What if Henry David Thoreau and Henry Ford Talked of Simplicity?

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and Henry Ford (1863-1947) could be connected in many ways. Both men had strong opinions about capitalism and consumerism. Both men had an reverence for nature. Both men believed in hard work and self reliance. Both men had strong feelings about science and technology. Overarching all of these areas, both men rooted their philosophies in the concept of simplification. Thoreau’s and Ford’s philosophies show the two men’s philosophies were practically opposite despite both being rooted in simplicity. Thoreau and Ford obviously were unable to ever discuss their philosophies with each other, but I’ve wondered what a conversation between them would be like. Therefore, I will attempt to compare and contrast Thoreau’s and Ford’s philosophies through a fictitious dialectic exchange, of which is entirely based on research of their philosophies.

Henry David Thoreau: Good day Mr. Ford. I am delighted to make your acquaintance.

Henry Ford: It is good to meet you as well, Mr. Thoreau. I understand you and I both have viewpoints surrounding the idea of simplicity. In my work as an industrialist, I have been able to build my Model T efficiently and affordably by eliminating “lost motion” and “slack” and making the tasks involved in the production process smaller and simpler (Grandin, 4, 223). The success of my Model T is because of simplicity. “Commonplace simplicity marks the greatness of the Ford. Simple in design-anyone can quickly understand it. Simple in construction-and every part a bulwark of strength. Simple in operation-anyone can operate it. Simple to maintain-anyone can care for it.” (thehenryford.org). “My effort is in the direction of simplicity” (Grandin, 4).

HDT: Yes, Mr. Ford. Your efforts in industrialization have indeed simplified the assembly line process. However, does this simplification carry over to life itself? Has simplification in industrialization made human lives more simple or more complicated? Simplification in industrialization, the ability for goods to be produced quickly and cheaply, has given rise to an all encompassing consumerism and materialism in society. Men amass items and furniture like their lives can be measured by how much they own. Their collections of goods only serves to complicate their lives. “When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all-looking like an enormous well which had grown out of the nape of his neck-I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry” (Allen and Almonte, 360). All of these things are merely a trap. “If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it be a light one and do not nip me in a vital part. But perchance it would be wisest never to put one’s paw into it” (Allen and Almonte, 360).

HF: Mr. Thoreau, there are indeed items which are merely “trumpery and trinkets” that are made “only to be sold, and bought only to be owned” (Grandin, 40). Items which serve “no real service to the world and are at last mere rubbish as they were at first mere waste” (Grandin, 40). However, items like my Model T, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines are great inventions to ease and simplify man’s existence (Grandin, 40). Great inventions which ease a man’s burdens in life are possible through higher wages. Abundance and simpler living is achievable when workers make enough to be able to afford to buy the quality, life enhancing items they make (Grandin, 40; Wicks, 50). “High wages,” you see, “to create large markets” in which production and consumption are both increased (Grandin, 40). “Our buying class is our working class” and “our working class must become our ‘leisure class’ if our immense production is to be balanced by consumption” (Grandin, 73). Mr. Thoreau, “Where does the money to make wheels go ‘round come from?” (McCarthy, 82). “From the consumer, of course…success in manufacture is based solely upon an ability to serve that consumer to his liking. He may be served by quality or he may be served by price. He is best served by the highest quality a the lowest price” (McCarthy, 82). I seek to simplify man’s life by providing him the highest quality product for the lowest price. At the same time, I seek to pay a man a fair wage for an honest days work, so that he may enjoy a simpler life. Simplicity in economics is giving the consumer the best product for the best price and paying a man a wage in which he can afford to buy those products.

HDT: Compensation, Mr. Ford, for an honest day’s work is certainly required for man’s existence. However, are there not many forms of compensation? Are all forms of compensation equally beneficial to man for man to live fully? It seems, Mr. Ford, “men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal” (Allen and Almonte, 350). In our modern economy, men work to consume and to pay off debt, which essentially places the laborer in servitude to the debtor. Many men “are poor, find it hard to live, are sometimes as it were, grasping for breath” while “trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt” (Allen and Almonte, 350). Simplicity in economics would be to eliminate consumerism so that men may be compensated for their hard work with freedom.

HF: Mr. Thoreau, it certainly is not right that “We have dotted lines for this, that and the other thing-all of them taking up income before it is earned” (Grandin, 92). However, the problem does not come from the industrialist, it comes from the capitalist. “The difference between me and a capitalist is that I earn my living honestly. A capitalist loans out his money, collects the interest, and lets the other fellow do the work” (Wik, 19). “Get the gambling aristocrats to work…A capitalist doesn’t work at all. His money works for him” (Wik, 19). My brand of capitalism is one in which capitalism works for the working man, not the aristocrat (Brinkley, 52). My brand of capitalism is one in which working men prosper and overcome hard times through “self-reliance,” “rugged individualism,” tightening “bootstraps,” and “learning by doing” (Grandin, 40, 63; Wik, 21). By 1919, The Ford Motor Company had made over $300,000,000, “entirely upon its own resources” (thehenryford.org). Ralph Waldo Emerson had it right when he said “Trust Thyself!” and “Prayers are a disease of the will” (Wik, 22; Grandin, 68). It is a philosophy of simplicity. Work hard and be self-reliant.

HDT: I can agree with you, Mr. Ford, that the abilities to work hard and be self-reliant are indeed noble qualities for a man to have. However, hard working and self-reliant to what end? To live. But, to live what kind of life? “Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (Allen and Almonte, 350). It seems, Mr. Ford, that men have “no time to be anything but a machine. How can he remember well his ignorance-which his growth requires-who has so often to use his knowledge?” (Allen and Almonte, 350) For men to live simply and happily, men must realize that “The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly” (Allen and Almonte, 350). Take for example, Mr. Ford, the act of providing for oneself through self-reliance and hard work. In your view, it appears, for one to provide for oneself one must labor under industrialization, to earn money to purchase most of the necessities of life. However, “There is some of the same fitness in a man’s building his own house that there is in a bird’s building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwelling with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged?” (Allen and Almonte, 356). In our modern consumer society, we rely on others to construct our homes, to grow our food, to make our clothes. What have we lost due to this lack of self-reliance? “We belong to the community. It is not the tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division of labor to end? And what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself” (Allen and Almonte, 356-57). Simplicity is indeed in self-reliance and hard work. However, to achieve the best end to self-reliance and hard work one must provide the necessities of life, as much as possible, for oneself. In this way, man can grow and develop the finer parts of his nature, like his creative and intellectual faculties, which broadens his humanity. Man’s reliance on machines to provide for the necessities of life is detrimental to self-reliance. Man’s reliance on machines that turn man into a machine himself is detrimental to humanity.

HF: Mr. Thoreau, I can agree men should grow their own food. I had given fifty-five thousand employees plots of land in which they could cultivate their own vegetable gardens so that they did not have to depend on government relief during the Great Depression (Grandin, 277-78). However, why should man and machine be at odds? Mr. Thoreau, “We cannot eat or wear our machines. If the world were one vast machine shop it would die. When it comes to sustaining life we go to the fields. With one foot in agriculture and the other in industry, America is safe” (Wik, 255). Yes, nature is required for man’s survival, however, nature is not incompatible with science and technology. Together, nature, science and technology can help man prosper. The “Industrious application of inventive genius to the natural resources of the earth is the groundwork of prosperous civilization” (Wik, 247). At Ford Motor Company, we have merged science and technology with natural resources. The machines developed by Ford can do more work in less time for less money than a horse (Wik, 248). Also, “the cow must go” (Grandin, 60). “Why should a farmer spend a lot of time taking care of a bunch of cows. It takes 20 days of actual work to grow and harvest the grain crops on a dairy farm. The rest of the time is spent taking care of animals” (Wik, 250). “It is a simple matter to take the same cereals that the cows eat and make them into a milk that is superior to the natural article and much cleaner,” and “Our laboratories have already” shown that “the concentration of the elements of milk can be manufactured into scientific food by machines” made from soy (Grandin, 60). Our laboratories, through the science of chemurgy, have transformed soy into plastics, paints, glues, cardboards, and fabrics (Grandin, 59; Wik, 251-54). The new uses our scientists have discovered for soy were a simple solution to the agricultural depression in which farmers had an excess of product (Wik, 254). Simplicity is achieved when man with machine, science and technology all work together.

HDT: I must inquire further Mr. Ford, to what end does the merger of man, machine, science and technology achieve? What is the best end for man to achieve? It seems that “with a hundred ‘modern improvements’; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance” (Allen and Almonte, 358). “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at” (Allen and Almonte, 358). In technology, the machine is robbing man of his connection to nature through hard work. Man and nature are no longer working together. Instead, man and machine are using nature. In science, man is separating himself from nature. Mr. Ford, “the universe is built around us, and we are central still” (Furtak). What I mean by this is, man has many faculties assigned to him, of which are sensory, emotional, and intellectual (Furtak). As such, there exists “no such thing as a pure objective observation. Your observation, to be interesting, i.e. to be significant, must be subjective” (Furtak). To offer a true observation, man must describe his observation in ways in which all the faculties of the human mind are represented (Furtak). “The truest description, and that by which another living man can most readily recognize a flower, is the unmeasured and eloquent one which the sight of it inspires” (Furtak). “The true man of science will know nature better by his finer organization; he will smell, taste, see, hear, feel, better than other men. His will be a deeper and finer experience” (Furtak). I am troubled that the science you speak of “discovers no world for the mind of man with all its faculties to inhabit” (Furtak). The simplistic improvements of science and technology you speak of Mr. Ford, seem to only distance man further from nature. Man is no longer involved with nature, instead man is merely using nature. When man is distanced from nature, man is distanced from himself, because man is of nature. If man is to live fully and simply, man must distance himself from machines and technology which rob him of his connection with nature and ultimately which rob him with his connection to himself.

HF: Mr. Thoreau, by all means, nature is necessary for man’s survival. “I don’t like the city, it pins me in,” Mr. Thoreau. “I want to breath. I want to get out” (Grandin, 41). “It is not right,” you see, “to put a layer of dust [from smokestack pollution] over the surrounding country and spoil its trees and plants” (McCarthy, 80). However, industry and nature do not need to be at odds and Emerson recognized this fact (Grandin, 57). I agree with Emerson in that through the mechanical advancements of industry, the car and the railroads, man can better experience nature (Grandin, 57). Also, as Emerson believed, industry can help man work more efficiently which would give him more time to contemplate and enjoy nature (Grandin, 57). “For most purposes a man with a machine is better than a man without a machine. Unless we better understand the mechanical portion of life, we cannot have the time to enjoy the trees, and the birds, and the flowers, and the green fields” (Grandin, 246). “I will build a motor car for the great multitude,” and “It will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s greatest open spaces” (Brinkley, 44). The great naturalist writer, my friend, John Burroughs enjoys the Catskill Mountains by way of the Model T (McCarthy, 80; Wicks, 55). Regarding industry’s obligation to nature and the public, “Picking up and reclaiming the scrap left over after production is a public service,” “but planning so that there will be no scrap is a higher public service” (McCarthy, 56). However, “Conserving our natural resources by withdrawing them from use is not a service to the community,” because “our natural resources are ample for all our present needs” (McCarthy, 81). Waste is unacceptable to me (McCarthy, 77). We can use resources wisely and efficiently, limiting waste as much as possible, which will conserve the resources for future generations, reduce pollution, allow the factory to run more efficiently, and generate more profits (McCarthy, 67). We should take care to conserve resources as much as possible, to protect nature and generate profits. But, the conservation of resources need not mean that we not utilize what nature has given us to use to ensure the prosperity of man.

HDT: Mr. Ford, Emerson wrote that one could find in nature “a sanctity which shames our religions,” and I do agree with Emerson on this point (Furtak). However, Emerson would assert each object in nature is “a symbol of some spiritual fact” (Furtak). Mr. Ford, “Is not Nature, rightly read, that of which she is commonly taken to be the symbol merely?” (Furtak). Mr. Ford, one should “be always on the alert to find God in nature,” and listen for “the language which all things and events speak without metaphor” (Furtak). What I mean is, nature is not a mere symbol of greatness, nature is in itself greatness. Nature has value in itself, its value is not derived from how it can be utilized by man (Furtak). There exists a “much grander significance” in nature “when not referred to man and his needs but viewed absolutely” (Furtak). “Whatever we have perceived to be in the slightest degree beautiful is of infinitely more value to us than what we have only as yet discovered to be useful and to serve our purposes” (Furtak). When I made my home at Walden, I discovered “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself” (Allen and Almonte, 363). Mr. Ford, man is not set apart from nature. Man is of nature. Man must view the world as “nature looking into nature” (Furtak). If man can value nature simply for the value nature possesses intrinsically, then man can value himself simply for the value man possesses intrinsically. Man living in simplicity, in nature, allows man to prosper in ways monetary gain cannot award him.

HF: So, Mr. Thoreau, how should we conclude this discussion?

HDT: It seems, Mr. Ford, we have come to the conclusion that you and I are of the different minds regarding the concept of simplicity.

In conclusion, Thoreau’s ideologies posit simplifying life through less consumerism and materialism. However, Ford’s ideologies posit simplifying life through industrialization and capitalism. Thoreau asserted science and technology could be detrimental to humans and nature, while Ford saw science and technology as being compatible with nature. Thoreau and Ford both asserted humans should be self-reliant and work hard. Thoreau seemed to view humans working hard in connection with nature as being self-reliant. Conversely, Ford seemed to view the machine as enhancing humans’ abilities to work hard and be self-reliant. While both men seemed to have a reverence for nature, which both men also seem to relate to simplification, Thoreau seemed to assert we ought to live within nature while Ford seemed to assert we ought to live by utilizing all nature provides. The incompatibility between Thoreau’s and Ford’s philosophies arises because Thoreau based his viewpoints on simplicity in nature, while Ford based his viewpoints on simplicity in machines. It is to be noted, the quotes are all of Thoreau’s and Ford’s own (or in some cases, Emerson’s), by either spoken or written. It is also to be noted, I have made some interpretive logical deductions in offering Thoreau’s and Ford’s views. My hope is that I have portrayed each mans’ views accurately and respectfully.

Works Cited

Brinkley, Douglas. “Prime Mover.” American Heritage 54.3 (2003): 44-54. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 May 2011. <http://web.ebscohost.com.dbprox.slcc.edu /ehost/detail?vid=14&hid=12&sid=a93c02b5-114e-4887-a74d-a56d34fbd0d8 %40sessionmgr104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&A N=9896802>.

Furtak, Rick Anthony. “Henry David Thoreau.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Winter 2009. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Web. <http://plato.stanford. edu/entries/thoreau/>.

Grandin, Greg. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford‘s Forgotten Jungle City. 1st. New York City: Metropolitan Books, 2009. 1-372. Print.

The Henry Ford. “Ford Sales Literature Excerpts, 1919.” The Henry Ford. The Henry Ford, 2011. Web. 1 Jun 2011. <http://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/smartfun /modelt/modules/AGENT/fordlit.htm>.

McCarthy, Tom. “Henry Ford, Industrial Ecologist or Industrial Conservationist? Waste Reduction and Recycling at the Rouge.” Michigan Historical Review 27.2 (2001): 52-88. JSTOR. Web. 29 May 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20173928&gt;.

Thoreau, Henry David. “Excerpts From Walden.” “…That is the Question”: Critical Thinking About The Human Condition. Ed. Paul Allen and Paul Almonte. New York: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2009. Print.

Wicks, Frank. “The Remarkable Henry Ford.” Mechanical Engineering 125.5 (2003): 50- 56. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 May 2011. <http://web.ebscohost.com. dbprox.slcc.edu/ehost/detail?vid=18&hid=122&sid=a93c02b5-114e-4887-a74d- a56d34fbd0d8%40sessionmgr104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3 d#db=aph&AN=9634150>.

Wik, Reynold Millard. “Henry Ford and the Agricultural Depression of 1920-1923.” Agricultural History 29.1 (1955): 15-22. JSTOR. Web. 29 May 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3740757&gt;.

Wik, Reynold Millard. “Henry Ford’s Science and Technology for Rural America.” Technology and Culture 3.3 (1962): 247-258. JSTOR. Web. 29 May 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3100818&gt;.

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Wherever You Go There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

In Wherever You Go There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn offers insights into the practice of meditation. Kabat-Zinn discusses the philosophies behind meditation and different techniques for practice. In part one, Kabat-Zinn focuses on the different concepts that make up mindfulness. In part two, Kabat-Zinn describes several different techniques, including two visualization techniques, The Mountain Meditation and The Lake Meditation. In part three, Kabat-Zinn offers insights into mindfulness, including the concept of karma. For this book report, I will address all three of these concepts.

The first chapter of part one is entitled “What Is Mindfulness?” Basically for Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means being awake” (17). Mindfulness, Kabat-Zinn explains, means to “wak[e] up and liv[e] in harmony with oneself and the world” (3). Mindfulness, according to Kabat-Zinn, requires self examination, which includes questioning of one’s established beliefs and how one relates to the world based on how they view themselves in the world (3). In order to achieve self examination, mindfulness requires one to not only live in the present moment, but “cultivat[e] some appreciation for the fullness of each moment we are alive” (3). Kabat-Zinn explains, the value of meditation, is that it helps with mindfulness because it “helps us wake up from this sleep of automaticity and unconsciousness, thereby making it possible for us to live our lives with access to the full spectrum of our conscious and unconscious possibilities” (3). Essentially, it seems for Kabat-Zinn mindfulness is being fully open, mentally through empirical and conscious awareness and inquisitiveness, to the experiences each moment in life has to bring. In this openness, humans as thinking, conscious and feeling creatures, can reach their full potentials. Kabat-Zinn further explains that there are “attitudes or mental qualities” which “provide a rich soil in which the seeds of mindfulness can flourish” (47). The mental qualities which gives rise to mindfulness according to Kabat-Zinn are: patience, letting go, non-judging, trust, generosity, accepting one’s own weaknesses, voluntary simplicity, and concentration (47-72).

My experiences with mindfulness are predominantly focused on three aspects; being honest with oneself, non-judgment and being fully present in each moment. It seems like, from my own personal experiences, humans are very creative in coming up with different ways to lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves so many lies in order to prop up the last remnants of a pieced together ego in a life sized façade desperately trying to mimic existence. Sometimes the lies we tell ourselves are told to cushion emotions, to make the hurt more bearable or the anger more justified. We may tell ourselves, for example, “man, that guy was a huge jerk, talking to me like that” to try to cover up the hurt feelings of self viewed inferiority that arose because of someone’s actions or to try to say we have the right to be angry, despite the anger arising out of hurt ego, because of someone’s actions. Sometimes the lies we tell ourselves are meant to attach some sort of identity to ourselves. Whether the lie we tell ourselves is judged positive or negative, we still attach the lie to ourselves, as being representative of who we are. For example, “I am just not smart enough,” or conversely “I am so clever,” which, by our assertion, becomes an illusion of who we are.

All the examples of statements we tell ourselves above are all also judgments, which, according to Kabat-Zinn hinders mindfulness, but they are all also dishonest. If we look honestly at our hurt feelings caused by someone’s actions we could see that our hurt feelings don’t stem from this one person’s actions, that the feelings go back further and are not external but are within us. The hurt feelings arise within us because we allow for them to, because we have attached our identity on assertions and if we judge the assertion as negative we are constantly beating ourselves up, or if we judge it as positive and a circumstance contradicts that assertion then we lose our sense of self. Why do we allow these feelings to arise? If we look honestly at the assertions we make to ourselves in order to try to attach an identity onto ourselves, we could see that these external, compared and contrasted with others, assertions are not who we are. One may tell themselves they are not smart enough, but in order to make this assertion they have to compare their intelligence to some external baseline then make a judgment on themselves accordingly. We, all too often, look outside ourselves, compare ourselves to others, to form judgments, which shape our identities. Why do we create our identities off of how we judge ourselves as comparing to others? What are we then if we are not how we compare to others? It seems mindfulness requires honesty and non-judgment. Honesty with being able to answer these questions and the ability to not view the answers through the illusions of judgment.

The honesty that mindfulness requires, it seems is best achieved by living in the present moment and vice versa. In order to be fully awake, as Kabat-Zinn would state, to the present moment, one must be honest about what is occurring to them, internally and externally, mentally and physically, at that moment. In order to be honest about what is occurring at that moment, one must be fully present, mentally and physically, in that moment. Through my meditation I have tried to focus on these two aspects, namely, honesty and being fully present in the moment. I have meditated on the questions I asked above and have tried to be honest with myself about the answers. Regarding honesty and being fully present in the moment, I cannot honestly say that I am mindful all, most or even half of the time. Since I am aware that I am not mindful most of the time, I can now focus on, with honesty, why I am not mindful most of the time. Only in this way, can I gain mindfulness. My mindfulness has changed in that I have become aware of how limited my mindfulness is and now I can meditate on why this is so.

From mindfulness, Kabat-Zinn moves on to meditation techniques, two of which are visualization techniques, namely, The Mountain Meditation and The Lake Meditation. First he discusses The Mountain Meditation. Kabat-Zinn asserts mountains are “sacred” where people seek “spiritual guidance” (135). Kabat-Zinn explains mountains, physically and metaphorically, are “elemental[ly]” “hard” and “solid” (135). When I meditated using the visualization of mountains, I began by placing myself some distance away from the mountain, just observing the full mountain. I imagined sitting in front of the mountain and mimicking the mountain posture and stillness of the mountain. I felt more grounded, more rooted, like I could stand up against any storm. I felt secure and confident. I thought of the peak of the mountain rising high into the sky, topped with a snow cap. To me, the snowy peak seems like a metaphor for standing tall with a cool head. The Mountain Meditation, for me, seems to be a good meditation for when one is feeling unconfident or when they have a tough problem they need to solve, as it can guide them to solve the problem by staying grounded and keeping a cool head.

Kabat-Zinn also explain The Lake Meditation. Kabat-Zinn explains water is just as “elemental as rock” but is stronger because it “wears down rock” (141). However, Kabat-Zinn explains, water also has “receptivity” where it lets “anything in, then resumes itself,” whereas rock just breaks (141). I did The Lake Meditation the first time sitting up and the second time lying down. My experiences with The Lake Meditation differed when I changed positions. When I was sitting up, I imagined the surface of the water moving in gentle and small waves. Along the surface of the water I imagined faint light glistening off the waves. Underneath the water, I imagined something, like shadowy undefined blotches, swimming. I imagined a cool, moist breeze coming off the water and lightly touching my skin. While I was sitting up visualizing the lake scene, I felt pretty calm and the something moving under the water almost made me feel joyful. I could see how this meditation could be helpful to take in new ideas or thoughts and just coolly ponder them, underneath the surface without judging. However, when I tried The Lake Meditation lying down, I had a completely different experience. I think The Lake Meditation while lying down had the most impact on me. However, I haven’t quite figured out its meaning yet. I imagined the waves and the light the same, but I imagined my body floating face up in the water. The water and the air suddenly felt cold and the shadowy undefined blotches grew larger and more menacing. I felt somewhat afraid, like these blotches were going to pull me under the surface of the water. I, honestly am not sure where this fear came from or what these blotches are supposed to represent, but it seems like this meditation could be useful for dealing with subconscious hidden fears that are being carried around.

After meditation techniques, Kabat-Zinn discusses several concepts, one of which is karma. Karma, Kabat-Zinn explains, means “B is connected in some way to A, every effect has an antecedent cause and every cause an effect that is its measure and its consequence” (220). Karma, explains Kabat-Zinn, is not fate or a “fixed destiny,” meaning it is not determinism (220). Kabat-Zinn further explains karma is the effects occurring in a person’s life “caused by antecedent conditions, actions, thoughts, feelings sense impressions, desires” (220). More specifically, Kabat-Zinn states karma is “an accumulation of tendencies that can lock us into particular behavior patterns, which themselves result in further accumulations of tendencies of a similar nature” (220). In other words, karma is a cycle of causes and effects, of conditions and results, that perpetuate each other. It is important to recognize, according to Kabat-Zinn that karma is not manifested externally, but instead it is manifested internally (220). Karma is a cycle perpetuated within ourselves and as much as we would like to assign causality to others for whatever occurs in our lives, for our emotions or behaviors, it is us through our perpetuation of those emotions and behaviors, those emotions and behaviors are enhanced.

I have experienced karma with two opposite emotions; stress and happiness. For example I become stressed out for whatever reason. When I become stressed out, I tend to exaggerate the negative. I tend to interpret difficult or challenging situations as being worse, much worse, than they really are. Since I am mentally making problems worse than they really are, I soon start acting like the problems are worse than they really are. Then, the problems do become worse than they had to be. Then, I get more stressed out. For another example I feel happy. Since I feel happy, I look at whatever occurs with a more pleasant attitude. I may treat others more pleasantly or smile more. In return, others respond by being more friendly to me. People being more friendly to me makes me even happier. So, I act even more pleasantly, and so on. Both of these examples demonstrate how an emotion leads to a behavior, the behavior enhances the emotion, the enhanced emotion leads to more of the behavior and the cycle continues, perpetuating and enhancing itself as it goes.

Mindfulness can change these karmic cycles. In order to be mindful, one has to be aware. One has to wake up and recognize the cycle they are in. Then one has to question, why is this cycle of emotion and behavior occurring? What triggers these emotions and behaviors? What lessens or stops these emotions and behaviors? Following questioning, one has to be observant, fully awake, and live in the present moment in order to answer these questions. One has to pay close attention to the emotions and behaviors. Next, one has to be honest with themselves about what they observe. Going through this whole process, then lying to oneself about the cycle wouldn’t be beneficial, it would just throw them back into the cycle. In order to be observant and honest, one would need to not judge the emotions or behaviors. Judging automatically distorts the experience of emotions or behaviors with a blurry illusion. To see, clearly, the emotions and behaviors for what they are, one would need to not be judgmental. Then one must live in the present moment, paying close attention to their patterns of emotions and behaviors in that very moment. One can change their karma by applying mindfulness to emotions and behaviors, which means to be aware of, question, observe, be honest about, not judge and live in the moment.

Mindfulness is being awake, in touch with, inquisitive but not judgmental about your existence. Meditation techniques, such as the visualization techniques of The Mountain Meditation and The Lake Meditation, can help one achieve mindfulness. One can utilize mindfulness to change their karma, or in other words, to change their cycles of emotions and behaviors. Through mindfulness one can live fuller, more satisfying existence.