Doing Nothing

It’s been a couple of months since I last meditated. I’m human. I make excuses on why not to. The benefits are obvious and it’s silly that I don’t do it more often. I read books on meditation, watch movies with characters that meditate, and I really want to do it. But usually when it comes down to actually doing it, I choose not to.

Last night I procrastinated. I wanted to meditate but I shoved it to the back of my head. The same feeling comes and goes often, so I didn’t think too hard about it. When bedtime came around, I decided that I wanted to meditate. Not only did I want to do it, but I decided to do it for an entire hour. That’s significantly longer than I usually meditate for.

I just went with the whim and set the time on my phone. When I sat, I cleared my mind the best I could. Thoughts kept arising left and right. Music that I listened to earlier in the day came to the front of my head. The tunes drove me nuts. I just wanted mental silence.

Eventually I started focusing on physical sensations. What my body feel like, how heavy I am, the sound of the AC unit, and the taste of my tongue. My mind kept grabbing my attention and that song kept coming back over and over again. It felt chaotic. Every nerve inside of me made me want to get up and do something more productive.

Then I realized something; my view of meditation has been skewed. All this time I had tried to make meditation more than it was. I wanted clarity and mindfulness. Yet both of these are things that I could choose to have more of. My goal became to simply sit. I abandoned any expectations I had. I only sat. I slowed my thinking and paid attention to the physical sensations around me.

Meditation is really boring. Sitting down for an hour and literally doing nothing but breathing is not an exciting experience. I didn’t try to make it an exciting experience. I didn’t try to make it anything more than it was. It was just sitting.

If I couldn’t just sit, then how could I live other parts of my life totally. Sitting is an incredibly simple exercise. All you do is have your butt on the ground. If I couldn’t put all my consciousness in that, how could I walk totally, or talk to others totally. Learning how to sit fully would be the first step towards living totally.

Most of life is boring. Going to work, eating, sleeping. These are generally mundane activities. Trying to make them more important than they are is a cause of suffering. To eat with a wandering mind, I avoided tasting totally. When I walked, my mind would drift off. How am I to enjoy life if every moment that isn’t exciting makes me disconnect? I think the point is to stick with it. To live with the mundane and really enjoy it. Then, when you’re really enjoying it, you can experience the really exciting things totally as well.

Maybe that didn’t make complete sense. It’s hard to put it in words. Doing nothing has really had an impact on my life. Silly as that sounds, sitting has improved my life.

BLOGtober day nineteen!

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!

 

Don’t Fade Away

One of the gifts of life is the ability to forget suffering. When a person becomes injured, all of their attention focuses on pain. For example, a stubbed toe heals incredibly quickly. A person may experience a lot of pain for a few minutes but eventually will forget about the incident. Two days later, they won’t even remember it. Suffering caused by headaches or soreness takes longer to recover from. For a few hours or days, all of a person’s attention will focus on pain.

It would take a lot of energy to focus on the physical sensations across our entire body. If we payed attention to how our legs feel when we walk and our breath when we run, we may run into a wall. Unfortunately there is only so much attention that we can spread out. We can either think about what we’re going to have for dinner, how last night went, or we can focus on this exact moment.

Our limited attention isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is so much information around us that if we could focus on more, our heads may explode. At this moment I’m experiencing the sensation of typing, the color of the computer screen, the sound of the fan blowing, the temperature, the humidity, exhaustion from walking, a little bit of hunger… the list could continue. If I could focus on all of these at once, it would be sensory overload.

In the book “The Reason I Jump”, the author, who has Autism, explains how he doesn’t always have the ability to regulate his attention. Most people are able to concentrate on one subject – the book they’re reading, the people around them, the color of the walls et cetera. Naoki Higashida says that this regulation or organizing of thoughts, is impossible at times. Colors jump out, or the shininess of an object, or the feel of fabric. The world feels like it’s too much, full of details but not the overall idea.

Without sensory regulation and the ability to concentrate, we’d overload. The way our body prevents this overstimulation is through forgetting. When we initially experience a new blanket, we may notice the softness or thickness of the fabric. Within a few weeks, we will no longer notice either trait. We adjust to the world around us and forget excess details to prevent sensory overload.

We also forget details because we are mentally preparing for new information. If we walked barefoot through grass for the first time, we would notice how unusual it felt on our feet. After experiencing this multiple times, we forget the sensation. If we continued to focus on that sensation, we may miss new experiences like a plane flying overhead or a deer running into the woods. There isn’t enough attention to focus on everything.

This adjustment to our environments or forgetting sensory data, ultimately leads to unhappiness. When you travels to a new city, it may be exhilarating. The air may feel more crisp, food could have more flavor, the people may appear much different. While any of these could be true, it’s more likely that you’re focusing on your senses. You may have the same feelings in your hometown but you no longer notice them.

An easy way to notice this is to walk around your city. People who are new will be engaging with their environments to a greater degree. If you pay attention to them, they will be looking around and moving their head more. Now focus on other people who don’t look around and move their heads – it is likely that these people live in the city or have been there many times. Instead of looking around at places they’ve already seen, they look straight ahead. Even sitting in traffic you can notice this about people; some will look forward with a dead look in their eyes and other will be absorbing their environments.

The longer we go without new experiences, the more that we disengage from our environments. If we walk down the same street everyday, we will stop paying attention to it. Inevitably we will drone on and focus on our mind.

Earlier we were talking about the limits of our attention; we can only focus on so many details. Well one of the “details” we have is our mind. If we focus on our mind (thoughts, feelings, judgments), we use some of our limited attention span. Putting half our attention into how we feel emotionally (“it’s a beautiful day”, “that building is off center”, “the grass is prickly”) restricts how much information new information we can absorb. If we’re constantly making judgements about our environments, we aren’t fully experiencing them.

A huge part of “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” discusses a similar concept. We think about what we’re experiencing more than we actually experience something. What this means is that we look at the sky and think “that is blue”. Of course it’s blue, it’s the sky. When you reduce the sky to the word “blue”, you negate the exact experience of looking at it.

Let’s reverse that: you’re sitting in a chair blindfolded. In front of you is a man who is explaining the sky. He says “the sky is blue and filled with white puffs of air”. Now try to imagine seeing the sky for the first time with only those labels. Would your image accurately align with what the sky looks like? No way, because the sky is so much more than words can describe. “Blue” doesn’t do it justice.

It’s incredibly important to understand that your experience of the world cannot fit into words. You cannot fully describe what it’s like to sit on a chair much less what if feels like to fall in love. You can explain pieces of what these sensations are but they will always be less. There will be no perfect combination of words to explain what heartbreak feels like.

The reason this is important is because over time we fade. Our cities lose their color, the grass loses its texture, our work dulls and our lives become boring. We simplify our lives to make room for new experience but in the process we forget old sensations.

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance discusses a concept which I believe is a solution. The author calls it “pre-intellectualized” experience. It’s the moment when you immediately take in sensations but you don’t process them. An example would be to look at the sky and just feel it. Don’t label the feeling or reduce it to judgements – just look at it. When you step on the grass, don’t think about the texture, just feel it. Concentrate on the sensation instead of labeling it.

While it’s a blessing that we can forget suffering, like injuries or heartbreak, it’s also a curse. Over time we stop absorbing environments we spend a lot of time in. We forget what our house feels like or the comfort of laying in bed. These sensations are what make life full of color and vigor. When we experience the world, we have the ability to appreciate it. If you don’t notice the color of the sky, how can you appreciate it?

That appreciation and awareness is the basis of true love. By removing labels and experiencing life without words, you also remove the desire to change your environments. True love is centered around appreciation and acceptance. Osho once said, “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”

Eventually wordlessness creates a silence in your life. Over the last month there have been times where I notice how quiet everything around me is. The loudest thing is my thoughts. At those points I pay attention to the silence and the sensation of what it’s like to be alive. No words, no descriptions.

Unfortunately this is where I run out of words to continue. In life we naturally forget what we become accustomed to. If we stop paying attention to our environments, we stop experiencing. Eventually we don’t look at the sky, because we create an image of it in our head, we already know what it looks like. We don’t feel the grass when we walk because we’ve already experienced that. Food starts to taste dull and it’s because we keep looking for new experience. What you have now is enough. There is so much to experience at this moment, life is never truly dull. You just have to pay attention to your life and take it all in!

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9/31 Blogtober

This is what mindfulness is about! Learning to pay attention to your body and the experience of being alive. Sit down, slow down, and really focus on your senses!

Take Charge of Your Emotions

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that everyone acts what they feel inside. A person who is at peace internally, will act peaceful to others. If a man is angry with himself, he will act angrily at the people around him. Happy people are internally happy and extend it outside of themselves.

We reflect our internal world and attempt to actualize it. However, we have control over ourselves (and our own mental world) but not the physical world. We can choose to be happy or sad but we cannot make another person happy. Only they can make themselves happy.

It’s difficult to believe this because we think “she made me angry”, “he wanted me to feel sad”, and we think others can control emotions. This is not so. No one can make you angry, only you can make yourself angry. You can beat me up, hurt my family, take away my things, but you cannot make me angry. That is inside of me, it’s my own choice.

The same is true for you. Take notice of your emotions and responsibility for them. When you feel happy, it’s not because of anyone else, it’s inside of you. Someone can buy you roses, but it’s not the person or the roses that make you happy – you make yourself happy.

When you take responsibility for your emotions, you realize this. You cannot blame anyone else for how you feel. Nor can you justify acting out of an emotions because of another person. You feel, that is you. Take everything in, feel your emotions. Take notice of them and realize what you feel.

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Language as a Barrier

The difficulty with words is that they serve as placeholders. Each word represents something, from ‘table‘ to ‘tongue‘. When we speak, we make a series of sounds to communicate an idea. When I say ‘street‘, most likely an image appears in your mind. It isn’t a particular street that you could find, only the concept of the street. You see some asphalt or dirt leading in a direction.

The word symbolizes the idea of a street, not one specifically. You could be speaking about any of the 10,000 I’ve seen in my lifetime or you could be speaking about any of the 15,000 you’ve seen during your lifetime. The difficulty is that we may not have ever seen the same street. So when I say it, you understand the concept, not the exact street I’m thinking about.

Occasionally the words don’t like up properly and we have misunderstanding. If you grew up in England, when I say that I want ‘chips‘, the concept in your mind is fried and served at McDonald’s, while mine is crunchy and found in a bag. The word ‘chips‘ represents two separate concepts.

More likely a misunderstanding would revolve around a subtler difference. I could say “drive to the end of the street and turn right”. In our minds, an ‘end‘ to a ‘street‘ could represent multiple values; like a dead-end, a change from asphalt to dirt, or when the name of street changes. Any of the above could cause confusion.

Our minds define ‘end‘ differently and the word represents two different images. When I speak about the ‘street ending‘, I speak as if we have the same definition. So I speak with confidence that you must turn when the street ends. Unconsciously you pick up that confidence and believe me. You must turn when the street ends. Now you trust that, if you don’t want to get lost, you’ll change directions when the ‘end‘ appears. Your ‘end’ is different and now you are lost.

If we want a more common example, we’ll use words that have lost their meaning. When you ask someone “how are you doing?”, they may respond with ‘good‘. What does this word mean? We all know that ‘good‘ is less than ‘great‘ and better than ‘fine‘, but, by itself, what does ‘good‘ mean. Moving to other words, what does ‘fantastic’ mean? Is it a lot of ‘good‘? Well we still don’t know what ‘good‘ even means. How could something be ‘very good‘ or ‘exceptionally good‘?

Feelings aren’t tangible and therefore don’t stimulate the same concrete images as many nouns. When you say ‘wood‘, I have something to reference. My mind is full of images of forests, bon fires, chopping blocks with ‘wood‘. However, our feelings don’t represent images in the same way. When I say that I’m ‘happy‘ (another empty word), we can remember a feeling from a moment when we were joyous. But what is joy? Are our definitions equal to each other? Do you understand when I speak to you?

Now you may see the problem, language is flawed because it cannot communicate completely. When I say ‘ceiling‘, we are thinking of similar concepts but not exactly the same. Mine could be made of glass while yours is tiled like an office building. However, to say that language is entire flawed would be to discard an incredibly useful tool.

We may not think of the same ‘street‘ or ‘ceiling‘ but we generally understand one another. I can say that I replaced my ‘roof’ today, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. If I shout “call the police”, you’ll (hopefully) react by pulling out your phone and getting help. Language is incredibly useful!

Returning back to my original statement, words are placeholders. They represent concepts we have in our minds. When we use them, we speak as though they are made of concrete and tangible. “Turn left after the purple building”. I speak as if you understand me, and for the most part, you do. But you don’t fully comprehend what I’m saying. When I tell you that I’m ‘fine‘, there isn’t a reference or something you can touch. It’s subject to your interpretation. ‘Fine‘ to a girl may be synonymous with ‘depressed‘ or ‘unhappy‘, while, to a guy, it may mean ‘alright‘ or ‘okay‘.

Now that we see words as concepts and placeholders, we see language as a tool. We can pick the tool up and use it to communicate. But when do we set it down? At this moment, pause and pay attention to your mind. What words are going through it? Perhaps it appears silent now. Eventually you will start talking to yourself. You’ll notice that the chair you’re sitting in is uncomfortable and that tomorrow you have work.

Your mind communicates with itself through language. Therefore there must be two of you; one to experience life and the other to examine it. There’s a person who feels the rain when you walk outside and another who complains that it’s cold or very wet. They are not the same person. Here’s a famous exercise to demonstrate it;

Wherever you are, sit tall. When you finish reading this paragraph, you’re going to close your eyes and try to stop thinking. You don’t want a single thought to go through your mind… Go ahead and close your eyes and try…

After you’ve done that, you’ll see that thoughts just arise. You can’t control them, they just appear. Still don’t believe me? Where do your thoughts come from? Where is the beginning of a thought? How did you start thinking about lunch?

You understand that there are two ‘selfs‘; one that experiences life, when you touch a table or stub your toe, and there’s another that curses loudly or criticizes you for tripping.

As the day progresses by you may think about the weather or what you’re going to eat for lunch. Since you don’t actually know what you’re going to eat for lunch, you fill your mind with words. These words are placeholders because you don’t actually know what you’re going to eat for lunch. You don’t know how it will taste or the exact temperature of the sandwich. You just don’t know.

So you describe it with words; “my lunch is going to be a PB&J sandwich with yogurt and tea”. These words are placeholders for what you remember a PB&J to taste like. When I say ‘yogurt‘, you may remember the last time you had some. Unfortunately today you left yours in the sun and it’s going to taste a little different than you remember.

We were discussing misunderstandings earlier when two people speak. When you have a mind, you have similar miscommunications. Your mind says, “we’re having a sandwich”. You remember the last time you had a sandwich, and create an expectation. You remember a chewy bread with peanut butter, so this one should be the same, right?

This internal dialogue creates many problems. By having two ‘you‘s, you have miscommunication. Instead of turning on the wrong street, like we mentioned earlier, you create an expectation and either fulfill it or fail it. You tell yourself, “I’m going to have a good day at work today”, then you either do or you don’t. The language isn’t concrete. When you say those words to yourself, you don’t actually know if you’re going to have a good day.

The trouble is, we continually have conversations with ourselves. We’re constantly talking and labeling the world around us. We look at the grass and say ‘green‘. We look at a puddle of water and think ‘wet‘. Both of these statements are probably true and there’s no reason to doubt them. However, both words are unnecessary. We don’t need to tell ourselves that the grass is green or a puddle is wet.

What is happening is the two of you in your head, the experiencer and the examiner, are separating. The examiner says ‘green‘, ‘stiff‘, ‘dry‘, ‘needs water‘. Because the examiner labeled the grass, you no longer need to experience it. Instead of actually looking at the grass, you’ve reduced it to words, or placeholders.

When you reduce the world to words, you cease to experience. You’ve labeled everything and now you’re remember what each descriptor means. ‘Dry‘ reminds you of running through a field as a child and getting stabbed by the blades of grass. ‘Green‘ reminds you of the algae in the pond by your house. Instead of experiencing what is in front of you, you relive your previous experiences.

This makes sense, because we experience many things ever moment. If we felt the grass when we walked barefoot, noticed the heat on our skin, gravity holding us to the ground, the 90 degree day, the ocean smell, tired eyes, and the other thousand feelings we have, we’d be overwhelmed. There’s so much sensory input that when we’re young, we teach ourselves to replace these feelings with words.

We can focus on our thoughts, how we feel about the moment, what we’re going to do in the future, et cetera. If you notice, when you go to a new place, you look around. You can always tell if a person is new by how much they move their head. As time goes on, people start to walk with their heads facing forward. They have already experienced the drive to work, so there’s no need to look around anymore.

Unhappiness stems from here, when we stop experiencing the world and we decide to label it. We relive the past rather than experiencing new feelings. We stop living.

What is the solution? Pay attention to everything as it happens… but don’t label it. Don’t walk into a building and think ‘gray‘, ‘tall‘, ‘bright‘, ‘open‘. Just feel. It sounds simple enough but it takes time to learn how. You have to let go and stop judging the world. Let everything be as it actually is. The grass just is… The water is… Sitting feels like…

It’s very difficult not to finish those sentences but you need to learn how to. When you stop communicating with yourself, you stop miscommunications. There isn’t any need to have conversation with yourself. If your mind is a tool, you don’t always need to be using it. When you’re done with a tool, you set it down.

Unfortunately there isn’t a good way to explain how to feel, you just have to do it. Take in the world and really experience it. Stop filling it with words and placeholders, the world is so much more than just a memory. It’s an experience! So take this as a lesson to start feeling the world and finding a silence in yourself. No more conversations or thinking about tomorrow, just feeling what’s in front of you.

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The Mind is a Tool

The mind can be dangerous if not used in the proper way. I once read something by Eckhart Tolle that labeled the mind as a tool. It is precise and, when utilized properly, it can improve life. However, when you’re done using a tool, you set it down. After all, it serves a specific purpose and should not be used in all circumstances. You wouldn’t use a hammer to screw in a bolt. Nor would you use a saw to measure the length of an object.

Why is that we try to use the mind for tasks where it is useless? You cannot rationalize emotions and sometimes there are no answers. The simple question: “does he like me?” is not something the mind can fully process. You’re using a screwdriver to cut wire – it may work but it’s going to be messy. If you try to use that wire, it may be broken and imperfect. That’s what happens to the mind when you overuse it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful tool for solving problems. But it is not a master tool, or something that can solve all problems. In fact, it causes many problems. You can over analyze or think too much. No matter how much you try and use a hammer to screw that bolt in, it’s not going to work.

The biggest misconception about the mind that we try and live our life with it. The purpose of the mind is not to live, it is to analyze, store, and recall, data. By only using our mind, we process life instead of living it.

To solve this problem, you need to set the mind down when you don’t need it. All day you should be taking in your environment through your five senses. You should be tasting food while you eat it and hearing the breeze outside. The mind poisons these senses because it compares. It says, “this food tastes good, it reminds me of last week when we ate out. That place was really nice, we should go back. I wonder if anyone will want to go…”. That is not living, that is processing. You’ve forgotten the real taste of the food and you’re no longer focusing on it.

That is a great shame because there are so many beautiful things around you but you cannot see them with your mind. You have to stop thinking about what you see and just see them. Don’t even think about what they mean or what they are. Just take it all in. When you’re walking down the street, look at the grass but don’t think about it – just let it in. Don’t think “grass”, because you’ve already lost yourself. Instead, let it be.

Eventually you can notice your breath. But again, don’t think about it. Allow it to happen and continue without change. Simply observe it without the desire to take a deeper breath or lighter one. These “breaks”, where you set your mind down, don’t have to be long. They can last 30 seconds or 5 minutes, it does not matter. Just begin to focus on your experience of this moment.

With time, you will begin to naturally go back to this state. You’ll forget yourself and the other moments you could be experiencing. Instead you’ll feel alive. The tastes will be more tasteful and the colors more vibrant. Life will become more. Don’t abandon your mind, you’ll need to think at certain times, but set it down when you aren’t using it. If the purpose of life is to live, then this is how you do it: simply by living!

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P.S. Eckhart Tolle is a fantastic writer with brilliant ideas. Definitely check out his book “The Power of Now”. It’ll blow your mind!

Why does pizza taste better at 3 a.m.?

The human mind is capable of so many paradoxical phenomenon: have you ever been on a temporary diet and when you finish it, you feel like food tastes twice as good? Have you ever been at the beach all day, then later walked into an air-conditioned room? What about when you spend a few hours standing up – sitting down feels incredible, right?

Nothing has changed in any of these scenarios other than our perspective. The pizza you ate after your diet has the same flavor as before you started. Most of us live in air-conditioned houses, and the only time we seem to notice it is when we leave or enter the building on a hot day. Each day we wake up and get out of bed, throughout the day we sit down and get up constantly. Why is it that when our perspective changes, these common activities become so pleasurable? The only variable that changed is us.

Is there a way that we can live and make each moment as incredible as that first bite of pizza? Can we feel relief every time we sit down to relax? What is it that conditions us to forget these simple pleasures and seek greater ones?

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