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Tradition, Technology, and the Third of the Three Difficulties

I just found out that I'm about to lose my job. Yes, again.

For the last few months, I've been a full-time contract writer on startups and technology for a small series of websites. I had convinced myself that, when my contract expired, I would be hired, with health insurance, two weeks of vacation, and maybe a gold smartwatch one day. I don't think I should be terribly surprised that's not going to happen now. This is the way of things.

It was a happy time for me. I got to learn for a living. On my best days, I observed the world from an intersection of interests, including my meditation practice. My favorite memory from that job will probably be the day that Josh Farkas, the CEO of the design firm Cubicle Ninjas, gave me a guided meditation demo on the Oculus Rift.

Right now, I can hear a record scratching in your head. As Farkas and I have both discovered, there is some hostility in the meditation sphere toward guided meditation in general and to ambitious innovations in meditation in particular.

We chatted about that. “There's a group of people who said, 'any tool to help me find peace is a great tool,'” Farkas said. “And there's another group of people who said, 'you have to do it this way. If you don't sit straight and breathe, you're wrong.' It's a big challenge. But I hope that once they give it a try that we can convince them.”

I sympathize. I'm 'bout it. I believe that traditions, in the deepest sense of the concept, evolve. I believe that more new information is almost always to be preferred over less.

And yet.

Although I consider my practice a living, changing thing, I ground myself in certain contemplative traditions, certain ideas about interdependence. Despite its eleventh-hour embrace of the Mindfulness Movement, the tech-startup world maintains a relationship with these traditions that can be... awkward. Its subliminal social Darwinism, its demands for refined fight-or-flight responsiveness, and its highly specific interpersonal culture foster an atmosphere that severely deepens the third of the Three Difficulties. As Nancy Thompson notes, it has an irksome habit of making sport of concepts such as 'karma' - looking at you, Snoo - that perhaps demand to be taken more seriously.

Some people do their level best and yet reach a juncture at which they decide they don't want to ever have any more big ideas again. Navigating new worlds through Oculus Rift isn't particularly useful if we forget to breathe.

I have difficulty taking anything seriously. Absurdist humor has long been my lifeline. I'm in my 30s – a senior citizen by the standards of this new business world, very much out in the cold now – and I'm still figuring these things out. I have a feeling a lot of us are going to have to figure out a lot more things a lot more quickly than we expected. People such as Josh Farkas give me intense optimism. I have a feeling I'm going to need it.

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