The meditation myth

The Words We Found: The Best Writing From 21 Years of Voiceworks, Hardie Grant 2009

I KNOW two serious meditation practitioners. Half an hour after the first told me meditation gave him a calm and balanced mind, I heard that the second had been committed to a mental hospital.

Passing paramedics spotted my flatmate meditating on the footpath of Swanston Street and called the police. Recently he had been suffering from psychosis tinged with Buddhist altruism and had come to the conclusion that moving through the world ‘killed molecules’. He would suddenly freeze, mid-stride, to avoid colliding with nearby atoms. When the police found him he was rooted to the sidewalk, gawking at his own shadow.

I didn’t find out about his episode until returning from an interview with Mr Siladasa, the chairman of Melbourne Buddhists Centre, days later. During the session Siladasa, a respected neurologist, had spoken eloquently about the benefits of meditation. He was lucid, logical, sane and happy. How could the same technique have contributed to both mental states?

The woman I remember

Visible Ink

AFTER passing through throngs of poor Chinese outside the station and negotiating queues of rich Chinese in the ticket hall, you and I finally make it onto the train platform, which is crowded with both groups. Men, women and children are packed so tightly together they have become one seething mass of human flesh.

I imagine this entity as a person who is both male and female, old and young. The person is wearing a rich man’s jacket and a schoolgirl’s dress. Begrimed beggar’s fingers protrude from sleeves adorned with gold cufflinks. One of the person’s thighs is brown and cracked, desiccated like a dried-up riverbed, and the other is milky-white and youthful. The person’s skin is wrinkled under the chin and taut on the cheeks.

A train screeches into the station. We become swept up in the tide of bodies clambering for the carriage door. Somehow, we keep our heads above the surface of jostling shoulders, paddle past the flailing limbs and make it onto the train without being crushed alive.

I look at your shocked expression and know what you’re thinking. I had the same thought the first time I found myself part of a desperate mob in China. How can there be this many arms and legs in the one place? This many kicking feet, jabbing elbows and clawing hands?

As we fight our way to the dining carriage I note that you have not yet complained about the constant shoving. I broach the subject, almost apologising on China’s behalf. Rudeness is a necessity here, I explain. With so many people competing for so few resources, one needs to be pushy to survive. Politeness is a luxury enjoyed in rich and roomy nations.

A boy scampers past carrying a bowl of steaming noodles. Suddenly he slips, sending pasta tendrils snaking across the linoleum floor. From the volume of his crying, I assume he won’t be getting another bowl tonight. I know that you have a spare noodle packet and, given the circumstances, I expect you to hand it to him. Instead, your head morphs into a carnival clown’s and the carriage booms with cackling.

That was an extract from the full story, available here.

Dark day for solar

Eureka Street

THE sun beats down upon the necks and arms of 200 people facing a brick building by the banks of Melbourne’s Yarra River. The rays don’t seem to worry the onlookers. The sun’s power is, after all, the reason they’re here.

The building houses Solar Systems, a company that was, until recently, developing a way to put sunlight to good use. A world leader in its field, the renewable energy start-up spent 15 years and $150 million designing and demonstrating a 154-megawatt solar farm in Mildura that would have produced electricity for 45,000 homes.

Then the dark day came.

Policy, not prejudice, is the problem

ON LINE Opinion

IT sounds strange, but the attacks on Indian students in Australia really should have made for boring headlines. Despite the media reports of “curry bashings”, the true culprit wasn’t prejudice bubbling to the surface, but policy buried deep in our bureaucracies. Laws and regulations are to blame, and they need to be subjected to the same scrutiny as the spineless thugs who punched, kicked and stabbed their way into the limelight.

Buy our brown coal! Now cleaning up on eBay

Crikey

ACCORDING to recent reports, the Brumby government plans to export brown coal to India. For those who don’t know, brown coal is one of the most emissions-intensive ways to generate electricity  — even more polluting than oil, gas or black coal. The Brumby government is desperate to capitalise on Victoria’s abundant coal reserves before a global emissions treaty or carbon price takes effect. After that happens, burning brown coal will be socially unacceptable and considerably more expensive.

But isn’t there a simpler way to offload the stuff? After all, how do most people get rid of a dodgy product in a hurry? They auction it on eBay, of course.

So that’s what I’ve done.

The new generation of readers

Harvest

I’M a writer who can’t read. When I plunge into a novel, I don’t stay submerged in the fictional world for long. After a few minutes some snag in the text will deliver me back to the present, and I’ll find myself staring at the page, confused. Sometimes I’ll feel a sudden need to check my email or send a text message, watch television. Reading makes me restless, thirsty for fresh stimulation.

I can’t believe it’s not coal!

New Matilda

STEP right up folks, and witness the amazing energy-producing properties of Chocolate-Coloured Fossilised Carbon! See how this ancient substance magically turns black and vanishes under increased temperature! Marvel as a beautiful Dioxide Mist materialises before your very eyes!

What will the Victorian Government come up with next to describe the process of burning brown coal?

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Wed and buried

The Age (A2 section)

IT’S a Chinese tale to gong the heart: two young lovers, taken before their time, are married in the grave. But beneath this story’s romantic surface rots a putrid secret. The couple never knew each other in life. He was a bachelor who died alone. She was a peasant from a neighbouring province who was murdered and then sold to his family as a sacrificial bride.

This is the macabre plot of minghun, Chinese afterlife marriage. Grief-clobbered parents, desperate for their dead son to escape the shame of eternal singledom, arrange for a female corpse to be buried next to him. They then marry the couple post mortem. She becomes his wife in the spirit world, his ghost bride.

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The language epidemic

Page Seventeen

‘THIS burger is scrumptious Dad.’

At the time I didn’t really know what the words meant or what the repercussions were. But Dad did. He bolted upright, dragged me to the sink, scrubbed my mouth with soap and water and then picked up the phone.

‘Boy’s sick.’

‘Words.’

‘Take look.’

‘Tomorrow?’

Dad slammed the receiver and turned to face me.

‘Shut it,’ he said.

Single-minded obsession

Voiceworks

THE governors of the country with the largest population, longest wall, largest dam, biggest Buddha, longest sea-crossing bridge, highest railway, largest airport terminal and soon to be tallest tower (the Shanghai World Financial Centre) tend to take a single idea just a bit too far.

We’re all familiar with some of the schoolbook examples of Chinese single-mindedness. The Great Wall was a 2000-year-long obsession that cost millions of lives and made a better courier path than barricade. Then there was the Cultural Revolution from 1969 to 1976, when the entire population became possessed with the urge to modernise. Students tore about the country trashing temples, tearing up ancient texts and tormenting the elderly.

But few people know that this organised insanity also extends to the environment.

China’s black heart

The Age (travel section)

UNTIL I visited Linfen, a coalmining town in central China, I never considered black to be a colour. But in Linfen, where the sky is bluish black, the trees are greenish black, and the dirt is brownish black, black is more than just a colour. It’s an entire palette.