The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: Meditation Page 1 of 3

Why Positive Emotions Towards Difficult People And Things Can Be Good

Here’s the thing, everything you experience is your consciousness. When you see or hear another person or any object, what you’re experiencing is a representation.

Again, what you’re experiencing is yourself;  your consciousness. This the heart of all of the “I am everything” spiritual forms. You have never known anything directly except yourself and you never will.

This is one reason why most spiritual systems emphasize positive emotions towards even difficult people and situations. “Love thy enemy” is about loving yourself, and it is intensely protective. When the Buddha said that a monk being sawed in half by bandits should feel love towards the bandits, that wasn’t to protect the bandits (who in Buddhist metaphysics, will get theirs eventually due to karma), it’s because if you’re feeling love, you don’t feel much in the way of fear: the two emotions are opposed.

(Relatedly, if you get rid of background fear and tension, what happens is you start feeling love all the time, though the feel is somewhat different from romantic love: it is not needy (this is not theoretical, I’ve experienced it, though I don’t live there right now.)

With something like Metta you start by sending out love to people you already love, move to neutral people and then move to people you hate. It’s the last step which is most important, though it is last for a reason: it’s hard.

What stops most people is the fear that if they don’t hate those who are dangerous or immoral, they won’t protect themselves or be considered part of the tribe. The key to dealing with this is having standards: not needing emotions to tell you when someone is acting badly. IF you don’t have those standards, then you can indeed get into trouble, and this is a problem in some spiritual communities, especially when people try to act as if they have attainments they don’t have and suppress negative emotions. You aren’t suppressing if you do loving-kindness or other emotion correctly: if you have the attainment, the emotions either don’t come up or they come up briefly.

Loving-kindness, compassion and so on are also useful because when something negative does happen, or does come up from your memory, the positive emotion is protective. Traumatic formations reduce over time, negative conditioning and fears reduce and if something new bad happens you are far less likely to wind up with a new trauma.

There are a lot of benefits to other people from being around someone who is constantly loving, but the Buddha and many other spiritual teachers didn’t suggest love just because of that: they did so because being loving is good for the person who is loving.


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A Basic Buddhist Meditation Synthesis

I’ve meditated a lot. Thousands of hours. And I’ve done a lot of different types of meditation. There are hundreds of different types, and in principle one could easily come up with thousands once one understand how meditation works.

I had no teacher and was learning from books and I made a lot of mistakes. Some of them were damaging mistakes.

Like exercise, meditation is good for you, if done right, and can hurt or injure you if done wrong.

What I’m going to write about today is the basic Buddhist meditation synthesis. It consists of three parts: concentration, loving-kindness and insight. All of these styles of meditation date back to the Buddha, and in the case of case of concentration and loving kindness, pre-date him.

The Buddha is known specifically for Vipassana insight meditation, breath focused concentration (Shamatha) meditation and loving-kindness, most especially Metta but not only Metta. He did teach other types of meditation to students who needed them, along with ethical and lifestyle practices. (One meditation he had people do was go to cremation grounds and watch bodies being burned up, often for as much as six months. Not suggested for most people today.)

What Is Meditation?

At its simplest meditation is just mental exercise. It’s like lifting weights or practicing dance steps or throwing a javelin—over and over again to get better at what you’re doing.

Virtually all meditation is choosing a mental activity, doing it, noticing when you’ve stopped doing it, and going back to doing it.

If you were doing breath meditation (a form of concentration or shamatha meditation) you would pay attention to the sensations of breathing, keep your attention on your nostrils or belly when not breathing and when you notice you aren’t paying attention to your breath/belly/nostrils you would return to doing so.

It is that simple.

Meta-Attention: Of all meditation skills, this is the most important. All it means is being aware of what you’re paying attention to: to what your mind is doing. If you’ve ever started walking or driving somewhere you usually don’t go and realized that you’d spent the last few minutes heading to work or home even though that wasn’t your intention, you’ve experienced what happens when you don’t know where your attention is, or what your mind (and body) are doing. Every time you drift off in thought without realizing you have for a while, you’ve lost your awareness of what your mind is doing.

Most types of meditation, with trance states being the main exception, train meta-attention. You can’t control your mind if you don’t know what it is doing. Meta-attention is a large class, with a number of smaller classes. A good dancer or martial artist will know exactly how their body is moving, at least when practicing and in time outside of practice, but may not be as aware of thoughts or sounds or tastes or smells.

When you first start learning meta-attention it will be specific: if you do breath meditation you’ll become able to notice when you’re not paying attention to your breath. If loving-kindness, when you’re not paying attention to loving feels. If mantra meditation, when you’ve stopped saying or thinking your mantra. In time, your meta-attention will expand so that in your daily life you are more and more aware of exactly what you are doing and if it is not what you intended to do.

Without meta-attention you can’t control the mind because  you don’t know what the mind is doing. True concentration is less always doing what you intended and more noticing immediately when you stop or, as you progress, when something is about to occur that will make you stop.

Meta-attention is a necessary to make sure that your intentions are actually carried out.

Attention, Awareness And Consciousness

You have never experienced anything that is not yourself and you never will. It is literally impossible. Even if objects exist outside  yourself (an inference) everything you experience is your own consciousness, at best a representation of other objects. Your consciousness is everything you can be aware of.

The contents of your consciousness change. In dreams or certain altered states you may not be aware of your body, everything in your visual field or that you can hear can change, so much so that there may be nothing in common with any previous mental state. (This is worth contemplating, and there are types meditation intended to make that contemplation much more real.)

Your awareness is the broad field of what parts of your consciousness you are aware of. Awareness broadens and tightens. Everyone has had the experience where things were happening around them which they were not aware of.

Attention is where, within your awareness, you are focused. I might have my attention on typing this post, while being aware of the quality of light, the wall behind my monitor, the sound of my air conditioner and an itch in my armpit. While doing breath concentration my attention is on my breath, but I am likely aware of other parts of my body, without them being my focus. In fact, up until very late stages of concentration meditation, I do not want to shrink awareness too much, or drop it entirely and only be aware of my concentration object, because if I do so I will not be aware of arising sensation which might disrupt my attention before I can deal with them.

One conception of meditation is that it is nothing but learning to control attention and awareness. It’s not quite true, but it’s almost true. There are types of meditation (Mahamudra, for example) where you learn to reduce attention and attempt to have only awareness (this is very relaxing and is also improves your ability to do many things which require awareness, like fight.) The extreme of concentration meditation removes awareness outside of attention entirely: you are aware of only the object of your attention.

You have done mild version of attention and awareness control all your life, often without realizing that was what you are doing. Just as an athlete becomes much better at natural activities like throwing, running and lifting, a meditator becomes far better at normal mental activities than anyone who is untrained and eventually learns to do things no untrained person can do.

Sense Objects

Everything you have ever experienced is a sense object. You will never experience anything but a sense object. Thoughts are sense objects. Emotions are sense objects. Sounds are sense objects. Pain is a sense object and so is suffering.

In concentration meditation you learn to control attention and awareness. In emotional meditation techniques you learn to generate specific types of mental objects: emotions like love or compassion or authority or, well, almost any emotion.

In some types of insight meditation  you learn to see sense objects more clearly. For example at its most basic, every bodily sense object has three characteristics: its feel (itchy, pressure, warmth, cold, etc…), its location and its affect: pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. Pain can feel warm, be located in your toe and has a bad effect. You could also have a warm feeling in your toe but have it be pleasant.

These constituents (which are only the most gross ones) are often first noticed in concentration meditation. If you concentrate hard enough on your nose at some point you will experience your nose as a few feet away from your face. If you concentrate on pain hard enough, at some point the unpleasant part of the pain (the affect) and suddenly there’s no pain. It may even switch to feeling good.

As you proceed as a meditator you can gain some ability un-bundle sensations at will. You may also start getting access to data the brain doesn’t normally provide to consciousness or you may convince the brain to stop doing some of its pre-processing. These are advanced topics and other than mentioning them I won’t discuss them much in this article, but they are fundamental to the spiritual project of meditation, which is in large part about understanding how reality is created by the mind.

Balanced Meditation

Just as a weightlifter who does only one exercise over and over again will likely wind up injuring themselves, it is rarely a good idea to do only one type of meditation, unless you do very little meditation, say a mantra 20 minutes a day.

You always want to balance out meditation types, and one of each of concentration, positive emotion and insight is a good balance.

This is particularly true of insight meditation. People who do a lot of insight meditation (such as Vipassana) without the other two and especially without a positive emotion meditation, are the ones who drive themselves insane most often.

If I were in a teaching relationship with someone, which I’m not, this is something I wouldn’t just emphasize, it is something I would enforce. If someone would not follow my instructions in this matter, I would stop teaching them. That is how important it is.

I would rather you did NO meditation than do it incorrectly.

Basic Concentration Meditation

The most common form of Buddhist concentration meditation is on the breath. Place your attention either on your nostrils or your belly, and then watch the sensation of breathing. Between breaths, keep your attention on your belly or your nostrils.

Your intention in this type of meditation is to notice when you have stopped paying attention to your breath. This is important. Your intention is not to pay attention to your breath, but to notice when you have stopped paying attention to your breath.

When you notice your attention has moved off your breath, congratulate yourself for doing so (never be angry or upset you lost the attention object) and move your attention back to your breath.

Do as much of this as you can, until you’re doing 20 minutes a day or so.

Basic Loving-Kindness

Once you’re able to regularly do 20 minutes of concentration meditation and your attention is on your breath most of the time, you will start doing loving kindness meditation AFTER you have first done twenty minutes of concentration meditation.

Loving kindness meditation requires the ability to generate a positive feeling of love or compassion or sympathy. It must feel good.

There are multiple ways to do this, and you will have to experiment to see what works best for you. The classic Metta meditation involves first saying (mentally) towards yourself:

May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.

Keep saying it till you’re feeling relaxed and warm emotionally then skip down to where it says “Once you have this feeling”.

In later sessions, when you can reliably get the warm feeling , you do this for someone you love, directed at them. “May Fred be happy. May Fred be well. May Fred be safe. May Fred be peaceful and at ease.”

Then you do it for people you feel neutral towards, perhaps as a group “may everyone”, and last you do this for people you hate.

Stick with yourself or your friends at first. Keep doing it till you have a stable positive feeling. If you don’t generate one at first, don’t worry (I sure couldn’t), just keep doing it day after day until you do.

Another form is to imagine a loving experience. Perhaps imagine a puppy licking your face and wriggling and being obviously happy and loving you. Hugging and being hugged by a beloved grand-parent works for some. For others imaging someone like the Buddha or a God or a person like the Dalai Lama or some Saint who you feel would or does love you, doing so, works.

If you’re imagining a person or a God you MUST only use someone who you have no negative feelings towards. Parents, who have often been harsh to us and who we are scared of are often a bad choice (though if you had ideal parents, go for it.) For Christians and Muslims and Jews “God” is usually a bad choice because there are strong currents of punishment and fear related to most monotheistic gods.

In addition you should not choose someone you have sexual feelings toward as you want a pure feeling of love or compassion or happiness, without the admixture of lust.

Once you have the feeling, locate it in the body, and then proceed to do concentration meditation on the feeling. Pay attention to the feeling, have as your intention to notice when you are no longer paying attention to the feeling and bring your attention back to the feeling.

If the feeling goes away, generate it again, then go back to concentrating on it.

Once you can do this easily, there are more advanced techniques and there are very good, non moral reasons for wanting to eventually to feel kindness or love towards people you hate or who are bad people.

When you can do this for about twenty minutes, reliably generating the emotion and spending some time paying attention to it, move on to insight meditation.

Basic Vipassana Insight Meditation

You will do this after you have attained 20 minutes of concentration meditation and 20 minutes of loving kindness meditation which actually generates the emotion. Do not do it before. Once you can do those two types regularly you may choose to do 20 minutes of just one, then 20 minutes of insight, but better will be to all three, in order, and if you do only a 20/20 session, alternate meditation types.

In Vipassana you will notice a feeling in the body. You will put your attention on it for two to three seconds, feeling it as best you can, then you will mentally describe it, usually with one or two words “itchy, pressure, warm” or whatever. Gently release it, relaxing away from it or feeling compasson or love towards it (this is the most important step). Then you will go to another feeling and do the same thing. Do this for 20 minutes. Have as your intention, again, to notice when you are not doing it.

There are a great number of Vipassana techniques and alternatives and even more insight alternatives but master this first. Again, never do Vipassana or any other type of insight meditation without concentration and/or (but ideally both) loving-kindness meditation.

Dealing With Problems

If something seems to go wrong, if this is causing you much in the way of suffering, STOP. Consult a teacher, or take a couple weeks break, then start up again.

This style of meditation will make your mind much calmer and in time what happens to most people is that as the “chatter” of their minds calms, subconscious material comes up. That is often negative (though it also includes positive material) and certainly if you have trauma it will eventually come up.

When a strong negative emotion comes up, treat it with love if you can, and with basic Vipassana techniques. Observe it or feel compassion for it for about three seconds, name it, and move back to your meditation.

If it keeps coming up and is getting stronger, STOP. If you weren’t doing loving-kindess take a brief break, come back and do loving kindness meditation. If that doesn’t help, then stop meditating entirely for a time and you may wish to seek out a psychiatrist, in most cases one who specializes in trauma.

Do not force yourself to meditate in these circumstances, because you can re-traumatize yourself.

That’s the bad scenario: alternatively, with your concentration and loving-kindness you may be able to reduce the intensity over time. But don’t push thru if that isn’t happening.

Concluding Remarks

It’s possible to go very far just with this set of instructions and meditations, but if you actually get to the point where you’re doing an hour a day for a few months you’ve done very well and at that point you may wish to seek further instruction.

If there’s interest in this topic, I’ll write more.

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Believing You Should Be Happy

For most of my life I was pretty miserable. There were good reasons for that: alcoholic parents, serious illness and rather a lot of poverty, among other things.

So I started meditating. That helped, after a while (quite a while, though many people get faster results.)

One of the things that came up is that bad emotions are, well, bad. By “bad” I mean, emotions that are unpleasant. There’s a lot of advice around emotions, and negative emotions aren’t 100% evil or anything. Anger tells you something is unacceptable; hatred that someone is a long term threat and so on. Now emotions aren’t always right, you can be angry inappropriately. You can hate people who aren’t a threat (Nazis hating Jews) or who are only a threat because of how you treat them (Israeli Zionists and Palestinians), and so on.

Still, a negative emotion in the affective sense; in the unpleasant sense is bad in the same way that pain is bad. Sometimes pain is useful because it tells you to do something or stop doing something, and sometimes it’s just pain: there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it and it’s pointless.

This realization, really grinding it in, is important. That the emotion itself is unpleasant and, as importantly, that you don’t want to have it.

Most of us wander around thinking “I should be angry”, “I should be sad”, “I should hate”, under certain circumstances. Someone said something mean or cut us off in traffic or hurt us and we are angry. But if the emotion of being angry is unpleasant, all we’re doing is compounding our suffering.

But then the next thought comes up, “if I don’t get mad, I won’t protect myself.”

And this can be true. Sometimes we need the unpleasantness to spur us to action, to tell someone they shouldn’t hurt us, or to remove ourselves from a bad situation.

But it doesn’t have to be. The old saying “I don’t get mad, I get even” rather covers it. If you’ll take action to fix the problem without the emotion, then at most you need the emotion briefly to tell you something is wrong, and then you don’t need it any more.

And if you have firm rules about what is acceptable or not, you may not even need the emotion. “My boss made me work overtime then didn’t pay me, that’s unacceptable and I will find a way to stop it.”

Much of why we have certain emotions is because we think we should have them. If you think  you should be angry or sad or scared or whatever, it’s very hard not to be.

One way to get past this is pure self-concern. Just look at the emotion, and realize “this emotion is unpleasant. I don’t like feeling this way.” Do that often enough, and you’ll start feeling the emotion less often, and it will go away sooner when it does arise.

But to do this you have to believe the emotion isn’t necessary for your well-being, because if you feel it is, your mind will keep bringing it up.

You aren’t here to suffer, whatever some religions may say, and it’s OK to do what you can to suffer less.

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Almost Nothing

Words are always a problem, and never more so when discussing spirituality/meditation/cultivation.

There are many, many different types of meditation, designed to do very different things. There are forms of breath meditation whose primary purpose is to calm the body. When you do so, you may notice certain things about reality/yourself, but knowing “how to meditate” doesn’t mean you have achieved any level of insight or awakening; it’s just a technical skill.

But almost all of what I would consider real spirituality is about “knowing thyself.” This is primarily about observation; about noticing facts about yourself that you hadn’t before, and then noticing them over and over until something clicks and you start perceiving your existence in different ways than the norm.

When teaching “meditation” one of the main questions is how much to signpost; how much to point. If you tell people what they’re looking for, they’re more likely to see it, but the power of the insight is weaker than when it takes them by surprise.

That said, I’m going to “point” to something: almost nothing exists.

If you either calm the chatter of your mind or learn to disregard it (it doesn’t matter much which) and rest your awareness lightly over the sensations you’re feeling, what you may notice is that there isn’t a lot there. Mostly there’s a lot of nothing, with some sensations floating in space (which is also a construct, but that’s a later thing).

It’s an odd thing to notice, that you aren’t solid. You think of  yourself as solid: a body, but the actual experience isn’t that and that you believe it is is because you’re filling in what you “know” is there, stitching together a reality which doesn’t actually exist.

Try it sometime. Just be still, calm the mind or ignore the chatter, close your eyes, and see what’s actually there. (You can do this with eyes open, but it’s easier with eyes closed.)

You may be surprised.


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How To Relax, Change & Be Free

Jiddu Krishnamurti was a lecturer and teacher for almost 50 years. He was famous, there are a lot of books transcribing his talks, and he maybe got one person enlightened.

Jiddu was the anti-guru, guru. He didn’t want to give concrete instructions, because when people follow concrete instructions they aren’t free: they’ve got a system and they’re just enacting the system.

Reading him is frustrating. I’ve read his lectures multiple times over the years, and each time understood a bit more of what he was saying.

One main point is that everyone is acting according to conditioning: religious, social, family, school, philosophical, etc… They’re in chains, and they regard those chains as themselves.

But none of that conditioning is you. You aren’t your personality, and beliefs you got from you religion, nation, schooling, family, etc… are not your beliefs.

Krishnamurti is famous for “choiceless awareness”: his only real recommendation was to watch the movement of one’s mind (which includes impulses to do things, emotions and what your body is doing) without judgment. Don’t think “I shouldn’t be like this” or “this is how things are” or “this is how it should be.”

No judgment.

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His point was that if you are tying to change, if you want be kinder, or richer or less greedy or anything, you’re acting because of conditioning. You’re pushing one set of conditioning, say Christianity, against another, say “get rich because only people with money are worthwhile”. (Or maybe you think money is bad, it doesn’t matter: that didn’t originate with you.)

You push two sets of conditioning against each other, and even if you change it’s not real, there’s usually still conflicting sets of conditioning and in any case, you were acting out of conditioning, which is not something you chose.

All of this sounds very nice, but if you don’t do the work, you don’t get it. What works is actually looking at your conditioning, which comes up as thoughts, feelings, impulses and actions. Every time you feel resistance, every time you want to do something and also don’t want to do something; every time you feel something and believe you should feel something else, you’ve two sets of conditioning in conflict.

You can feel this, and you need to feel it and, often, repeatedly perceive it happening. If you do so with judgment, say, being angry or guilty because you’re angry then you’re just adding to the conditioning and it’s just conditioning fighting against each other.

If you do it without judgment, however, what often happens is a release of the conditioning. This isn’t a theoretical release, conditioning in conflict will make your muscles tight. When release happens you will feel it: muscles will relax. In some cases you’ll be shocked, you didn’t even relize they were tight, and had been tight for years or decades.

Krishnamurti was concerned with real freedom: he wanted you to become free. You don’t have to, you can eliminate all conditioning except one set, the way certain fanatics and true-believers do, and give everything to that set, and you’ll release a ton of the tension and feel better and a lot more peaceful.

You won’t be free, though.

Find the conditioning, feel it, watch it without judgment. When I say this works, I am not speaking theoretically: it does work.

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Avoiding Added Emotional Suffering (Buddha’s Second Arrow)

When I say in this post to imagine something stop and imagine it, or you won’t get the necessary effect.

First, imagine falling. You catch yourself on your hands, you’re not seriously injured, but your hands are abraded and you’ve wrenched a muscle in you back.

Next. Imagine that you fell unavoidably: there was a small bit of ice, but you were walking carefully and there’s nothing you could have done.

Third: imagine that you were careless. There was an obvious piece of ice, you weren’t paying attention, and you knew there could be ice. Feel this.

Fourth: imagine that you feel on a walkway that someone should have cleared (it’s usually the law in places with a lot of snow and ice.) You were careful, but still fell. Feel this.

Fifth: imagine you feel because someone deliberately tripped you. Feel this.

If you’re a normal person and you took the time to actually feel, these felt different. Either number three (carelessness) or number five (someone tripping you), feels worst: you’re angry at yourself or someone else.

But even with the first one: it just happened and no one is responsible, you may be upset: it’s not just the pain you’re feeling, but your upset.

This anger, upset, hatred, sadness, etc… is what Buddha called the second arrow.

There is pain and nauseau and itching and so on. They feel bad. But unless you’ve got drugs or advanced meditative skills, they just happen, and there’s not much you can do about them.

Everything else is added by your emotional reaction. That’s the low-hanging fruit. That’s the stuff that’s (relatively) easier to control or choose.

Different people have different ways of doing this, but the first concept is simple enough “adding a negative emotion doesn’t help the situation, and it makes me feel worse.”

As someone who spent a lot of time beating themselves up for mistakes or not living up to my ideal self, I eventually realized that not only did it make me feel bad, it didn’t drive long term changes in behaviour. It had no benefit.

As for getting angry at other people, my experience, as someone who spent years and years not just angry, but enraged (long term readers will know I speak the truth), is that it didn’t help the situation, and it made me miserable (and eventually had negative health effects.)

As Mark Twain said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

This doesn’t mean you have to forgive them, though sometimes that brings relief. It doesn’t mean you can’t take the person who didn’t clear the sidewalk to task, even to the police or court. You don’t need to be angry or to hate to act.

Which leads to a point I’ve made before: a lot of our emotions happen because we believe we ought to feel them. We ought to be sad, or angry or hate or love or be sympathetic. (Forcing yourself to feel positive emotions rarely works well, though learning to bring love or happiness or relaxation up is useful.)

If you think you should have an emotion, you probably will and if you don’t, you’ll feel bad because you aren’t being the person you think you should be. So kill the idea that you must feel certain emotions in certain circumstances.

You do this, in my experience, by carefully examining the question “does this emotion help and is it worth it?” Examine it now, and examine it next time you get upset.

If the answer to either question is “no”, stop believing you should have the emotion.

This is as true for simple things like dropping a plate on the floor. It’s done, and being upset makes the situation worse. Sometimes a display of remorse is necessary socially, but in my experience a rueful laugh and apology works fine with anyone who isn’t an asshole.

The second arrow is the low lying fruit. And remember, people who deliberately fuck with you usually want an emotional reaction from  you. They like it when you get angry or upset.

So don’t. If you need to hit them or otherwise retaliate to make a point, do. But don’t bother with the anger or upset: you’re just giving them what they want. They love your anger, especially if you don’t do anything: your powerless rage makes them feel strong and in control.

Give your enemies nothing but hell. Never let them see you sweat. And as for the internal censor who think you should be upset and miserable, dump that guy.

And when you forget or fail, that’s when you forgive–yourself. Just try and remember next time.


The Basic Pattern to Most Meditation

There are hundreds of types of meditation — maybe thousands. But most of them have a simple pattern.

1) Do something.

2) When you notice you aren’t doing that thing, go back to doing it.

Breath meditation:

  1. Follow the sensations of your breath.
  2. When you notice you aren’t paying attention to your breath, go back to paying attention to your breath.

All types of concentration meditation are similar. Here’s mantra meditation:

  1. Say a mantra (a series of words) over and over again, either out loud or mentally.
  2. When you notice you aren’t saying the mantra, or aren’t paying attention to it, go back to the mantra.

Discursive meditation (beloved by Western ritual mages, but not exclusively):

  1. Pick something to think about.
  2. When you notice you aren’t thinking about it, go back to the last thought you had that was on topic and continue.


  1. Sense a feeling in the body. Mentally say what it is: “itch, pressure, warmth, happy, love, fear, hatred.” Go on to the next sensation you notice.
  2. Notice you are no longer doing the above, go back to it.


  1. Find or generate a loving feeling.
  2. Concentrate on that loving feeling.
  3. If you notice you aren’t concentrating on it go back to it. If you notice it’s gone away, generate it again.

Do-nothing meditation (just sitting, Mahamudra, etc…):

  • Don’t try to control your attention.
  • Notice when you are are controlling or intend to control attention. Don’t.

Of course there are details, and techniques and subtleties, but if you just remember “do something, notice I’m not doing it, go back to it” and stick to it you can make a lot of progress. This also means that you shouldn’t switch meditation types mid-season — that would break the “go back to it” part.

Notice here that the important part is “notice when I’m not doing it.” This develops “meta-attention” which is the ability to know what you’re doing. It may seem like you know what you’re doing all the time, but a few minutes of attempting to concentrate on your breath or an object should convince you otherwise.

This also develops your ability follow your intention; it trains your mind to do what you want it to do. All we really have is our intentions, but, as we know from when we decide to do something and fail, it isn’t actually easy.

Now, of course, what you intend to do and do matters. Different types of meditation have different effects. But most types of meditation have a loop which is, at its heart, really this simple even if you intend to do multiple things, like sit in a specific way, or have the tip of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth and have your hands resting on your knees with forefinger and thumb touching while doing nothing else, or concentrating on your breath or whatever.

The basics really are this simple, though the permutations are vast.


How to Deal with Anxiety and Trauma Using Meditation

One of the common pitfalls of “mindfulness” meditation is that practitioners become very good at noticing sense objects in their body. (More simply: feelings.) Now, if those feelings are negative, that can lead to more anxiety and fear, and if you contact the emotions around a traumatic experience, you can be re-traumatized; the trauma can become worse.

Understand how the mind works. When something bad happens, the mind brings it up again and again as a warning; “This was bad, you should watch out for it.” The mind is trying to be helpful (our minds/brains are not that smart, but they are trying to help).

If, when a negative feeling comes up, you don’t react to it, or you react with warmth/love/security, it weakens. If, on the other hand, you are upset, and you add an additional negative load to it, your mind thinks, “Oh my, this is still a danger, I should bring it up more often and stronger.”

So the key to using meditation to help with trauma and anxiety is to not react, or to react with warmth, love, or indifference.

This means that mindfulness and Vipassana meditation styles should not be used alone. A concentrated mind (from shamatha: concentration on an object like the breath or meditation, or a loving mind, from Metta or something like puppy meditation will react more calmly or even with warmth.

When that happens, the underlying anxiety or trauma weakens. Repeated applications will reduce it a great deal.

This means that you should always do more concentration and loving kindness meditation than Vipassana or mindfulness — at least a 2/1 ratio, and do shamatha and loving-kindness before you do vipassana. I suggest concentration first (breath or mantra are easiest for most people), then do mindfulness or vipassana.

If you contact an emotion you can’t deal with, immediately switch over to concentration, then after a few minutes, go to loving-kindness.


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