Monday, February 02, 2009


After seeing a post from a friend, I realized there is a lot of misunderstanding about meditation out there, in part thanks to meditation's long history and the quality of mystique that surrounds it.  The truth about meditation is that it is incredibly ordinary, and even people who you might believe would have never meditated on anything in their lives in fact actually meditate often.  They may not call it that.  They may be addressing a problem with their car.  While their friends chatter away they're under the hood, staring at the engine, until finally they say "give me a second, will ya, and just let me think?"

Meditation is an unbroken stretch of mental focus applied to a goal.

This is why Meditations on Violence is called that!  If you look at the book and its structure, it's a series of thoughts on violence, each of them a focused examination that carries a thought on an aspect of violence through as far as the author could take it.  

Meditation doesn't have a whole lot to do with incense and a whole bunch of guys droning OM and achieving some sort of mystic union with the Universe.  That mystic union is a byproduct of a process.  It's not the process itself.  More on OM later.

Meditation is really varied because there are an infinite number of reasons to do it and you can spend anything from a few seconds to hours to years depending on your goal.  Some people like it so much they go into that state as much as possible.  They like the feeling of distraction-free focus on one aspect of existence.  They like the way that, if meditating while doing dishes or meditating on dishes (which can be exactly the same thing) they can relax and accomplish something without mental chatter, and they get to appreciate the experience fully.  They don't lose time to a bunch of clutter-thought that is so meaningless they don't even remember that clutter-thought five seconds later.

So how does Zen fit in?  Ah, glad you asked.  Oh, wait, you didn't.  But I don't care.  I'll tell you anyway, though you've already figured it out.  Some folks figured out hey, I don't have to even focus on anything to get rid of that annoying chatter distraction bullshit that keeps me from really getting deep into what I'm doing.  And what am I doing, really?  Living.  Chatter takes away from living and appreciating every moment.  So I'm not going to just be satisfied by shutting up the voices and focusing just on thinking about how to get the baked-on spot off my pan here.  I'm not going to think about anything.  At all.  I'm gonna shut those voices up for good.  Take that, chattering monkey butt face stupid voices!

A good place to start, if you want to try this for your own educational and entertainment purposes (because if they've been running pretty much non-stop, the voices are almost impossible to shut up without easing into it) is to first focus on something automatic that still requires voice.  In other words, most people can't do it cold turkey.  But they can, with work, get the voices down to one voice.

So, you sit, and do something you've done since you were tiny tiny so that it (and this is important) requires almost no thought.  Almost.  Just enough thought that you have to think, a little, but you're only just barely thinking.  Counting to ten works really reliably well.  If you can think of something even better, go for it.  Something that helps is to count along with your breath.  It takes just a little more effort, but that's a good thing.  The other voices have a harder time crowding in when you have to put forward a little concentration and actually do something.

And the process will go something like this.  Inhale, one.  Exhale, two.  Inhale, three.  Exhale, four hey I'm doing it!  Damnit, I'm not.  Shut up!  Inhale, five.  Exhale I can't believe I blew it I had it--shut up and let it go already.  Inhale, six.  Exhale, seven.  Inhale, eight my butt itches shut up! Stop saying shut up you're just making it worse let it go.  Exhale, nine.  Inhale, ten hey are we supposed to start over again? Yes.  D'oh!  Exhale, one ...

You get the idea.  Eventually you take away the counting and focus on the breath, and eventually you breathe without being aware of breathing, and there you are.  Empty mind.  Yay!

Some folks figured out hey, if we remove as many distractions as possible, it'll be easier to focus our minds and make them do what we want.  So, they dressed up so that the clothing is so familiar and uniform, it's not a distraction.  They all agreed to wear exactly the same thing, the same color, everything.  Then they lit incense, because it's harder to smell something distracting (is that fried chicken?)  And they all began saying OM, because that steady drone did three things.  A. it drowned out chattering monkey voice inside their heads and B. it did a good job of drowning out distracting voices around them (hey, that guy is talking about the latest uprising, y'all hear that?  I was in an uprising once and ... d'oh!)  and C. it helped regulate the breath, which helps maintain the meditative state.  If you're holding your breath, not only do your thoughts become more disjointed and frantic, but you'll inevitably break that thread as, when your breath runs out, you throw your ratchet across the room and yell "this isn't working!"

But you don't have to strive for no-mind or dress up and light a candle to meditate.  Achieving that is admirable, but when push comes to shove, you aren't doing anything.  You're sitting around saying OM.  When you can take that mind focus and apply it to a problem, now you're cooking with gas.

 When I'm deep into writing a book, with my mind completely focused on the characters, where they are, how things smell, how things taste, the background noises, I'm there.  I'm meditating. When I'm trying to solve a financial problem, I'm meditating.  When I'm planning my garden for the next year, I'm meditating.  When I'm working on putting bookshelves together, shifting between the instructions and manual labor, I'm meditating, assuming someone doesn't come along and ask me where the lint roller is.  And meditation is a great place to be.  Most of us enjoy it thoroughly , unless we're struggling with a school subject in which case it can be frustrating because we're not getting there.  One of the reasons I love the first draft so much is because I spend so much of the writing time in a particular kind of meditation.  Editing, I have to pull from different directions.  It's still focus on one task, but it's too multi-disciplinarian to put me in a state of extra-dimensional rapture.  

The rapture isn't necessary for something to equal meditation.  But it is a nice side-benefit to escape the world for a while, whether it's into writing (or reading?) a book or sinking into the OM.  The truth about meditation is that most people have done it off and on their whole lives and never realized what it is.  Then, when someone asks them to meditate, they worry because of the word and the mental baggage with monks and candles and chants and all that.

All those things are there for a reason.  It's not bs.  But you don't need that to meditate.  

Now, mentally I'm arguing with myself as to whether reading a book or watching a movie can really be a meditation.  I believe so, but I'm not really sure because on the one hand you're immersed in one direction, but on the other you're not directing your own mind, and directing your own mind is key to meditation.  It's a good subject to meditate on.  But I'm not going to fuss with that.  I have work (a meditation) to do.  So everyone, shut up for five blessed minutes so I can get this done, please!


a.k.satsangi said...

Yoga (Application) which was based on the control of the body physically and implied that a perfect control over the body and the senses led to knowledge of the ultimate reality. A detailed anatomical knowledge of the human body was necessary to the advancement of yoga and therefore those practising yoga had to keep in touch with medical knowledge. (Romila Thapar, A History of India, volume one).

I suggest : Mind and brain are two distinct things. Brain is anatomical entity whereas mind is functional entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system (ANS). It is claimed that mind can be brought under conscious control through the practice of meditation. But how? ANS is largely under hypothalamic control which is situated very close to optic chiasma (sixth chakra or ajna chakra). Protracted practice of concentration to meditate at this region brings functions of ANS say mind under one’s conscious control.

ANS is further divided into parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). On the basis of these facts I have discovered a mathematical relationship for spiritual quotient (S.Q.). Spiritual Quotient can be expressed mathematically as the ratio of Parasympathetic dominance to Sympathetic dominance. PSNS dominates during meditative calm and SNS dominates during stress. In this formula we assign numerical values to the physiological parameters activated or suppressed during autonomic mobilization and put in the formula to describe the state of mind of an individual and also infer his/her level of consciousness.

Protracted practice of meditation under qualified guidance will help to manage all sort of psychological problems.

Emotional Quotient can also be expressed mathematically as the product of I.Q. and Wisdom Factor.

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

Molly said...

Excellent description of my early meditative experience! And a reminder that my monkey mind has been given free reign lately, and needs to SHUT UP!. Thanks!

The Moody Minstrel said...

This was sure an interesting post...and what amazing comments you managed to reel in!

My mind is extremely difficult to quiet simply because it's so out of control so much of the time. There are hereditary, chemical reasons for that. But I continue to try to shut up that cacophony.

Anonymous said...

Well, since the body is illusion (or it isn't), using the body to control the mind is just going deeper into illusion. A very common trap to pull the would-be wiseman off the path.

J. McKenna