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

On Meditation

I’ve written on meditation a few times. Once more.

First, Vinay Gupta’s guide to meditation. This is a good one, and if you follow it, you will make progress. It is, also, not easy. Pay attention to Gupta’s admonitions on how to make sure you don’t stop because you’ve made it so unpleasant you don’t want to continue.

Second: Watch your mind. See where your attention is. Much meditation is about learning to control that attention, to put it where you want.

Third: If you can truly rest, that is truly put your attention nowhere, you will make progress very very fast. Almost no one can, but this is the royal road. Expect physical symptoms if you manage this. Ignore them.

Fourth: Anything to which you can pay attention is not you. You are the one paying attention.

Fifth: Meditation will bring up garbage. Horrible thoughts, fantasies, fears, etc…Β  Refer to #4. Don’t identify with any of it. It is not you, just what you are witnessing. No need to feel ashamed, scared, or anything else.

Sixth: Notice it all passes. Everything.

Seventh: Notice how much control you have. Can you tell me what thought you will be thinking in five minutes? Can you actually control your actions?

Eighth: What is always there?

Ninth: Don’t worry. Do what you feel you should, then don’t concern yourself with the results.

Tenth: Take these things as true, on trust and faith, if you can (they will help): There is a self (it’s just almost certainly not what you think it is), you are perfectly fine, and nothing can ever harm that which is truly you.

Finally, there is no need to get “enlightened.” Β It does not matter, unless you want it, in which case, go for it.

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  1. cripes

    Much of what you wrote applies equally to hallucinogenic trips. Funny, that.

    Actually, I got up for a bite and to stop paying attention to upstairs neighbors banging and carousing at 4 am. As soon as I stopped paying attention, they stopped. Which I did not notice right away.

    I should try this on Wall Street.

  2. Ian Welsh

    It’s not accidental that it applies to hallucinogenic trips, actually. Exercise for readers as to why. πŸ˜‰

  3. Jeff Wegerson

    ahhhh I dunno scratch, scratch … unless because plants have a really hard time communicating with us unless we really slow down and pay them exclusive attention?

  4. highrpm

    what brain wave state does “not paying attention” meditation put one in? if i remember correctly, looking at the space between objects, rather than the objects themselves, puts on in the alpha wave state, which i guess is a specific rest state for the brain. i do this periodically while walking. and it puts my mind at ease. and out of a judgmental state.

  5. Ian Welsh

    I’m not sure. Thing is to put your attention nowhere, to just relax it, is (strangely) really hard. I can’t do it deliberately yet. I can almost always shut down thoughts, I can put my attention where I want and more or less keep it there, but I can’t let my attention be nowhere. I don’t think very many people really can, though they may think they are.

  6. Ron Wilkinson

    For the first, third and fifth points you need help/support. Having a teacher and sitting in a group helps greatly unless you have tremendous will. Even Milarepa had Marpa, a guru/teacher.
    All of your points are valid, people do need help to get over the rough parts, a group going in the same direction and a teacher are pretty much necessary for most.
    When meditating in a group there is a communal helpful energy.

  7. steve schmandt

    Vinay’s pdf came up fine for me. And it’s worth the read if you understand at all what he talks about.

    I’m a long time practitioner of Vipassana which is really powerful stuff (especially the 10 day courses). We don’t use mantras, instead we use very simple awareness of bear breathing to develop concentration and creating the calm space to retreat to as needed. But everything Vinay says makes a good deal of sense to me. I think he’s doing more or less the same practice as the Vipassana that has really worked for me, though approached slightly differently, technique-wise. For example, sitting through physical pain sometimes leads into pushing very safely into deep emotional challenges through gradually gaining control over your mind to stop reacting.

    Anyway Vinay certainly has a way with words and lays out the purpose and value of this style of meditation very well!

  8. Ian,

    Thank you for that excellent linked transcript on meditation. It seems to avoid cryptic metaphors and cuts straight to the meat of the matter.

    In relation to the section where the speaker discusses lack of fear of death: I’m also currently reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X; certainly he could have benefitted from meditation in the phase of his life I’m reading about (pre-Islam). He describes how, when he set up his burglary gang, he knew that his group needed a boss. So he played russian roulette with himself with a 5 chambered revolver in front of his 4 friends/co-conspirators and actually spun the barrel and pulled the trigger twice. His friends went totally apeshit with fear, screaming and begging him to stop after the first pull. After the second trigger pull, he said, “I’m not afraid to die. Do not cross a man unafraid to die.” And no one crossed him (he slipped up himself, which is how he landed in jail).

    He also describes using cocaine, opiates, weed, and other drugs to deal with the emotional troubles associated with that life (and the burglary period sounds much less stressful than other periods of his life).

    It’s fascinating to see how people resolve the same challenges – drugs vs meditation, and the benefits, drawbacks, and limitations of each.

  9. Ian Welsh

    Drugs seem to reduce mental plasticity over time.

    Vinay’s an interesting guy (a friend of mine). He’s lived a crazy life, full of trauma that would have broken most people.

    I’ll probably do one or two more pieces on meditation. It’s not what people come to my blog for, but it is what I’ve spent the last 19 months or so working hard on, and I’ll probably spend another 2 years unpacking what I’ve accomplished.

    In certain respects it is the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done. It’s paid off big time, but it was extraordinarily unpleasant for much of the process.

  10. Jerome

    Nice addition to your life. In the 90’s I got really really into Vipassana, doing about 40 of those 10 day to 20 day courses. I was young, striving and chasing. I learned technique and discipline, but it was too early.

    Then I went back and did a 30 day one in 2012. It was like cracking open my skull and watching the insanity live. I came out of it a mess. Took me a year to adjust, had to throw everything I thought I knew about meditation out and start over.

    I don’t know if the early discipline is 100% necessary or not, but I guess if I had not went through it, I wouldn’t have that aspect applied. The only key to learning how to meditate is discipline, because there is nothing else to do. But, to do that, in a manner that’s as usual as putting some food in your mouth on a daily basis, is the real early work.

    Now it’s just a feature. I really can’t imagine ending a day without it. The benefits are immense. I’m happy for you that you’ve checked in and found it too.

  11. ThanksI

    Hey thanks Ian, the roadmap in the pdf gave me a whole trail to look up at. A really really helpful post! Thanks

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