Friday, October 18, 2013

CCDN 231: Project 3: Onion Meditation

So I ran my little guided meditation experiment yesterday, and it was a huge success. The tutors loved it, and I think they really appreciated getting to do it at the end of the day, after an immense volley of crazy, whacked out experiments. In a way for that I'm quite glad that mine got postponed till the end of the day.

The experience harmonised the intense sensory experience of chopping an onion with a meditative practice, creating a new amalgam of the two.

The experience I have created harmonises chopping an onion with meditation to create a sensory envelope around the subject. Following on from the previous revelations surrounding the subjects sensory and mental involvement with chopping the onion sans tools, I sought to refine the overall encounter into something that transcended that everyday task. By removing the task element and reinventing the surroundings, I was able to restore a balance where the subject is both fully immersed in the sensory and mental onion adventure as well as able find an inner peace through a guided meditation. Invoking an evolution in the experience by removing the subjects sight allows for a more visceral and engaging event, and encourages alternate avenues of personal reality crafting. “…some find (meditation) difficult and austere. Most lack the patience to persist.” (Brown & Gerbarg, 2009). Channelling this practice into an event that combines the pure and focussed element with a sense-heavy, everyday experience will allow the subject to test a strange, novel amalgam of the individual elements.

This compound ordeal was led by an “austere authority”. The idea of creating the austere authority is suggested by Middlebrook through removing the biological, sexual, and chaotic aspects of a figurehead, leaving behind one whose biology is covered by an imagery of chastity, prudence, or purity nigh unattainable by the average citizen (2001). This austere authority leads the subject through the process and experiences expected from the onion meditation. The authority and respect was commanded from the very beginning right through till the last minute, from the most mundane aspect of removing their shoes to guiding the subject in fulfilling the experiential side of the onion chopping. Brown suggests that the authority speaks with knowledge of the experience that the subject can only aspire to, and that ambition to realise their potential as the authority has results in increased respect for the authority (2009). This representation of knowledge in a non-aggressive, semi-passive way allows the subject to feel led as opposed to subjugated.

The actual task that the subject had to complete was centred on the idea of created experiential minimalism. Just states with respect to Raymond Carvers minimalist short stories that “the author shows the resultant aesthetic effect of these techniques (utilizing simplistic, unstylised and clumsy situations) is a paradoxical coexistence of heightened realism and a blankness of meaning.”(2008). Through removal of tools and the simplicity of the task, I allow the subject to viscerally experience the onion and enjoy the pure sensory engagement in a blank environment. This removal of extraneous thought processes and distractions allow the subject to realize the sensory experiences in better detail than before, creating an enjoyable and novel encounter. This subversion of austerity as something that could be enjoyed rather than abhorred is connected to more stylish minimalist sentiments. Ultimately, we enjoy the novel experience of simplicity, even if the task ends up being far more difficult. This faux simplicity masks our overindulgence and complex existences. (Busch, 2007)

The purpose of the removal of the subject’s sight part way through the experience was to elicit a heightened sensory response in the remaining 4 senses. The Acoustical Society of America observes that enhanced sensory abilities begin to occur almost immediately after the onset of ‘blindness’. The heightened senses reach a peak a few minutes after the onset of ‘blindness’, and from then on, the subject gets better based on their ability to learn how to appropriate their remaining senses to understanding the world around them (2012). This shift was where the meditative experience becomes refined and encourages the subject to experience the space around them in a unique way. This makes the task more difficult, but as stated before, we enjoy challenging situations, even if as a whole they are presented as being simpler in theory. This imposed austerity of the senses allows the subject to create their personal realities in a different, powerful way. The University of Southern California’s study has confirmed that sight and touch have a much more established link than before, and that the “mind’s eye” is a very real tool (2011). This scenario allows for the austerity of perception to be counteracted, causing the austerity to result in a new, rich experience.

The final aspect of the experience that defined it as austere was the environment. The environment provided a blank slate for the subject to impose their realisations onto. I wanted the blank slate to be re-written visually, aurally, and through touch. To achieve this, the onion meditation was located in a white, clean space, with bright lighting and no embellishments. The ability to focus on the task at hand, but not have to think about it is where this non-task comes into its own. In his poem Meditation Caves of Tibet, Fred Dings writes:
“So they entered
the heart of the rock to watch the rise and fall
of their own breath and to let all thought
sift from the clarity of their being,”
(2012). Dings describes the weight of the world around the Tibetan Monks being realised and understood, and the space of meditation being of incredible importance to the process. The choice of location was made to emulate a similar sense of the “heart of the rock”, as the ergonomics lab has a certain heaviness to the feel of the room, which elicited a similar response in the subject.

Ultimately what I wanted to create was a diverse experience that made the subject feel the sense of austerity in the task they completed as well as in the methodology behind it and the environment it took place in. The breaking apart of the onion assumes an entirely different role in the meditation, being transformed into something where the user is encouraged to feel the onion and revel in the sensory experiences that accompany it. It ceases to be about the goal of having a completed, chopped onion, and becomes more about the journey to that point and the sensory elements in it.

Acoustical Society of America. (2012). 'Blindness’ may rapidly enhance other senses. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from­/releases/2012/05/120508152002.htm
Attfield, J. (2000). Wild Things. London: Berg.
Brown, B., Chandler, J. (Ed.), Davidson, A. I. (Ed.). (2009). The Fate of Disciplines. Critical Inquiry, 30(4), 1032 – 1053. doi: 10.1086/599589
Brown, R. P. and Gerbarg, P. L. (2009), Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1172, 54–62. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04394.x
Busch, A. (2007, July/August). Excess Disguised as Less. Print Magazine, N/A.
Dings, F. (2012). Meditation Caves of Tibet. World Literature Today, 86(4), 13. Retrieved from
Gambrel C. G. & Cafaro, P. (2009). The Virtue of Simplicity. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, N/A. doi: 10.1007/s10806-009-9187-0
Just, D. (2008). Is Less More? A Reinvention of Realism in Raymond Carver's Minimalist Short Story. Critique, 49(3), 303-317,333. Retrieved from
Middlebrook, L. (2001). "Tout mon office:" body politics and family dynamics in the verse epitres of marguerite de navarre. Renaissance Quarterly, 54(4), 1108-1141. Retrieved from
University of Southern California. (2011). Scientists probe connection between sight and touch in the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from­/releases/2011/09/110908141443.htm

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