Other questions that would be interesting to have answers to: Why do you meditate? What kind of meditation do you do? How long have you practiced? How long is each meditation session? Do you meditate alone or with others? What effects or benefits have you experienced?
I meditate two or more times a day.
I meditate once a day.
I meditate two or more times a week.
I meditate once a week.
I meditate once a month.
I meditate often, but not on a regular schedule.
I rarely meditate.
I tried it once or twice, but it wasn't for me.
I tried it once or twice, and want to do more.
I have never tried it, but would like to.
I have never tried it, and have no interest in it.
I recently started meditating, using the method in "Mindfulness in Plain English". So far, I've been able to meditate for between 1 to 3 hours at a time, every day. I do feel quite a bit of calm afterwards and during the deep parts of the meditation, and have also experienced some occasional hallucinations (like a feeling of intense bliss, like my arms are floating, like my chest is a hundred feet from my head) when I am deep in meditation. Also, I've found that when I need to do some chore in my daily life, if I start focusing on my breath, it helps me to not feel so bored or resentful.
I am looking forward to hopefully being able to enter deep states of calm more readily and spontaneously as my meditation practice deepens. However, the effects I describe above are somehow not enough for me. I am a seeker, and naturally curious. I want to find out what (if anything) lies beyond our ordinary perception of the world. Is what we normally take to be the "real world" (or "objective reality", "external reality", etc) actually an illusion like Buddhism and Hinduism claim? If so, can the techniques of Buddhist or Hindu meditation really reveal the "true reality" beyond the illusion of the ordinary world? I would like to find out.
Today, I found an interesting article, which argues that the kind of meditation taught in "Mindfulness in Plain English" (which is the kind most people today think of when they think of the word "meditation"), while "it has obvious benefits [such as health and calm]... does not lead to liberation from suffering". This is because, the author argues, this type of meditation practice tries to avoid painful experiences (by focusing back on the breath), and therefore leads to "the attachment to aversion to suffering".
The type of meditation the author advocates is quite different. I encourage you to read the article for details, but essentially it seems to consist in observing whatever happens in your mind without trying to control it, without trying to avoid it, curiously and observantly following wherever it leads.
This method of meditating sounds interesting, and I look forward to trying it in the future.
I am also interested in finding and trying other methods of meditation. I know there are lots of them, from focusing on the breath, to focusing between the eyebrows (the so-called "third eye"), to focusing on various external objects such as candle flames, mandalas, or even corpses. Some forms of meditations utilize mantras or other techniques for maintaining focus.
One other type of meditation that I did try briefly was kinhin, or walking meditation, which is described in some detail in "The Three Pillars of Zen" (a book I highly recommend, though with a grain of salt, as it seems to have a bit of a bias towards a particular tradition of Zen). It was quite interesting, and may be a good way to start and end a sitting or zazen form of meditation.
 - The author uses the term "suffering", probably referring to the Buddhist concept of dukkha, which is often translated as "suffering" (and is the first of the so-called Four Noble Truths, as in "life is suffering"), but may be better translated as "dissatisfaction" or the "problematic" aspects of life.
One paragraph into your response, I thought "hey, that's good, he's finding a way to reduce his suffering with meditation. That's a great start."
Then I got to your second paragraph. Yes. You're on the right track. Buddhism and Hinduism are "designed" not only to demonstrate the "true reality" beyond appearances, but to show that the end of suffering lies in that direction.
It is true that mindfulness as it is commonly understood may not lead to what you seek. The primary obstacle you'll face is that mindfulness is typically dualistic -- there's a _you_ observing a _that_. If the true nature of existence does not distinguish subject and object -- that is, if it is nondual -- then this will always be a stumbling block.
I eagerly recommend to you two similar paths. One is Advaita Vedanta. Examples of sages and teachers would be Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and more recently, Greg Goode and Rupert Spira. Check out Goode's "Standing as Awareness" for the most clearheaded investigation I've found.
The other path is the pinnacle of Tibetan Buddhism: Mahamudra or Dzogchen. You can find a Mahamudra manual online at chagchen.com. It was authorized by one of the great living masters of the tradition, so it's legit.
In both cases, having a teacher to keep you from wandering off into nonsense may be critical. Check out "the Advaita trap" on YouTube for a somewhat humorous example of that.
As you investigate Buddhism more deeply, never forget that the different schools have more philosophical differences than commonalities, despite the kumbaya face they present. The mystical traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism are far more similar to each other than to their parent traditions, and folks from neither school will openly admit this. And if you continue to follow the Theravada tradition, make sure you understand the difference between being an arhat, bodhisattva, or Buddha. If you're into "seeing through the illusion," this will be important.
> One other type of meditation that I did try briefly was kinhin, or walking meditation
I absolutely love walking meditation! First because it's incredibly relaxing and makes my head wonderfully clear. Second, as you already said, it's a great exercise to do before a sitting meditation. The latter, I've found is (there may be other factors, but this one I particularly noticed) because when you just sit down, two things need to happen: your mind needs to calm down, and you need to find a comfortable posture. The first happens automatically, but until you're there it hampers the second (that would probably lessen with practice--but is also highly dependent on mood etc). And sometimes by the time you're there (calm and comfortable), you're already sort of stiff and slightly cramped because you've been sitting for some time. If I do the walking meditation first, I don't get stiff cause I'm walking, and by the time I sit down, my mind's all calmed down and I can almost immediately find a comfortable posture (no twitches, no involuntarily tensed muscles you need to relax first) and can enjoy the sitting part of my meditation so much better (and sooner).
I should really discuss with my meditation-group to do such a type of warm-up more often, actually :)
I think, before adopting a regimen, we ought to ask ourselves: is there evidence that the advocates of it arrived at it by a reasonable process? Or, if they didn't, are the benefits (compared to alternatives) compelling enough to override the risk of your spending time making an assessment and making an error in the direction of credulity? (see http://lesswrong.com/lw/19m/privileging_the_hypothesis/ )
I definitely had trouble sitting for long periods in the lotus or half-lotus position. Due to a year's worth of stretching, I'm easily able to get in to these positions, but my knees and back start to hurt after a while -- and this makes it difficult to concentrate on just the breath.
So, I've been experimenting with meditating while lying down. This is far more comfortable, but then I have to really fight falling asleep. Sometimes I've succeeded, other times I have fallen asleep. Eating a big meal right before doing any kind of meditation is not recommended if you want to stay awake!
Another tip is to make sure your cell phone is off and you have a "do not disturb" sign on your door. There's nothing more frustrating than finally achieving a deep meditative state and then being interrupted by some triviality.
In the last few days I've tried sitting in full lotus again, and have noticed that it's starting to get less painful -- though one of my legs does has gone totally numb after a while. I've been able to do about one hour of meditation in full lotus so far. The two and three hour meditations have all been while I was lying down.
I don't think I have any definative answers for you on how to work your way up to meditating for this long. I'm just a beginner myself. I think playing chess all my life has helped with my ability to conentrate. On the other hand, in my ordinary life I'm very prone to becoming bored and do a lot of task-switching (especially on the computer, where I spend way too much time), which has hurt my ability to concentrate.
I did find the technique of focusing just on my breath to be very useful. As described in "Mindfulness in Plain English", I try to focus on the feeling of my breath as it enters and leaves the tip of my nose. If other thoughts or feelings come up, I don't fight them, but try to return my attention to the feeling of my breath entering and leaving the tip of my nose.
I've found that this type of concentration is easier on some days than others. On some days I have a lot of thoughts racing through my mind. If I've seen an exciting movie, for instance, I might have a lot of images from that movie flashing through my mind, or I may be thinking of events that happened in that movie while I'm trying to meditate. That's frustrating, and those days tend to be less productive. On other days, however, I might not have a lot on my mind. Those are the days when I can focus on my breath for a long time.
I used to meditate for an hour to two hours a day - but I've recently began finding out that I can compress my meditations into 10-15 minute sessions. This might come from being able to slide into trance more easily than I used to.
I've found that I actually feel better from 15 minute meditations per day than 1 hour meditations as long as I remain focused an in trance - if I'm having difficulty staying "in the zone" then I'll extend the meditation accordingly based on feel.
I'm not gnosis, but I've occasionally done 1 to 3 hours in a single sitting. The "difficulty" is exactly the aversion to suffering. Well, unless you only do samadhi and enter into the bliss states. At which point, you really don't want to leave so you sit there until you fall over. (I sometimes think, meditators should participate in the 12-step program for Bliss Junkies Anonymous, except that it is exactly what vipassana is supposed to addressed).
It's not that what is in Mindfulness in Plain English keeps you avoiding painful experiences. It's that, that is the level of your practice right now. That's the distinction that Daniel Ingram made between concentration exercises and insight meditation. In the latter, you start by gaining access concentration to your object (breathing, or whatever), and then deliberately seek out one of the Three Fundemental Characteristics: things come and go (impermanence), they don't satisfy (suffering), and it isn't you (no self).
So for example, once you reach access concentration on breathing, you can see hone in on the specific physical sensations and try to find any part of it that is actually "permanent". You're looking for the transience of not only the inhale and the exhale, but also the transience of what appears to be solid neural signals are actually high-frequency sensations. Go deeper, and you start observing how these sensations trigger other, in kind of a cascade effect -- exactly what was mentioned in Chuang-Tzu on the wind blowing through the openings of the world.
I point this out because it's not that the teachings lead you to the practice, but rather, the teachings come from the practice. You are essentially "reverse engineering" the teaching with your personal practice. When I look around, I see how teachings from around the world derive from the insights realized (experienced) in practice. And since the practice is "experience reality, all of reality", then of course there is a commonality.
Heh, having said that, some teachings are easier to absorb than others, depending on where you think you are and who you think you are. I guess I want to leave open the possibility, to not to have strong attachment to the specific teachings themselves when you practice.
Thats something that bothered me regarding mindfulness vs. concentration. Mindfulness presupposes that the "Three Fundamental Characteristics" exist, and have the form described by Buddhist metaphysics. It tells you to take this on faith and go looking for them.
As a secular meditator I would prefer not to make the assumption that Buddhist metaphysics is correct.
I would like to see the creation of a kind of mindfulness meditation informed by secular western developments such as the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger for example.
I think that while the experiences of meditators and shamans of different traditions are genuine, in order to describe and systematize these experiences, they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place.
The experience might be eternal, but the material of understanding and explication is historical and tied to all kinds of hoary assumptions which often pass without examination.
The critical tools of modern philosophy and continental philosophy in particular can be extremely helpful for the meditator.
I think it is awesome you want to create a mindfulness practice informed by secular western developments. If you have a chance to participate in a (genuine) shamanic ceremony, your philosophical training will bring a lot to the experience. (There is a mind-to-mind phenomena you can observe in vipassana retreats or in shamanic ceremonies; the content of your mind doesn't just inform your experience, it also affects the collective. So when you bring your Western secular experience into the mix, it brings a, in my opinion, vital perspective into the experience).
I suggest that there is a allergy/aversion to religious traditions that should be investigated by a meditator at some point. Likewise, there are aversions to secular methods as well that needs to be investigated.
You don't have to presuppose that they exist. You can simply observe their comings and goings. It will take a lot longer but it is still possible. You become the observational instrument to see if those characteristics do, in fact, exist.
The critical tools of modern philosophy has been disconnected from direct experiences for this, so it's not as useful as you think it is. At least, not until you have direct realizations.
Where I've found them useful is when (1) you experience said insights, (2) you're off the cushion and trying to integrate them into your daily life and habits. I've also found that " they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place." is not as big of an influence as you think it is. (And the reverse is true: you experience how modern critical tools have their own built-in biases). But if you have not had experienced for yourself, then I'm not going to be able to persuade you to that view.
I would love to hear philosophers frame these experiences having first experienced these themselves. Otherwise, there's no point. I am, in fact, going to engage a philosophy friend in a discussion after he participates in a few shamanic ceremonies. That will be interesting.
Thanks for your reply. Going on a vipassana retreat and participating in a shamanic ceremony are definitely things I'd like to do at some point. All of my investigations have been solitary, for the most part, so I am ignorant of the collective side of things. (as a nerd, I am generally ignorant of the collective aspects of life anyway!)
I think if meditators were to study continental philosophy in particular, they would find many fruitful parallels to concepts in Eastern thought. Phenomenology involves examination of arising phenomena in a similar fashion to mindfulness, though I don't think it is ever as clearly explained. There is within it an attempt to overcome the subject-object distinction, and to re-frame the relationship between scientific objectivity and the lived experience of the human life-world. Unfortunately it is also some of the most impenetrable stuff ever written!
>>I've also found that " they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place." is not as big of an influence as you think it is.
I will take you up on that, but it might take me a few years. :)
Oh yeah! Though my knowledge of Western philosophy is shallow, I know there are not only parallels, there are outright convergences. The key is in the experience.
I see this in all the wisdom traditions, so that includes a reading of Jewish, Christian, and Islam.
Check out Terrance McKenna some time if you haven't. There is in which he does a trialogue with Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph Abraham. While I don't precisely agree with some of McKenna's comments on religions, his works are excellent sources of questions. :-D
I just wanted to say thanks for this book recommendation - "Mindfulness in Plain English". Learning and starting some basic meditation was one of my New Years Resolutions, but I didn't really know where to get started (even though I've been exposed to meditation before). I bought this book and it is a great practical guide.
>>>>> I want to find out what (if anything) lies beyond our ordinary perception of the world. Is what we normally take to be the "real world" (or "objective reality", "external reality", etc) actually an illusion like Buddhism and Hinduism claim? If so, can the techniques of Buddhist or Hindu meditation really reveal the "true reality" beyond the illusion of the ordinary world? I would like to find out.
I've studied Native American religion and Shamanism for about 10 years now (I have a degree in it) and I think you might be referring to ASC or altered states of consciousness. It's hard to describe to people what shamanic meditation and journeying are since most are dismissive of things they do not understand. Trust me though, it is fascinating and is eye opening once you've experienced it.
I would start here: (this was the first book recommended to me by my freshman professor when I first became curious about ASC and Shamanism)
Altered states of consciousnes and shamanism are fascinating subjects.
I have studied and have experience with a wide variety of altered states and methods for inducing them, from psychedelics to meditation, drumming, strobe lights, flotation tanks, sweat lodges.
Of these, I found psychedelics to be by far the most powerful. Nothing else I've ever tried has come remotely close to being even a thousandth as powerful. Unfortunately, because of their legal status, I haven't done them for a very long time. I do think they have a lot of potential for constructive use, if done by a person educated in their effects and use, in a safe, supportive setting, with a knowledgeable, trusted guide, with honesty, respect, and a concrete, positive intention. In fact, here is an interesting article about using psychedelics as an aid to Buddhist meditation.
As for shamanism, I've read The Way of the Shaman back in a university course I took on shamanism and witchcraft. Right now I'm making my way through Shamanic Voices by Joan Halifax (which I strongly recommend) and Singing to the Plants by Stephan V. Beyer, about ayahuasca shamanism in the Amazon.
Listening to 4 to 7 Hz drumming (per Harner's recommendation) has been a bit of a disappointment to me, although I haven't done all that much of it. Three or four sessions (at about an hour or two at a time) have resulted in either me falling asleep or some feelings of intense pleasure (much like I experienced in some deep states of meditation) -- but certainly no visions, much less "shamanic journeys". Overall, I think I'm more impressed by the effects of meditation so far. However, I intend to experiment more with drumming.
My one experience in a sweat lodge was literally torture. I'm not nearly masochistic enough to travel this path of inducing altered states of consciousness. There have got to be better ways.
My one flotation tank experience was interesting, and I would continue experimenting with it if it wasn't so expensive (about $40 a session). I'd liken the experience to something between meditation and dreaming or hypnagogic visions. Unfortunately, my consciousness was already slightly altered when I tried it, so I can't comment on how a "pure" flotation tank experience would be.
If I was ever fortunate enough to have another psychedelic experience, I would definitely like to try drumming, playing simple musical instruments, or singing -- as is done in many shamanic contexts. From what I've read, these may be effective ways of navigating the realms one is transported to.
Having the aid of an honest, experienced and knowledgeable shaman would also be very valuable. Unfortunately, I've heard that they are hard to come by these days, when Ayahuasca tourism and monetary considerations have enticed many less scrupulous individuals to pretend to be something they're not.
The possible purpose or benefit could be another "outside" view of the world. I know that after I used magic mushrooms with some close friends, some perceptions changed for me, I also learned to appreciate different kinds of music. I guess meditation might achieve the same effects.
"Did you find any practical purpose to the "altered" states of consciousness?"
Yes. I found them very useful for understanding myself. They confronted me with many unpleasant (and pleasant) but important parts of my life and feelings that I was in denial of or just couldn't experience in ordinary consciousness. They helped me gain a lot of insight in to myself and in to the world.
Another benefit was shaking my certainties about what the world was really like. Up to my first psychedelic experience, I felt pretty comfortable in the world (not that I had a pleasant childhood or life or anything, but I did feel I knew what the world was like, and how to get around in it). Psychedelics radically changed that. Even though I'd read a lot about them before I tried them, and was intellectually prepared for what I experienced, actually experiencing it was a different matter entirely. It's like reading about sex vs actually having sex. Reading about being in love vs actually being in love. There's no comparison.
Likewise, on psychedelics, suddenly I was not in Kansas anymore (metaphorically speaking). I learned that reality could be very different from what I take it to be in ordinary consciousness. And, while in an altered state of consciousness, what I experience could feel "even more real than real". This made me interested in finding out what reality was really like (if that's possible), and led me to become interested in and study philosophy, psychology, and religion.
My psychedelic experiences made me much more laid back, less dogmatic, and more accepting of other people and other views of the world. It also helped a lot with empathy. During a psychedelic experience, I became much more sensitive to my own body, my own feelings, the feelings of people around me, even the feelings of animals and even inanimate objects, which could become animate or even a part of me. I experienced the feeling of being one with everything.
After coming back to ordinary consciousness, those feelings subsided or disappeared entirely. Objects certainly became inanimate again. Still, the thought of the possibility that they were actually animate, and especially the possibility that things like trees might have feelings -- or at the least that I should respect them more than I do, or that they may "know" or "understand" more than I usually give them credit for, or be able to act in ways that I'm not normally aware of remained. And I think I am generally more sensitive towards the feelings of other people now, especially if they are in some sort of distress.
I came to be open to the possibility that there is a god or gods, or at least some sort of sacred reality beyond the one I had access to in ordinary consciousness. I did have experiences where I communicated with various entities and gods. Whether this was real or imaginary I can't say. But I am now more open to the possibility that something like that could be real, and I am more understanding of those people who have had profound mystical experiences or experiences of meeting or talking to God/gods.
Now, I can't give exclusive credit to psychedelics to changing my views on all of these things. Transitioning to my present views on these subjects took a long time, and my psychedelic experiences took place a very long time ago. But they opened the door and showed me the way on many of these things. How "practical" these insights and attitudinal changes have been would depend on what you mean by "practical". They certainly have been profound and important to me. But I can't say I came up with a new invention (as some people have) on psychedelics. Nor did I solve a math problem using them. They didn't make me a better coder. But they were very valuable.
Some studies have actually been done on using psychedelics to enhance creativity. If you are interested, I recommend reading James Fadiman's "The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide", and Oscar Janiger's "LSD, Spirituality, and the Creative Process".
On a humbler note, meditation has helped me to achieve calm (at least while I'm meditating and for some hours afterwards). I view that as a very practical effect.
"I would also like to suggest substituting the word "altered" with "disturbed". Would you mind telling me your thoughts on this (whether in connection with the above question, or not)?"
I don't like using the word "disturbed" for these states. Certainly, sometimes when in these states one can be confronted with visions or feelings that one finds disturbing. Aldous Huxley titled a book of his about psychedelics "Heaven and Hell", and that is sometimes quite an appropriate description of some of the more extreme experiences that one can have on psychedelics or in other non-ordinary states of consciousness. However, they are not always hellish, nor always heavenly. They can be quite unpredictable (especially when used in a haphazard, uninformed, or destructive way). I would agree that those states are non-ordinary -- in that they differ from the ordinary state of consciousness most of us inhabit during our waking lives. But to paint them all indiscriminately with the pejorative term "disturbed" is to misunderstand their nature.
It's also a bit arrogant to put ordinary consciousness up on a pedestal as if it was the ultimate and best form of consciousness and the rest were lacking, wrong, or immoral in some way. Many Buddhists and Hindus would certainly disagree with anyone who tried to claim that the enlightened state of consciousness was "disturbed". From their perspective, it is the ordinary state of consciousness which is "disturbed", and the enlightened state of consciousness that is healthy. Who are we to insist otherwise?
"the notion that inanimate objects and even trees have feelings is fundamentally unsound"
It may seem unsound from the perspective of ordinary waking consciousness, and certain materialistic, physicalist, or naturalistic philosophies.
But it seems quite sound from the perspective of many non-ordinary states of consciousness, animism, panpsychism, pantheism, panentheism, various types of shamanism and religions which hold animistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic beliefs.
Now, you may argue that there isn't any or enough evidence to support animistic beliefs. But then the question becomes one of what evidence do you accept. Do you accept the evidence of your own senses while in a non-ordinary state of consciousness? If not, why not? Do you accept as evidence the communication you or others may have had with what you or they consider spirits of other worlds? Do you accept the evidence of sacred writings? Etc..
Perhaps you don't. But is there an empirical reason for not counting this as evidence? It's not like you can "scientifically measure" which criteria are "better". Even if you could, there's the question of whether something that's "scientific" should be chosen over something that isn't. And whatever you chose, others would be free to disagree with you.
So, "sound" or "unsound"? It all depends on your point of view.
Anyway, I'm not saying I'm convinced in ordinary waking consciousness that trees or inanimate objects have feelings. I'm just open to the possibility. Anything is possible, and I'm ok with that. I didn't use to be. I used to be quite dogmatic in clinging to what I considered to be a "scientific" and materialistic world view.
Having psychedelic experiences and learning more about philosophy helped me to question these strongly held beliefs. I don't know if I've found any answers, but I am more open to the possibility that reality is not necessarily the way it appears or the way I think it to be. It could be some other way. I could be wrong. What I think "sound" could be "unsound", and what I think "unsound" may in fact be "sound". Or maybe there's no way it is at all. Who knows? Who is to say? I'm certainly no authority.
> But it seems quite sound from the perspective of many non-ordinary states of consciousness, animism, panpsychism, pantheism, panentheism, various types of shamanism and religions which hold animistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic beliefs.
Excellent, doctrines do tend to be self-contained. IF X, THEN Y. In the mean time, I bring up an important fact: we have always depended decisively on how well we coordinated our ideas with reality, for the purpose of achieving technological efficacy. In this light, the doctrines you enumerated are undesirable. Judging by the rate of success, the former, scientific doctrines you enumerated are more workable and, as such, preferable for the purpose of adjustment to the conditions of empirical life.
> Do you accept the evidence of your own senses while in a non-ordinary state of consciousness? If not, why not?
We accept evidence that is reproducible. I will stop here and not answer the other questions that you followed with, out of politeness.
> So, "sound" or "unsound"? It all depends on your point of view.
> I'm just open to the possibility. Anything is possible, and I'm ok with that. I didn't use to be. I used to be quite dogmatic in clinging to what I considered to be a "scientific" and materialistic world view. [...] Who knows? Who is to say? I'm certainly no authority.
Take much care to ensure that you are not merely being open, like a scientist is to new evidence and a better "map" for the "territory"; but rather that you are doubting everything. And as someone once eloquently put it, there are two ways to glide easily through life: to believe everything, and to doubt everything – both ways save us from thinking. (There's also another less polite quote about being open minded)
That aside, I think you have gathered an extraordinary amount of very interesting knowledge in your pursuits, and I think that in itself was as incredibly useful affair.
> Take much care to ensure that you are not merely being open, like a scientist is to new evidence and a better "map" for the "territory"; but rather that you are doubting everything. And as someone once eloquently put it, there are two ways to glide easily through life:
Take much care to ensure that you are not doubting everything, instead of being merely open, like a scientist is to new evidence and a better "map" for the "territory". As someone once eloquently put it, there are two ways to glide easily through life:
> But to paint them all indiscriminately with the pejorative term "disturbed" is to misunderstand their nature.
I meant the following definition for "disturbed":
interfere with the normal arrangement or functioning of
Sorry, I suppose I should have made it clear. I can see now why I need to be careful using this word. So to return, I connected to the fact that drugs are an intoxicant, perturbing the natural functioning of the nervous system. Using them to achieve a desirable result is... well, let us be polite: it won't become an acceptable form of "treatment". Their unpredictable nature that you mentioned is essentially the strongest argument in this debate.
> It's also a bit arrogant to put ordinary consciousness up on a pedestal as if it was the ultimate and best form of consciousness and the rest were lacking, wrong, or immoral in some way.
No, it's just logically self-contradictory to expect that by perturbing a system you may improve its behaviour. Any argument you may formulate in those terms should and will be discarded. As for other possible arguments in favour of drug use... well we only have what we have so far.
> From their perspective, it is the ordinary state of consciousness which is "disturbed", and the enlightened state of consciousness that is healthy. Who are we to insist otherwise?
I'll try to post more o. The following when I am not posting from my phone:
When I started martial arts (Bujinkan) when I was 15, I got really into meditation and looking for what higher level of consciousness I could attain. I was really into energy work - and it was something that I sought diligently at the time.
There is a state we refer to as "The Mode" where one is in touch with their energetic being and all sorts of things happen.
I'll post more on The Mode later...
At this time I was meditating every day fora out two hours per day, as I went to bed.
I had injured myself in a workout where I had pulled some muscles in my abdomen, and I had to hunch over, could not stand fully erect, and had to move very slowly.
So I lay down and was determined to heal myself.
I meditated and focused on my breathing bringing the needed energy to my damaged stomach muscles.
I focused on the phrase "I am healing now" in my head and let that idea waft over me.
As I lay there, my body suddenly, involuntarily took a sharp deep death in and my back arched up. My stomach had a strong tingling sensation. Like that of when your muscles fall asleep but the reverse - meaning it was not of nerves being numb, but of nerves being filled with energy.
I let the breath out and I could tell my stomach muscles were spontaneously and completely healed.
I got up and checked myself and I was in perfect condition.
This was the only time this has ever happened to me, though I have tried to repeat it at times.
It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I try to meditate about twice a week, but I haven't been keeping it up lately, so I put once a month. I started because there was a thread here where people described the benefits. I was (and still am) very skeptical of the self-reported effects, since there's a strong possibility of placebo, but at the same time, I figured if all these people like it, it's worth a try. Maybe it's just a placebo, but it sounds like a pleasant one, and the downside is essentially non-existent.
To get started, I read Mindfullness in Plain English , which is a pretty practical, no-nonsense guide with minimal New Age woo. It addresses a lot of the problems and questions a beginner will have getting started.
I can't really claim any long-lived effects or benefits of it. As I said, I'm very skeptical by nature, so I tend to be wary of attributing anything to it. One thing that's very clear and noticeable though is that I feel very mentally different during and afterward. My mind is quiet in a way that it otherwise never is, and I feel like I perceive the world differently somehow (maybe more clearly or more at face value.) It reminds a lot of a hyper-focused flow state, except it's non-directional. It's like I'm focused on everything and nothing all at once.
After I started, I did some reading on wikipedia and found that meditation has been found in scientific studies to have certain benefits and neurological effects. It's apparently even a treatment doctors recommend for handling stress and anxiety. That has helped me stick with it, because the meditation community is full of New Age bullshit. It's nice to know that there's more to it than that.
I'm not a zen master or yogi, but I can promise you that if you try to measure the results of meditation (Am I feeling better yet? How about now?) you'll wind up chasing your own tail and giving up. Anyone promising wonderful results through meditation is very likely selling you something.
The effects of meditation are best compared to those of sleep. A good night's sleep doesn't make up for lousy sleeping habits the rest of the week. But getting enough sleep _regularly_ is key to being healthy, happy, and productive.
Ditto meditation. Trying it once in a while is likely as waste of time. But practicing it regularly (and getting better at it, which you will, with practice) can have positive effects, over time.
As an aside - Zen takes a good deal of commitment, but it's the least 'bullshity' of all the approaches to meditation/mindfulness I've encountered. Eight Gates of Zen is a great intro: http://www.mro.org/zmm/training/eightgates.php
This attitude of "you can't measure it, don't even try" really bothers me. You can measure the benefits of both meditation and sleep, and there have been studies that do so. This wikipedia article is pretty well-cited, and outlines many of the studies that have been done on meditation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_on_meditation
It's not that you can't; indeed you can. But actively looking for results means the sort of outcome dependence which you are trying to avoid through meditation.
In the Eastern religions this is very much what is referred to as "faith"; the study and analysis of meditation in this manner is intellectual, but meditation itself if very much anti-intellectual and seeks for the non attachment of intellectual concepts (a difficult concept to grasp for those of us raised in the rationalist philosophies of the West).
It doesn't mean that you can't measure it; it means that, aside from the sensations which come to you of well-being and effects that come to you from direct observation, you shouldn't be using it as your primary guide to the effectivity of meditation. Fortunately there's 3000 years of incredibly descriptive and academic Buddhist and Hinduist texts which talk about this in amazing depth, and have zero usefulness for your personal progress.
It bothers you? Awesome! That's a rejected shadow you can investigate through mindfulness investigation. I guarantee you, you will get results and realize insights if you get in touch with that feeling of being upset when someone says "you can't measure it, don't even try." :-D
> I'd like to learn more but the religious aspects are a turnoff.
This is a shame. Within the frivolous details we debate so much religion holds a wealth of wisdom and value that anyone can apply to their lives and benefit from.
I took a similar stance when getting into meditation. I was looking for a way to deal with stress and I was certainly not "religious". I quickly found that modern/western Buddhism is stripped free of a lot of the Asian cultural traditions that I perceived as religion.
"This is a shame. Within the frivolous details we debate so much religion holds a wealth of wisdom and value that anyone can apply to their lives and benefit from."
I have to agree. Many of the fruits of the Enlightenment have been very positive, and the oppressive and totalitarian aspects of what passes for organized religion deserve to be rejected in the strongest possible terms.
However, the viciously anti-religious attitude that the Enlightenment has spawned and which has had a resurgence recently thanks to narrow-minded bigots like Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, the mainstream media's relentless focus on church scandals, some forms of religious extremism and supposedly religiously inspired terrorism (all of which I condemn in no uncertain terms) has led a lot of people to reject all of religion wholesale -- which is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
There are many profound, thought provoking, inspirational, and beautiful ideas, images, and messages in religion. And there's an incredibly wide and varied range of different types of religion -- to an extent that most people are simply not aware of.
Despite what we may see on the news or read in books by the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, or Harris, religion is not all about domination, pedophilia, or unquestioning obedience to some leader or dogma.
Unfortunately, many people do buy in to such myopic visions of religion, mostly through ignorance and propaganda. As a result, they're really missing out on the parts of religion which are positive, constructive, profound, and even liberating.
That said, I'm not a believer myself. I'm agnostic, but a student of the history, techniques, and beliefs of religion (among many other things). I want to learn about every aspect of religion -- good and bad, light and dark. Few fields as large as religion are as simple as they might first appear.
To be clear, I think the philosophical and some of the metaphysical ideas that come with meditation have a lot to offer as a way of thinking about the world. I'm talking more about the stuff like "aligning chakras" and "energies" and all that.
There are a few athiest renderings of this practice (rather than teaching) floating around. It's not my cup of tea but I have seen them.
However, I will point this out. The point is to be. To experience all of reality: to stop avoiding the things you don't want to experience, and to let go of the things you want to go on forever.
When you say, "the religious aspects are a turnoff", those are fantastic shadows to investigate. And I don't mean, investigate them as in some sort of Socratic dialogue with yourself. I mean getting in touch with the feeling of being "turned off", locating the physical sensation that give rise to your mind's interpretation as the emotion of "turned off", and really watching it with your mind without blinking. These uncomfortable feelings are where you'll find the most intense insights about yourself. And it doesn't matter whether you yourself believe the religion, or whether the religious aspects are an illusion or not, because the feeling of being "turned off" is real for you. That's all that's needed to start.
Perspective from a stone-cold atheist/philosophical-materialist that started daily meditation in recent months: there's nothing magical to it, but there is something to it.
There are many different explanations as to "how it works". These range from greater connections with supernatural beings to just giving your brain some quiet time to perform various housekeeping activities that it doesn't get a chance to do when constantly stimulated with computer/phone/tv.
If you want to know "what can meditation do for me besides waste my time?", here is my attempt at describing what it feels like and how it's beneficial. This is just my subjective experience.
The first benefit of meditation for me has been to make me aware of the near-constant mental chatter going on in my mind, and presumably the minds of many other people in society. I knew it was bad but I had no idea how bad until I tried to shut it off for a few minutes. It's like when someone points out every time you say "umm" in a conversation and you suddenly become aware you are doing it constantly.
As for the second benefit, imagine how you feel when you are in a pleasurable and carefree mental state. For example you are at a bar or a party talking to someone you just met who has similar interests and after 20min you have sort of a full body buzz going even if you haven't been drinking, the rest of the world falls away, and time flies by. Or if you go to the gym or do martial arts and you enter the gym stressed about work, then two hours later you walk out and are driving home, feeling great and the things that were bothering you earlier seem insignificant. Meditation builds a mental muscle that allows you to more easily slip into that groove. I'm still a newbie but there are times that I can slip into that state at will, walking down a crowded street surrounded by people.
"Arrgg! stop wasting my time and tell me how this is this going to get me money/sex/stock options!"
If you are still looking for the immediately tangible benefit of meditation in terms of (input x) -> (output y) that will depend on your situation. I can however give you an example. If there is a room full of of stressed out uptight people and someone walks in who is more relaxed and "present" than everyone else in the room, other people in the room will notice this, they will subconsciously assume there is a reason, they will be more inclined to listen to that person. They are walking around with empty cups and that person acts like their cup is overflowing.
The joke is the first time this happens you will have the thought "omg it's working, the 'trick' is working!" and instantly your new found charisma will evaporate. If you chase it you cannot have it, there are many things in life like this :]
As for method, I don't use candles, music, darkness, unusual sitting poses, or any other props. They obviously help some people but I have not tried them. I simply put my phone on silent, set my phone alarm to vibrate in 20min and put it on a table behind me. Sit in a chair and look at a point on the wall, be sure there aren't any screens or clocks in your field of vision to distract you.
Once you are sitting looking at the point on the wall let yourself be present and not thinking about anything in the past or the future. The first two or three times you try this it will feel like the longest 20 minutes of your life and you will find yourself constantly thinking of chores, imagining interactions, and berating yourself for thinking. Don't judge yourself and don't "try" to not think. Newbies are often told that if they really need to focus on something, to focus on their breathing.
Normally when you have a thought your mind seizes on the thought like a shark seizes on its dinner. Rather, be like the stone at the bottom of the sea and the thought is like a jellyfish. The thought appears, you are aware of the thought, but you don't engage it, you just let it drift by.
I haven't yet been able to decide whether meditation is legit or not.
I keep reading about how awesome it is, how much "scientifically proven benefits" it has. But as soon as you try to learn a little more, everything is mingled with bullshit religious mumbo jumpo. It's difficult to find nice rational sources about the subject.
I've pre-emptively excluded meditation from my set of legitimate things, because it pattern-matches to white people taking something non-white people do and finding "deep wisdom" in it. It's the same reason why various fruits and berries that are common and worthless in south africa sell like hotcakes in the US, and the same reason why anime has so much Christian imagery.
Meditation is not essentially a "non-white people" activity. Christians in Western Europe and the Americas, both lay people and clergy, many of them white (and many non-whites too, of course), have developed and engaged in various forms of meditation over the past two millennia.
I don't mean here to exclude parallel developments among Eastern Christians (i.e. Eastern and Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholics), I'm just making a particular point about meditation not being essentially non-Western or "non-white".
At the risk of oversimplifying, the Western Christian tradition breaks down into two schools of thought: one school advocates active contemplation, while the other advocates passive contemplation.
Since the 16th Century, the school of active contemplation, also known as discursive meditation or mental prayer, has been strongly influenced by various writers and preachers in the Jesuit tradition, but stills feels the influence of great figures such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Benedict of Nursia.
The Western school of passive contemplation has, since the 16th Century, been profoundly shaped by the writings of two Spanish authors, John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila, together known as the Carmelite Doctors.
Personally, I am more drawn to active contemplation. In 2007-2008, I had the opportunity to read a classic work on the subject by a 16th Century Spanish Jesuit -- Fr. Alphonsus Rodriguez, The Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues. That work's "Fifth Treatise" is a detailed treatment of personal development with respect to the practice of mental prayer, and I can't recommend it highly enough to persons with an open mind.
This is all true, but does it relate to the reason why meditation is popular in the West?
The real determinant of the "legitimacy" of a thing is the true reason why it came to your attention, not the post-hoc reason that might be a more "legitimate" explanation (where "legitimacy" is the fuzzy criteria referred to in my original comment).
Since I doubt any of the people in my life telling me I should meditate are aware of anything in your comment, the facts in your comment have no effect on my decision to discard meditation.
It's true that part of the attraction of meditation for a lot of Westerners is that it seems "exotic" and "different". However, I would strongly disagree with you that such an attraction to exoticism is a reason for completely disregarding meditation.
After all, many things that are common in Western societies (some of which you might actually value quite highly) are considered exotic in non-Western societies, and might be valued for their exoticism. Usually, these are material goods such as cars, houses, clothes, food -- but not always -- Western music is also quite a hot cultural commodity. Do you avoid listening to Western music because it might be considered exotic in some other culture?
Something else to take in to consideration is that meditation is highly valued in many non-Western cultures. Even in non-Western cultures, meditation is rarely considered "worthless" to the same extent as common fruits and berries would be in South Africa. Common, maybe. Worthless? It would really depend on the person, but many in non-Western cultures value meditation quite highly (more so than most Westerners would value it, I'd wager).
Finally, I think that many strongly negative views of practices that are strongly valued in other cultures usually are rooted in xenophobia and deep ignorance. Some people don't know and don't want to know about such practices simply because they seem strange or different. I find that really sad.
Oh, I'm not negative of meditation because it originated in another culture. I'm negative of it because it seems like a mystical practice that's only more popular than Christian prayer in the US because it originated from an "exotic" culture. Christian prayer is certainly popular in the US, even to the point where it could be said to be "highly valued," but I would never try to use prayer to make myself more productive in the way people tell me to use meditation.
Meditation is pitched as a tool, and I (try to) evaluate tools based on their objective properties and effects, not based on their exoticism or wow-factor. This applies equally to meditation as it does to, say, dynamic typing.
Answer the question (privately if you like) and you just "meditated".
Meditation is self-observation, nothing more, nothing less. If you want to learn more about how the specific "tedks" configuration of neurons works, that's what meditation (a.k.a. self-reflection, self-observation) promises, as opposed to science which by definition cannot do this. I'm pretty sure that many of the things you consider valuable already do count as meditation (e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5331514 ), it's just that nobody labelled them as such or built a formal discipline around them. That might be part of why meditation seems like such BS to you.
The stuff about sitting there with your eyes closed and focusing on your breathing isn't really necessary (I don't really do this anymore), all that's meant to do is help you slow your brain down so you can look at it, kind of like using a debugger. You can get kind of high from that and while fun it can be a hindrance in all sorts of other ways.
All the spiritual stuff you see is perhaps best described as a metaphor for the kinds of things people experience, since they don't have better words for it. Ultimately there isn't a particular belief system tied to meditation, kind of like there isn't a particular belief system tied to the act of debugging a program (although people do like to get into holy wars).
Finally, there's this joke that says all Buddhists are either meditating or feeling guilty about not meditating. So if someone is telling you that you "should" meditate they are quite possibly projecting some of their own guilt about their own spiritual practice onto you. Of course had they been practicing meditation by being "mindful" in the conversation with you (this is just code for "paying attention to their own thoughts and feelings while not sitting in silence somewhere"), they would see that this is what their feelings were doing and they'd probably choose not to pressure you like that.
There is definitely a lot of "orientalism" surrounding Buddhist practices. And yet, there are other ways to approach meditation. I entered meditation the same way I entered running: I saw people around me doing running and enjoying it, thought I would see if I enjoyed it too, did a little research, asked some questions, and tried it out. And yet running isn't for everyone.
If you were ever to try meditation, you sound like you might get the most out of Mindfulness in Plain English. The author presents meditation as a practice which serves a philosophy. The philosophy is that as a species we suffer from our emotional attachments to the outcomes of events, to the objects around us, etc. In geek parlance, we have stress responses that were appropriate in our evolutionary environment but are unadaptive to modern life. Meditation is a practice that helps us override these stress responses, and for many people meditation is a better tool than attempting to override those stress responses with thoughts. And even if you don't consider yourself particularly stressed, a Buddhist might suggest that overriding those responses can help remove the weight of attachment from your decision making process and make you into a more rational person.
About a thousand years ago, Tibet had a similar relationship with the teachings coming over the Himalaya from India. Now people in America have this Thing with elite Tibetan teachers. :-)
When we're long dead, I think we'll see a uniquely Western Buddhist tradition that grows beyond its adolescent pangs. I've already seen at least one new one, a fantastic practice that works fairly well.
Mathematics isn't popular because it originated in India and China; it's popular because it's practically useful in a variety of ways.
Why are Christian symbols popular in anime? It's not because they're inherently compelling in any way, it's because they're from a foreign culture and they have exotic appeal.
Why do people in the US practice meditation? Is it because they rationally considered all available peer-reviewed evidence, or because meditation is associated with a foreign culture and has exotic appeal?
I think that's largely true, but doesn't speak to whether meditation is actually worthwhile. And I'd think it's less true for people here. For myself, I never tried it until I started hearing of studies. After that, I found some nice secular material on it. I would have had a lot of trouble wading through much woo, and luckily that wasn't needed.
Things tend to exist because they're popular (QWERTY) or good (DVORAK). While there is certainly "evidence" in some form for meditation, it seems to exist mostly because it's popular.
If meditation is actually good, and it eventually permeates society, I'll just be a late adopter. No account I've ever read has pitched it as so wonderful a tool that being a late adopter would be terribly painful for me.
But for now, I'm predicting that meditation will be a fad. I don't expect to see ~5-10 meditation centers in my hometown in 15 years.
Cognition is layer upon layer of pattern processing, all the way down to sensory inputs. His particular pattern matching mechanism might need adjustment, but pattern matching itself is the only mechanism by which we decide anything. If you doubt me, ask yourself, do these sentences pattern match to "correct" or "incorrect"? See?
I faced the same challenge. Jon Kabat-Zinn removes religion from meditation and makes it sensible and accessible. I have gone on to read several of his works and now practice religion-free meditation with positive benefits. Probably the best introduction to his work is via his interview on the OnBeing podcast: http://www.onbeing.org/program/opening-our-lives/138
To me, meditation is nothing more but clearing your mind, trying not to think of anything, and then seeing where your mind wanders off to every few minutes. When you get stuck on a train of thought, try to end it if it's not taking you anyplace positive.
The next step to go beyond that is to detach your attention from the thought. You rest your attention upon the spaces between the thoughts that arise, and let those thoughts pass out of you.
As for the train of thought, Lao-Tzu had some great advice on it. "The trip of a thousand miles starts with the first step." Or in the same chapter, "A might tree is easier to cut down when it is young." Don't jump on the train of thought when it first starts. But if you find yourself there, you relax and come back to your concentration object.
Of more than 3,000 scientific studies that were found in a comprehensive search of 17 relevant databases, only about 4% had randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which are designed to exclude the placebo effect. Reviews of these RCTs consistently find that meditation without a focus on developing "mental silence", an aspect often excluded from techniques used in Western society, does not give better results than simply relaxing, listening to music or taking a short nap. While those who practiced mental silence showed clinically and statistically significant improvements in work related stress, depressed feelings, asthma-control, and quality of life as compared to commonly used stress management programs.
I was taught Transcendental Meditation in high school and learned some self-hypnosis techniques in college that I practiced a bit.
These types of meditation get you to focus/defocus your mind in active ways that appear to be beneficial.
If you're practicing some form of meditation that is just relaxing and daydreaming without trying to use your mind in a specific way - then it isn't really surprising that the results would be no different to relaxing and daydreaming or listening to music.
The biggest key for me was time, place and guidance. The Calm app has helped me make it habit.
I'm one of those people who says they don't have time. No time to do X, to time to hang out with Y, no time to think about Z. However, I know that this a problem of priority rather than the amount of hours in the day. Calm blocks out short amounts of time (~7 minutes) which is short enough to fit most places in my schedule. Defining hard boundaries on the amount of time I spend meditating helps me relax during meditation.
Calm has helped me meditate wherever I want to. With headphones in and a seat, I'm able to meditate wherever I have my phone. I usually do it on the L to work (Chicago). It fits conveniently time wise and I'm usually able to find a seat, close my eyes and let go, knowing that the session will end before I reach my destination
Starting meditation seems hard because you don't know if you are doing it right. Calm helped teach me a posture and frame of mind that works for me so I can spend less time worrying about technique and more time focusing on myself.
I meditate alone, though the app above gives you a virtual community if you want one.
I find mediation helps me put things into perspective. It's nothing more than staring at a wall and being bored, but there's a sort of magic in being bored.
Every time I return to the present moment I'm seeing what's really there. Most of the rest of the time I'm off daydreaming and I think studies show that the less present you are, the more miserable you are.
A lot of stress is caused by my own thoughts. When I stop dwelling on things, even for a little time, my body looks after itself.
There is 'nothing' to do when I go to sleep. Isn't that enough, and the best time for it?
Edit: Sorry, I do not wish to troll. You may wish to read the other post I made in this thread, where I question more elaborately the practice of meditation. My inquiry is genuine, I wish to have a critical discussion on the margin of the meditative practice.
There's nothing wrong with sleep, but meditation is a little different.
Think of it like this: say you're at work and have an important meeting in a few days. If you're anything like me, your mind will constantly return to it. You play out scenarios in your head about how it will go. If you're a natural pessimist, you can imagine all sorts of failure modes.
So let's say your normal response is to spend ten seconds of fantasy, in which time your heartbeat rises, stress hormones begin circulating in your blood, muscles clench. You may even mutter to yourself.
So then, you meditate. It's a bit like training yourself to spot when your mind wanders. Now you only drift into useless fantasies for five seconds before you catch it and bring yourself back to the present. Only half the hormones enter your blood. Your heart rate is lower. Your stress is less.
Anyway, that's one benefit I've found.
There are others, too. Many studies have found that the key to creativity lies in taking a break from work and letting the mind relax. Well, I often find I get my best ideas during a meditation session. Like all other ideas, I try to bring my mind back to the present and ignore them, but after the session, they're still there for me to use.
I could get into the spiritual side, too. You don't need to believe in a god to see that there's times when you feel more connected to other people and to nature. I don't know why, particularly, but meditation seems to make this happen more often. Speaking for myself only, it's a very pleasant feeling.
I'm not missing the point. I get what he is saying and I see where you are not getting it. You're confusing meditation with "nothing". The mindful experience of "nothing" is different than if you were just to fall asleep. You think you are doing "nothing" when you sleep, but you're actually doing quite a bit.
As for what I use lucid dreaming for, I don't use lucid dreaming for much of anything other than a benchmark for clarity of my mind. I don't make a whole lot of use for it. Sometimes I will put my body to sleep when it needs it, but my mind wants to stay active. Sometimes I will use non-meditative visualization techniques to work with dreams in order to pop open the shadow side, but that's not what we're talking about here either.
As for finding opportunity to do nothing, the thing is that in those states of consciousness, nothing is the base experience of reality. Everything else, the doing, the striving, the acting, are forms. It is similar to looking at this webpage and focusing on the spaces between the words than at the words themselves.
I take your inquiry at face value, that you are sincerely asking these questions, and they might come off as trolling but they are not. So I answer just as sincerely though you'll probably think I am coping out: There is nothing in the world that will convince you to meditate. If you are meditating for any "reason" at all, you're not really being mindful of the present moment. There is no "reason" inherent in any experience. That's not to say lots of people have various motivations and "reasons" to meditate, but when you are on that cushion, you let those go for the bullshit that it is.
> As for finding opportunity to do nothing, the thing is that in those states of consciousness, nothing is the base experience of reality. Everything else, the doing, the striving, the acting, are forms. It is similar to looking at this webpage and focusing on the spaces between the words than at the words themselves.
Thank you for giving this conversation an honest chance. I am happy to say that I have a further reply to this, and let's see where it takes us.
The spaces between the letters that you mention, nevertheless consist of pixels. The spaces between the letters, far from being nothing, are full of pixels. Similarly, we do not drop from an empty vacuum into this world – we come from an uterus. I believe that, if this semantic fulness (instead of semantic emptiness) is postulated as fundamental, then we obtain a new system of thought that no longer renders meditation as valuable – at least not for the age-old arguments.
Perhaps I should reveal my stance fully. I do not believe your meditative practice and experiences are disconnected at all from semantic factors, such as assumptions about the nature of the world, reality and mind. In the mean time, metaphysics are notorious for having changed disruptively over time, and given a newer system of thought that postulates fulness as fundamental [note], I wish to explore the extent to which the age-old practice of meditation still makes that much sense.
[note] As far as I can tell, this originated in the newer physics, once the older luminiferous aether had been replaced by the newer plenum.
Pixels themselves are artifacts. The spaces between elementary particles are vast. I guess you mentioned newer physics to talk about things like superstring.
It's not "my" meditative practice, and my experience isn't a thing, either. Those are abstract constructs.
You're welcomed to explore "fulness". Lots of people are. Until you experience it for yourself, though, you won't really understand. This isn't something that you can pawn off onto an observational instrument. You ... hmm, what was that post-modern jargon? You disintermediate yourself as the observer and the observed.
The "fulness", by the way, is not new either. The "no self" teaching is the same as "true self" teaching -- your "fulness" that you treat semantically. That is, that there is a fundamental "Nothing" that is at the same time, all-inclusive Everything.
Anyways, I've discussed this as far as I want to. I encourage you to empirically observe this yourself. Not discuss it, not study it, not debate it, not reply to it: empiricism in its original sense of finding out for yourself, and experiencing it for yourself. If you sincerely want to explore the relevance of this age-old practice, you cannot do this second hand. (There are other methods besides meditation; you can check out Rick Strassman's book for other methods; the meditative states trigger the same kinds of neural chemical reactions, albiet for the rare ~2% of the population that get it spontaneously, or spent a lot of time with it).
The best way I've found to describe meditation is of giving yourself an opportunity to have no agenda; for 20 minutes a day you ignore the impulse to process every thought, memory, emotion or to plan or worry and just let it be. It's extremely liberating when you first experience the sense of control that comes with being able to let go, and you realize you've been spinning your mental wheels pretty much non-stop with no awareness. It's challenging at first - it's uncomfortable and anxiety provoking - and the benefits don't come for a few months, but I have noticed a marked improvement in my ability to regulate my mood and state of mind as I'm way more aware of the train of thoughts going through my head. Start with just 2 minutes per day and work up to 20 from there - it's worth it.
I go skiing in the winter, biking in the summer. I've always found this to be a meditative-like experience - if i'm cruising down a mogul run as fast as i can the only thought in my head is where my skis are going. it's impossible to think about anything that doesn't need to be dealt with in the next few milliseconds. That's much clearer than i can ever get my head by sitting down and trying to meditate.
Meditation is often confused with meditatIVE activities. Sitting and trying to meditate doesn't mean you'll meditate, but meditation almost always requires you to sit still. When you're in meditation, you'll know - your mind will be in a different state (akin to sleep).
Keep practicing :) it takes a while, but once you get it, I promise it's worth it.
You can be mindful anywhere and at anytime. There are people who find skiing or other physical exercise relaxing because, after years of practice, they are being mindful in all the ways that matters to someone who sits on a cushion and "meditates". This is the end product of the "10,000 hours" thing.
The benefit from formal sitting practice is that you create a ritual container. A timebox. You align with the resolution and intent to practice. You dedicate this space, this time to the practice. However, meditation doesn't end on the cushion. You can realize all sorts of insights on the cushion, but can you integrate those insights when you're off the cushion?
Yes, that kind of focus, or 'being in the now' is an example of mindfulness. It's great, isn't it?
The idea of meditation is to exercise that ability so that you can bring it to the rest of your life. Ideally, you should have that state in everything: relationships, work, doing dishes...
There's a mistaken notion that meditation is something you do and then you go about the rest of your life, somehow magically more focused, calm, together. It's more like training for an athlete, who then goes on and uses that training (knowledge & fitness) in what they do.
Riding a motorcycle with no other vehicles on the road feels like that as well. The vibrations of the engine through the frame, the wind blowing, the engine roaring, and only one focus, just draw the perfect trajectory...
This is mindfulness. In my opinion it is all the same thing (meditation, yoga, tai chi, etc..). All these being different techniques(albeit with different side-effects) to attaining the same thing. True focus, no conscious linguistic thought just reacting naturally to stimuli.
If so, how often? 20 minutes in the morning every day.
Why do you meditate?
To predispose myself to receive the gift of inner transformation.
What kind of meditation do you do?
Centering prayer, a practice derived from the Benedictine (Catholic) contemplative tradition, oriented specifically to the needs of lay people. Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Catholic tradition of mysticism, etc. Key book: "Open mind, open heart" by Keating. Some people like "New seeds of contemplation" by Merton, but I find Keating more accessible.
How long have you practiced? More than 10 years.
How long is each meditation session? 20 minutes.
Do you meditate alone or with others? Alone every morning, with a group twice per month.
What effects or benefits have you experienced?
- Better (but still not great) at keeping my mouth shut and listening to others
- Used to engage in a range of behaviors such as procrastination to keep a whole catalog of anxiety-producing thoughts tamped down and below the conscious mental radar screen. By now, the anxiety-producing thoughts have by and large come to the surface and evaporated, rendering those avoidance behaviors unnecessary.
- Bouts of depression, while just as intense and severe when the come, now last a day or two as opposed to many weeks.
- Artistic and aesthetic sensibilities are more acute.
- Willingness to accept the humdrum rhythms of life with more equanimity.
- Left defense industry and now write software for a medical device company.
- Grew out of a romantic fantasy about what "enlightenment" might mean, and am now content with the the "meat and potatoes" of living life in the present moment. This was something that I found to be of value in reading "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind".
- Used to engage in a range of behaviors such as procrastination to keep a whole catalog of anxiety-producing thoughts tamped down and below the conscious mental radar screen. By now, the anxiety-producing thoughts have by and large come to the surface and evaporated, rendering those avoidance behaviors unnecessary.
There doesn't seem to be a correlation between time of day & whether you see benefits. 48% of people on Lift meditate upon waking or in the morning. 2/3 of all survey respondents started feeling benefits within a week regardless of when they meditated.
45% sit on the floor, 30% a chair, one person said they meditate while swimming.
Mediation gets easier after 11 days of daily practice. 90% of people with an 11 day streak went on to have a 12 day streak & that trend continued for 60 days (we didn't look after that). To compare, it takes 14 days to see that trend in the Eat Breakfast habit.
Most people started with 3-5 minutes per session. Average session length we see on Lift is 16.8 minutes.
62% of people who meditated more than 3 days a week used an app compared to 50% of people who meditated 3 days a week or less.
Data comes from Lift data + surveys to Lifters in the Meditate habit. We're running a Meditation Challenge this month & we're learning a lot about this habit a lot of people say is their most important one. You can ping me at @liftapp with more questions.
I recently went to a presentation by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. He lead the audience in an exercise that he called "mindfulness". He asked us to close our eyes, breathe in and out, and focus our minds only on our breath. When a stray thought entered our minds we were advised to shoo it away and shift focus back to our breathing.
I've read about meditation and found the practices to be similar. Dr. Goleman mentioned that the aim of practicing mindfulness was to improve one's self-awareness and self-motivation capabilities.
I found that meditation or mindfulness has helped me gain great control of my thoughts and emotions. I have been able to calm myself down, heighten my focus, understand and disrupt negative thought patterns, and much more.
Intrigued to see this on HN. Could someone explain the context?
Why do you meditate? For its therapeutic benefits. It helps me see things with fresh eyes.
What kind of meditation do you do? Mostly watching my breath. But most of the effort is actually in getting to my cushion! I love a lot of the sentiment in Zen, eg; "What is known as 'realising the mystery' is nothing but breaking through to grab an ordinary person's life".
How long have you practiced? Over 10 years.
How long is each meditation session? 30-45 minutes.
Do you meditate alone or with others? Mostly on my own, though I go on week-long, silent meditations twice a year to a place in Devon, UK called Gaia House.
What effects or benefits have you experienced? It has effected the most profound and radical change possible. It has given me access to a freedom and peace that I could never have imagined in my wildest fantasies.
I've been meditating about twice daily (15-30 minutes) for about two years, and more sporadically for a year before that. I started because I was feeling really confused and anxious and desperate about stuff in general, and needed some kind of anchor or Regular Good Thing in my life. I could go on and on about the various benefits and so on, but I've rarely found that type of thing very interesting to read about myself, so...
Here's a thought. There's a bias in the current "secular" discourse about meditation, probably inherited from the psychiatric perspective of the "mindfulness" movement. Let's call it the emotional bias. The whole discussion seems to revolve around "emotional benefits." This might seem like a natural given, but let's question it.
Just to shake things up a bit, let's compare meditation to some other activity. Say, reading. It would be weird to talk about reading only in terms of "emotional benefits." Like, "I read twice a day and I have found that it gives me a noticable increase in feelings of joy and wellbeing." You would say, "okay, but what are you reading? Is it interesting? What have you learned?" Of course meditation and reading are not the same thing, but I just want to point out that it's not immediately obvious that everything people do intentionally is for "emotional benefits."
For me, while I do appreciate emotional benefits, the fascination of meditation for me is more cognitive. It's almost like a puzzle. I can't really explain it. It's not clear what the puzzle is about, but if I had to say something, I'd say it has a lot to do with the relationship between myself and "phenomena." Maybe between my mind as such and its specific manifestations -- I'm aware this might sound pretty crazy. It has to do with figuring out (or penetrating or unravelling or getting to the bottom of) some kind of fundamental confusion.
So, I'm not very impressed by the dogmatic version of secular meditation. I caricaturize this dogma as saying "meditation is purely a technique for improving your emotional life and your career performance, anything else is religious woo-woo bullshit nonsense." It's such a cocky attitude. "Alright religious people, you've been messing around with this stuff for thousands of years, now we'll take over, throw out the weird stuff and do it properly."
I chose once a month, because I understand people don't generally accept what I call meditation.
People, especially those who do not run, ask me what I think about when I go on (long) runs, since I'm a mid-distance runner.
My answer is that most of the time it is a form of meditation. I concentrate on my breathing, clear my mind, and sometimes I close my eyes for a few seconds to get "in the zone". It helps release and control stored up energy I may have that I feel causes tension, pressure, and anxiety.
Sometimes while running, I have thought up of solutions to problems that have been bothering me. The best way I can describe this "event" is that wakefulness that occurs deep in the night (past midnight) and you feel lucid and are productive in whatever it is you are doing.
What you described is meditation in its purest sense, as it can take many forms. The true definition of meditation is mindfulness. If you do anything with mindfulness you are meditating.
For me I practice sitting meditation, walking meditation, and yoga. Creating art, painting and photography, are also both highly meditative experiences that I enjoy immensely.
I've made great effort to meditate while coding, but I have found it to be nearly impossibly as my mind needs to change its pace in order to solve problems. Keeping with mindful breathing while coding is possible and very beneficial.
One of the greatest benefits of meditation, as you mentioned, is for problem solving. Solutions come when you 'allow' them to. Walking meditation is very effective for this. I keep a timer and take a 5 minute walk for every 25 minutes of work.
Creating art, painting and photography, are also both highly meditative experiences
They're certainly mindful, but I like to distinguish the mindfulness of meditation from the mindfulness of concentration on something specific.
When you're concentrating on something like coding or creating art, the thoughts themselves provide the framework of your mindfulness and drive your mind's focus.
When I'm meditating, I try to create that intensity of mindfulness without the framework of something specific to concentrate on. By learning to separate the focus from the things that I focus on, I feel I'm doing something more fundamental with my brain.
I guess the people who've asked me must not know much about meditating. I admit I only have a superficial knowledge of it, as well. The people I've talked to see meditating more of a 'relaxing' experience, I guess.
This is very true, as it can be hard to sit or focus, and it tends to bring up many uneasy thoughts and emotions. But it is very helpful to find a place of relaxation, since meditation itself is simply a vehicle for self discovery. Meditation is the journey, and the journey is the destination.
The ultimate "goal" is transcendence, which untethers your consciousness from your physical body and is quite a liberating experience.
The catch to it all, is that you can't have a goal while meditating, other than to be present in the moment, which is an admirable goal in itself.
I've meditated weekly for about 2 to 3 years on and off, but these past three years, I've meditated almost daily averaging an hour every session, sitting zazen and breathing. For me, there's two types of meditation. One that clears my mind from the day and one that relaxes my mind.
a) Clearing my mind - I usually do this when something existential consumes me i.e. I get a bad phone call, someone pisses me off, anxious and unfocused, hyper, etc. and I simply can't stop thinking about it during the day. I do very controlled breathing exercises for 20-30 minutes. Inhale for 5 secs, exhale for 5 secs;then 7 secs;then 10. In almost all situations this frees my mind from being consumed. In the most drastic cases I've had to do this for nearly 2 hours. I'm almost always drenched in sweat and feel revived afterwards.
b)Relaxing my mind - I do this when I've had a very long day tired, but unable to fall asleep for various reasons. Again, controlled breathing for the first 15 minutes. The first few weeks were extremely tough. My mind would start racing in all sorts of directions and was unable to be mindful of the breath, especially since I was not consciously counting. After the first 4 weeks, though I was able to 'push' thoughts out of my head and start relaxing certain muscles in my body. I really can't explain this process/feeling without sounding like a crazyman, so I won't. But I'm at a point now where I can almost feel as though my mind is a shell and I can consciously shed layers off with each layer giving me a new sense of calmness. This type of meditation is vastly different that the one before because I'm here I'm not fixated on one certain thought, my mind is just kind of loosey-goose.
Disclaimer: I was taught meditation by a Daoist monk, so if there are any religious undertones, I apologize. Its unintentional.
Could you elaborate a bit more on the details of your breathing exercise?
Do you do:
5 second inhale, 5 second exhale
7 second inhale, 7 second exhale
10 second inhale, 10 second exhale
5 second inhale, 5 second exhale
7 second inhale, 7 second exhale
10 second inhale, 10 second exhale
or do you do:
5 second inhale, 5 second exhale
repeat 5 second inhale/exhale X times or for Y minutes
7 second inhale, 7 second exhale
repeat 7 second inhale/exhale X times or for Y minutes
10 second inhale, 10 second exhale
repeat 10 second inhale/exhale X times or for Y minutes
5 second inhale, 5 second exhale, repeat 5 second inhale/exhale X times or for Y minutes, etc.
Note that 5, 7, and 10 are arbitrary numbers that may change per person. The rate of inhale/exhale should be as constant as possible as well, meaning you don't fill/empty your lungs in the first 3 seconds and start slowing the last 2 seconds.
Personally, I do not single out any one time for meditating in the way most people think of - passive sitting and breathing - but I often take breaks from my work to go and get decaf coffee, and I will take those times to stop doing anything or thinking and just be mindful of the act of walking. This is usually called active meditation, due to the contrast with the more widely known (in the West) passive meditation. If I'm not with anyone, I will also do this as I take meals or drive.
If you are interested in learning about active meditation or are more the type to set aside time for it in your day, I would highly recommend Tai Chi.
Though I say the "passive" "active" distinction isn't all that useful. When you are sitting still and breathing, your are actively observing the sensations. There's lots to see.
Lying, sitting, standing, and walking, are all different vehicles for practicing mindfulness. For some people, walking is too stimulating and need to sit. For others, sitting is too restful and one easily falls asleep.
I've mentioned this elsethread. Formal practice where you set aside time and make a commitment creates a ritual container for the practice. It creates a timebox from which you can bind your resolution and intent to practice. You can make this more or less elaborate -- and some people need elaborate.
The formal practice is to give you a chance to realize insights which you then integrate outside the timebox. As the saying goes, mindfulness doesn't end on the cushion.
So if you're able to be mindful in all the things you do, that's awesome. There are lots of people who are like you. And there are lots of people who need a more formal container for their practice.
Any one has any tips to form meditation as a habit? I know meditation is good for oneself, and I have personally meditated on and off for 20+ sessions. But the habit never sticks. Somehow after a few days of meditation I feel massively better and then I forgot to do so. It's like stop taking pills after I recover from sickness. Anyone has any tips? Thanks.
Well I think meditation is sort of like a minimalistic tool for training yourself. So I reckon it's part of the point to figure out how to get yourself "into a habit", etc.
Anyway, I don't think anything substantial can come out of meditation alone. If you use meditation as a "training ground" for learning discipline, etc. then you may argue those understandings are later useful in practical matters. But then, again, why not train yourself while at those practical matters? Granted, the simplicity of the meditative practice might make it easier to deal with things like what somebody else in this thread calls "negative thought patterns", etc. But I think the whole practice of meditation emerged from an interest of making the "world" to gradually "disappear". Somebody in this thread speaks of the "dissolution of the ego", fasting, etc. Meditative practice appears to have been birthed out of a yearning for...... destruction of details, diversity and complexity. But until when? That doesn't sound right to me. On the other hand, some other people equate meditation with going to a park, or riding the bicycle. That's disconnecting from one "world" and connecting to another; I can see the point of that, it's refreshing, relaxing. And I think it's better, because at least it performs a replacement with something mildly interesting and engaging, rather than... an empty wall (?!). Sitting in front of an empty wall just seems morbid to me.
As for the "feel good" factor, when you're meditating (in front of a wall) you are not contributing much to anything, so it sounds like meditation is a surrogate for "getting high"; or at least some form of really cheap entertainment. Surely there are preferable alternatives – like listening to good music, or reading a good book.
"Buddhism without beliefs" is a bit oxymoronic, no? :) Any doctrine must start with some assumptions (i.e, beliefs). Perhaps the title means "Buddhism without the obviously wacko beliefs". That doesn't mean it excludes the more subtle ones. Plus, the full title includes "a guide to awakening". That last word comes with a lot of bundled metaphysical assumptions.
Edit: It looks like a quick read, and it was a best seller. Thanks, I'll give it a try. I am interested in refreshing my understanding of the current "western buddhism" discourse (your contention that I'm not familiar with the Buddhist doctrine at all was incorrect).
Seriously, on my Android device I have an app called Routinely which is one of probably dozens of apps focused on supporting the formation of positive habits. I've set up both a morning meditation activity and an evening meditation activity on it on a daily basis. It does regular scheduled notifications & it does the Seinfeld chain thing when you tick off a completed activity.
I'm following the Natural Stress Relief approach to meditation which is a form of mantra meditation not unrelated to Transcendental or Vedic Meditation. Each session is 18 minutes in length.
I'm not long into my practice, but I find that as a night owl, it helps me sleep more soundly if I do an evening meditation and that the morning meditation dispels the grogginess I usually have on waking. After meditation, I generally find myself refreshed, relaxed, alert and calm and there is a real delta in my state compared with before the session.
I recommend, highly and unreservedly, Beeminder. You create commitment contracts where you have to report to them the amount of an activity you did during the day, and if you fall short of the goal, you have to pay them, initially, $5. Assuming you have a moral compass greater than a toad, you will feel compelled to be honest with your agreement. Each time you fail, the amount of the commitment grows. My commitment contract on meditation is now high enough that I never fall off the road. I have cheaply purchased hundreds of hours of willpower using Beeminder to make commitments. It's the awesomest productivity/habit formation thing I know of that no one uses (and I have used GTD, pomodoros, Power of Now, etc).
Check out the literature on habit formation. Charles Duhigg just wrote a good book on habits recently, and BJ Fogg of Stanford runs a weekly 3 Tiny Habits course on helping people develop habits.
Or the tl;dr: Promise to yourself to do no more than sit somewhere quiet at a regular time (e.g., as soon as you wake) for one minute. If you sit at least a minute, give yourself a guilt-free reward (e.g., a bit of chocolate).
You'll essentially be using operant conditioning to train yourself until the intrinsic rewards kick in, which can take a few weeks.
Though not the obvious way of sitting and chanting, I meditate by just bringing mindfulness to an activity I am doing anyway. A run, a stretch, hanging out with my kids, a conversation, a breath. I summon complete attention, at first it feels weird to notice every little sensation, then I try to adapt the experience until it feels better.
I didn't find a good book, I cobbled this together between a few different books and personal experience. Not sure if it is what you are looking for exactly:
I find the benefit in meditating comes from trying to fix how my conscious mind and unconscious behavior are misaligned. The practice starts with switching attention from inner dialogue and visualizations, and moving it to the physical sensations in the body. So you are reading your code, then you silently search around within for feelings. You feel the pressure of the chair on your butt, the air as it moves over the rim of your nostrils, physical feelings like that. Regarding self-regulation, I might notice a scrunched up forehead that I've held for hours, that is tiring me out and completely unnecessary. So I relax it.
I've been using Headspace to help me mediate every evening for the last month. I never really saw the point of mediation until I tried it out but it's been really useful, especially if you're working on a stressful startup!
I now have a routine where every Tuesday and Thursday I fast for 24 hours. Breakfast the following days breaks the fast; so on Wednesday and Friday before breakfast I take a thorough shower, chant Tara mantras, and then meditate for a while.
Since they're Tara mantras, I find myself a bit in a Tibetan tradition, which is awkward because I'm a naturalist. Nonetheless, I find that my meditations are indeed directed towards the dissolution of ego, abolishing neurotic ways, and gaining access to reservoirs of awareness, compassion, and joy that otherwise seem to be buried inside of me.
This means that the best summary is "it's productive, but I can no longer use that as an excuse to do it. Rather, I do it precisely for no other reason. We don't need to justify love; we just love, for its own sake."
I practice wu wei - or "no action" / wei wu wei "action without action" - This is a Taoist method similar to meditation, however rather than sitting in lotus, you apply it to now, the singular moment.
Having practiced meditation for about 5 years (which was about 15 years ago) I found that I didn't fully integrate the states with one another (meditation / action)
I'm sure it's not for everyone, and perhaps it requires the prologue of a few years of meditation first, but I find wu wei a more helpful and whole method of spiritual living.
Don't assume I'm at complete bliss 100% of the time, and I've certainly had more powerful realisations within the confines of yogic meditation, but I find the balance is much stronger and in tune with both material and spiritual reality.
I was practising meditation quite a lot, and I fell out of the habit. I'm now using it as a precursor to trying to sleep, and it helps a lot (I presume by unwinding excitement and/or depression at the thoughts I was having just before coming to bed). The last couple of days I've fallen asleep and woken up in the same position (this never happens) and I attribute this to deeper sleep from calming myself beforehand. This many be nonsense of course.
After experimenting with meditation in my teens, I've found bio-feedback techniques have helped maintain focus, breed creativity, and given a general feeling of happiness. I'm not claiming anecdotes are evidence, but here is the technique that works for me:
When I find myself stuck on a problem or burned out I will put the idea of a problem in my head and really only just be aware of it. Then, I will shift my focus onto enhancing my perception of each of the senses, starting at sight, then smell(feeling the positive being inhaled and the negative exhaled), then recalling good flavors for taste, then just hear my surroundings, preventing the noise from causing extraneous thoughts. Finally I will feel with my skin, all at the same time all throughout my body. I'll continue this until I feel the need to stop (usually about 5 minutes).
I feel like a million bucks after this. Every time. More often then not, when returning my attention to work, the answers seem obvious and I am more tolerant of distraction.
I liked calm.com's landing page back before they launched. I bought their iPhone app for $4 or $5 and it has different settings (raining, ocean, open field, etc.). It's nice and calming. I used to do the whole 10 minutes with my eyes closed thing at night, but sometimes the app or an equivalent YouTube meditation video can be soothing at work even when you're doing something else.
For a couple years I practiced Bikram Yoga regularly, a practice I gradually found to overlap with mediation and led to my current involvement with a meditation group and development of my own practice.
A Dharma master spoke at my school and said we should strive to meditate for an hour twice a day. I'm up to roughly a half hour twice-a-day on my own, and 2 or 3 times a week I sit for an hour thirty with a group (three session of ~25min with walking/kin-kin in between, which really helps stretch out the legs). I've only stepped up my practice regularly, but after the group sessions generally end up feeling amazing, both exhausted and refreshed. The sleep, oh my god my sleep.
I'm a pretty busy thinker with a degree of anxiety as I've always been somewhat of a perfectionist with high-expectations of myself. Lots of internal pressure with a high caffeine intake. The benefits of a practice cannot be overestimated.
""What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before," said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university's new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. "Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance." It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine."
I meditate once a day, usually just 10 minutes, alone. I usually focus on breathing and every time i spot a thought i say (in my mind): "thought", then i let go of the thought and go back to meditation.
Apart from this kind of meditation i sometime practice mindlessness during the day, to be more aware of what's around me or to better taste life in general.
Apart from making me feel more calm and centered, it is a powerful exercise to train your mind not to wander aimlessly and be more focused when you need to.
I found it extremely useful to stop wining or suppressing not funcional thoughts during hard times, to ignore annoying stimuli from outside (and inside) and to better manage feelings/thoughts.
i would express this exercise like this:
core training : physical = meditation : mental
I don't know if it is related, as I've never read on the subject, but when I was in highschool, before falling asleep, I often spend over an hour with soft music playing at a very low level while focusing on any body parts. For instance, on my knees, or arms, feet, etc. I'd feel them loose, like they were floating, not even touching anything. I'd reach a point where I couldn't move even though I'd try, and it actually felt great. I sometimes miss taking the time to reach that point before falling asleep as I'm usually too tired to stay awake longer than five minutes once in bed (even with a book open).
I'm not sure if that counts as meditation, but I'm sure willing to read more on the subject, as I want to fell that calmness again.
I used to do 10mins of meditation a day when i got my internship. I used to look forward to it everyday and remember that time of my life as really great. Things were going well.
At some point, for some reason i stopped.
Recently I made a new friend who i've now known for about 6 months. He told me a little bit about his past, and a particular part of his life where he started doing visualising exercises each day and made around $80k in about 4 months or so. He's now a successful financial consultant. True story.
He had been reading "The Master Key System" by Charles F Hannel that prompted him to visualise each day.
I just started reading it recently, and try to meditate a few times a week. Nothing to report as yet.
This may be a little off topic, but I just wanted to commend you for saying "Nothing to report as yet." Lifestyle changes often have a honeymoon period where everything seems to be going great, whether or not it's actually sustainable. After the honeymoon is over, then you can get a clearer picture of what worked and what didn't.
I use Ashtanga yoga as a means of getting into a meditative state, and I find that maybe 10% of the time I actually achieve some extended meditation while performing the movements and breathing. I trust that with more practice that will improve, but the immediate benefit I have felt is improved flexibility and reduced pain in my joints (I'm 31 with above average mileage).
On the other hand, I took up slack-lining a couple summers ago. When the weather is nice, I can hang a line and spend about 15-30 minutes walking it, but it always feels like hours have passed when I finish. The concentration required to balance is the best means I know of for leaving the world behind.
Its possibly the most important daily task I have. If you go for weeks meditating, and then take a week off, you'll know what just hit you.
The first week is the hardest. Stick it out. The benefits will come. I use Jon Kabat's tapes and they're perfect.
I meditate for 20 minutes in the morning with one simple rule. DO NOT check email or any input that gives you information (ie. news / social media) before your meditation. It will only make it more difficult.
Last year I went on my first meditation retreat and it was rather insightful. An entire weekend can clear the noise completely from my mind without any urge to dive back into technology.
How long is each sessions: at least 15 minutes, twice a day
Alone or with others: usually alone
Why / Benefits: About a year and a half back I noticed I was very agitated on a daily basis. I found it hard to focus on work, get rid of the distractions and deal with all the daily stimuli around me, it also made me more difficult to work with. Meditating allows me to deal with the daily stimuli and find some calm, order and structure. I can more easily take on challenges, I sleep better yet need less of it and I'm a more pleasant person for it.
Average once a day, shooting for twice.
Grew up in disciplined martial arts.
Easy trick to get started is count from 100 to 0 then back to 100, if you screw up, start over. Your goal is to go 100-0-100 without getting distracted or messing up the counting. This will discipline your mind to focus on "nothing"– your eventual goal is to be able to think of nothing hear nothing feel nothing. Someday you'll just stop counting and you'll be thinking of nothing. I can't speak to what its good for if anything but I still do it. Good luck!
But do you find that counting prevents you from having other thoughts? Because I can count just fine and still be thinking (usually about the fact that I'm counting ;)
In fact, the fact that I'm actively doing something to avoid thinking just brings self-awareness of that and therefore more thinking. In many other activities I can concentrate and think of nothing else just fine.
I practiced Transcendental Meditation for about 8-9 years regularly twice a day as part of the curriculum in school, but then I went to college and all went downhill. I'm disappointed there are no options for this in the poll.
But in all seriousness, TM and the advanced techniques have been one of the best experiences of my life.
I've seen that meditation comes in lots forms, so I'm guessing some of the people who chose "I have never tried it" might think that it gets done kind of like the movies promote it, where you sit down and chant or hum. Would be nice to get a good starting point resource from someone that has experience on it. One thing that seemed interesting to me is that meditation doesn't have to be on a silent place, and the actual noise around you could also be part of it, so I'd be very interested in knowing more.
The site has MANY talks on different topics including several courses on beginning insight meditation. As a non-religious person (atheist, actually), I found their approach and presentation to be very easy to accept (eg, a focus on practice rather than faith).
My wife did for most of her life, but then stopped as she realized that it more "harming" her than "helping". I learned per her custom as were dating and so tried "her" method myself, and I'm not sure I got much out of it myself -- granted that I was doing it for somewhat selfish reasons.
We both don't now-a-days. I may or may not return to it in the future, depending; I doubt my wife will, given her bad and prolonged experience with it.
I meditate about twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed. Sometimes I get lazy and just meditate in the morning. My typical amount of time is 30 - 40 minutes. I typically use my breath as a concentration object and go into vipassana, though I have done others. I supplement with the teaching from Tsultrim Allione's _Feeding Your Demons_.
If I don't meditate, I can feel my mind subtly destabilizing. It may not be apparent to other people, but it is apparent to me.
But beyond that, I've had realized some insights to know that mindfulness is the base reality of which everything else is a play, a story.
As far as benefits that others can see: I am less crankier. I am more empathic and occasionally intuit other people's motivations. I can see into other people's shadows and assuming I don't start resonating with my own, they don't upset me as much as it used to. With more space or more need, I can listen mindfully to someone else thrashing out their rejected shadow.
It's still a work in progress. I'm still working on being fully mindful while coding. I know the theory. As always, the practice is harder.
The writer who introduced me to that idea had this story. He was able to rest upon stillness even while standing or moving. He's a martial artist, so that means that he doesn't telegraph his intentions.
He once taught a workshop. Some dude, a police officer I think, came up to him later to tell him something. The officer said, "You know, I noticed that you are completely still. Then when you move, there is movement. I don't see any telegraphing. Then you stop. It is really freaky."
The teacher commented, he thought everyone else looks freaky.
I'm not there yet, where I can stay in that state of stillness when standing, much less moving. I've had a taste of it though. Enough that when I'm there, I see people moving. Their body language! So much twitching, and jerking, whether they are martial artists or not. It's like these weird influences in them that they don't know about, animating them. They look like they are possessed.
I'm actually going to adapt a paper-and-pencil RPG system based on this observation. That the way people normally are, is insane. That is, modern adults are insane in socially-acceptable ways. So starting characters would start with a wisdom of 1, maybe 2 if they are lucky. And any actions they take that they do not fully experience (modelled by rolling the wisdom dice pool), they gain a derangement. It's just that characters also start with derangements. Derangements are awesome sources of drama -- like, say, the TV show, Once Upon A Time.
I think this is where the Buddhist teaching of compassion comes in. You know, "how do people live like this?" They can't, you can see the suffering. It's not even their fault, though it is also their choice.
I'm glad that gnosis occasionally pops into Y(HN) to post stuff like this. It has always generated a lot of interest and discussion, and a great chance for people to thrash out what they think meditation is. And who knows? Maybe a few people will give it a try and find that they are more sane.
Kinda. It depends on how mindful you are when you are doing or practicing the same amount of sports a day.
If you're spacing out while training or playing, then you're not being mindful. This is also true of people who formally sit: a lot of people will spend years "spacing out" thinking they are emptying their minds and "meditating."
On the other hand, when you train and you get that feeling like... you're relaxed yet focused, your mind is engaged and aware, then yeah, you're likely in at least the first concentration state called Access Concentration.
It also implies something about "motivation". We tend to want to be "motivated" to do something. The feeling is often approaching flow or zone -- access concentration. The thing is, gaining access concentration is skill you can train by itself. Or at the very least, you can figure out how to slip into access concentration when you engage in the sport.
I know that many traditional martial arts are considered "enlightenment vehicles". In modern times, sports can be used for that vehicle.
If you want to know more about this, I recommend reading Dan Millman's _The Way of the Peaceful Warrior_. From there, Millman has a separate book specifically about using sports as a meditative practice. This one provides more of the context.
I spent some time in Japan studying different forms of meditation, mostly Rinzai zazen on Koya-san, and find it to be quite beneficiary for high pressure jobs. I also find meditative activities to be a nice supplement or more social form of meditation. I especially like the long walks (I'm a big fan of the walk and talk meetings) and various athletic actives (like surfing or climbing) that force you to empty your mind and focus.
I always do.
Here is my technique -
Feel your breathing. Say OM in mind while inhaling (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om). While exhaling, increment your breath count `x` [x <- range(1, depends on you)]
Advantages of this technique:
Track of counting breath - keeps me awake :).
It is simple. No need of specific place, you can try on office chair.
I try to do it every day for just 20 minutes. I have learned from some meditation teachers about practising 3 different speeds of breathing and then to go to deep rest meditative state. All it takes is just 20 minutes.
It give me more endurance and patience when doing tough projects developments and research works, and creative out-of-box thinking.
I was thinking the same thing. I've done "formal" meditation, and since I've been doing Yoga, I find that it serves the same basic purpose. Plus, there's something both liberating and enhancing about using the physical challenge to focus the mind (and the mind to deal with the physical challenge).
For those who want to give it a try I'd highly recommend this (short) book http://amzn.to/11zPRcJ (Deep Meditation - Yogani), of all I've read on the subject this was the best by far -no religion, common sense, and simple method.
I should add that what I really like about this method is that chi kung (awareness of energy) really supercharges the practice. If you can learn to feel, use and channel your energy you can enter different states much more easily - such as the state of having a very quiet mind.
A quiet mind - or the state Zen practictioners call 'no-mind' - can be experienced by energising an area in the centre of the head. Many different techniques will do this as a by-product, but cutting out the middle man and charging it directly (along with several other places) can lead to a much more consistent and beneficial practice.
There are many different methods and techniques regarding meditation, but a lot of them are secret and not taught openly. These techniques are however found even in the major religions, and once you know what you're looking for you see parallels everywhere. The major failing of the main religions to my mind is that I believe they know practices that could help ordinary people experience transcendental states, but they keep them hidden and only share them with high ranking clergy, etc.
I find this despicable, maintaining and enhancing the wedge we feel between ourselves and the "something greater" we can experience.
in case this helps anyone else. at first i wasn't that keen on doing this, but my doctor recommended it. so i bought myself a box of very nice chocolates. the deal is that i can have a chocolate once a day, but only if i meditate (immediately) afterwards. after one and a half boxes (a couple of months) i now miss the meditation if i don't do it. so i no longer need the chocolates, but hey... ;o)
That (can be) the point. I recently went away on holiday for 3 weeks. No ipad, no laptop, no camera, only took 2 books I'd read before anyway. I wanted to get bored because I wanted to see what's behind boredom.
Normally we go from one stimulus to the next, and when the hit of the previous one falls off we "get bored". But what if you take that away? What if you ignore that little voice that tells you "I'm bored"? There's still consciousness there. And this is what it can lead to.
What am I? Am I the little voice in my head that I have to placate, the one hooked on getting the little hits of dopamine, adrenaline or whatever other chemicals the body can produce? Or am I the consciousness that experiences everything and to whom the little voice is speaking? In that case, you can watch the little voice, and begin to take greater notice of the "watching".
I was in the tropics in the rainy season. So I'd sit in a hammock and watch the rain fall, or I'd go and sit on the beach if the sun came out. I'd just sit and listen and feel how the sounds played upon my consciousness. It is truly wonderful to be able to ignore this little voice, or more correctly, to re-evaluate its relationship to yourself.
next time, when you realize that you are bored, try repeating for yourself "bored, bored, bored, bored, ...". You can apply it to whatever else that may be bothering you: "sleepy, sleepy, sleepy, sleepy, ..."
I find sleepiness the hardest thing to meditate on, since it removes the very faculty you're trying to use. I can't speak for all but getting interested enough in sleepiness to stay awake and watch it is hard.
Another suggestion: switch to standing meditation if you're sleepy.
If you really are a programmer you do meditation whenever you are working, the process of meditation is to contemplate on some subject, object or whatever. So yes I do meditate, at work and daily on Lord's holy name.
The mind is a little like an elastic cloud of computers, that are coming online with increased demand, and going offline as demand recedes.
Compute nodes (thoughts) only go offline as your demand (meta-cognitive emphasis of thoughts) reduces. You will find that, a daily meditation practice resets the cluster. During the day, only the necessary thoughts arise to help you deal with real, current load. The capacity of your brain to load necessary thoughts is no longer impaired by the running of thoughts that were useful yesterday.
Ergo, meditation ideally allows your mental cluster to be stateless, at least day-to-day (it is going to be stateful during any given day).
I haven't meditated somewhat regularly for years, though I want to pick up the habit.
Meditation might be a good practice for many of us modern critters because it is the exact opposite of what we usually do - get a lot of stimuli from all kinds of sources. Some get addicted to all that stimuli - I know I do.
the kind that is fashionable in "western medicine" at the moment is called "mindful meditation". if you google that phrase you can find more info.
it's basically practicing not giving a fuck (whatever you are thinking about you try to give up thinking about - you are aiming for a kind of "not caring about anything" state). so if you think that would be a good thing to practice, give it a go. i do it because it was recommended by my doctor for coping with the stress of having ms. which makes sense - that's the kind of thing it's easy to obsess over, but where you have little control, so being able to stop worrying is helpful. and i think it has helped. but i only do it for a few mins a day - i'm kind of surprised people are discussing doing it for hours as it's actually pretty hard work at times (also, i have better things to do!).
ps it's easy to understand. you just sit somewhere and you'll notice that you're thinking about something. so you say to yourself something like "ok, i was thinking about X, so let's just drop that" and then start thinking about your breathing. at some point you start worrying about something else. and then you realise you are thinking about it. so you talk to yourself again and get back to thinking about breathing. that's it. at first you can spend a fair amount of time going round in circles thinking about not thinking about thinking, but eventually "putting it to one side" becomes easier and you more quickly get into a kind of calmness, just listening to your breathing, for a short while (but you're not supposed to go to sleep - you're still kind of focussed).
If it's true that all that non-mystical meditation is, is just forcing yourself to not think about ANYTHING, it makes sense that a person would find it to be a way to stop worrying about things, and just sort of relax.
BUT, it seems like it would be more effective to simply take corrective action (mental or existential) in order to actually address the thing that you are worried about.
Lots of things would come to mind. Revenge, sex, regret, frustrations, hope, plans and a lot just used to happen in mind at that time. More than usual. More than it would usually come to my mind.
It's not that they are always on mind, it's not a problem. But at least for meditation you are supposed to be free of such thoughts and even if there's a thought it ought to be only just that thought(not two or more), so that maybe you can meditate just concentrating on that thought and sort of meditate if at all.
Actually I had started that to fight a loss I had suffered.
I gave up. Went to usual life again. Realised it is a loss and no use fighting it. Just accept it. Drink, travel, play, run(I love running and walking) and have fun in whatever way I could. I did that.
It's good now. At least I am not worried now that I need to meditate.
"for meditation you are supposed to be free of such thoughts"
This a pernicious falsehood. It's possible to achieve, but even most advanced meditators aren't spending long stretches of time thought-free. Wrestling with your concentration and being aware of what you're experiencing is meditation.
It's pernicious because it leads people to believe that they're not any good at meditating, since they look at their mind and are aghast at how cluttered and chaotic it is. The fact that you now start to see it, IS meditation.
A lot depends on how you define "thought". If you define "thought" as any kind of mental experience (including "sensory" experiences such as simply experiencing the external world), then I would agree that our minds are "cluttered and chaotic", as they are filled with this experience whenever we are conscious.
On the other hand, if you define "thought" as a sort of verbal "inner dialogue", then I think it is possible to go through long periods of time without it (both in meditation and in more ordinary states of consciousness).
I am only a begginer at meditation, so I can not speak from personal experience regarding what deep, committed practice in meditation could achieve, but I have read many accounts of people in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions claiming to get beyond any kind of conceptualization or "thinking".
Certainly, there are also traditions which claim something like "nirvana is samsara" (that the "true" world or reality is the same as the "illusory" world or reality, in some profound sense that only the enlightened individual can grasp), that even in the enlightened state, what one does is "chop wood, carry water", same as in the non-enlightened state. So, some could argue, even deep meditative states could be just as "cluttered and chaotic" as ordinary states of consciousness. But this is not the only or necessarily even the most dominant view.
I just couldn't concentrate.
Lots of things would come to mind. Revenge, sex, regret,
frustrations, hope, plans and a lot just used to happen in
mind at that time. More than usual. More than it would
usually come to my mind.
I'm only just beginning to learn about meditation but in most forms of meditation these thoughts are perfectly normal. Mindfulness meditation stresses that these thoughts are okay. One of the first things you learn is to accept these thoughts without judging them or judging yourself.
If you ever give it another try, give your mind permission to go wherever it likes. What will your mind feel like when you're not fighting with it and trying to make it think (or not think) about particular things? It may be rewarding to find out, or at least relaxing.
When you notice that you are thinking, go back to the breath. You don't go back to the breath so that you can meditate, going back to the breath is meditating. It can happen dozens, even hundreds of times during a session. That's the point, in as much as there is a point.
I found that whatever thought is eagerly bubbling to the top is probably something I should think about why it's surfacing. After you deal with the issue (which may take a while) it is less buoyant and bubbles up less.
However, I do meditation in the sense of asking God to communicate and then listening for him. It's even more helpful to ask him what he wants you to change and then listen. I cannot speak to what is helpful for Eastern meditation, though.
I think you're going to need to deal with the buoyant thoughts (regardless of whether you are religious or not), though, otherwise what is underlying them is going to drive your actions without you realizing it.
The guidelines that I've followed always say not to fight these thoughts, but to let them pass over you: that they are inevitable, but you should not give your energy to deal with them and to let them pass on their own