Little Buddha says, “Chill out.”
In my About section, I mentioned that experimentation is important to the spirit of Raptitude. From the start, this blog has been about improving humanity through improving yourself, and improving yourself primarily by developing mental skills. Most of the skills I’ve talked about already, namely keeping life fresh, investing your attention on purpose, and enjoying the mundane moments are contingent upon one’s ability to direct their attention to where they want it. I am conducting Raptitude’s first public experiment to help to develop my ability to do that.
I exercise mindfulness in my actions every day, but I’m much less consistent with sitting meditation. These days I never really sit down to actively practice the deliberate rendering of attention, whether it’s onto my breath, my body or some other foci.
If I were to define meditation I would call it “the art of directing one’s attention.” The human mind is so flighty and fickle it’s actually hilarious how difficult it can be to keep it in one place. Civilization does a good job at distracting us 24-7. As I type this I’ve got four Firefox tabs open, TweetDeck keeps popping up, and I’ve already answered two phonecalls. Shutting them all out seems like the most obvious response, and I will do some of that (ok TweetDeck is closed.) But I am more interested in improving the other end of the equation: me.
The meditative mind is ‘like water,’ as the ancient adage goes. It is receptive, unfettered, lying still in the cool valleys rather than being blown around by the oft-changing winds of the world around it. My mind is has been more grabby and windy these days. I’m having lots of fun, but I’ve been doing too many things at once.
I used to meditate fairly often. Not daily, at least not for long stretches, but often enough that it did not intimidate me. But I haven’t done it much in the last year or so. As an excuse I’ll say I’ve been very busy and productive in all sorts of other areas, but I’ve definitely let the formal mindwork slip for no real good reason, and that’s a shame.
So, under your watchful eyes, it’s time for me to once again sit down and be still. Everyday. For a month.
Why I have strayed from regular meditation is not a mystery to me. I’ve made a lot of excuses for myself, but the honest reason is this: I got scared. Not scared of sitting still, or scared of my incessant and insane thoughts, but scared of getting discouraged. This is the phenomenon I discussed in Protect Your Dreams From Contamination: often I will avoid doing something that I know is important to me because I can’t bear to do it badly. After having a few disappointing experiences, I developed a bit of an aversion, even though I’ve had many wonderful and revealing meditation experiences.
Somehow, regular meditation slipped behind me and receded into the distance, and now it’s become unfamiliar and scary again.
The Meditation Paradox
All of us come to meditation because we are seeking something, whether it’s a clearer head, some sort of insight, a ‘special feeling’ that does occasionally arise when one is meditating, or maybe just to do what someone else is raving about. And alas, we quickly encounter meditation’s paradox: the goal is nonattachment, acceptance, and presence. Yet we would not be doing it if there was not some difference we wished to effect in ourselves. When we come to sit in stillness, we must have an incentive or we would not do it, so expectations invariably arise, and attachment and disappointment can come with them.
I know that being focused purely on outcomes, in any endeavor, leads to impatience and ineffectiveness. The doing is important. Or, in this case, the being. Yet I do undertake meditation with my mind on outcomes. I just have to remember to let go of those thoughts while I’m in the middle of it.
All of us who take to the cushion have our reasons, we have to admit. I guess we just have to keep all of our lofty goals and incentives in the background, and simply engage in meditation for its own sake. When the rewards come, they come. If they don’t they don’t. The most I can lose is twenty minutes a day for a month. I’m willing to gamble that.
The other obstacle in forming a daily practice has been my indecision about a method. There are hundreds of ways to meditate, from traditional Zazen meditation, to audio-recorded guided meditations, to lovingkindness meditation. Some teachers recommend meditating on an idea, some recommend meditating on the breath, others recommend just a gentle scanning of all sensations that arise. “How to meditate,” according to Google, has 3.8 million answers. Information overload, in the worst possible place.
Clarity is ultimately what I’m looking for, and the vast palette of meditation flavors and textures offered by the information age seems to have short-circuited my attempts at achieving it.
Very often I would choose a method, and be persistently distracted by thoughts about other methods that would surely suit me better. Often I would just abort the session and resolve to try something new. And not now, but later, when I don’t feel like I’m trying too hard. Because I was afraid of that feeling of ‘grasping’ at the perfect method by repeatedly changing my approach, I never really settled on one.
I’ve sat down to meditate many times, and delved very deeply quite often, but the aborted sessions were too frequent for me to establish a regular practice. Some sessions went well, some not well at all, some unclear. The impression I was left with varied correspondingly. There were times when I rose from the cushion thinking “sitting meditation is just not for me,” but at least as often, I was convinced that meditation was absolutely essential to my development, and that I would never be fully myself without doing this kind of work. Most of the time I had mixed feelings: vaguely encouraged and vaguely disappointed at the same time.
The missing ingredient was really persistence. I just need to sit down to meditation practice every day, rain or shine, distracted or clear-headed, no matter how my last session went. I have to be willing to be ineffective, if that is the outcome, so that I do not quit at the first whiff of discouragement.
For my experiment, because of my history of aimless self-talk during meditation, I’ll start with a guided meditation CD that I have had for a long time but never really experimented with. I will run through each of these tracks at least once, and after that I may choose one method and stick with it for the remainder of the experiment. I’ll see what my mind says in a week, once it’s not so Twitter-addled.
The CD has six tracks:
Breath Meditation (20:30)
Meditation on Hindrances (20:27)
Meditation in Emotions (19:26)
Walking Meditation (27:36)
Meditation on Body Sensations (25:50)
Metta Meditation (27:07)
Now that the internet is watching me, I have some public accountibility to work with. So I’ll start making promises.
I will meditate for a minimum of twenty minutes daily and log my experiences, good, bad or ugly. I won’t report the results here every day, maybe every five to seven days. Day 1 will be Tuesday April 7, 2009 and I will continue through to Day 30, Wednesday May 6, 2009. If I miss a day, I miss a day, but I will be careful not to let that happen. I will be honest, and I will not abandon the project no matter what happens.
I encourage any of you who are interested in meditation to join me.
If you are looking for a simple method, try this one: A Simple Meditation
Or for more options, explore Meditation is Easy.
If you’re indecisive like me, just pick one and try it at least three times before you try something else.
I would love to hear your results in the comment sections of this post and future updates.