Misconceptions about Meditation

A few weeks ago, a friend on Facebook posted about taking a course on ‘Mindfulness’. He wrote about how his intent was to make the voices in his head shut up. While in the beginning this seems like a natural reason to meditate, it can lead a person away from mindfulness.

Everyone has a different view on meditation and how to do it. This is fine because there is not one path that is correct. Many ways lead to the same goal, or in this case, inner peace. Therefore, take what I say with a grain of salt. My path may lead me in a different direction than yours.

Meditation seems to be taken for more than it is. There is an importance placed on meditation as though it is more than just sitting. Therein lies the problem. We try to make it more significant than it is. Meditation is simply sitting. The more that you complicate it, the further you get away from your goal of inner peace.

For those who have tried sitting meditation, they may have thought about how boring it is. After 5 minutes of sitting, their mind starts to wander. It is natural for everyone. The mind is curious and doesn’t like mundane activities like sitting in one place. This is when fantasies begins. The mind concocts what it’s going to do when you’re finished meditating. Maybe it remembers what you were doing before you sat down.

This is one of the popular ideas in Western meditation: you have this monkey mind that’s swinging around endlessly. If we want to get to peace, we’re going to have to calm it down. The monkey dabbles around in one area, then abandons it randomly for another. The mind chooses a topic and changes it rapidly. Naturally this monkey becomes an enemy – after all, it’s preventing us from being peaceful.

Well, the monkey and peace thing is somewhat true. But chasing after your mind, trying to calm it down, is not going to help. The monkey will run free and wild. The more you attempt to slow it down, the more it will run rampant. The monkey is not the cause of your unhappiness or dissatisfaction, your attachment to your mind is.

Think of your mind as a dog. Each day when you wake up and let it out, it runs around energetically. You can chase it but chances are it will elude you. The dog will run too fast for you to catch it and when you trick it, it’ll escape again. But if you sit down and let the dog run wild, it will get bored or exhausted. That doesn’t mean you should concern yourself with the dog, recognize it as your own but don’t try to overly control it. It is an animal after all.

The focus of meditation shouldn’t be to suppress your mind. It will only find ways to elude you. Besides, the mind is a wonderful tool. Instead, we need to open up and sit back. Let the dog run around but don’t attach. Don’t mistake yourself as the dog. Enjoy the sunny day or the rainy day. Feel the breeze and what it physically feels like to be alive. Focus too much on the dog, concern yourself too much with where your mind runs off to, and you will unhappy. How can you enjoy when all you do is suppress.

This seems to be the misconception of western meditation: we are not trying to get rid of the mind. It is not evil or wrong. It is simply a tool that, if used improperly, harms the person using it. When you want to get a specific job done, bring out the tool kit. When you’re done, set down the tools. Simple as that. Sit down and enjoy a frackin’ lemonade! It’s the weekend guys and yesterday was payday! Woot woot!

Can’t believe BLOGtober is already half over, day sixteen is finished!

 

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Noisy Mind

I’ve been listening to noise for years. You know – that voice that sits in your head and silently comments on everything. It doesn’t require your full attention to make judgements. Perhaps it’s small like a thought that the room is ugly or that the girl next to you is spending too much time looking at her phone. These judgements even happen as you talk to an old friend. Each time they look past you, you could be questioning why. Maybe what you’re saying is uninteresting.

Often times we confuse this with our own voice. There is an inexplicable link between our internal voice and the one that we use to physically communicate. In our heads we have conversations with ourselves and most of them revolve around our judgements or predictions about the future. What are we going to do when we get back to the house? How’s work going to be today? Should I be going to the gym more often? Yes, I probably should be.

The more that we focus on these judgements and conversations, the less we feel alive and the more judgmental we become. We alienate reality and choose to live in our heads. Unfortunately most people live their entire lives in this alternate reality.

Liberation is attainable only through focus or mindfulness. When we can notice our mind making judgements, we can realize that they are not our own. You can also cease conversations with your mind. Instead choosing to live in reality and to notice it. There is only clarity through open senses and you cannot be present while you live in your mind.

It’s difficult to have a noisy mind. Sometimes an empty room can feel louder than a jet engine. Crowded rooms can feel much smaller because it’s like there’s ten of you. So far, the only way I’ve found to help my loud head is to be present. Take in your senses but don’t judge them. Just feel them. Don’t put words to them, just be there. Witness it. Really feel life.

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Identity

Our identity, or who we think we are, makes up a huge part of how we treat the world. How we perceive ourselves determines how we react to our everyday experiences. Take a moment to think of who you think you are. If someone asked you “what do you do?”, how would you respond? Here’s how I see part of my identity:

5% Minnesotan
60% Artist/Creator
15% Gay
5% Book-snob
5% Gamer
10% Traveler

This is just a rough look at how I identify with my environment. I consider myself Minnesotan, and I act out of that identity. I say things like “uffda”, and talk about the cold too much. A huge part of my identity is about being an artist and creating content. I spend a lot of my free time creating, thinking about creating, or talking to others about creating. It’s a huge part of my life.

The difficulty with these identities that we take on is that they are not our own. When I say I’m a gamer, I’m saying that I relate to gamers. My identity is derived from the group, not myself. I generalize who I am for the same of being part of the group. By saying that I’m an artist, I take part of my identity from other people who call themselves artists.

What I’m trying to get at is that you when you take your identity from a group, you lose yourself. You simplify who you are. In reality, you’re indescribable. To put words to who you are would be to limit you. You are so much more than that. Don’t label yourself. Just do what you do. Don’t try to be an artist, you’ll try to be like other people who take on that title. Just be as you are and do what you love.

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Change

It’s funny how we’re afraid of change. The most inevitable condition is change and we cannot escape it. Our lives will move in directions we cannot control and we will be forced to deal with the results. People move, friends leave, time passes, everything is eventually lost. However, it’s only through change that we experience new things. We need change to really experience life.

We need to marry the thought of change and growth in our minds because you cannot grow without changing. This means changing who you are, letting other people change, and going forward into the next part of your life. We have to grow, and therefore we have to change.

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28/31 blogtober

Coherency at Night

I won’t lie, tonight I’m tapping my face to stay up and try to write. Switching shifts can be difficult and it feels weird to be up this late! What’s interesting is how the mind works when the body is tired. Why is it difficult to write or think straight over time? What is it that the body really requires from sleep?

Typically when I write in such a state I forget prefix and suffix on words. I’ll go to re-read them in the morning and I’ll realize that I forgot to but “ing” to make running or “‘t” to make can’t. I wonder if this can be explained in terms of psycholinguistics. Do we know words as a base “run”, then add “ing” to it, or is “running” it’s own word? If we only remember base words when we’re tired, why is that? Or if running is a different entity, why do we drop the “ing”. Either way I’m tired. I’ll write more tomorrow!

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24/31 Blogtober

Connections through Dreams

Before starting this, realize that this is all dream talk. It’s more of a digestion of thoughts than a concrete post. I wanted to explain how I make connections in my head but the mind is a difficult thing to explain. We each think different and therefore this may be hard to read. It’s basically a 1,000 word digestions of thoughts!

This post was also written a few months ago. I’ve been taking time to look back through drafts and to start posting old content. There’s a lot of things that I’ve chosen not to share and I suppose now is a good time to share them. As this 365 draws near to an end, I’ve realized that sometimes the purpose of content isn’t to be perfect – it’s just to share or express. Emily Haines said in an interview, “The point is to express a feeling. And there are a thousand witty things that you can say a thousand witty ways, but the idea is not to be impressive, but to be emotive.”

____________________

For the last week I’ve been having weird dreams. Not that it’s uncommon for me to walk on walls or remove gravity completely while I’m sleeping but there’s been something more. The transitions between my dreams have become apparent and I’ve started to realize how my mind connects ideas.

It started around three or four years ago when I first started traveling alone to Spain and Denmark. Before then, most people I knew lived within 100 miles of my house. Once I began crossing the ocean, my friends were on the other side of the planet. Therefore, when I had a dream that I biked to Spain, then over to Denmark, in a matter of hours, I knew it was fake.

Over the years I’ve become lazy in my dreams. Instead of biking considerable distances while I sleep, everything exists on one island. One location that leads to all of the others. It’s interesting that these locations blend together seamlessly and it’s difficult to notice anything unusual while I’m dreaming.

Lately, this island has become defined and I remember it in my waking life. I want to say that the island is perfectly round but I’m not sure. All I know is that there’s a giant building in the center. When I first “wake up” in my dream, I walk from the ocean to the front door. There isn’t a door as much as an 8 foot tall by 5 foot wide opening into the building.

Inside, there is a large kitchen that reminds me of Japan. It’s a flat stove that looks like a hibachi grill, and there’s many tables in front of it. I haven’t been to Asia yet, but it looks like a food place I liked in Seattle. The room is always full of younger kids, with the exception of the cook, who looks to be a weary 35-year old Japanese woman. Steam rolls off from the grill and there’s always a noticeable amount of humidity in the room.

Next to the kitchen is a staircase, there’s nothing unusual about it other than that it leads to a small doorway. The gap is covered in a curtain and the children run up and down the steps. Once up the staircase, there is a hallway that is filled with various doors. I can’t remember what each door leads to but there’s one that leads into the Spanish apartment I stayed in for the years 2010-2013.

The gaining apartment varies between the place I stayed at on the ocean, and the one that was in Bilbao (a Basque city). The point of this door seems to be to send me across the ocean. Rarely do I stay in that apartment, it just gets me over to Spain.

If you continue down that hallway, you’ll find a staircase that leads outside. There’s no door and it connects directly with a beach. The sand is rough and blown into very small dunes. Around the beach there’s grass growing and fencing similar to the Danish beaches I’ve seen. This is my gateway to either the ocean or Denmark.

If I continue down that beach, there is an unusually tall building in the midst of a city. In that city there are only 5 or 6 buildings, and none of them serve a purpose. The tallest building had an elevator inside that leads around 50 floors up. At the top, my friend from Denmark lives.

The layout of this dreamscape is concrete in my mind but when I’m dreaming, I easily get lost. That door that leads to Spain is often ambiguous and hard to find. I usually get too entangled in the Danish beach to find that miniature city. I ask directions but the children in that kitchen are Spanish and don’t speak English.

Everything is bizarre about it but there’s one thing that makes sense: this is how I connect very distant locations into one area. Instead of biking for hours in my mind, I can just walk down the hall into Spain or elsewhere. This island functions as a mental airport where I can deliver myself to any location.

Perhaps our mind connects ideas in the same way: we create shortcuts between ideas that are difficult to get to. We can tie one scent with a location so that we can easily remember it. We store information in these connections so that we can tie recurring information with information that we don’t commonly access.

For example, we may tie the feeling of carpet with a particular memory. Each time we step on that carpet, we’re reminded of that memory. In a more complex example, that carpet may tie to something more intricate, like the feeling of seeing your parents after a long trip. Not the visual memory but the feeling. Every time you step on that carpet, you’re reminded of that feeling when you saw your parents after a year separation.

We commonly experience this with smells: I have days that I walk into the bathroom at work and it smells like the summer camp I worked at in 2008. Each time I walk in there, it’s like I’m transported back to then. This tie hasn’t been used in a very long time and it’s very rare that I think about 2008. Therefore, connecting the two is very important. When I smell that, I remember a basically dead memory. If there was no connection, I would totally forget that memory.

If any of you reading this have taken psychology, this would be the connection between the neurons. To keep neurons strong, you connect them. However, it seems unusual that an old connection could still be awoken.

By placing all of these locations nearby in my dreams, it’s like I’m able to skate down these old paths. Instead of having to explore through my whole head, I’m able to go straight to Spain. I don’t have to imagine driving to the airport, going through security, finding my gate, getting on the plane, et cetera. I just walk through a door.

What’s even more interesting is that I use a door to get to Spain while getting Denmark by walking down a beach. In my head I must retain the concept of a door: to connect two locations. For some reason, Denmark isn’t this able to be traveled to so easily.

I guess the lesson here is that dreams are weird. I feel like I have greater understanding of how my mind connects locations now. Anyways, that was really difficult to explain. If you read this far, I’m impressed! The human mind is such a weird instrument.

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16/31 Blogtober

Music as Escapism

On the weekends, I like to go for long walks. There isn’t anywhere that I have to be or anything that I have to do, so I like to wander around. These walks can range from 15 minutes to well over an hour. They’re a way to decompress after a long work week and to get out for exercise.

Often, I bring my phone with and listen to music. What I listen to ranges from Björk to Tycho to Ronald Jenkees. During today’s walk, I had the realization that music offers the same kind of escapism that movies and books do. Let’s deviate for a moment:

Why do people post quotes on Facebook? Because the person posting them believes the quote fits how they’re feeling or something they believe in. Rather than writing their own emotion or belief, they substitute in someone else’s words. The same goes for people who post lyrics; they believe the words match their emotion.

However, their emotions don’t perfectly match. How you feel cannot be completely put into words, they are something indescribable. Another person can’t perfectly explain how you feel, nor can their words accurately portray your emotions. We use other people’s words/lyrics/art to represent our emotions because we cannot fully explain our own emotions.

When we invest ourselves in other’s works, we lose part of ourselves. By using a famous song to explain how an emotion, you don’t explain how you feel. You’re using someone else’s words.

Most of us listen to music to feel an emotion. We want to feel upbeat, or sad, or calm. We want what we’re hearing to parallel an emotion. If I’m feeling sad, I want to listen to sad songs. You can also use songs to lift you out of a funk. Anyway you look at it, we listen to music to feel something.

The trouble is, we already have an emotion. Internally we’re also feeling something. When I’m sad, and I listen to a sad song, the words don’t perfectly match my emotion. When you listen to music, you take on the emotion of the song – especially if you know the words.

Perhaps part of the reason we take on the emotion of a song is because we believe ourselves to be the singer. When you sing the words “hit me with your best shot”, you substitute yourself into the lyrics. You hear, “hit me with your best shot”. The word “me” doesn’t refer to Pat Benatar (the singer), it refers to whomever is singing or listening to the words. When you sing, you take yourself as the main character of the song.

Eventually the lyrics get to: “You don’t fight fair. But that’s OK, see if I care”. At this point, you may no longer relate to the lyrics, but you sing them in your head (or out loud). By continuing to make yourself the main character, you take on the lyricist’s / original singer’s emotion.

When we listen to music, we live other people’s emotions. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, when we take on feelings that aren’t our own, we fill ourselves up with emotion. If I have an emotional bucket, and I’m feeling sad, maybe I’ll fill half of it on my own. When I listen to sad songs, I take on the singer’s emotion as well. Now that bucket is full. Rather than emptying the bucket by relaxing, I’ve listened to music and added to my emotions.

Walking is my way of relieving stress and relaxing. Today I realized that when I bring my music with I don’t decompress. Music adds to my emotions and fills that bucket. When I get home, maybe I’ll feel more stressed out or more confused about my own feelings. Music isn’t bad, it just is another form of escapism. When I want to relax, I need to confront my emotions, not escape from them. Listening to music doesn’t make me confront how I feel, it makes me feel even more – more sad, more happy, more energetic. To decompress and let my mind calm down, I need to listen to the quiet.

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5/31 Blogtober

Sometimes I think that people watch TV and listen to music as a way of escaping from their own thoughts. Even some people have to listen to noise at night because their mind won’t calm down enough for them to sleep. I wonder if they just have difficulty living with their own mind?