> Most of regions showing thicker cortical thickness in meditators are related with emotional processing
Anecdotal experience: I started meditating years ago and what I've noticed is that my emotions are more ephemeral now. Instead of being angry or sad for minutes to hours it's seconds. Also, I feel like I'm able to connect more with what's going on right now instead of what was or what will be.
There has been a significant amount of research already demonstrating the benefits of meditation and this adds to it.
For instance at one point as a child I had a conscience that would talk to me but as I grew older the voice passed into the background. Now my thoughts are the sort of jumbled mess meditators talk about.
So I don’t understand why developing the ability to hear and accept these other voices would be a detriment.
I wonder has this affected the way you feel more positive emotions like happiness, joy? Or what about empathy?
Like taking away the kind of frazzledness you would associate with stress, inner city pressure, burnout etc—so it’s like going for a hike in some mountains, camping by a lake, waking up early and feeling like everything kind of flows more easily, or at least that would be the ideal when you imagine such a hike. If you stub your toe you scream but quickly come to your senses, so you don’t dwell unnecessarily, but it’s not like sitting around a campfire would be less joyful. A calm mind seems to be a good state for joy and empathy. Also it does seem reasonable to say that the default mood
towards other people, without any “acute” emotions going on, is a peaceful, relaxed, curious affection—so maybe kind of cleaning up the emotional noise leaves you with a natural good mood.
Thus, I seem to have formed an addiction to screens and seem to have constantly a state of mild anxiety about what work I will have to do next. If I wasn’t ambitious I could scale back, but we are almost at the inflection point so now is no time to turn back.
My anger etc. (unless I am sleep derived) is minimal even without meditation. Very rarely do I “lose it” and even then it’s rational and with plenty of self deprecation and conflict resolution attempts which the other person has to reject for something to escalate.
I’m a while past my 20s and I’m not married and don’t have kids yet. I feel I am behind in some ways. The past few years of 6 days a week work from home (with normal hanging out w friends etc.) have left me in a curious state.
Here is my question. I feel pretty apathetic when I’m out, like I’ve already done everything. Camped, hiked, been on rooftops, been in comedy clubs, saw concerts, saw plays. Like it’s more of the same. The best thing for me emotionally is jiving with people who are easygoing and have a good sense of humor. Then it’s not where you are but who you’re with.
But I still have this overall sense of “nothing matters”. Like even you have a good time with friends, you’re just on a conveyor belt getting one day closer to the time of death. Sure you can distract yourself with nice conversation on the way but that’s all. No matter how much you accomplish, or do, once you’re not around to see it, it’s in a way totally pointless. I wonder all the time about what consciousness is and study theory of mind and Abrahamic religions. I try to understand what it means and why I am ok with not having been around before a certain year. Now that I am here I find the idea demotivating that one day it will somehow be just like a fictional universe that we are not able to experience. Existence itself is, to me, related to some conscious and possibly intelligent observers.
I have gone as far as I can work wise. If I had been doing the same thing day in and day out I would have long ago thrown in the towel and found something else to find meaning in, but my work has reached millions of people and I continue to build a snowball year after year. I realize everything about my life is pretty optimized for my work — I have cut out a commute, I don’t do various prayers and rituals that Jews do daily etc. I just can’t seem to bring myself to do many repetitive things every day unless I know exactly why I am doing them. But I am told by most orthodox Jews they are like meditation.
Billions of people live in communities. They uphold traditions those communities have trained them from a young age to do. They accept them. I grew up in individualist USA, live on my own, have no siblings, and have yet to start a family. This has caused this melancholy all the time. I can feel emotions in the moment but when I calm down I am aware it’s all meaningless. And I’ve done most things so the emotions are kinda dulled as well.
Sure I can take up a new hobby or busy myself with some other thing. I did those too (and of course they tended to be “productive”). Last summer I built a tent w furniture, for my local Jewish community, and I painted a giant mural w friends by the side of a highway. Things I had never done before. They were fun but now they are in the past.
And so we beat on, boats agains the current... borne ceaselessly into the next day.
Thoughts? Advice? I don’t think I am depressed, I am just always aware of the futility of it all. Perhaps I should read Ecclesiastes or Seneca.
What helped for me was a refresher of the evolution theory (Dutch book so no point recommending I guess), which suggests that you are here simply because you are here. There is no grand goal, no epic mission to fulfill, no gods to please. You are here because your parents were optimized for reproduction and raising children, who existed because their parents were etc. While this might seem depressing at first, I experience it to be very enlightening, as nothing indeed matters at all indeed. Things are what they are, nothing more, and thinking about whether it matters or not is hurting yourself (as it gets you into empty/unpleasant mind settings).
I think the proceeding stage of both that attitude and meditators in a "local minimum of realization" is that you start sitting back more, just observing. Enjoy the sound of the leaves during your hike, and instantly forgetting that when the sun hits you and you starting observing the heat. When the thought of "noting matters" hits you just observe the thought instead of letting it take you, it's bound to go away again anyways. It's a very basic way of handling the world, but extremely satisfying in a way that sensory pleasures aren't.
On an intellectual level, it helped to read a wide variety of philosophy & religions from people who seemed to have mastered the "art of living" (if you can call it such a thing). A rabbi predicating hate is a completely different one from a rabbi predicating love and kindness, even if they teach the same scripts. Below the surface, they all point towards the same "thing" that is in line with what I tried to explain above.
I hope it's in some way useful. Sorry if it's kind of vague, it's a concept that is hard to put into words :)
Couple of books that helped me:
- The unthethered soul
- Core books of taoism (lieh-tzy, chaung tzu, lao tzu)
- Yoga sutras
- Buddhism (sutra's and thich nhat hanh in example)
- Stoicism (marcus aurelius, seneca)
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins also outlines the same idea, and tries to explain how we got that way. Read it when I was a lot younger, but the concept has stayed with me.
You can be on the boat, day after day, and enjoy the feeling of wind in your hair, feel childlike irritation and curiosity at the sunburn forming, jump in the cool water before climbing back in, all without losing sight of the inevitable.
For a while I was near to settling in as a "Buddhist," I recited vows and so on, but I walked away from that identity and those collectives for various reasons. Actually I think a lot of Western Buddhism comes from trying to find a solution to meaning-related breakdowns in our societies, which is why it grew as part of the general counterculture of the '60s, etc.
Considered as a way of dealing with meaning crisis, breathing meditation looks like a pragmatic and direct technique. It just decreases anxiety in the body through stillness, deep breathing, and various calming stuff (incense, bells, serene architecture, etc). Like a really good sauna without all the sweating. If this doesn't solve the question of ultimate meaning then at least it directly improves your daily experience of life. It's designed to deal with existential confusion by showing thought in general to be ephemeral and nonessential. You pay attention to what your experience is like aside from the discursive, ruminative, extraneous thinking processes, and so loosen your attachments to those processes, which leaves more cognitive space for the senses, activity, participation, the "present moment."
This would be hard to justify from a meaning-searching rational perspective because it's basically an impulse to turn down the volume on rational search for grand meanings beyond the current experience. But it feels good and wholesome, like exercise or sauna.
David Chapman talks about "meaningness" as the structures and drives and satisfactions that occur despite our mortality, despite knowledge of mortality, in basic reality rather than ultimate reality (well, leaving place for imagination, devotion, even faith), without need or hope for eternity or final justification. This kind of meaning is hard to escape.
Maybe family, community, ritual, religion provide abundant and straightforward daily meaningness. Work, too, kind of. Maybe it's also good to diversify your meaningness portfolio. If one day you suddenly doubt your church, say, you might just want to focus on the gym for a while.
> "I feel pretty apathetic when I’m out, like I’ve already done everything. Camped, hiked, been on rooftops, been in comedy clubs, saw concerts, saw plays. Like it’s more of the same. The best thing for me emotionally is jiving with people who are easygoing and have a good sense of humor. Then it’s not where you are but who you’re with."
As far as I can tell it's okay to be somewhat apathetic. Hiking is just walking around on a trail eating nuts and complaining about mosquitoes or whatever. You might find a nice spot to sit and have coffee. It's a decent way to spend time. Maybe this is an easier way to think about it than as an "experience" that has to be meaningful or somehow outlive itself.
Actually in my experience hiking is very similar to meditation in that the presence of thought and language becomes somehow annoying after a while. I've resorted to saying mantras over and over while walking because I just get tired of my thoughts. They kind of ruin the view sometimes. If you're out for longer then you naturally get quieter, especially for example your thoughts about work might fade away. There's these rhythmic bodily activities and a certain exhaustion and vivid presence. And the purity of nature. So it's quite a lot like a meditation retreat.
Sorry that there's no overarching point to this long comment... I'm up too late!
I don't know if it is meditation or more my studying of philosophy (both in college and on my own time) that has led to my ability to control my emotions better. I would also say my emotions are ephemeral, but that's really because I understand them better. When they are justified, and helpful, I can nurture them and encourage them and indulge in them just fine. And if they're not, usually I can let them pass. There are exceptions, of course, for deep-seated things that I need more repeated attempts at suppression to change. Emotions are essentially a trained response, after all. Even if you intellectually know they're nonsensical, it has to be retrained.
> I mean, natural selection built us to do some things - a series of things that help us get genes into the next generation. Those include eating food so we stay alive, having sex, things like that.
> And if it were the case that any of these things brought permanent gratification, then we would quit doing them, right? I mean, if you - you would eat. You'd feel blissed out. You'd never eat again. You'd have sex. You'd lie there, basking in the afterglow, never have sex again. Well, obviously, that's not a prescription for getting genes into the next generation. So natural selection seems to have built animals in general to be recurringly dissatisfied. And this is - seems to be a central feature of life, and it's central to the Buddhist diagnosis of what the problem is.
A key Buddhist teaching is that dukkha (often translated as "suffering" but I believe "dissatisfaction" is more accurate) is caused not just by pushing away negative feelings, but by trying to not let go of positive feelings.
Going out for a beer with my friends brings me happiness. If I chase that positive feeling, I might end up with a vicious hangover the next day, or long-term with a dependence on alcohol.
As an oversimplification, you can view any addiction through the lens of taking an ephemeral positive feeling, wishing for it to be permanent, and pursuing it over and over again, rather than accepting the nature of its impermanence.
Also, how long do you meditate in a day? And do you meditate daily?
I've tried all of Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer. I liked Calm's guided meditations; when I started the guiding helped me a lot. I'm currently using Insight Timer purely as a timer without any guidance.
The style I follow most closely is vispassana, often translated as "insight" or "seeing the world clearly" or the trendy term "mindfulness".
There is no "best" app or "best" style, only what works for each individual. I would caution against falling into a paradox of choice problem where you keep trying different apps or different styles in a search for the "best" one. Much like exercise - the best exercise is whichever one you can do consistently.
> Any recommendations for a beginner?
This will sound counter-intuitive, but lower your expectations. You'll hear lots of stuff from experienced meditators about how life-changing it is, and I'll echo that sentiment. But it certainly doesn't feel life-changing at first. If you go into it with high expectations, you'll very likely get disappointed and frustrated.
> Also, how long do you meditate in a day? And do you meditate daily?
I've done 10-15 minutes a day, every day, for the last 800-something days. I've also done two separate silent meditation retreats, of 2 days and 5 days respectively.
There are 1440 minutes in a day. If you meditate for 10-15 minutes a day, that's just 1% of the day. Something that helped me establish my daily practice was a commitment that I can do anything if it only takes up 1% of my day.
This. When I started I didn't see any results right away but after a month of consistent daily practice, wow. And after six months, my emotional state was solid as a rock.
I experienced other benefits too. Significant pain tolerance, and the ability to consciously block pain from affecting my mental state. Sweat control. Extreme cold tolerance/body temperature regulation. Immunity to being startled by loud or sharp noise. 4-5 hour attention spans.
The 15 minute daily routine gave me all that. I used the method described by Sakyong Mipham in Turning the Mind Into an Ally
I got to where I could meditate in a noisy open dormitory.
The book does a great job of highlighting many common misunderstandings and pitfalls of beginner mediators in a practical and mostly down to earth way.
I use it with an App called Insight Timer that allows me to track the time I have put into meditating with satisfying statistics and graphs.
I went to training for TM meditation and it was a night-and-day experience. I do 2 20 minute meditations most days and I usually don’t want them to end. I highly recommend it.
Apparently in Traditional Chinese Medicine they say each organ is associated with a different emotion. Whether you believe it or not, I have recently been surprised by just how pleasurable it feels to massage my internal organs through my abdominal wall. It actually makes me laugh out loud and sends tingles through my body.
Could you share some instruction on this? I've found myself discovering this myself and I feel very interested in information on this somebody could already have developed. I don't feel like I have time to learn the entire Chinese medicine but certain instructions on what I can do within me manipulating my attention to reach particular effects could help a lot.
But the best practice I've found is the Secret Smile . By recalling/imagining intensely positive emotions you can prompt your body to recreate them, transforming (or at least diminishing) your current emotional state. It's really no different to having a fantasy. The trick is though that you don't just recall the positive emotions, but you circulate them through your body so they reach every cell, and use deep, relaxed belly breathing to further enhance them. It's a very powerful practice and not only is it useful for higher energetic/meditational practices in its own right, but also teaches you that you don't need to be subject to your emotions - you can use thoughts to change them.
Preferably they would take participants at random and have half perform the meditation for (12 or 24 months) and look for changes. Using self-selection might be more difficult to prove causation.
The results from the book are/study are hard to interpret, something about sustaining gamma waves for long periods of time and having younger brains in those that practiced meditation a lot. They also recovered from pain faster, and wouldn't develop anxieties about it.
Since these subjects are very interesting, it makes sense to study them again with different techniques or reproducing previous results.
That's fine as far as it goes. It helps us confirm that a phenomenon can actually occur and perhaps tells us something about its general shape. But when studying a population of known outliers, it's not credible to assume how the results will or won't apply to a broader population. This isn't an abstract epistemological concern; scientific journals are absolutely packed with exciting preliminary findings that vanished into insignificance when somebody did a larger or more rigorous study (but nevertheless might be cherry-picked for a pop-science/self-help book based on the "revolutionary" findings).
However, they do say in this paper that "Control subjects had no previous experience with meditation or similar practices." They're careful not to make claims in the paper that the mediation caused the changes in brain structure - "our findings suggest that long-term meditators have structural differences in both gray and white matter" - which point to exactly what you were suggesting as a next step: take a group of people who've never meditated before, split them into a meditation and non-mediation group and follow up after a year or two.
Also, this is something I've always wondered, and I guess the only way to get a real answer would be to try meditating. But as a distance runner, I have always wondered if that is a form of meditation. It seems like I have all of the effects described by meditators, and in this study, they described a form of meditation which was movement and paying attention to the physical sensations - which is basically most sports. Any endurance athlete meditators out there who can explain the difference?
The way I think about this is that there's an important difference between meditation (as a noun) vs. meditative (as an adjective).
Meditation, when you're doing it, is the only thing you're doing, or at least attempting to do.
I've gone on multiple-day camping trips on my motorcycle, when it's just me and my bike out in the middle of nowhere. I find that very meditative, in what I imagine is similar to what you feel with long-distance running. There's a part of my brain engaged with controlling my body and four limbs, but also a part of my brain that's not really engaged at all and is free to wander.
That's meditative, but that's not meditation. If I closed my eyes for a few minutes while riding my motorcycle, my happiness would decrease significantly.
This isn't to say that one is better than the other. You could meditate and never do any meditative activities, or you could do meditative activities without ever once meditating. The best option, as usual, is probably a moderate mix of both of them.
But the minute I sense it, the bubble breaks
Kind of like the medical literature focusing on using males for test studies  it makes me wonder if left handed people would have some kind of different result in these types of brain studies.
Edit: They say "handedness was measured by Annett Hand Preference Questionnaire" which suggests that this wasn't deliberate.
> Meditators, compared with controls, showed significantly greater cortical thickness in the anterior regions of the brain, located in frontal and temporal areas, including the medial prefrontal cortex, superior frontal cortex, temporal pole and the middle and interior temporal cortices. Significantly thinner cortical thickness was found in the posterior regions of the brain, located in the parietal and occipital areas, including the postcentral cortex, inferior parietal cortex, middle occipital cortex and posterior cingulate cortex. Moreover, in the region adjacent to the medial prefrontal cortex, both higher fractional anisotropy values and greater cortical thickness were observed.
I don't think a non-professional could have any idea what this passage actually means, without knowing what each above-mentioned brain area is actually responsible for. Apparently some areas got thicker while some others got thinner. Is it unconditionally a good thing?
Inference is very difficult when it comes to brain regions. There are lots of reports along the lines of that famous one - "the brain's love centre lights up when your iPhone rings" - when they're talking about the anterior cingulate cortex. Thing is, the anterior cingulate cortex is also involved in vomiting.
The current understanding of brain regions is very basic. You can make predictions about gross defects - for example, if your temporal lobe were to be damaged somehow then you'd very likely experience some kind of problem with language, whether that's reading, writing, speaking or listening. But what kind of defect would vary widely. There are very unintuitive disorders, such as someone not being able to name an object that they can see, but as soon as they pick it up they can.
So what we can tell from this study is not much other than just describing what happens to the brain of someone who meditates, and it needs further study to unpick what functional effect that might have. This is about brain structure, so a follow-on study might use fMRI to see what effect that has on brain activity. The cortex is the outside layer of the brain, and (although this is a gross oversimplification) is where a lot of "processing" gets done, so one way of looking at it might be that it allows more "bandwidth" for thought in general given the effects seems to be widespread in the brain.
However, intuitive thought about the brain can be terribly wrong. For example, fMRI studies which show brain activity are actually measuring the oxygenation of blood in the brain. The more "work" an area is doing, the more blood it needs, therefore there's a reasonably assumption that an area with more oxygenated blood is doing more "work". To take just one issue as an example, there are circuits in the brain involved in suppressing other regions. So if that system is more active, is actually means that it's doing work to suppress activity in other areas rather than doing any processing as such.
TL;DR Inference in neuroscience is wildly complicated, and this study is a tiny step in the direction of eventually understanding what meditation's effect is on the brain.
Buddhist teaching focuses on three aspects: sila (morality, but not in Abrahimic sense), samadhi (concentration), and panna (wisdom).
Each of these form a feedback loop into each other. Meditation is just one third of that. Meditation without morality and wisdom can turn you into a psychopath. You cannot understand or study meditation without understanding morality and wisdom.
Samadhi is concentration meditation, to get single-pointed focus on the meditation-object. (often the breath)
Panna/Vipassana is insight meditation. You focus on all of the different sensations coming in rapid-fire, like noting 'thought, breath, sound, sound, thought, sound, pressure' as they arise -- like frames of a movie or video game.
The Buddha and teachers today often recommend concentration meditation, in order to reach a state of focus, followed by insight meditation, as the natural progression towards stream entry / nirvana.
>sila (morality, but not in Abrahimic sense) //
Would you care to expand on that, specifically the "not in [the] Abrahimic sense" part. I'm not particularly familiar with Buddhist teaching of what morality is but it sounds from wikipedia as if there is a large overlap in form to Abrahamic teaching.
What would you say are the main differences?
Looking at Wikipedia though: Karma, 5-precepts, sounds the opposite of what you're saying.
Also, fwiw, the Mosaic "ten commandments" are supposedly "thou shalt not" rather than "you must not": ie "if you walk closely with God you won't find yourself doing these things". The Hebrew is hayah in Exodus 20, so like "it will come to pass that you won't murder".
The idea in Christian terms, further expanded in the New Testament, becomes that your mind should be "renewed" leading to not, eg, being greedy.
What's more, it's not even a study of 'meditation' per se, but of one little-known practice:
> The recruited meditation practitioners were individuals trained with BWV, a meditation practice that combines ancient Eastern philosophy with modern scientific methods to elevate human awareness
So at most this shows some small brain structure differences between two non-randomly-selected populations. Despite a heroic attempt (figure 3) it doesn't even find a dose response of note.
Also highly recommended: The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa
Also, no, memory formation and general "experience" do not change the brain in this way. Memorizing something, for example, has completely different physical effects.
After practicing meditation myself for a couple of years I have noticed no difference what-so-ever. But the act of meditation itself de-stress me (is that a word?)-—relaxing wouldn’t be the right word, because it is not relaxation. Anyway. I’m quite sure I could get the same stress relief by just sit to by down and reading a book.
Parent poster talked about getting relaxation and focus but also said after years that is all they got out of the experience.
If their is another goal or desired outcome then challenging yourself will allow for greater development. Parent poster is stuck in a comfortable place and there is nothing wrong with that but in order to advance more work is required.
I almost tried headspace, but the first thing it did was make me create an account, so I deleted it. I’m willing to pay money, but I don’t want a continuing relationship with a meditation app.
Edit: and I just tried calm, and same thing. Doesn’t let you do anything until you create an account with them. Why does a meditation app need an account? Why does it need to be some VC funded growth hacking startup nonsense? Can’t I just buy a thing and use it?
I suppose I could just listen to a guided meditation album, but why is it so rare for there to be an app that doesn’t need you to sign up and give them your personal information?
Try Muse. It's a hardware EEG headset + 2 apps: one for pure EEG monitoring and recording and one for guided meditations.
Seeing an objective confirmation of the fact you actually are doing something and progress helps a lot. Being able to influence the plot on the screen with your will alone is an awesome experience too.
> why is it so rare for there to be an app that doesn’t need you to sign up and give them your personal information?
That's sad indeed. If you are afraid somebody can misuse this data - just go to YouTube. There are enough of great buddhist teachers (e.g. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche) who explain everything and guide you through meditations there.
Making me better at dealing with stress is a win.
Giving me enough space so that I can recognize the source of the stress is the next win. Having the space to determine the best next course of action is the next win after that. This usually involves consulting with others. Finally, having that little oomph to put in the work to make the change is the big tipping point.
But it's totally worth it even if all you get the the first win.
It could be helpful treating mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD; ironically your goal during meditation should be to have no goal.
Meditation is somewhat inherently incompatible with the late stage venture funded scale based defensibility model of doing business. You actually become less dependent on paid resources as you advance in the skill. For this reason I think the mainstream apps like Calm and Headspace really help in the beginning but plateau you at a level you will continue paying at. That said, don't let this stop you from using what works for you.
- My favorite for getting started was 10% Happier. The format is an interview between a skeptic and a usually well trained meditation teacher, usually a founder of the IMS, which started the whole Buddhism in the West movement. Same business model as Calm and Headspace so some of the same problems. 
- Once past a threshold, most meditators use Insight Timer. They are a much leaner operation and the business model is designed to avoid the pitfalls of having to scale to recoup heavy investment.
This list. Everything in here is generally high signal/noise ratio, and very little that you have to take on faith. https://deconstructingyourself.com/best-meditation-books-201...
I found that wiring myself up to a low-price EEG and looking at the raw data over a few months was a good way to convince myself all of this works. I use Muse but not their own app, someone out there built an app to chart the raw data called Muse Monitor that's much better.
Places (mostly aware of US only)
Insight Meditation Society (MA) and Spirit Rock (CA) are mindfulness meditation centers that are a good place to start. If you want something lower-priced Dhamma.org is a much-lower-price (both are donation based but the suggested range varies), worldwide set of spaces but the teachers are less adapted to a western context.
(Not saying you are wrong, I just wish more details on your insight about it)
Later on, I went on to read some books that really answered a lot of my "am I doing this right" questions that the content in the apps didn't. Now, there's no reason why the apps can't have more the material that those books presented, but learning from a book made me confident enough in my understanding of the methods that all I needed afterwards was a simple timer.
What is this threshold?
I’ve been meditating regularly for this whole year and I just use the standard iOS timer with one of the gentler alarms.
What you're doing is totally fine. Insight timer gives you some useful additions like repeating timers or sub-timers with different bells, e.g. if your practice requires changing the style of meditation 20 minutes in, etc.
Also, the sounds on Insight timer are Tibetan bells typically used for coming out of meditations, which have a long but diminishing sound so as to bring you back gently.
My practice has some goals and complexity but I'm still doing fine with the iOS timer. shrug
To illustrate the point let's say (as a maybe slightly contrived hypothesis) that meditation is interesting for you, or maybe even that you can only tolerate practicing it seriously, _iff_ (if and only if) your brain has the adequate structure, or is predisposed to evolve towards it.
It usually helps when investigating something you're a novice in to at least attempt to clear your mind of preconceptions. Do you know posture makes no difference? Where did you get that information from if you're a complete novice? Do you know setting (candles, incense) makes no difference? Where did you get that information from? Untrained intuition?
It's notable that 'spiritual'* traditions from many different places and times emphasise posture & setting. It wouldn't do any harm to at least consider whether there may be more to this than you're assuming.
* see (amongst many possible sources) John Vervaeke's fascinating 'Awakening from the Meaning Crisis' lecture series for why this doesn't necessarily connote other-worldly metaphysics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54l8_ewcOlY
Also, I would say, the most important thing about meditation is not the technique but the habit.
There must be over a hundred or a thousand different meditation techniques, but if you don't practice them regularly, they are all worthless.
The most simple one for my taste: sit down (whichever way you want, ideally in a quite place where you won't get disturbed), close your eyes and count your breath from 1 to 10; once you reach 10, start over from 1. If you get lost (I know, sounds impossible, but it happens a lot), start over from 1.
Thank you for this. I have been trying to count to 10 without any other thoughts entering my mind. Some reflections:
1. I can't get to 10. I always start thinking of something and my minf wanders on about that.
2. How desperate, addicted my mind, body has become for constant stimulation and gratification. It always wants to make the pain insidd myself go away
3. How extremely tired and burned out my mind is.
Unfortunately I have particularly hard traumas and hate in my life to deal with, which might make my experience unique. But after just 20 minutes of trying this it has helped me. I have tried meditation before but this method made it a new experience for me.
Maybe this last part sounds unusual, but I just focus on letting the oxygen absorb into my brain without using it back up. And also trying to get outside of my mind -- to kind of transcend it and get into third person. I know I am explaining nothing more than feelings and psychological phenomena, but in there is some kind of truths that I dont know how better to describe at the momdent.
> Maybe this last part sounds unusual, but I just focus on letting the oxygen absorb into my brain without using it back up. And also trying to get outside of my mind -- to kind of transcend it and get into third person. I know I am explaining nothing more than feelings and psychological phenomena, but in there is some kind of truths that I dont know how better to describe at the moment
That's great! One of the main goals of meditation practice is being present. When we are present, we start perceiving the stuff that is always there but we ignore.
The things that you describe are important, I'd encourage you to keep exploring them. Everyone's journey is unique.
When I started my meditation practice, the guided meditations in the Calm app  helped me a lot.
Free to read on Kindle:
But do the benefits apply to people who are naturally calm and not tense? An often a cited benefit is feeling calm and being able to let go of tension and anxiety, and having a clarity of thought. But I rarely feel tense/anxious so the investment of time has never been attractive to me.
Having recently been able to become truly, deeply relaxed by actually learning how to breathe correctly (right into the pelvic floor) it's miles away from just not feeling obviously tense in my daily life. My breathing rate drops to a crawl (I inhale, hold without strain for around 2 minutes then exhale and naturally hold air outside for a minute or two). The whole body tingles with relaxation. The effects are truly noticable.
> But do the benefits apply to people who are naturally calm and not tense?
As a Type B personality myself, I would say "definitely".
Here on this page, so far as I can tell, the benefits of meditation are:
- focused on the now. Less worried about past/future
- less long-term, reason-clouding emotions
- more immediate focus
- less "head voices"
I'll start from the first one in explaining my question.
I'm very focused on the now already, it's as simple as that. I've had a lot of people in my life, with all kinds of different experiences with me, notice that I'm very calm and very unstressed. This is, simply, because I go through what's happening right now, deal with it, and move on. I don't dwell on what happened in the past unless there's something really important to be learned there, and I don't worry about the future beyond keeping my options open (try not to burn Bridges, etc). This has been a way of life for me, and it's already very calming and rewarding without the need for wasting huge chunks of my day.
My emotions are always extremely short. I can get angry and sad and what have you, but to this day, I've never once in my life been any one emotion for more than five minutes. Of course, I've still acted on some of them, for instance if someone betrays me I won't be mad at them at all in five minutes, but I'll still be wary. I've never been able to stay in any one particular emotional mode, even if I try to psyche myself into it. I just get bored.
As for focus, for as long as I can remember I've been able to put myself in a hyper-focus mode where all other thoughts, about anything else (including bodily functions) just go away; where external distractions such as noise just don't even register anymore. The longest I've been able to do this is eight hours, where I sat down to work on something and didn't speak or eat or go to the bathroom until I was done, in a noisy crowded room, completely unbothered. This is something people seem to describe as a superpower you gain after meditation but I've never meditated once in my life.
As far as the "voices in the head" thing goes, I hear this from people a lot, where they describe their internal experience as if they have someone else second guessing them or pointing things out, like a Freudian super-ego given its own internal dialogue. In all honesty, I've never experienced this. I don't really understand what people are talking about when they describe this.
So I guess my question is, why should I, specifically, meditate? It sounds cool, I'd be willing to try. Are there any other benefits?
Also; what the heck are the head voices people talk about?
Sit for a while. Try to think about nothing at all. Unless you are actually Buddha already then you will probably find yourself thinking: What do I need to do today? What do I need to do tomorrow? Oh hey I just had a cool idea for a thing to make. I just put two and two together about some stuff in that show I watched yesterday. Damn I’m horny. Etc, etc.
Eventually you can learn to watch these trains of thought start, wander around your brain, and fade out. At which point you will surely find yourself thinking about how delighted you are to have stopped thinking and how cool it feels and..l whoops! There you go. Thinking again.
There's an unfortunate language collision here, where "voices in one's head" are used as an analogy for both diseases like schizophrenia as well as a way of explaining one perspective that mindfulness meditation can bring.
After a few years of meditation, I think of my brain as a sort of legislature or voting assembly, and a particularly rowdy one. There's a sense in which my Brain Senate speaks with one voice when they "vote" for a thought. But there's also individual factions / parties / politicians in the legislature, which have their own agendas and goals about what I should think.
Personally, in my own brain, I have a pretty strong Social Anxiety Party. It makes speeches on the Senate floor about how we should cancel those first date plans because it'll probably not work out anyway.
This perspective helps remind me that the rest of my brain can listen politely to that speech, and then say "yeah, we've heard that speech before, we're tired of your bullshit" and then vote down the Let's Cancel That First Date Act of 2019.
Losing "votes" like this, in turn, makes the Social Anxiety Party less effective in my Brain Senate. It's not gone entirely, but it's less likely to win support for its proposals.
I'm somehow similar to how you describe yourself but I still practice meditation. I think that you might discover some subtle feelings or some tensions in your body if you do, even if you are naturally quite calm and focused.
You might try meditating just once, as an experiment, and see if you find it helpful or not. To do it you simply have to watch what appears in your consciousness, without doing anything about it. You see an emotion, you let it be there without trying to analyze it, hold it, or reject it. You see thoughts and you do the same. And the same about physical sensations. If you notice that you got caught following a certain chain of thoughts, you notice it and go back to the watching. You might start practicing for 20 or 30 minutes.
I forgot to mention in the instructions only one thing: do it in a sitting position. It's easy to fall asleep if you try to practice it lying in bed.
Once the spell is broken, the conserved energy and improved focus and control changes everything.
The mind is indeed a wonderful servant but a terrible master.
A detailed description in this article on the concept of Mind:
Philosophy of Mind: A Jain Perspective
I have a health resource, stemming from obvious stress hormone reduction.
Its a Sunday morning here; i will leave you for now with a registration website for a 10 day course: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/courses/search
(It is near free, fees are commute, white clothes and a very optional donation, finishing a course is considered payment enough)
I must warn that it’s not easy. I thought a meditation retreat would be a great way to unplug and take it easy but the schedule is intense and meditating that much requires great energy and focus.
Highly recommended but know what you’re getting into :)
From the spiritual point of view (I follow Dzogchen), once you realize you are not your ego (which is a system of feelings, thoughts, perception etc.) but it is yours (a thing you own), learn to observe it from a distance and realize what you are (by turning your inner gaze back to the point where you observe the ego from) this will become obvious and all left to do is practice. Or the fivefold practice of Dawa Gyaltsen will give a clue.
Practically it's like learning to swim - the first time you are put in the water you don't know you can but as you persist in your intention and keep on trying the skill develops and grows into a whole new dimension of freedom.
From the scientific point of view all the feelings are chemical reactions involving substances like serotonin (produced from 5HTP/tryptophan), dopamine (produced from DOPA/tyrosine), norepinefrine, acetylcholine, GABA, glucose etc. with help of some other chemicals. E.g. it is not really hard to stop being angry at somebody when you realize the cause of your anger is merely a chemical imbalance rather than the person you are angry at. Even if he has actually done something wrong you don't have to actually be mad - you can act reasonably (even punish him or exclude him from your social circle if this seems rationally necessary) while maintaining great mood (which would be particularly easy if you were on xanax or something - just a proof it's all about chemistry) and maintaining great mood probably is what you actually want. As soon as you start thinking this way you just stop taking your emotions seriously (which doesn't mean you can't enjoy pleasant ones) and they (the unpleasant and impractical ones) fade away as you stop dedicating attention to them. The more you practice this the less of them even emerge.
Vipassana practitioners believe in generating their own truths as the nature of the mind reveals itself through meditation.
It refers to a particular style of meditation, as taught by a particular teacher and his acolytes - a form of no-self insight mediation, based on a systematic examination of all the things that might constitute a self. It also refers generally to "insight" meditation, where "insight" might depend on whether you are training in a mahayana or hinayana tradition (in hinayana, it's insight into no-self, in mahayana, it's insight into emptiness). It might refer to silent but discursive reflection, based on instructions; or it might be a concept-free state of "resting the mind", arising spontaneously from various kinds of shamatha/samatha (broadly, mental calming) exercises. No doubt the the term also has divergent meanings in other Indian practice traditions.
So why a 10-day vipassana course, rather than (say) a nine-day course? Is it a particular brand of "vipassana" that you are suggesting? In what respect is it a "course" - do you get a certificate at the end? Is there a test?
The particular style of meditation referred to in the article is one I've never heard of before; BWV, or "Brain Wave Vibration". Oh dear, that sounds suspiciously like woo, so I'll google it.
Hmmm. Apart from this NIH paper, I can't find anything about BWV that doesn't reek of hype or woo. Why did the researchers choose this particular obscure style of meditation? Judging by their names, it seems that many of the researchers are Korean. Perhaps BWV was invented by some Korean sect derived from buddhism. As far as I can tell, BWV is really a form of guided shamatha, incorporating physical movement. That's not unusual; both shamatha and vipassana are often performed while walking (saves leg stiffness from long periods of sitting). Calling it "yoga" doesn't help much; that's an even looser term than "vipassana". In both buddhist and shaivite traditions, all types of meditation are forms of yoga ("yoga" in Sanskrit just means "union" - or "yoke", like the wooden apparatus that unites two cattle for ploughing work).
I'm aware that various styles of meditation have been productised and commercialised over the last couple of decades, and are now marketed for profit to knowledge-workers, executives and the like (i.e. suckers with not much time, but with money to burn). I'm deeply suspicious of these trends. If meditation costs anything, it costs time.
Personal declaration: for about 30 years I used to do a lot of meditation in a buddhist tradition, but I think I've fully recovered from all that now.
When I was taught mindfulness, it was initially mindfulness of breathing; a way of calming the mind. A while later I realised it was a basic part of the buddhist approach to morality; how can your action be correct if you have no idea what you are doing? - So I was taught to become mindful in everything - cooking, programming, walking, listening etc.
Mindfulness in programming seems to be very difficult!
The "mindfulness" that therapists use seems to be a form of shamatha (calming the mind), specifically mindfulness of breathing, usually with spoken guidance from the facilitator (after all, they have to do something to earn their fee).
Learn to be mindful (of whatever) while you read/write comments on HN and I can already say you are a pro.
What's the difference?
No-self is a form of emptiness; "emptiness of self", as you might say. The belief in a self is considered to be the root of suffering, so extinguishing that belief extinguishes suffering. This is the culmination of the path of the "hearers" - those who heard Sakyamuni speak.
The mahayana teaching on emptiness goes further. Not just the self, but all phenomena, arise dependent on chains of causation with no beginning; nothing has independent existence. Nothing can be relied on, everything is like models made of tissue-paper. Various kinds of logical reasoning have been developed to get this kind of perspective.
Insight into this kind of emptiness includes insight into no-self, because the self is a phenomenon too, and one that is empty of independent existence like all other phenomena.
Realisation of the emptiness of all phenomena is said to engender compassion. One's personal suffering might not diminish at all.
Incidentally, I used the term "hinayana", which can be translated as "narrow path", and is considered to be a put-down by some people. I do not mean it as a put-down, I am just using it as a term for those kinds of Buddhist teaching that don't embrace the doctrine of emptiness. I think that all such forms of Buddhism are now historical; in particular, I have been told that the Theravada teachings that are current especially in South-East Asia are not the same as hinayana - that Theravada includes significant mahayana influences.
I had to sort of force myself by going to live in an ashram full time for a while.
That's amazing to me, really! I've considered doing 10-day sits before (vipassana most likely) but never got the courage to do it. Part of the reason being nicotine addiction (which would add a whole other dimension to the challenge). Once I sort out that bug out (and get a few levels higher in Hindi on duolingo) I want to look into it again.
But I recommend Champix/varenicline. It works.
I would say sit as long as you feel like it, except that doesn't really help initially. Maybe put on a non-intrusive background track that fades out when time is up? And do take your time when coming back; start by listening, then opening the eyes slowly etc.
Same goes for waking up from regular sleep, but refusing alarms in this society is a pretty serious compromise.
Sitting as long as you feel like is not beneficial, because most of the actual work will happen when you start to notice your agitation and at that point is when you will just want to get off the cushion. Stick through it, and watch that agitation and your monkey mind go crazy, until the end of the timer.
I recommend starting with a short timer, 10 minutes, then slowly increase the time.
On another note, I have spent a good deal self-reflecting more or less alone in the dark with me and my thoughts. From what I understand on some parts of the web, this pretty much equates to ”meditation”. While others describe it differently.
I guess I could download HeadSpace and be more explicit about it, but I do anyway think I have derived some mental benefits from the above behavior. Like, being more comfortable with myself. But I don’t think I am doing meditation since I don’t get all benefits as actual meditators.
Just as a reference to the OP of this thread, about being able to distinguish oneself from the voices in one’s head... I think there are more benefits in meditation.
Two phrases that have been very relevant to my practice:
"Being lost in thought is the opposite of concentration."
"Lost in thought is not meditation."
The above is not meant to imply that there aren't benefits to spending time lost in thought.
I think that's the wrong way to put it.
You can observe those thoughts much like you can observe your hand with your eyes. That does not make your hand any less part of you than those thoughts.
IMO the vast majority of the chatter in our minds are like any other involuntary process of our bodies. The difference is that we are culturally conditioned to identify with our minds and not our intestinal processes.
This is a form of self enquiry to separate yourself from what you are not, to break the spell of identification. Some people are identified with not only their bodies but with their children but to their car, house, job, even the products of their work. These are all not you.
After seeing what you are not, you start seeing what you really are. For that you will need this preparation work.
There is really no separation between the mind and the body.
We still don't fully understand consciousness, but we know most of our decision are taken unconsciously well before the conscious mind is aware of it. There are a myriad of books about this, but this wikipedia article is a good introduction:
If that's the case then congratulations are in order, most people have to put in some effort to get there. Maybe you're a natural, depends on where you came from. Being left alone to do your thing in a sane environment makes it easier to stay in touch.
Whatever the case, there's never any harm in sitting still with closed eyes for ten minutes.
Thanks for putting it this way. I definitely remember my brain used to do stuff like that, when I was a teenager, but it is not a state I can deeply relate to decades later. I recall making a conscious decision, around the time I was 19, to not get hung up on that stuff because it was not pragmatically useful to my physical life. So perhaps I have put some effort into "getting there" and it was just so long ago I've forgotten what it was like.
The thing is, you don’t notice that those voices aren’t you until someone points it out. And you see it most clearly through meditation. Because when you think your mind is empty, it’s not, you’re telling yourself tales constantly. At least I am. But I never thought I was until I sat back and observed how my mind was working.
It’s like those drawing that ask if you see a cat or a woman and you see a cat. But then someone points out the woman and you just can’t unsee the woman. That’s the best analogy I can find at least.
As I said, I am early in experimenting with meditation, but it really feels like a game changer.
I’ve tried to read a variety on the topic. Being that I’m of the more secular bend, I’ve really enjoyed the Sam Harris book and app, Waking Up. If you want an intro, start with either. If you’re of a more spiritual bend, I’m sure there good other options.
> Beginning meditators often think that they are able to concentrate on a single object, such as the breath, for minutes at a time, only to report after days or weeks of intensive practice that their attention is now carried away by thought every few seconds. This is actually progress. It takes a certain degree of concentration to even notice how distracted you are.
But we were warned that if they didn't fade, or they were being negative or harmful, that is a red flag that should invoke some action.
Why not say "seeing movies" or "feeling emotions" or "imagining smells" or whatever form a specific thought might take though? Seems weird to only consider vocal thoughts.
There are other aspects to thoughts too, like links and non-picturable things that one seems to grasp but aren't present in a sense-based way -- for example a "hypercube that smells of snozzberries", you can't see it, it's not making a sound that you've heard before, the smell is not something you know, etc., but to some extent you still behold it.
I suppose it's not hearing voices that makes you crazy, but when you start listening to them and doing what they say...
I don't follow this logic. The brain is a parallel system, parts of it remain active while not thinking. And observing thoughts has evolutionary usefulness for meta-learning (learning to learn, learning to reason). It's just one more layer in the hierarchy.
By your logic, I am not the brain because I am observing its activity. But without it I am nothing, how does that work out?
I think it is wrong to think I am just the brain - I am the brain plus the body, because the brain is formed inside the body, fed sensations and learned everything from the body. And the body itself is part of the environment, again, the brain learns everything from it and depends on it to develop. Even the perception of shape, sound, movement, hunger, language and society - they all come from the environment and the body and shape the mind.
So I am at the junction of brain, body and environment, not a detached observer, and my purpose is to learn how to act optimally in all situations in order to keep my body alive and continue my genes. If I didn't, then my genes would have a worse chance of survival and filter our from the pool, thus they must fight for survival. We've been shaped by survival and environment. The 'I' is the result of this optimisation process in action. If 'I' didn't get up in the morning and take something to eat, work in order to have what I need, then 'I' would die. So 'I' is the caretaker of the body.
I don't know your relationship with the concept of "soul" (and I'm writing this way to be careful), but many of us sometimes find it really useful to be able to talk about who we really are.
"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone" - Blaise Pascal
I have a problem that after lots of meditation I become more disengaged and "spacey". Its fine to look at myself in a detached way, but sometimes I want appropriate engagement with those feelings. During stressful times I don't end up more engaged or challenged, I just feel "checked out". This became pervasive in social situations as well.
Unfortunately I've not been entirely happy with most of the courses I've taken online though so can't really recommend one. I wasn't impressed with Michael Winn's courses  in general in case you stumble across his stuff, nor Ken Cohen. I'd suggest exploring books or look for other recommendations (The Tao Bums  could be a good place to start). The basics are pretty easy to pick up from books (but overall for meditation I'd say you need a real teacher, either in person or available for video tutoring/chats).
 https://healingtaousa.com/ (seems to be giving a 500 at the moment)
Source: 15 years of practice under instruction of a master.
I'm glad you've found something that works for you.
That's one specific type of meditation. More broadly, meditation can be used to further a wide variety of goals.
For example, Aleister Crowley taught a type of insight meditation that was intended to increase one's personal power over others. His technique was very similar to the one I was taught, which was supposed to be for developing insight into the emptiness of all phenomena.
That is the opposite of what I was taught; I was asked to maintain the maximum possible awareness of what was going on in my mind and around me.
That is congruent with my experience.
Allow time after a meditation session to have a cup of tea, experience the weather, or whatever. Spaceyness wears off after about ten minutes, and you'll be ready to get back to computer programming, arguing with colleagues, disciplining small children, or whatever it is that the spaceyness was getting in the way of.
Later you may find yourself too concentrated and forceful, trying too hard to meditate. Then you need to release and simply sit and exist.
Concentration / expansion (spacing out) is the axis of practice.
Even through text alone I sense there is fear of seeing what exactly happens when the thoughts quiet down. You'll be safe, you'll bring into surface what is causing this feeling. You'll be free of it.
It also saves a lot of embarrassment and internal struggle.
I have seen many long term meditators and been one for 20 years and am not convinced they are more fit for life. Instead of developing their lives and careers they developed their practice and missed out on opportunities. Most of them are alone at 45-50 y.o. with a lousy job, living frugally. What was the benefit?
If meditation was such an advantage then societies where this is a traditional practice should be more developed and happier, but this doesn't strike me as being true. Being too detached and contemplative can have downsides. Is hacking your brain to feel ecstatic useful for life, or just a shortcut to rewards, like drugs?