaggression? Not naming any specific hoody CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but it does make you wonder.

KF:       Right, right.

CD:      Interesting.

KF:       I think it touches on mindfulness in that there’s all these things that people do without even thinking about it. In some cases I think that there are probably managers who are doing these without realizing that the power dynamic that they’re reinforcing that they don’t realize what their body language is communicating and that if they were to read this essay and think about some of the things that they do that perhaps their behaviors would change. And there’s probably a lot of people who don’t care, of course.

CD:      I was in a meeting the other day with someone and he said to me, you don’t move, you don’t touch your face, and you don’t ever ... this is like after an hour. I said if I’m kind of rested, I’m trying to just be calm and be with you.

KF:       I mean I fidget like crazy all the time.

CD:      I usually do if I’m nervous but if I’m just rested fed, I have all the systems taken care of I’m pretty good. She said, do you practice this? I’m like, is it bothering you because I’ve never had anyone say this to me? He was like, it’s a little disconcerting. I’m like, okay, so I just started randomly touching my face for the last ten minutes of our meeting.

KF:       Vincent, any thoughts?

VH:      I don’t have any thoughts on the microaggression piece but I was just thinking as you were describing that, Chris, that my stepdad when I was living with him and just started meditating I would just sit there and look at him in this completely ... like I was just witnessing everything and completely divorced from experience and I remember he used to look at me and start snapping his fingers and saying, are you there? So it is a little disconcerting when people are just sitting there still not really reacting. It gives people a lack of social cues. It’s a little disconcerting, it’s true

CD:      Yes, and I asked my coach about it and she said if you’re comfortable you don’t need to become more animated and she said don’t change just because someone said that to you. I was actually concerned that maybe I need to be more animated because I’m usually very animated when I’m meeting people but it doesn’t really...

VH:      Yes, being quiet, being silent, it’s a lot harder for people to project their ideas onto you at that time. It just sort of bounces back onto them and I think that’s probably what makes people uncomfortable.

CD:      Yes, it’s the ultimate anti-surveillance. Maybe that ought to be the name of the show. So something I found, and you guys know that I’m a little gadget junkie for contemplative tech. I signed up for the Melon awhile back, have you guys seen this? It’s a headband that you wear that measures brainwaves. And they just had a blog post and I actually shared it over in the Buddhist Geeks community but basically they’ve tied location into it so you can basically see how much you are focusing in different areas. They have this great map where they show someone visiting New York City and their level of attention or focus in the different places they visited. So instead of an Instagram photo or someone quantifying their heart rate in a specific rate, actually quantify their focus specifically. It creates this interesting paradigm of what does that really mean for the future of sharing experiences if we’re a very focused selfy generation when it comes to photos and things like that and we start to layer on other data elements. At what point are we saying, hey, you might like this because it really caught my attention and this is literally how it caught my attention?

VH:      Interesting.

CD:      Klint, would you share out your focus?

KF:       I don’t know. I would be worried that it would show how unfocused I am.

CD:      We talked about this on the show, but your vacation focus, Klint. Would you share out your vacation focus?

KF:       Maybe.

CD:      You’re not a vacation person, are you?

KF:       It seems like such an intimate thing to share, but maybe in a few years.

VH:      I’d share the focus of my meditation sessions where I’m actually sitting because that’s where I’m bound to be most focused.

CD:      In one of the shows we did I actually recorded my heart rate for the show and shared it with the audience. You know as soon as I get this I’m going to share my focus out with the audience during a live recording.

VH:      I think a Klint versus Chris focus competition for the day would be interesting.

CD:      You see that is the scary thing about all this to me because I’m coming to terms with words like capacity and as soon as you introduce any of these quantified systems or contemplative systems, and I’m not saying you did this Vincent, but I see people in my life automatically go ... you’re going to start to measure me against other people. It’s their default thought when they see these numbers is I’m going to be judged.

KF:       Yes, I mean that’s part of what I worry about, if a company is going to ask for my attention logs from my last job when I apply for my next job.

CD:      And just like with social media, lack of availability of your attention logs, because there used to be this concept of if you’re on Facebook you better hide everything because your employer won’t get you hired. Now most HR professionals I talk to say that they can’t find you on Facebook, they don’t want to hire you because it’s obvious that you’re underground or just out of touch.

KF:       That or you have something to hide.

CD:      Yes. Which makes you wonder from three years are we going to say I can’t see any of your fitness logs, I can’t see any of your thought patterns, what are you hiding?

Last story for the day because we’re kind of running out of time because we like to keep these things short, just a quick little story. Great thing over on MPR about they measured choirs and noticed that when choirs sing their hearts actually are in unison. I thought that was really a beautiful sentiment. But something, an article I saw on ScienceMag, they’re calling it Total Recall for Mice. This is something I saw over at Global Future 2045 about a month ago where they’re using neural dust. Basically a transmitter implanted in your skull, neural dust injected into your blood stream, and then it records the neural activity.

What was really interesting about the experience, they showed the video on the screen, was that they would put rats in this experience which is a different experiment from the Total Recall for Mice. But they put rats in a maze full of water and the rat had to find the food and they had the neural dust collecting his electrical activity. They then took a rat who’d never been in the maze, took the electrical activity, put it on new neural dust, put the neural dust in the rat and the rat knew instantly where to go for the food. So my question to you is transmitting contemplative states via something like neural dust, is that the new happy pill?

KF:       Probably not yet but that does seem like the ultimate solution eventually to bypass using pharmaceuticals and just send a nanobot using electromagnetic waves or whatever to alter your thought patterns, to correct whatever perceived neurological deficiency that you have.

CD:      Yes. So I guess let me just make it a question. Klint, if you were traveling back to Barcelona and it’s ten years from now, it’s 2023, and you could have some version, something like a neural dust transmission, to give you Spanish or enough Spanish to do just your presentation, relatively cheaply, would you do it?

KF:       Sure. I don’t see why I wouldn’t do it. That does sound scary but something like that, a translation system, would actually be pretty interesting to do. I was thinking you were going to say adjust your sleep patterns because I think that’s a little bit more realistic.

CD:      Yes, I never even thought about that.

KF:       Adjust for jetlag.

CD:      Yes, that’s hot, I really like that. Especially if you could use the recording of neural dust to actually slowly do it maybe a month before your trip. But I don’t know because then you get into your other bodily systems and your sympathetic system and if it’s actually tied at some level ... I’m not a neurologist obviously.

KF:       Yes, it’s spooky stuff. We’ve been talking about brain implants for decades now but so far it hasn’t really come to that, but at some point we as a society are going to have to start making some decisions about what we want to have under our skin.

CD:      Literally. Yes, and I wouldn’t even have thought too much about this topic but when I saw at GF2-45 and actually saw the video of the rat learning the maze and then the new rat just knowing it, I thought, whoa, like one of those Keanu Reeves kind of whoa moments. And then I saw this Total Recall for Mice story and I thought, wow, it’s actually happening. But it sounds good.

Vincent ended up having to get off the call so thank you very much Vincent for making it to the show today. Klint, any place we can find you? What do you have coming up in the not so near future?

KF:       I don’t think I have anything for sure on the agenda yet, there’s a couple conferences that I’m applying to speak at but I think we should keep that under wraps until I know what’s going on.

CD:      Events that we do have on the books. We’ve got Buddhist Geeks and, again, we’re giving away travel within the United States and hotel and a ticket and that’s August 16th-19th. Head to the Facebook page, look up Mindful Cyborgs, find today’s show and you’ll see a note saying leave us a reason why you should get away and be contemplative. Again, anyone could go to Singularity University for people who might be interested in that. That’s October 5th-12th. Our friend, Ernesto, is having the Quantified Self Conference on October 10th-11th in San Francisco. And then, finally, I guess we’ll close the show with Klint. I have applied now officially to bring Mindful Cyborgs to South by Southwest, so we’ll try to get a link in the Shownotes if it’s out by then, but we’re going to bring quantified work to Austin hopefully in August of 2014.

KF:       All right, cool. Talk to you next time.

CD:      Thanks, Klint. We’ll talk to everybody in two weeks. See you later.