Monday, March 11, 2013

Back to meditation

I used to meditate a lot, like a lot. Like 1-2 hours a day, at the least, essentially every day. I maintained this for probably two years, and then, like so many other things, the practice kind of petered off. On occasions since, I've dabbled back into the practice, of particular note last summer when I flew a bit too close to the sun, as it were, by being to rigid in my practice--which actually resulted in an injury! I've started up again over the last month or so, and so I feel it's a good time to talk a bit about it.

Meditation is of profound use, I feel, based upon my experiences with it, and research backs this claim up. Indeed, outside of that lovely Forbes piece by Alice Walton (which links to a few research studies on meditation), it is discussed in rather glowing terms by psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis, where he compares the practice to a panacea that is available nearly for free--it requires literally only a small amount of your time, ten minutes a day having been demonstrated to be sufficient for significant benefits.

My personal experiences with thinking meditation would be good for people do not end at my own experiences with the practice. Literally daily I speak with people who almost certainly could benefit from taking up the practice (a free and easy claim to make since the research suggests it benefits everyone). I hear specific symptoms that are common and that the regular practice of meditation has had dramatic effects upon in my life, not limited to insomnia, being stressed out, difficulty concentrating, obsessive worry, and, surprisingly since it takes up some time to do it, feeling like there isn't enough time to do the things that "need" to be done. There's actually another, worse indication for the need to meditate, but I will reserve it for a moment.

First, after mentioning that meditation has helped with every one of those symptoms for me, sometimes with amazing efficacy, I want to qualify why I've put the word "need" in quotations there, indicating that I don't think it's really need to do most of what we perceive needs to be done. Why do I think that way? Meditation. Meditation, practiced well and regularly, has perhaps no greater power than to shift perspective on what is and isn't urgent, on what is truly important and thus on what can simply be let go of. Here, then, lies its seemingly magical power of taking up some of our time in exchange for feeling like we have far more of it. When we are able to achieve the benefit of meditation practice where we are able to let go of our preoccupation with that which "needs" to be done, suddenly it is as if there is simply more time in which to do things.

This benefit, for what it's worth, cannot be achieved by forcing it--which is true generally of meditation (a topic for a future essay, I think). While a decent meditation practice can be scheduled and even pressed into a box of time in a schedule, one simply cannot force the process of mental release required to achieve this particular benefit (which may be at the root of much of the benefit of meditation generally). To attempt to force it is to put it on the list of things to achieve which is to miss it entirely. Indeed, this is to fail at succeeding to meditate at all, although there are still benefits to quiet sitting and the simple reality that this difficulty will present itself at the start of essentially every meditation practice session except, perhaps, in cases of extreme development in the art. The challenge of meditation is in learning to let, not striving to do, but not-doing is harder than doing.

All of the last two paragraphs, just above, could be blossomed out into full-length treatments of their own (perhaps chapter-length, actually), and I will leave that for the present. It doesn't need to be done now, after all.

To return to the most pressing indication for the need to introduce meditation that I think I run into--and I run into it frequently--I'd like to mention when people tell me that they cannot meditate because they simply feel like they cannot be quiet with themselves for that long, that it will drive them crazy or that it gives them a sense of impending doom. This sounds like hyperbole on my part to say that it's common, but I probably talk to a different person at least once every two weeks who expresses this difficulty. Additionally, it is vastly more frequent for me to run into people (not just teenagers) who feel that they cannot live (or sleep, sometimes) without some kind of background noises from television, radio, or music going on.

For these people, the thought of sitting alone and in silence, even for a span as short as five minutes in some cases, is simply overwhelming. This is a profound sickness.

My usual advice is to start small and stretch, sitting quietly for maybe only a minute at a time, then later for two, then three, then five, and it seems to be successful in the relatively rare instances when it is tried. It suggests to me that we might also need to quiet some of the incessant barrage of noise that we feed into our lives, turning off televisions, radios, and even music (as glorious as it is) until we find some comfort in silence and lose trepidation about being along with ourselves.

If you meditate and want to share your thoughts about it, I'd love to hear them.


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  1. For me it all started with the writings if Mr Alan Watts. Then I explored various forms of buddhist thought and meditation but ended up within the Advaita Vedanta tradition of nonduality and the practice of atma vichara.
    I think I took more to Advaita because of my monotheistic backround and while AV took Brahman to be more of an impersonal force, it was its ND metaphysics that resonated with me. I read the Upanishads and Gita as well as some modern teachers, such as the great Nisargadatta Maharaj,Ramana Maharshi,Narayana Guru, Swami Dayanada and Atmamada Krishna menon(who by the way was an ex lawyer and by far the most logical) and last but not least Sri Siddharameshwar(who was Nisargadattas guru and Ranjit guru to)

  2. So my meditations would consist of asking myself who am I? The Vedanta used the neti,neti i.e. not this,not this approach to find out what is this I! Every thought feeling and emotion would be burned up and rejected as not me, not this! Of course even the body and its form had to be discarded or at least thats what Ramana and Nisargadatta said, and the realization of the Nondual Atman would be revealed. I practiced the best I could, I tried to follow and lead an ethical life, though I struggled with my substance addictions and my obsession with pornography(go figure) but that was just the tip of the iceberg! As I battle with my self and sat on that meditation cushion sometimes forced myself(as painful as it was)My whole fucking world got turned upside down!

  3. The more that I meditated the more I would begin to see the things that lay under the surface and peel back the layer upon layer of beliefs and conditionings that I was instilled with by my family,society and Christianity(Im an exJw) See, I left the JW'S years ago, or so I thought! The more I sat on that damn cushion the more the pains and fears would surge through me like an unstoppable beast! Insomnia, anxiety and schizophrenic behavior to put it bluntly, I was going crazy.
    You see, my christian conditioning and fear was verymuch still with me,just buried under layers and layers of scabs and bandaids! I always hated the biblical god even as a JW, and deep down I still believed in the tyrant. And it was in my meditations that I begin to see just who brainwashed I actually was! The christian concept of sin and depravity was alive and well in my head and I can remember mamy days and nights when on my faithful ole cushion how thoughts would rise and fall and crash and just buckle me! Thoughts as intense as voices would arise from how evil I was to how I should just kill myself! Constantly I was bombarded with negative and destructive thoughts all rooted my brainwashing!

  4. I became physically sick and would vomit and dry heeve, I thought that I may have opened pandoras box and lost my mind(well I actually did) this went on for months! But I hung in there somehow and trusted what the masters had said about creating space between you and thought! And to be honest I net neti the shit outta my thoughts feeling and emotions! I realized that what I was confronting wasn't demons and Gods wrath but my OWN EGO! That fictitious little rascal that the masters warned me about in the first place! Now, I cant say that I experienced any selfless states or lofty enlightenment experience tgings just started to drop away as Nisargadatta said they would. I just stopped! Stopped trying to attain anything! I still feel very much as a mind in a body and as I understand it now, when Nisargadatta said that "you are not a body or mind" I have understood that in my own way(namely, that I am more like the whole vastness of existence appearing in this mind,body like a wave in the vast ocean of consciousness!) Though I should mention my indebtedness also to Sri Ramakrishma who in his weird and wackyness showed me a different view of god that was all inclusive and universal! The Bhagavad gita is amazing and also helped heal me. I have left the cushion for now, cant say that I have made a 360 change in my life in every detail but then again I have made a 360 degree change in every detail ofy paradox of nonduality and Advaita Vedanta....