Meditating off the cushion

Awareness, awareness. Such a beautiful thing. I’ve been developing my bodily awareness for the last few months. From cleaning up my diet and adding all kinds of living enzymes and probiotics to determining imbalances in strength and mobility. It’s not that a healthy body is strictly necessary for developing awareness, but it sure makes it a lot easier. Feeling good just feels so, well, good.

I’ve started doing quite a bit of yoga. I always used to think yoga wasn’t for me. I never really connected to the whole ‘the body is your temple’ thing, but recently I decided to really give it a go, and I’m glad I did. It’s a way of developing strength, flexibility and awareness simultaneously, and there are so many different routines and asanas that you’ll never get bored. So I’m definitely going to see where this takes me.

In meditation awareness of the body is paramount. In all kinds of different practices, the ability to move your attention from your thoughts to your bodily sensations is very important, be it in whole body awareness like in Vipassana or narrowed down awareness of breath or touch as in single-pointed meditation and Samatha. But what I’ve finally started to realize is that the time between meditation sessions is just as important, if not more important than the sessions themselves.

Mindfulness is the first thing that comes to mind in that regard, and for good reason: it’s an umbrella term for everything that’s done with fully present awareness, be it doing the dishes, walking to school or doing yoga.

I’ve been trying my very best to develop the habit of becoming mindful of my body at multiple times throughout the day, discovering tensions and aches and examining my posture. I’ve discovered that like a lot of people I tend to hunch up my shoulders and tense my jaw, especially in stressful situations. A big part of that is habit, but another part is strength and mobility imbalances.

For example, I’ve been doing way to many pushups, as well as sitting too much in a hunched position. That makes my pectoral muscles stronger than my back muscles, which leads to my chest contracting and rolling forwards, and the muscles on my back overextending throughout the day. Chronic extension or contraction of a muscle isn’t a good thing, and leads to nastiness like pinched nerves and sprained muscles. Which is exactly what I’ve been experiencing, along with a chronically stiff neck and upper back.

Fortunately there are ways to fix this, and that’s what I’ve been focusing on. I want my body to be strong, flexible, healthy and balanced, because I now understand the way mind and body complement each other in so many ways. In my post A Midnight of the Soul, I detailed how my sick, weakened skin and body in general lead me to the depths of despair and depression. Likewise, the healthier I feel my body become, the easier it is to feel happy and fulfilled.

I’ve started doing lots of yoga, as I said in the beginning of this article, but I’ve also started doing more varied exercises, like pull ups, bridges, squats, running and so on. I think as long as I make sure to work out my whole body, not just parts, I’ll be able to fix this.

On a different note, in March I’ve decided to leave the desolate winter landscape of Reykjavik for European adventures. On March 15 I’ll go to Riga in Latvia and with my mother and sister for the weekend, and from there I’ll fly to Tirana in Albania and meet up with my girlfriend for a two week stay.

Then, god willing, after Albania I’ll be flying to France in the beginning of April, where I intend on starting the 844 km trail from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Finisterre, the trail known as the Way of Saint James, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Oh man, I’m so happy and excited to be healthy again. To be young and full of energy. I’ve realized that life is to short to not live it exactly the way you want it to. Funny that it took two years of serious chronic illness to show me that little insight.

Much love.

Mindfulness is a way of life

All we really have is right here, right now.

Any time is a time to be mindful. I used to think that mindfulness was all about the meditation sessions. I would be pretty conscientious when it came to sitting down on the mat and following my breath, but in every day life I was as unconscious as ever.

I’ve now come to understand that the time between meditation sessions is just as important, if not more important than the sessions themselves. After all, it is your life.

The last few weeks have been surprisingly stress free for me, and I’ve diligently meditated my two hours daily for the last month or so, but today was a bit different. Allow me to explain.

I’m going to the Canary Islands tomorrow, with my grandparents. They asked me to come along because they’re insecure about going alone. I jumped at the chance, since I’ve been craving some real sunlight and a respite from the dark, cold winter in Iceland.

However, there’s been a storm for the last few days, and my grandparents’ flight from the south-east where they live was cancelled yesterday, and it’s not certain that they’ll be able to make it on time for the flight to the Canary Islands.

I started to get pretty stressed out, wondering how we could figure this out and make sure to catch the flight tomorrow morning. I started playing little movies in my head, imagining myself stuck somewhere, or imagining the feelings of desperation at having missed the flight and so on.

My morning meditation session went terribly, and I was unable to sit still or focus at all. Afterwards I made some breakfast, and I decided that I wanted to read while eating, to make full use of my time.

However, after sitting for a few minutes half-eating, half-reading, I realized the ridiculousness of it all.

Instead of enjoying my food, I’m trying to milk every second I have. And instead of enjoying my book, I’m spreading my attention thin.

I put the book away and focused on the sensations and taste of eating. It’s a beautiful thing, fully immersing yourself in an activity. I wonder if the infamous “flow state” of athletes, artists and musicians can apply to fully concentrating on eating a good meal as well.

After about ten minutes (I was taking my time), I realized that my stress had dissipated dramatically. It was a wonderful feeling!

I started to ponder, what was it that calmed me down? I think it’s not so much what I did, as much as it was what I didn’t do. I think that when we try to multitask, it tells our brain that our time is limited.

This in turn encourages the mind to expend extra energy to juggle the tasks we set for ourselves.

This is an insidious twist.

We can’t be fully attentive of what we’re doing when we do more than one thing at a time, so we do a worse job of it.

We stress ourselves up trying to do everything at once, but ironically everything runs smoother and better if we focus our attention on one thing at a time.

The brain’s autopilot mode is a glorious thing. It allows us to drive cars, to wash the dishes, or sing in the shower without imploding. But when we try to abuse it, cramming in as many activities as we can in as little time possible, we reap less rewards and more stress.

So I’ve decided to focus on only focusing on one thing at a time. There are exceptions though, because some things complement each other beautifully, in my experience. Things like listening to music while cooking, or talking over dinner, or reading in the bathtub are great combinations.

But some things are just way better when you allow yourself to fully experience them.

The word mindfulness is all over the place. It’s hip to be mindful these days. But I think often, the true meaning of the term is lost on us. Instead of trying to make mindfulness just another activity, something to add to the to-do list, we should make it a meta-activity. Meaning mindfulness should apply to everything that’s already on our to-do lists.

Being mindful is a beautiful thing, and a wonderful way of directly experiencing ourselves and the world around us. In fact, it may be the only way.

After all, if we rush through washing the dishes, in anticipation of the hot cup of tea waiting for us after we finish, we’ll probably be thinking of our next activity when we finally get to drinking our tea.

Love life, experience life.

Much love.

Mindfulness – The key to overcoming addiction

Awareness is curative in and of itself.

I’ve discovered this to be true in my own life. It’s the basis of all the mindfulness-based addiction recovery programs and stress-reduction protocols.

The idea is that as soon as an addict becomes fully aware of what he or she is doing to themselves and others, the compulsion will be broken. Moment to moment, we can become aware of our cravings and consciously choose to not react to them.

I’ve found that I’ve always developed addictions as detachment mechanisms. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve used substances and behaviors as a means to escape negative emotions.

Instead of facing and embracing the discomfort of experiencing the emotion fully, be it shame, guilt, anger, grief or any other distressing feeling, I would allow myself to get lost in the intensities of my addiction.

I’ve been addicted to lots of things in my life, some more difficult to get over than others.

Sugar, video games, tobacco, cannabis, pornography and the need for external validation have all had parts to play, with pornography addiction and the need for validation being the most tenacious of the bunch.

The deeper I explore the subtler parts of my psyche, the more I see that these addictions have developed over long periods of time, mostly as a result of some kind of trauma.

When we think of trauma, we tend to think of horrific accidents, sexual abuse and physical violence.

However, trauma can be incredibly varied and subtle. Emotional trauma is an often overlooked factor when dealing with addiction, as is childhood neglect and isolation.

When I was growing up, events took place that still affect the adult I’ve become. My father’s sudden decision to leave my mother when I was seven, my mothers subsequent alcohol abuse and neglect of myself and my sister, constant moving and distance from friends and family have all had incredibly poignant effects on my emotional make up.

I’ve had to work hard to overcome the hardships of my childhood, but the effort has been rewarded many times over.

Addictions started to become glaringly obvious in my daily life in late adolescence. I had been using pornography and weed as coping mechanisms for years with little or no consequences, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch, as they say.

My reckless behavior was starting to catch up with me.

Although many tout marijuana as a mind altering drug with little chance of physical dependence, the mental addictive potential is often overlooked.

Pornography has also been hailed as a healthy respite from the stresses of modern life, with no ill effects. In my experience, pornography addiction is subtle but insidious.

Studies have shown that problem use of (high-speed internet) pornography closely resembles dependence on heroin, at least when comparing brain regions affected and the intensity of neuronal activity.

As a kid and young adult, porn use was subtly encouraged everywhere from sex education classes to movies and television shows, as was smoking weed (albeit not at school!).

I just went with the flow, not knowing the havoc I was wreaking on my sexual and mental health.

Now I want to make clear that I’m not anti-porn or anti-weed or anti-anything for that matter. I am however very passionate about level-headed discussion of facts, instead of propaganda guided by superstition and ideology.

I started this article off on the idea that awareness is curative. Here’s what has helped me in my struggle for independence from addiction.

Education and understanding

One of the most important things you can do for yourself in life is to educate yourself. School is fine and dandy, but ideology leads the way all too often. If something intrigues you, approach it from many different angles and viewpoints.

In fact, there’s no one real or true way to approach any subject, it’s all relative to the person studying it.

When I realized this, I started picking up books about all kinds of esoteric and taboo things, like polyamory (Sex at Dawn), meditation (The Attention Revolution), diet (The Paleo Manifesto) and out-of-body experiences (Journeys out of the Body).

The freedom from understanding that nobody really knows anything for sure is surprisingly sweet.

Keeping a Journal

Journaling has been one of the major transformative habits in my life these last few years, along with meditation and psychedelic use.

Writing in stream-of-consciousness fashion, meaning writing down whatever comes to mind, is an incredible, cathartic tool for self-understanding.

It helped me not only pinpoint what behaviors were causing me the most suffering, but also what had incited my dependence on them in the first place.

Your journal is a place to develop ideas and clear your mind, but also a place for deep self-inquiry and healing. My journaling habit may very well have been the most important catalyst for my awakening to the realities of my life.

Psychedelic Exploration

Psychedelics have been taboo for so long it’s almost ridiculous. It’s amazing to me that something so life-altering, so liberating, could be kept under wraps for so long. The potential for psychological healing in sensible psychedelic use is profound.

Taking the plunge and experiencing psychedelic mushrooms is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Bear in mind though, that psychedelic substances are not to be approached lightly. They are vastly powerful and demand respect.

Ritual and psychedelic use have gone hand in hand throughout human history, and there’s no reason to stop now; Prepare your trips meticulously, make them celestial and sacred. You will not be disappointed.

Being Here, Now

Mindfulness has been the deciding factor for me when working through my addictions. I’m still struggling with pornography, but it’s nowhere near as over the top as it used to be.

I’m getting closer to freedom from addiction with every passing day, and a big part of my recovery has been thanks to my introducing mindfulness into my life.

At first I simply started meditating, and then forgetting the principles of mindfulness in between sessions. When I finally understood that meditation is a lifestyle, not an activity, it changed my life.

Becoming mindful of your thoughts and actions is pivotal in gaining control of your behavior. When we engage in addictive patterns, we do so by allowing ourselves to get lost in the sheer thrill of the next dopamine hit.

When we manage to bring awareness to those moments, we are able to think ahead; “Is this really what’s most beneficial to me in this moment?”

And when you reach that stage of self awareness, nothing will ever be the same. I guarantee it.

I love you all.

 

 

Freedom from shame

I’ve been trying to figure out a nagging feeling these last few months.

A feeling that’s been coming and going since I can remember, a sort of low, barely noticeable humming tightness and pressure in my throat and belly.

Through vigorous self examination through writing, meditating and psychedelic trips, I think I’ve finally been able to pinpoint exactly what it is: Shame.

I’ve discovered the this feeling of shame has been influencing me way more than I care to admit. Not the kind of burning-cheeks, watery-eyes kind of shame. More of a constant low level stress or anxiety.

The kind of shame that sits with you, even when you think you’ve accepted yourself.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know exactly how to handle this kind of shame. I’ve been doing some experiments on myself, to try and see what the answer might be.

An honest life

What’s given me the most relief has been honesty and sincerity. To myself especially, but also to some extent to those around me.

One of my major shamers that I managed to single out from the torrent of self-judging, is the nature of my sexuality. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s no secret that sex is taboo in western culture, even though we simultaneously venerate it through media and advertising.

What’s been causing me shame? Well, I’ve finally decided to admit and accept that I’m not a totally straight dude. What that means, I don’t know. All I do know is that I don’t fit into the labeled frame of heterosexual male.

And I’ve known it for years and years, but somehow I kept repressing it, hoping it would go away.

Accept yourself as you are

Admittance and acceptance are conscious decisions, they are not arbitrary. We have way more control over the way we feel than we realize.

After admitting it to myself I decided to admit it to my girlfriend, and later to my best friend.

Both of them were totally fine with it, which says a lot about the quality of my loved ones. It was a great relief, in fact way more of a relief than I initially expected. The proverbial load-off-my-mind has been very tangible.

Now I still have some way to go before I’m fully shame free, but this has been an important first step to my mind.

I have a lot more digging around to do regarding my sexuality and what I want to do about it, and I can feel that there are other issues that I need to get off my chest, but that will have to wait until I’m fully ready.

Coming to terms with the fluidity of my sexual interests has really intrigued me, especially because of how much it had been weighing down on me without me actually noticing.

It’s like if you’ve been carrying a ten pound backpack on your shoulders for ten years straight, without ever taking it off, you’ll eventually stop noticing that it’s there.

And you won’t be able to imagine the incredible relief you’ll experience when you finally manage to shrug it off.

The magnifying glass

One other thing that I’ve noticed, is that working with shame can actually magnify the feeling before actually being able to release it.

When I started poking around in the recesses of my psyche, looking for the shamer, the feeling of shame started to become pretty strong, way stronger than the low humming from before.

When I finally admitted my shame to myself and accepted it, it felt like something was trying to burst out of my chest. I felt like I just had to tell someone, anyone. And the combination of acceptance and sharing released the tightness in my throat, and the pressure in my abdomen.

I started feeling a wonderful feeling of self-love. I’ve been cultivating self-love for some time and it’s been increasing gradually since I started, but this was like a boost, like an injection of some beautiful loving chemical into my emotional veins.

I understand now that the more shamers I discover and disarm, the more I’ll be able to love myself and others. This will be the main work in my journaling efforts until I release them all.

What can I do?

For those of you that want to experience the wonderful release I’ve been describing, it will take some work. Don’t be discouraged though, every journey starts with the first step.

Make a decision, a decision to write in your journal every single day, however little time you manage to scrape up in the beginning.

Write whatever comes to your mind. At first it will be superficial and facile, but it’s like an onion : The sweetest, juiciest layers are deep within. With time and patience, you will reach the core of your being, and at that point all the work will be repaid with interest.

If you’re up to it, you can throw some psychedelics into the mix. Be careful that you know what you’re doing though. They can be incredibly therapeutic but only when approached with respect.

A human being is a complicated thing, at the same time as it’s a beautifully simple thing. There are many facets, many different things to examine and observe, but at the center there lies a soul, so pristine and perfect that you won’t believe that this wonderful thing was to be found within you all along.

Whatever your past, and whatever happens in the future, you can decide to forgive yourself and others for all wrongdoings, and especially for your wrongbeings. You will eventually find that existence is perfect exactly as it is. We only suffer because we allow ourselves to do so.

I wish you luck on your own shameless journey of self acceptance.

Much love.

The incredible benefits of a daily meditation habit

Our habits are what defines us. Personality, dreams, and appearance are transient, but what we do every single day makes us who we are.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

-Kurt Vonnegut

One of the most beneficial daily habits I’ve developed in my own life, along with keeping a journal and affirmations, is the habit of daily meditation. I’ve already outlined what meditation has done for me and how it’s helped me grow here, but I want to go more in depth into the mechanics of making meditation a habit and why it should intrigue you.

A boring enterprise

To those who are approaching meditation for the first time, it’s boring as hell. Sitting in quiet solitude doing nothing for any length of time is the opposite of interesting. But meditation is a curious blend of doing nothing and experiencing everything.

Why do we meditate? We might say we do it because it calms us down, that it brings us into the present moment, or it helps us to organize our mind-space. All of these things are relevant and highly important.

However, the main reason that I decided to make meditation a permanent part of my life is that I’ve learned that the possibilities that lie in expansion of consciousness are limitless. A being with full control of its awareness is a formidable thing.

It’s in the nature of awareness that we cannot know what we don’t already know. So the only way to find out is to sit down, close your eyes and seek the Truth with a capital T.

I’ve now been meditating for a few years semi-regularly and for the last year or so I’ve made it a daily habit, and the benefits are monumental.

It’s hard to put into words the love and awe that’s been instilled in me through observation of what is here, now. In fact the only way to understand the power of meditation fully is to do it. Or better yet, be it.

Baby steps

But how can we develop this habit? Well, as I mentioned before, to the beginner meditation is boring.

How do we make a habit of something that’s boring? When I was a kid, I developed the habit of doing my homework right after school. I would tell myself “Just 30 minutes, right after school. Then I can play”. And that’s the key.

Or actually it’s two keys; Decide when and where, and set a time frame. My advice is to start meditating in the evenings first, only for a very short period at a time. Even just 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Don’t overextend yourself.

The reason I recommend the evenings instead of mornings, is that we’re more likely to be in a hurry or have a lot of other things to do in the mornings and it’s easier to just brush it off. You may even find that sometime after work or school, in the middle of the day, might work even better for you.

Most important of all though, is to do it every single day. Don’t miss out on a single day!

You want to build momentum. If you meditate three days in a row, then miss the fourth day, you’ll be way more likely to miss day five, and even more likely to miss day six and so on.

But after 30 or 50 or 100 days in a row, you’ll want to keep going. You’ll naturally want to avoid breaking your streak, and each day will become easier and easier.

I’ve now meditated for more than 300 consecutive days, and skipping my daily meditation doesn’t even cross my mind anymore. That’s what I want for you, too.

Time well spent

As for increasing the time spent on meditation every day, don’t worry about it too much. It’s really a kind of natural progression. The more you meditate, the more you’ll want to meditate.

I progressed from 10 minutes a day to my current 2 hours a day without much thought, although it took some years and a lot of dedication on my part.

I can promise you one thing though. If you manage to make this a habit, it will change your life in profound and unexpected ways.

The beauty of the present moment experienced directly becomes more apparent to me with every passing day. As I noted in a recent trip report, I had a sort of enlightenment experience while meditating during a psychedelic mushroom trip, and while psychedelics can be beneficial to your spiritual practice, you’ll want to develop a highly attuned awareness of every day life as well.

I was filled with awe at the simple fact that I exist at all! Wouldn’t it have been much more natural, much more sensible for the world not to exist, for there to be nothing? Reality seems like such an extravagance, yet it’s an extravagance that I’m eternally grateful for.

All too often we go about life in a rush, a panic even, skiddily going from one thing to the next, seeking fulfillment in the most elusive fashion, yet when we manage to truly stop and be here now, we see that we have everything we need.

It’s like the story of the beggar under the tree. All his life, the beggar prostrated himself under a high oak tree. His life was short and filled with suffering. At the time of his death, some of his fellow beggars came together to bury this unfortunate man under his tree.

After digging for a while, the other beggars struck something hard and hollow. They dug it out. It was heavy! It turned out to be a treasure chest, full to the brim with gold, silver and precious stones! The poor beggar had lived his life in poverty and despair, and all the while he had been sitting on a fortune! If only he had taken the time to look.

And so it is with us. We seek and seek, hoping to find something to give us meaning and fulfillment, when the entire cosmos is within us. We have everything we could ever want, right here, right now. If only we take the time to look.

You may be interested in reading about my insights and experiences regarding Single-Pointed Meditation, as it can really benefit the rest of your self-inquiry and spiritual practice.

I love you all, and I wish you all the best.

 

 

On single-pointed meditation

When I first started meditating seriously, I exclusively practiced Vipassana, also known as insight meditation, as taught by S. N. Goenka at the Vipassana retreat centers around the world.

My first foray into the world of Buddhist spirituality had been a 10-day retreat at the Dhamma Neru center in Catalonia in November 2013, so I wanted to give the technique its due. And there’s a lot to be said for Vipassana. It has multiple subtle and not-so-subtle effects and benefits, as I listed in a previous post. However, at some point I decided that I wanted to focus on honing my attention in order to better practice Vipassana and other techniques I would discover in the future.

So while looking for resources to help me do just that, I stumbled upon the book The Attention Revolution by B. Alan Wallace. It’s a book that outlines the Vajrayana Buddhist approach to attention training and calming of the mind through single-pointed meditation, known as Samatha.

To be honest I didn’t really like the way the book was set up, in eight steps or grades of focus of attention. I also felt a bit discouraged a few times throughout the book, as the author often implied that true progress in Samatha couldn’t be attained without prolonged silent retreat, and I mean more than a year at a time. Even practicing two hours a day, he said, wouldn’t really do much for you, or at least that’s how I interpreted it. I don’t mean to question his understanding of these techniques, but surely everybody needs to start somewhere, and a little bit of meditation is vastly better than none at all.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s full of wonderful insights and helpful information for those looking to improve their concentration and attention spans.

I’ve now been practicing the techniques outlined in the book for about three months, the first two months I sat for about 30 minutes up to an hour a day, and for the last month or so I’ve kept up an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, or two hours daily.

I want to share what I’ve learned, how I’ve improved, and some important aspects to practicing Samatha that became more obvious the more diligently I practiced.

Focus

What I instantly noticed was that single-pointed meditation, such as following the breath, can lead to some incredibly peaceful and focused states of mind, more so, or at least in a different capacity, than I’ve experienced with Vipassana meditation. For those unfamiliar with Vipassana, it normally consists of some sort of body scan or body awareness element, along with observation of sensations in a mindful, non-judgmental way. By and large, attention is diffuse, spread out throughout the body. Not so with single-pointed awareness.

A good way to understand the difference between the two approaches is through analogy to a light-source. Vipassana meditation is like candle flame or a lantern, flickering, shining light almost equally in all directions, while single-pointed meditation is more like a flashlight, or even (preferably) a laser beam, that can be directed to wherever the meditator wants it to go.

You can experience some very calm, peaceful states through body scanning techniques, but in my experience not the same intense focus, at least not as readily. I should point out that while single-pointed meditation focuses on developing attention, there is a mindfulness element to it, just as there is an attentive element to Vipassana, so both techniques will develop multiple facets of awareness and ultimately they complement each other in important ways.

Relaxation

“Meditation is a balancing act between attention and relaxation.”

– B. Alan Wallace, The Attention Revolution

Something that became increasingly apparent to me while practicing single-pointed meditation, and which Wallace points out in the book, was the importance of full body relaxation.

Any tension anywhere in the body will dramatically reduce your ability to focus. It’s so important that nowadays during a session, if I feel that I’m having a hard time concentrating on my breath, I will immediately do a quick body scan to see if I’ve tensed up somewhere. More often than not, I will discover a tightened muscle somewhere, usually around my eyes or in the jaw area, and take half a minute to relax once more.

Funnily enough, I started to connect different thought patterns to tension in different body parts. For example, when worrying about daily affairs or past and future events, I would tense up around the eyes and forehead. When remembering events that caused me anxiety or stress in the past, I would feel a tightness in the abdomen. And if I found myself thinking aggressive or even violent thoughts, which happens more often than I care to admit, I would hunch up my shoulders and tense my jaw.

These tensions are very much tied to their correlating thought patterns, but it goes both ways. So in the same way that specific thoughts seem to cause specific tension, mindfully releasing the tension in the body will result in a calming of the mind and releasing of the thought patterns. Interesting stuff.

Access Concentration

A few times in my practice, I experienced a state that I later found out to be named access concentration. It’s a state of intense, unwavering focus and deep calm and serenity. For myself, each time I experienced it I felt mildly ecstatic. It only lasts at most for a minute or two at a time for me as of yet, but the first time I attained this state was a real boost for my practice, and gave me a lot of clarity as to where my meditation habit is leading me. The possibilities are magnificent, unspeakable.

“I suggest that if you were able to focus your attention at will, you could actually choose the universe you appear to inhabit.”

– B. Alan Wallace, The Attention Revolution

As Jack Cornfield says in the article I linked to, I felt the state of access concentration to be very shaky and unstable, in the sense that it was difficult to maintain and I couldn’t readily find it again once it had passed. I expect that with further practice and perseverance I’ll become more familiar with it and be able to settle further into calm attentiveness.

So what now?

I just started an 8 week mindfulness course, and I intend to focus on the techniques I learn there in my own practice at home for the duration of the course. I’m confident that my work on my concentration will serve me well with various other techniques. I see concentration as a sort of keystone meditative factor, in that it will complement all other spiritual practices. After the 8 week course is finished I’ll make a decision on whether I want to continue further with the mindfulness practice I learn there, or if I want to focus on Samatha again.

At this time in my spiritual development I feel the need to get to know many different techniques and practices and learn what I can from each tradition. Maybe at some point I’ll want to really center in on a particular approach, but until then I’m content to dabble around.

I sincerely hope these insights have inspired you in your own practice or helped in some way. All the best on your own path.

 

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!