Meditation – What I’ve learned

I think most people who discover meditation, myself included, initially vastly underestimate it’s potential for transformation.

I haven’t by any means discovered everything that meditation has to offer, but at this point in my life it’s been about 4 years since I first started dabbling with it and about a year since I started seriously maintaining a habit of meditating daily.

I want to briefly outline my own experience with meditation and mind training, discuss the benefits and hopefully convince someone else to start this great habit.

I got introduced to meditation at age 21 through the lectures of Alan Watts, who’s now one of my favorite philosophers. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he was an Anglican minister who left the church and in the sixties became a philosophizing hippie and mystic.

He was pivotal in bringing eastern mysticism and philosophy into the western mainstream. I highly recommend his lectures, many of which can be found on Youtube.

Later I got into listening to Ram Dass and thus became even more intrigued about meditation and psychedelics both.

Taking the plunge

Those guys talk about a great many things, all of them immensely interesting, but Ram Dass especially focuses on the importance of learning to calm the mind, tune into one’s senses and be here now.

Even so, it wasn’t until I discovered the Vipassana retreat centers around the world, as taught by S. N. Goenka, that I really decided to try it out. A friend of mine and I duly signed up for the next course to be held in Catalonia, 30 minutes out of Barcelona, and it was tough.

These retreats are unforgiving. The schedule is very strict, wake up at 4:00 AM every morning, meditation starts at 4:30. From then on it’s basically hardcore sitting in silence until 21:30 PM, allowing for breakfast, lunch, and short breaks every hour or so.

That’s every day for ten days. At 19:00 there’s also an hour long lecture from Goenka on tape, which becomes the most interesting respite since the invention of sex, at least after ten days of non-stop meditating.

Aftermath

Unsurprisingly, many people drop out. A few times I approached my own breaking point, but by a blend of intrigue in the potential benefits of hours of meditation and a longing not to be outdone by my friend, I stayed on. And in retrospect I’m incredibly glad I did, because I ended up learning a lot about myself and human nature.

For example, farts become ten times funnier when there’s nothing else to laugh at. Food becomes ten times better when you receive no other stimulation all day, and when there’s nothing distracting you from tasting and enjoying it.

That said, they recommend that after finishing the course you keep a two-hour-daily habit of meditation to keep progressing. I accepted the challenge and kept it up for about two weeks until dropping it down to about 20 minutes daily.

Then for the next few years I kept that up on and off (mostly off to be totally honest). I actually went to a couple of other centers as a worker, where you meditate about a third of the time and the rest is spent in mindful service.

I learned a lot from that as well and it provided a kick to keep up the habit, but I would always lose my motivation in the end.

I’m not sure what exactly changed, whether it was my midnight of the soul or something I read, or even just an accumulation of meditative experience breaking down resistance, but slowly but surely I became motivated to meditate more and more.

I guess actually seeing the benefits of this habit manifest in my own psyche had a lot to say about that, as well as a general building up of momentum.

I gradually went from every two or three days, to every single day, and from 10-15 minute sessions to hour long sittings, at first once daily, and now both morning and evening sessions.

I’ve now meditated at least 20 minutes every single day for more than three hundred days, and I’ve meditated for 2 hours daily for close to a month now. And I want to make this clear, I don’t mean to brag!

This is a highly personal undertaking, so personal that pretty much nobody besides my girlfriend actually knows I meditate at all. And that’s the way I like it.

That’s not to say I’m not proud of my self, in fact it’s improved my self esteem by leaps and bounds, because I’ve shown myself to be capable of self-discipline that I was sure I would never find.

Benefits!

Now, what are the actual benefits I’ve experienced? Good question. Actually, there are some very tangible and obvious benefits, and then there are aspects which are pretty much ineffable, or unspeakable. Obviously I’ll focus on the tangible ones.

Increased focus

I’ve noticed my ability to focus has improved dramatically, especially after I started to focus on concentration meditation as opposed to insight meditation (like the Vipassana tradition).

I can read for hours at a time and I can remain attentive in pretty much any situation. I’m not superhuman though, some days are definitely easier than others, and the general condition of my body (hydration, sleep, nourishment) has a lot to say about it.

Calm

I’m definitely more calm in every day life, or rather, I find it easier to calm myself down in the face of agitation.

The more familiar I become with my attention, the more easily I can direct it.

For example, if I become overly worried about something that I have little control over, I can consciously decide to become present, to attend to my breath or search for bodily tensions, and take myself out of my head.

This is a tremendous benefit to my overall health, as tension and stress are incredibly detrimental to the human body. This effect will also become more pronounced as time goes by.

Deeper Introspection

This is connected to the first benefit, in that when I’m writing in my journal or practicing self-inquiry, I’m able to remain attentive to the process, which allows me to delve deeper, to follow thoughts further, and to contemplate ideas more fully than I could before.

This effect is obviously also cumulative.

Less bodily tension

The Vipassana or insight traditions in buddhism especially have consistently helped me to detect tensions within my body of which I had no clue. Allowing your attention to flow through your body like a flashlight, making every tight muscle and overstretched tendon obvious to you.

Multiple times a day now, I scan my body to see where my tensions tend to build up. In my case it’s mostly my face, shoulders and abdomen, and when I detect tension I consciously let it go.

There’s definitely correlation between bodily tension and personality type, like when you call someone a tight-ass.

I’m a pretty high strung person, how much of it is nature and how much is nurture I’ll never know, but I’ve learned to consciously relax myself to the degree that I feel like I’ve gained a lot of control over my more neurotic tendencies.

Confidence

There’s just a real comfort in the fact that you are here, now. Whenever I really tune into that fact, a powerful feeling of acceptance arises. And accepting what is, is just as important as creating what will be.

I hope I managed to convey some of my enthusiasm for the meditative life. I’m experiencing new aspects of my mind and consciousness every single day, and I believe consciousness expands exponentially as soon as you start cultivating a habit of questioning and investigating direct experience.

Love to you all.

Check out my article on Single-Pointed Meditation and how it can Help your Spiritual Practice, or you could take a look at my post on the Awesome power of Psychedelics!

A midnight of the soul

Human beings are marvelously adaptive.

We can survive incredible hardships, injury, stress and despair.

Everybody has an identical imperative in life, whether or not we realize it: to maximize happiness while minimizing suffering.

Everything we do is in some way an expression of this rule. We work because we want to avoid the pain of being broke and not affording food and shelter. We play because it gives us pleasure, or sometimes it’s a way of replacing or overcoming a negative feeling.

But sometimes, our circumstances become so unbearable that our methods of balancing our emotions just don’t cut it anymore.

These last two years, I’ve been dragged to the pits of hell and back. Or at least that’s the way I experienced it. All experience is relative to all other experience.

In the summer of 2016 I realized that a feeling of unease that had been nagging me for six months had been pointing me towards a simple truth: I had been poisoning myself since I was a teenager.

Allow me to explain. Most people who either have eczema or psoriasis or any other skin disease, or have someone close to them that does, will have heard of corticosteroids, widely known as hydrocortisone cream.

Well, what most people don’t know is that these medications, if relied upon too heavily, may result in horrific rebound effects lasting for months or years. It seems that only a minority of users ever experience this, but as fate would have it, I found myself a part of this unlucky group.

On June 17th 2016 I quit cortisone creams cold turkey, the beginning of what’s termed TSW or topical steroid withdrawal, and what ensued was the most horrific rollercoaster of pain, misery and despair that I’ve ever experienced in my life.

For about 18 months I couldn’t sleep at night due to bone-deep itching, which I duly scratched until I was bleeding all over the sheets, along with intense heat flashes and nerve pain. During the day I was bright red all over, I was shedding skin in bucket loads, and in constant pain. Eighteen months! It truly pains me to recall the worst of this.

For the first year or so I kind of willed my way through working as a ranger in Ásbyrgi national park in north-east Iceland during the summer, and then through university, where I was studying illustration.

I never really admitted to myself how incredibly sick I had become, and looking back I should have taken time off right from the beginning to allow my broken body to rest.

I never had the energy to do anything other than do my best to finish my assignments, tear myself out of bed in the mornings and in my free time I would basically lie around doing nothing, since staying motionless made my painfully tight skin feel almost bearable.

My social life absolutely disappeared and I had started my descent into deep depression.

I finally reached my breaking point in the beginning of October 2017, after 14 months of struggle. I quit school and started to stay home. It was the most difficult decision I had made in a long time.

It was also the best decision I ever made. I finally allowed myself to sleep in (the worst symptoms came around midnight and then settled down by early morning), and take it easy around the house instead of stressing over school.

Depression can be incredibly sneaky. Initially I felt so much better from not having to tear my bleeding body from the sheets early every morning, but it was an ephemeral respite. Before long I was questioning every aspect of myself and my life.

Despite finally giving my body the rest it needed, I became restless, anxious and agitated. I felt like a failure. I felt like I would never get better. I felt like I was destined to be a broke, angry old man that never got a chance to actually live his life.

Thankfully I never had serious thoughts of suicide, but I started to have a troubling fascination with the concepts of death and dying. I read the book Who Dies? By Stephen Levine, which is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. I would constantly think about existence after bodily death. My girlfriend started to become worried about leaving me home alone.

I’ve had bouts of depression before, and man, I thought those were bad. But they were minor annoyances compared to this. Before long I had gone from hardly sleeping at night and forcing myself to wake up at seven every morning, to staying in bed until well after midday.

Life had ceased to have meaning. I was smoking weed almost daily, playing way too many video games, and jerking off to porn in between. A sad excuse for a human existence. I had no confidence at all, even around the people who love me the most.

Lest this article become too much of a downer, let me tell you what this experience has given me.

I’m not out of the fire yet, but I’m feeling so much better, physically and mentally. In some ways, a life is like a tree. The deeper the roots of our sorrows, the higher the lightest and happiest branches of our lives can reach.

Meditation has helped me in profound ways, and so has keeping a journal.

In my own life, I can see this principle clearer every single day. Whatever happens to me can be reduced to the status of a minor annoyance by the smallest remembrance of the suffering I’ve endured. And the happy moments, well, they’re all the happier. Suffering builds character. I never understood that as well as I do now.

Every day now, I see the value of my life, the infinite possibilities, and the beautiful reality my mind can manifest. My suffering is the base upon which I will build the towering castle of the life I intend to live.

Infinite love to you all.

You may want to know what I’ve learned about the Awesome Power of Psychedelics, or how Single-Pointed Meditation can help your Spiritual Practice.

 

A trip to remember

The day before yesterday a friend of mine came over to visit. He‘s been living in Denmark the last year or so, and I don‘t meet him all that often so it was cool to see him again.

We had planned to take a massive psychedelic trip together and so I grabbed my jar of dried liberty caps (Psilocybe Semilanceata) that I meticulously picked last fall and we brewed a tea with about 80 caps.

We discussed the parameters of the trip, and laid down some ground rules. Last time I tripped with this particular friend a schoolmate of his called him mid-trip and wanted to discuss some project they were working on and was so obtuse to the fact that we had taken psychedelics that he stayed on the phone for half an hour.

Ridiculous.

I decided then to never let anything like that happen again, since atmosphere and setting are easily the most important factor when doing shrooms.

I‘ve taken mushrooms maybe six times by now, and four of those trips I took on my own, mostly in meditative silent darkness á la Terence McKenna. My friend was interested in trying this approach as he had mostly done mushrooms in a more casual social setting. So, after drinking this wondrous tea of visions we made for my bedroom, where I pulled the drapes, turned off the lights and closed the windows. I sat down on the floor by my meditation altar and he sat on the bed. We kind of talked on and off about what we were experiencing, and sat in silence in between.

Soon the familiar feeling of weightless tingling set in, and before long colorful geometric shapes and ribbons started dancing around me. I‘ve experienced large doses of Psilocybin a few times before so I knew what to expect, but the sheer beauty of it never fails to amaze me.

Whenever I‘m tripping with someone else I feel like we‘re a single entity, as if we‘re sharing thoughts and emotions, but that‘s definitely not the case. My friend and I kept each other informed as to our insights and thought patterns, and man they were completely different. However, the more we talked, the more we started to see what the other meant. We started to tune into each other. Literally, as in the visions surrounding me would correlate to the ideas he was expressing to me and vice versa.

As we got close to the peak of the trip we moved under the covers in bed and I just lay there in amazed wonder while epiphany upon epiphany drifted through my consciousness. After a while I sat up in a cross legged position again and started following the sensations in my body and my breath. I probably sat there for an hour (although time is notoriously relative), just contemplating and coming to terms with my existence, as a human incarnate on the earthly plane, and I felt an acceptance, a peace, that I‘ve never before experienced, even on my previous psychedelic trips. I became absolutely confident in my right to exist and flourish, and that whatever happened to me, everything would be all right. It was the most powerful psychedelic experience I‘ve ever had, and now two days later I‘ve had a chance to digest it.

I feel a certain liberation. I don‘t mean I‘m a buddha or a holy man or anything. Just that some barrier, some blockage that‘s been telling me to be something other than I am, has suddenly dissolved and given me a chance to experience life as a fully self-accepting, honest and happy human being. If only for a little while.

It‘s motivated me to take my circumstances and happiness fully into my own hands, to take responsibility for everything in my life, good and bad. I see now that it‘s the only way forward.