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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 [1], 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.

1: http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma4/mpe.html

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'm not a zen master too. I used to be chasing my own tail by expecting something from meditation in order to measure my progress. how foolish I was.

Right now, whatever comes up my mind i just let it be and think nothing of it. Null.

Oh, by the way, I also do self-hypnosis at the end of meditation.

Thank you, I'm going to check that book out. Like you, I'd like to learn more but the religious aspects are a turnoff.

When I think about it, it's hard to believe that improving one's state of mind and mood wouldn't have a number of benefits.

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.

> 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[1] 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.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_enlightenment

  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.
To be a little more specific, I enjoy learning about religions, but I choose not to practice any. So secular meditative practices are of interest.

I agree: there's a lot of wisdom to be learned from religions.

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.

Don't let the religious aspects bother you. If you aren't religious it is simple to ignore the chaff while harvesting the wheat.

If it's a (successful) placebo, then surely it's worked just as planned?

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