Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The loudest thing in the world
April 15, 2014 1:06 AM   Subscribe

"The thinking mind is like a perpetually-running chainsaw that thinks everything is a tree. It will use any excuse to rev up and start shredding something. Its purpose is to solve problems, so it wants everything to be a problem." How to stop your mind from talking all the time.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (95 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
Alcohol! What do I win?
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:29 AM on April 15 [37 favorites]


That's a lot of words. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is way more fun to read.

Seriously though, I did the Drawing course in the UK a few years after a 25-year pursuit and it was extremely meditative. While the workings of the brain are simplistic in this context, it helps to understand how we are dominated, or live in a world dominated by the numerical, verbal and temporal. Removing or reducing those things allows the more abstract side of the brain to light up and, hey presto, beautiful drawings. Our brains are designed to make sense of the world in front of us (which is why you can tell Van Gogh painted a table, even though it looks nothing like a table) and that feature gets in the way of simply trying to describe things in an abstract way.
posted by bookbook at 1:32 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


The article strikes me as a bit obvious, but everybody is coming from a different internal place and the simple act of being present in the moment might feel strange for some. Particularly with all of today's distractions.

Tonight I stared at the eclipse for a while, no idea how long. It was a good subject for this sort of thing because it did progress with time, but v..e...r...y slowly. Waves and fire are also good to stare at, because they're constantly moving, but never seem to change.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:45 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I wonder if intentionally thinking less may lessen your capacity to solve problems. I have no evidence for this. It occurred to me mainly because my brain never shuts up and can't read a positive article without derailing into a negative analysis...
posted by man down under at 2:00 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


The #1 coping technique I've ever learned:
Breathe.

1. Assume a comfortable posture lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting, keep the spine straight, and let your shoulders drop.

2. Close your eyes if it feels comfortable.

3. Bring your attention to your belly, feeling it rise or expand gently on the inbreath and fall or reced on the outbreath.

4. Keep the focus on your breathing, Being with each inbreath for its full duration and with each outbreath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing

5. Every time you notice that you mind has wandered off the breath, notice what is was that took you away, and then gently bring your attention back to your belly and the feeling of the breath coming in and out.
posted by mikelieman at 2:07 AM on April 15 [13 favorites]


When I focus my mind on one simple thought that generally helps to blot out the noise of higher cognitive contemplation.

HULK SMASH.
posted by three blind mice at 3:24 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


I kept waiting for the how part, but apparently the author's answer is just that you just do it. If I was able to "focus on the moment" or "put away words" or "return to the present" I wouldn't need to read a "how" article.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:24 AM on April 15 [21 favorites]


With Buddhism I've learned that having no preference for one brain state over another goes a long way toward dulling the chatter. When I find myself craving the transcendental experience of perfect presence, and then I orient my life around that craving, two things happen: first, I become incredibly obsessive, to the point that I find myself staring at a set of keys for minutes at a time before being able to put them into the ignition of my car, and second, I gradually lose interest in the things that mattered to me before, i.e. writing, drawing, listening to lectures on somewhat arbitrarily selected topics. So for me--and mind you, I was kicked out of the Navy for being schizotypal--mindfulness is a slippery slope toward an unpractical ideal. Much better for me to appreciate the intense beauty of the present moment when those moments arise naturally, as for instance, like Kevin Street says, I stare into a fire I've made in the wood stove or at the clouds rolling by. (Also, now that I'm thinking about it, I find that building a fire in the morning using as little kindling as possible forces me into the present for short, enjoyable bursts.) (Also also, see Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.) (Also also also, who can talk at length about Heidegger's insight into mindfulness and presence? I'd like to read something about that.)
posted by jwhite1979 at 4:30 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]


Never whistle when you're pissing, because if you do you're clearly in two minds when one will do.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:31 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Apart from that, it's all claptrap.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:32 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


@The 10th Regiment: The answer is simple: give up on everything you care about and dedicate your life to the eternal present, then meditate without ceasing. It's what all the great mystics tell you to do, more or less.
posted by jwhite1979 at 4:38 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


It's very much not claptrap. Our normal, noisy minds are the trouble. What amazed me is that he wrote a whole article about this subject without once mentioning Buddhism or meditation (unless I missed it in my skim).
posted by Hobgoblin at 5:52 AM on April 15 [9 favorites]


It misses the more important question. Why the hell would you want to? The world is a complicated and beautiful place with more in it than one could ever take in, why trap oneself in a silent bubble of thoughtlessness?
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:00 AM on April 15 [9 favorites]


Our normal, noisy minds are the trouble.

Dumb hippie claptrap.

Our normal, noisy minds are the greatest gifts we have.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:06 AM on April 15 [11 favorites]


The trick for me to stop thinking with words is to think in French. My French is embarrassing, so I shut up pretty quick.
posted by surplus at 6:08 AM on April 15 [10 favorites]


Our normal, noisy minds are the greatest gifts we have.

Sometimes, and sometimes not.
posted by jwhite1979 at 6:09 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


The world is a complicated and beautiful place with more in it than one could ever take in, why trap oneself in a silent bubble of thoughtlessness?

Often these things are poorly stated, but the idea (as far as I've been able to tell) is that people tend to get so wrapped up in their own thoughts/worries/distraction that they don't notice the world around them, and people also get so wrapped up in external things that they don't notice what's going on inside their own heads.

Just calming down sometimes is worth it. Not that I have any sort of routine or discipline or anything close to it. I'm more likely to check Facebook for the 15th time that day or play a mindless puzzle game on my phone.
posted by Foosnark at 6:13 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


a few years back I read "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" - an absolutely great book that I highly recommend.

Thing is tho, I never really understood what was so bad about my mind.

Yes it talks and won't shut up. Yes it's like a chainsaw and everything is a tree. But what's so bad about that?

I figure, just let my brain cut down every tree it sees. it's not like it's actually cutting down real trees, so what harm?

I think it's a contradiction to try to "attain" a "natural" state - if it's natural, why should you try to attain it? Your natural state is how you are, 100% of the time. Just let it happen.

Turning to this article, I'm glad that the writer didn't blame technology for his noisy brain. So many people are doing that these days - using "zen" philosophy (invented thousands of years before technology) as a way to protect against the dreaded monster that is too much electronics.
posted by rebent at 6:21 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


Whenever I read one of these 'everyday zen' articles, I get the distinct impression that they are not applicable to parents. The idea of staying in the present while washing dishes or crossing the parking lot takes on another dimension if you have a kid, or kids, to watch at the same time...somehow it's much less 'meditative' if you have to keep a thrashing toddler from dumping ketchup in the wash water/running into traffic. Mother will have a hard time reaching enlightenment...
posted by The Toad at 6:26 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Our normal, noisy minds are the greatest gifts we have.

Speak for yourself! If I'm not able to shut myself up occasionally I go crazy/become depressed. That doesn't mean I deny the value of human thought and experience - quite the opposite.

Different people have different experiences. There's no need to throw insults around because of it, is there.
posted by Drexen at 6:36 AM on April 15 [12 favorites]


a few years back I read "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" - an absolutely great book that I highly recommend.


I've been reading a biography about its author, Shunryu Suzuki, called Crooked Cucumber. Having the context of Suzuki's life, practice, and education is quite helpful when trying to evaluate the worth and relevance of his teachings. I set down the biography 2/3 of the way through, having developed a sense that Suzuki was, in fact, an accomplished meditator with much to tell us about contentment and peace, but that one cannot cultivate equanimity and presence without sacrificing, in some degree at least, some of the best things life has to offer. As I said above, I'm still a Buddhist, and I still meditate regularly. But I no longer really give a shit whether or not I meditate regularly, if that makes any sense.
posted by jwhite1979 at 6:41 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


why trap oneself in a silent bubble of thoughtlessness?

You may have conflated your mind monkey's output with thoughts.

But I no longer really give a shit whether or not I meditate regularly, if that makes any sense.

I find "mindfulness" a more helpful concept, because it is something you can strive to be always, and doesn't have the connotation of passivity that "meditation" does.
posted by crayz at 6:58 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Discussions about Mindfulness and Meditation and Zen always make me think that English itself is one of the problems we have discussing it in the modern world. The connotations of the words themselves carry baggage that makes it hard to get people to actually discuss the process, and goal (or lack thereof)
posted by DigDoug at 7:11 AM on April 15 [6 favorites]


Discussions about Mindfulness and Meditation and Zen always make me think that English itself is one of the problems we have discussing it in the modern world.

Maybe that's a little true, but Shunry Suzuki thought that the west's lack of an established vocabulary was on of its greatest assets, allowing his teachings to carry more vitality than they did Japan.
posted by jwhite1979 at 7:19 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


There is something very special about achieving the state of being in the present, of calming one's thoughts and distractions so that the 'outside' world seems to become all that there is. It's tied very deeply to the ability to see beauty in everything, and can perhaps be the closest anyone can approach to 'the truth' out there in a perceptual, rather than intellectual, way.

But that isn't us. Our world, the one we really inhabit, is the one in our heads. And the worlds everyone else really inhabit, are in their heads. Most of where we are is other people, not the unknowable All.

That Zen state of crystalline awareness is not really our world; it can touch our world in wonderful ways, because the things brought back can truly change everything in ways most precious.

But as a place exalted above all else? For some, perhaps, and for some it may not even be a choice but as unavoidable as falling off a mountain. I don't think it's true for most, and certainly not some essential goal without which all else is tawdry pretense.

Happiness and fulfillment comes in seven billion varieties. Know about as many as you can, but the choice is yours.
posted by Devonian at 7:27 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


I've always had a problem with the way the literature of meditation/mindfulness gets turned into a black-or-white judgment of mental activity. For example, the pejorative term "monkey mind." One type of mental experience, good; other type of mental experience, bad. It doesn't seem altogether different from talking about rising above the "id," or the metaphor of the mind as a chariot with horse and rider. There's a moralism about it that won't go away.

Whenever I am curious about practices like mindfulness meditation, I end up coming back to the question of what type of world, attitude or behavior does this practice end up cultivating?

Lorin Roche, a teacher of yoga and meditation, has a fantastic section on his web site called The Dangers of Meditation. He observes the fact that many of these practices originated in a completely different social setting, with different values that were trying to be maintained. A lot of the literature on meditation comes from an all-male celibate monastic tradition, and includes lots of propaganda denigrating the body, the emotions/passions, sexuality, family, women, etc. Maintain the status quo of the monastery. Keep the monks calm and focused. In other words, if you've renounced the world to live as a monk, it's helpful to have lots of methods for breaking your attachments to the world, making it unattractive or disgusting.

Then, hundreds or thousands of years later, those traditions get brought into the West out of context, but still carrying a lot of the baggage of monasticism.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:33 AM on April 15 [24 favorites]


This is why I go on road trips; hours and hours of admiring the scenery, driving safely, and only being concerned with the here and now.
posted by davejay at 7:35 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


I'm enjoying the schism between thoughtful responses and the impulses of Diogenes.

I might be taking a minority perspective choosing to see this topic through literature. For those who are curious, I understand the ideas behind mindfulness are forgrounded in the works of the early 20th century poets. They were fascinated with the concept of defamiliarization. The call from the high Modernists follow historically the upheaval of political and moral consciousness post WWI. Take Ezra Pound's challenge: 'Make it new.' The most radical of these authors were speaking as authors on the art of writing. They believed seeing the world around them as it really is at this moment was the secret to truly creative writing. The author in the link describes a similar goal at "Putting your words away for a bit".

For myself, as a creative personality, I like to think of the overactive mind as making trouble for us because its bored.

As an exercise to bring my attention back to the present I too have used meditative practices. They are very helpful. However, the idea I most enjoy right now follows from my own grappling with the ideas of author and physicist Juilan Barbour who argues against the concept of time (yeah, the relativity kind of time). (I'm not at all prepared to describe this, so you'll just have to check it out for yourself. But you might see parallels between the destabilization post WWI era and our own information age...if you're feeling it at all...)
posted by xtian at 7:37 AM on April 15 [9 favorites]


Our normal, noisy minds are the trouble.
vs
Our normal, noisy minds are the greatest gifts we have.

It's a floor wax and a dessert topping!

Being noisy is a thing that minds do. Being quiet is also a thing that minds do. Various meditation practices are cognitive exercises that can be helpful for strengthening and building endurance for certain kinds of mind-motion (not a great term, reminds me even as I put it down of a good madlib for that new age woo generator link awhile back. But "stillness" is really an unfortunate term when people lose their grip on the metaphor of it, because when you've got those invigorating times of relaxed but aware consciousness, that's the brain "moving" quite vigorously still), but not for other kinds. Vigorous purposeful exercise is also helpful for strengthening and building endurance for other kinds of motion.

There's an awful lot of false dilemmas that get thrown around in talking about this kind of thing.
posted by Drastic at 7:45 AM on April 15 [11 favorites]


Our normal, noisy minds are the greatest gifts we have.

This seems unnecessarily dismissive and short-sighted. Have you never benefited from "being present" to relieve anxiety or just to abate the cacophony of modernity? Sometimes that normal noisy mind does its best work in the background while the inner chatterbox is completely occupied with sleep/sex/art/music/meditation/exercise/other focusing distractions.

I'm no neuroscientist, but I'm pretty sure that there's a lot more processing capacity in the mind beyond the portion responsible for "do I look fat? Did I leave the stove on? Oh christ, I'm going to be late again. Where did I leave my keys? No, seriously, do I need to change pants? These feel like they look too tight. Keys! Keys? Keys. Okay... Shit! So late! Fuck the pants! I've gotta go! Christ, what about the stove???"
posted by stenseng at 7:47 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


Mindfulness is meditation level 2. To be mindful, a part of your mind has to be anchored, so it can observe the remainder of the mind. If you're a 1,000wpm scatter brain then mindfulness will just be an exercise in frustration. Meditation level 1 is just developing concentration, like a breathing meditation.

You don't want to abandon conceptual thought. That would be vegetative. Yes our minds are powerful. And they become even more powerful when concentrated & controlled, instead of bouncing like a monkey on a hot plate.

The world is a complicated and beautiful place with more in it than one could ever take in, why trap oneself in a silent bubble of thoughtlessness?

Have you ever been in that silent bubble? Its fucking wonderful...
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:48 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Have you ever been in that silent bubble? Its fucking wonderful...

Not without serious medication.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:56 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


The #1 coping technique I've ever learned:

Breathe.


"For mind and body alike there is no purgative like Pranayama, no purgative like Pranayama."
posted by malocchio at 8:11 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


The other side of this is even darker. There was an article by Evgeny Morozov posted to the blue a couple weeks ago that gets into it.

Mindfulness is great for making miserable people calm and accepting of their lot in life. It shifts the responsibility for emotions to the experiencer. It's the perfect normative practice for maintaining the status quo. If you're still unhappy, it's your own fault for not doing the practice perfectly enough.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:12 AM on April 15 [18 favorites]


Ideally I’d spend my whole life in this state

Ideally you would spend your whole life not thinking? I can't even empathize with that; it just seems bizarre to me. Why not shut down your eyes and ears as well, and spend your life as vegetatively as possible?

> Have you never benefited from "being present" to relieve anxiety or just to abate the cacophony of modernity?

Yeah, sure, it's a good idea to slow down occasionally, to just exist and take in the world and not worry about stuff. That's a far cry from saying thought is bad and we should strive to avoid it.

> Have you ever been in that silent bubble? Its fucking wonderful...

That's what they say about heroin.
posted by languagehat at 8:21 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Where the reasonable conversation is simple mindfulness/meditation techniques = heroin = slavery = conspiracy by technocratic cabal
posted by stenseng at 8:28 AM on April 15 [15 favorites]


I've always been prone to zoning out. I never have trouble falling asleep. I find it very easy to be 'in the moment.' It's not a virtue, it's not something I learned, and it's not a better way of being in the world (it has advantages and disadvantages, just as its opposite 'mode' does). I just think different people's brains are tuned differently, but that's not a particularly sexy or saleable point to make.

As someone perhaps coming from the other end of a particular cognitive spectrum (what even is it? smooth vs striated thought?), I've had to try to train my brain into being a bit louder and more definite in its thinking. The concept of a loud "monkey" brain which needs to be made quieter feels like a weird unintuitive idea to me - but that's me (it also seems a bit pop-evolutionary-psychology, which makes me leery; I'd characterize my brain as a quiet fish, not a loud monkey). I guess my point is that discourse around this kind of thing seems super prone to absolute statements coupled with absolute value judgements, and either of those is problematic, and even moreso when they're brewed together.
posted by erlking at 8:31 AM on April 15 [6 favorites]


"We typically spend way more time thinking than we need to — like fifty to a hundred times more —"

As an instructor of undergraduates, I have not found this to be the case.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:34 AM on April 15 [17 favorites]


I can't even comprehend the desire to do so, really. My mind isn't a chainsaw, it's an entertainment palace, an observation instrument, as well as a problem solver when I need it. Looking at the world becomes *more* interesting because I am thinking about it.
posted by tavella at 8:45 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]


I suppose I'm pretty solidly on the masturbating monkey side of the spectrum myself, but I can't help but note the irony of a piece about how and why I should shut down my internal monologue which is itself presented largely as a personal narrative.

"A couple of Sundays ago, I left for a friend’s house to watch the Oscars..."
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 9:08 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


"I can't imagine hating thought,
and hating it, I can't abide.
What is this meditation rot?
I can't imagine suicide."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:09 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Funnily enough, I've been reading in the one of the standard MBCT books. So far, the authors explicitly aren't expecting you to get into a state where you have no thoughts. Rather, they're encouraging you to get into a state where you don't habitually identify your self with all of those thoughts (and get swept away by the unhelpful ones). AFAICT, the whole business is about noticing thoughts (and feelings and physical reactions), not eliminating them.

Evgeny Morozov's article just seems... odd. I am not finding that mindfulness makes me want to shut up and obey my corporate masters.
posted by pw201 at 9:25 AM on April 15 [9 favorites]


To help some of the uber-rationalist, non-meditative MeFites in this thread, I'd like to clarify something.

Meditation and mindfulness are not about stopping thought. If they are "about" anything, they're about allowing thoughts to occur without being bothered by them. One of the effects, therefore, is the creation of space between one's sense of self, i.e. one's awareness, and the thinking process.

When people talk about stopping the chatter in their minds, they generally don't mean what they're saying. It just feels like the chatter is stopping because you're no longer caught up in it. So, say someone said something at work to make you feel bad about yourself. Maybe you would typically get into an internal dialogue something like this:

"You know she didn't mean it like that. You shouldn't let it bother you."
"She does this every time, though. I'm sick of her being so insensitive."
"Maybe you're the one being insensitive."
"Maybe I should try to pay attention to what I'm doing instead of focusing on my internal dialogue."
"Maybe so, but how are you going to do that? You're already agitated, which means this is going to keep going until you relax."
"Good luck finding time to relax at work."

And so on, and so on, and so on. Meditation and mindfulness doesn't make those thoughts go away. At least in my experience they never go away. If anything they just become more rambly and inane. But meditation does help you to build a sense of self that's bigger than those thoughts. Shunryu Suzuki calls this "Big Mind", which he opposes to "Small Mind", which is a sense of self defined by that discursive process.
posted by jwhite1979 at 9:34 AM on April 15 [19 favorites]


I can't even comprehend the desire to do so, really. My mind isn't a chainsaw, it's an entertainment palace, an observation instrument, as well as a problem solver when I need it. Looking at the world becomes *more* interesting because I am thinking about it.

While I'm happy for you, some other people's minds are earthly hells. Others' are just sources of dull agitation. If their escape is meditation, fine. That's probably better for them, in the long run, than heroin.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:57 AM on April 15 [6 favorites]


Here's how my internal monologue might sound:

"You know she didn't mean it like that. You shouldn't let it bother you."
"Hey, look at that shiny thing!"
"I wonder if there are any updates to that thread on meditation on MetaFilter?"
"I really do need to poot but can I do it without everyone in the cubicles around me hearing?"
"Hey, there's that shiny thing again"
"Is that something on my leg?"
"Oh, just my pants."
"Pants are funny."
"What were we talking about again? Oh, yeah that jerk Susie."
"She sure is insensitive."
"Hey, stop that shiny, I'm supposed to be working."
"Yeah, pants, ha!"
"Maybe I'm the one who's insensitive?"
"Yeah, I probably am, I'm pretty distracted all the time so maybe I missed something she said."
"Oh shiny, how can I ever forget about you?!?"
"Shirts are just not as funny as pants, I wonder why that is."

And so on, except that has all transpired in about half a second, so you see what we're dealing with here.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:03 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


"What were we talking about again? Oh, yeah that jerk Susie."

She is definitely a continual problem.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:06 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


@The 10th, sometimes mine is like that too. As I said, the point is not the quality or pace of the thought, but rather the amount of non-thought that we're able to incorporate into our sense of self.
posted by jwhite1979 at 10:10 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Tell someone to take a break from running marathons every day and nobody bats an eye

suggest you allow your mind to take a break and everyone loses their minds.
posted by Tevin at 10:12 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


Show me someone offering advice about "getting better at being human," and I'll show you someone who doesn't respect and can't really comprehend the precept that people differ from one another, and that's OK.
posted by belarius at 10:15 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I've tried both Buddhist meditation (admittedly for a class in high school, so I don't know how representative those two 30 minute attempts were, except that I cannot keep my legs in a cross legged position for more than 20 minutes without serious pain and shakes) and the closest I think that the west seems to get, a Quaker meeting. In the class on "Eastern Religions" (I think that was the name), we were told to sit and count our breaths and regulate them and focus on that and nothing else. My mind immediately split in twelve different directions. It's perhaps the largest number of internal conversations/monologues I've ever had, which is novel, if not exactly the goal of the exercise. In Quaker meetings, I force myself to stay on one monologue path, which, while mentally tiring, is useful.

I feel that there is a fundamental step that comes before all the instruction that we seen both in this article and people's descriptions that both 10th Regiment and I are missing.

"First thing you do is focus on physicality."
"Ok, how do you focus on physicality to the exclusion of all else?"
"You pay attention to only your physical state and stop creating words in your brain."
"How do I stop the words in my brain?"
"You stop thinking in words and just think in motion"
"How do I do that?"
etc.

It feels like instructing someone who is completely color blind to start by painting a red triangle, not a blue one and most definitely not a green one. There is a fundamental instruction that I know I am missing that no one has ever explained to me. Having ADHD definitely contributes to this, perhaps if I actually had more than a passing conscious control over my concentration this would make sense. Instead, I had created a method of slotting stray thoughts into places where they take up less space than whatever I am trying to focus on. In moments, they tend to be forgotten. But whenever I am consciously trying to slow my mind down and reduce the number of thoughts, these thoughts do not have something larger to blot them out, so they stick around more. I wish I could learn mindfulness, but it strikes me as something akin to learning to grab the bottoms of my feet with my hands while my legs are locked. I can see people do it, but whenever I try, I just cannot bend that way.

Perhaps I am being too defeatist here. But I have yet to see instructions for this sort of thing that start by implicitly assuming you know how to quiet your thoughts, at least a little.
posted by Hactar at 10:15 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


@Hactar, your experiences are exactly what one experiences with meditation. After spending a lot of time focusing on your breath, you begin to feel a sense of separation from the thoughts and experiences you're describing. Sometime the separation isn't there at all, and the thoughts are RIGHT ON TOP OF YOU. This is the case, I'm told, even for expert meditators.

A lot of the nonsensical rhetoric that comes from meditation teachers, e.g. "focus on physicality" or "stop creating words" or "overcome dualism" or "accept what is" or any of the other ridiculous cliches are really just attempts at expressing the experience of being bigger than ones own ideas. If you are interested in a rigorous philosophical explanation, I'd look into Heidegger's Being and Time. I haven't read it, but I've read about it, and it seems to share its ambition with many of the world's foremost mystics.
posted by jwhite1979 at 10:28 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I am trying to comprehend how someone could believe that thought is like a marathon. It doesn't require effort! It's not noisy, it's just *you*. It's like telling someone to stop breathing because breathing is bad for you.

I can understand that some people have obsessive or unhappy thoughts that they can't get away from, and I imagine this stuff is useful for them, but the idea that normal thought is malignant is just bizarre to me. I have an hour commute a couple of times a week, and I delight in the chance to think uninterrupted, to daydream, to observe, to plan, to ruminate over problems I need to solve at work or home.
posted by tavella at 10:30 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


I liked reading overeducated_alligator's link, "The Mindfulness Racket" if for nothing else than citing Slavoj Žižek. But I'm inclined to agree with pw201's response, "I am not finding that mindfulness makes me want to shut up and obey my corporate masters." Žižek and similarly cynical critics struggle to convey their critique of consciousness through dull critiques of language.

"But couldn’t the “disconnectionists” - as one critic has recently dubbed this emerging social movement - pursue an agenda a tad more radical than “digital detoxification”? For one, the language of “detox” implies our incessant craving for permanent connectivity is a medical condition - as if the fault entirely resided with consumers. And that reflects a broader flaw in their thinking: The disconnectionists don’t seem to have a robust political plan for addressing their concerns;"

"But couldn't...a tad?" Maybe, kinda, couldda
"...implies...entirely..." Absolutely, must be true
"...reflects a broader..." More importantly, if you're not convinced
"...don't seem..." Don't bother, I can't describe what I'm thinking as well as I'm effected by my own thoughts... ;)
posted by xtian at 10:33 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I figure, just let my brain cut down every tree it sees. it's not like it's actually cutting down real trees, so what harm?

You are also the tree.

/bow, exit stage left, robes fluttering slightly to the faint sound of a distant flute
posted by weston at 10:42 AM on April 15 [13 favorites]


... did you ever consider that the part of you that is fighting the idea of mindfulness... is not you? ... maybe it is the Wizard of Oz fighting its own dissolution... pay no attention to the man behind the curtain... think THIS THOUGHT instead!! muahahahahah

Who are you when that voice inside is silent? What is left?

Are you your thoughts?

Or, you know, give it a try first before intellectually debating it.

P.S. If I can feel good like being on heroin without the addictive, destructive effects of heroin then SIGN. ME. UP.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:22 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


"I am trying to comprehend how someone could believe that thought is like a marathon."

I don't believe thought is like a marathon. I DO believe that our inclination is to allow our minds to do a lot of "running around" without any rest.
posted by Tevin at 11:29 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Our normal, noisy minds are the trouble.
vs
Our normal, noisy minds are the greatest gifts we have.


How about "Our normal, noisy minds are normal, but it can be helpful at times to know how to quiet them"?
posted by davejay at 11:30 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Rather, they're encouraging you to get into a state where you don't habitually identify your self with all of those thoughts

But my self IS those thoughts. What do you think I am, if not a thing that thinks?
posted by marginaliana at 11:33 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


The idea of staying in the present while washing dishes or crossing the parking lot takes on another dimension if you have a kid, or kids, to watch at the same time...somehow it's much less 'meditative' if you have to keep a thrashing toddler from dumping ketchup in the wash water/running into traffic. 

Actually, I find parenting to offer great opportunities for meditative practice because the less you let your own ideas about what's right in front of you complicate your understanding of what's in front of you, the easier it is to actually understand the situation and your child's needs for what they are. Meditative awareness isn't supposed to make you less engaged with the world right in front of you (at least, that's not the aim of meditative practices); it's supposed to help you better recognize when ideas and mental processes are keeping you from more clearly experiencing and understanding the world outside your own head. The idea is that meditative practice teaches you to recognize your own mind's tendencies to cling to certain ideas excessively or to get stuck in patterns that can interfere with your ability to see and respond constructively to reality.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


@marginaliana: You are a thing that feels, reacts, probes, etc. What's more, your thoughts are largely determined by the context in which you find yourself, a fact which should, upon reflection, raise questions about your rather limited definition of "self".
posted by jwhite1979 at 11:42 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


hactar: I feel that there is a fundamental step that comes before all the instruction that we seen both in this article and people's descriptions that both 10th Regiment and I are missing.

There's a reason, at least in the Zen tradition, that it's called "practice". I liked mikelieman's outline upthread - my shorter version would be "get comfortable and watch your breath. repeat. Don't worry about what Zizek, or you, or anyone else thinks."

JWhite1979: "I've learned that having no preference for one brain state over another goes a long way toward dulling the chatter." I feel like it's taken me 10 years to learn that one thing.

Our normal, noisy minds are the greatest gifts we have.

Yes, and they're not the only way we can experience life.

Here's an example which may or may not have anything to do with meditation. When I was 22 or so I had a summer job at a truck service/parts place, where I had worked before. The first task they gave me was to organize and consolidate a large group of small trailer parts, meaning 25' of shelving filled with thousands of boxes of whatchamacallits, all mixed up and poorly labelled. I like doing stuff like that, and got right to work - it was a great thing to be doing after a year at university. On day two, I was really getting in to it, and almost missed lunch. Later that afternoon I went to the manager's office to ask him a couple of questions. I waited a while for him to get off the phone, and then... all of a sudden this voice began speaking out of my head! I had no idea what it was at first, but apparently it was my voice, and it asked the questions I had planned to ask. It was only weird because I was afraid he would notice that I was in some kind of different state, but he didn't. Of course I started thinking about it right away and just fell back into my normal way of being. But I can remember pretty clearly what it felt like to be totally focussed on a complex task, making decisions and organizing two or three steps ahead, but just not talking to myself about it. It's hard to describe, but there is an unhurried quality about it, and it feels like I'm participating in something larger or deeper than my normal chattering mind. Somebody recently described it as "finding the one who is not busy" which makes some sense, at least to me.
posted by sneebler at 11:49 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


marginaliana: But my self IS those thoughts. What do you think I am, if not a thing that thinks?

Slow down there Decartes. Is that really true?

You sound the scientific type, so give it the old college empirical analysis. Try to meditate tonight. Make your mind as quiet (thought-free) as possible. This isn't vegetative... you may still be thinking but not in words.

Then when you mind is still.... drop in the question:

who exists underneath these thoughts?

try to feel for who is there, when the language is silent. You are still there. You didn't die. But thought is gone. So who is left?


And then ask yourself whether you are nothing but a thing that thinks.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:53 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


overeducated_alligator: Mindfulness is great for making miserable people calm and accepting of their lot in life. It shifts the responsibility for emotions to the experiencer. It's the perfect normative practice for maintaining the status quo. If you're still unhappy, it's your own fault for not doing the practice perfectly enough.


No. When you are no longer pulled to & fro by a mind that is riddled with unconscious associations, fears, anxieties, then you can be clear enough to make proper choices to improve your lot.

Whoever taught you that "if you're unhappy, its your own fault" has no fucking clue about mindfulness. Mindfulness itself will not make you happy.

Seen The Matrix? That end scene where Neo can fight Agent Smith with his hand behind his back? When you're mindful, the world becomes just like that.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:02 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


@sneebler: That state your talking about, the one at the assembly line, was really addictive to me, to the point that I still work third shift at a nursing home mopping floors (back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, three passes on each row of tiles, wring out the mop every eight rows, back and forth). It was so addictive for me, in fact, that when I couldn't evoke it through an act of brute will, I became incredibly neurotic and exhausted, emotionally and cognitively. If I learned the value of "no preference" in five years to your ten, it's because I lack your mental fortitude.
posted by jwhite1979 at 12:02 PM on April 15


I get in the zone sneebker describes sometimes when coding or producing music.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:04 PM on April 15


Flow.
posted by jwhite1979 at 12:08 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


No.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:18 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


I don't have an informed opinion on ADHD, but I wonder if it's [sometimes] used as a diagnostic shorthand for a kid who's too smart for the curriculum and who doesn't respond well to conventional pedagogy.
posted by jwhite1979 at 12:22 PM on April 15


I'm sure it may be, but I can tell you that after 40 years of trying there is something different going on in my brain that is not going on in the brains of the normals. This thread certainly underlines the fact that there seems to be some sort of switch missing that turns off the impulses and running dialogue. I can't, without medication (prescribed or otherwise), turn my brain off without being physically unconcious.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:28 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


St. Peepsburg: "Mindfulness itself will not make you happy."

This is very important. The woo/new-age crap gets injected into all of this when people project their desires for an easy path to happiness or an easy fix to their problems on the practice. That's not how it works. This is reflected (along with other things) in classic Zen and other proverbs like "Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.": nothing changes other than your perspective and the degree to which you can control some of the internal processes of your mind.

It seems to me that the desire to take a break from that internal monologue is widespread and deeply rooted among human beings. People enjoy being in the "zone" and many actively try to get there. Others self-medicate with a variety of drugs in order to disrupt the monologue and of course yet others do it through meditative practices.

Of course the internal monologue is also you. But it's not all of you. There are many aspects to the mind that are non-verbal even though they may shape the monologue and manifest through that pathway at times.

To me the practice of "silencing" the mind is more like attempting to take a step back. From that distance I can begin to observe and understand how the content of the monologue is formed and what influences it. Sometimes the monologue is useful while at others it's turbulent and unproductive and fueled by unchecked emotions. Learning to understand how these states arise and shape the monologue gradually enables me to catch things early on which then puts me in control of whether or not I wish to proceed in that direction. Instead of being a string puppet of my emotions I become involved in the puppeteering. Mind you, that doesn't mean trying to suppress emotions... it just means having a choice before allowing them to take a hold of you.

This is what's symbolized in mandalas. The corners represent turbulent states of mind and extreme emotions often depicted as demon-like entities. The center, often a Buddha, represents a calm mind in relative control of itself. It would seem desirable (to me at least) to be able to operate from that center and to experience the extremes only if one chooses to do so rather than being tossed from corner to corner in a more or less uncontrolled fashion.

I'm not sure if there's any evidence to support this but my intuition is that the verbalizing features of our mind are still relatively new on an evolutionary scale and are somewhat hard to control and are the source of both blessings and troubles for us. Evolution is by nature somewhat sloppy and new features often appear in a sufficient (to insure or improve odds of survival) but inefficient or non-optimized way. This appears to be the case with our cognitive and verbal abilities as well.

Interesting side note: some traditions employ quite different techniques where the mind is essentially overloaded with verbal stuff using ridiculously complex belief systems that must be absorbed and internalized. You pile on stuff until you break under the burden and are shocked into a state of silence and realization that it was all BS. It's a somewhat more stressful and possibly more dangerous path to choose in my mind (what if you never manage to shed the belief systems employed?) but I guess it works better for some than straight up meditation.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:39 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


You are a thing that feels, reacts, probes, etc. What's more, your thoughts are largely determined by the context in which you find yourself, a fact which should, upon reflection, raise questions about your rather limited definition of "self".

I don't (necessarily) disagree with the idea that the self is partly physical and partly context-dependent. But I can't see how I can examine the thing that is doing the thinking other than by thinking. The only tool I have to interact with the world is the part of me that thinks. I can only experience the context in which I find myself by thinking. So being 'a thing that feels and reacts' isn't useful as a definition of a self, because that experience can only be mediated by the part that thinks.

try to feel for who is there, when the language is silent. You are still there. You didn't die. But thought is gone. So who is left?

Thinking isn't language. When the language is silent, thinking still happens.
posted by marginaliana at 12:39 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


Is part of what's going on here a difference in nomenclature? It seems the pro-meditation types call thoughts-that-come-in-language-form "thoughts" and non-language or pre-language thoughts something else. Whereas I (and maybe others?) tend to conceive of every sensation, emotion, impulse, reaction, etc. as "thought."

(I don't often think in words, unless I am reading, writing, or anticipating or remembering a conversation. But I'm still thinking!)
posted by erlking at 12:46 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


@erlking: I think your observation is partly right, but there's more to it. I'm clearly in the pro-meditation camp, but I don't want to restrict the term "thought" to a purely linguistic activity of the mind.

Bear with me. If we start with humans and ask "Do humans think?" The answer is clearly "yes". Now ask, "Do apes think," and the answer is, "Probably so."
"Do dogs think?"
"Sorta."
"Do fish think?"
"Um."
"Do worms think?"
"Um."

There is clearly some kind of experience in common between all these kinds of minds, from people to worms. (A recent article by Oliver Sachs in The New York Review of Books actually discusses this at length, going so far as to suggest that "mind" doesn't belong strictly to the animal kingdom.) As I've written above, I don't think meditation is really about making the chatter stop, and it's certainly not going to make thinking stop if what we mean by "thinking" is the process we have in common with fish and worms, i.e. registering stimuli from the world outside our heads.

But how much of our brain's activity are we aware of? How much of what gets into our brain gets in under the radar, so to speak? Is it right to think of that content as contributing to our self, since it provides most of the context for the thoughts that do arise? And if we do allow our pre-conscious brain activity as part of our self, then to what extent can we even be aware of our self? The self becomes something bigger than our awareness can hold, and from there we may find the distinction between self and other rather tenuous, and from there it's easy to slip into a mindset where "self" and "other" are so utterly conflated that the universe and the self are not distinct entities any longer. This is a perspective that makes one's inner dialogue, even though it still exists, seem very small and insignificant. It's what Zen Buddhists call "Big Mind".
posted by jwhite1979 at 1:30 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


I do wonder about the relationship between meditation and drugs. To what extent drug use could be seeking in its way the same goals. When I tried meditation it was surprisingly pleasant to rest in silence for a few minutes, but I never really got anywhere further with it. When I tried medication I got plenty far, and it never really struck me until now that they might be chasing towards the same place of being-and-nothingness.
posted by forgetful snow at 1:36 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I personally like the idea of meditation and/or mindfulness, but like others here have expressed, whenever I read instructions or guides on how to do it, I feel there is a crucial step I'm missing that just comes out as "just do it."

My interest isn't just about thoughts (e.g., words in my head), but about emotions and feelings. Personally, the way that my life goes, I think that emotions are the most central, controlling things. And yet, I hear other people say that you can "choose" to be angry, "choose" to be offended, etc., etc., etc.,

This is just so foreign from my experience. If I'm angry, I'm going to be angry. I can try not to act upon that anger, but the emotion is still there.

So, I'm interested in the idea of meditation and/or mindfulness to be able to "live" with emotions that strike me. To not "identify" with those emotions.

But at the end of the day, I think/feel: but this *is* what I'm feeling. Trying to separate it doesn't make me feel any differently.
posted by subversiveasset at 2:11 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


subversiveasset: "whenever I read instructions or guides on how to do it, I feel there is a crucial step I'm missing that just comes out as "just do it.""

There is no trick, no steps missing. At the end of the day it's just hard work and persistence in the face of endless frustration. You may find that one technique works better for you than another (I find that eyes open techniques work better for me than eyes closed techniques for example) but it's literally just about practicing regularly and for as along as it takes without giving up.

Have you ever learned a skill where you seem to make almost no progress at all at first and then, after a long time of repetitive attempts resulting in utter failure, suddenly something clicks? It's kinda like that for a lot of people. You may not seem to make any progress but in fact you do. Just dealing with the frustration of it all is part of the exercise. At first you're really just learning to endure, concentrate and not give up, effectively exercising the "muscles" of will power and discipline. You can't really do this and face your own frustration and anger for many, many hours without eventually and gradually becoming an observer of these states of mind. Then, one day, if you don't stop, you'll likely find yourself realizing that you're looking at your anger and frustration rising and being present rather than being inside the experience of it. That's when you start realizing there is the possibilty of controlling these states if you so desire.

But, again, to get there all you have to do is persist. It's really that simple. Persistence in the face of frustration. Once you get there it's easy and obvious. But anybody who says it's easy to get there is either lying or somehow got very lucky themselves.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:29 PM on April 15 [10 favorites]


@subversiveasset: Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes (if you want). Take a few moderately deep breaths until you feel like you're able to pay attention to them; by "paying attention" I just mean enough so that you're able to distinguish between the in breath and the out breath. Then let your breathing return to normal. When you are breathing in, know that you are breathing in. When you are breathing out, know that you are breathing out. It helps to count your breaths, starting over each time you get to ten. When you notice that you're not paying attention to your breathing, start counting at one again.

This is all. No more instructions. Do this and you are successfully meditating. What happens within that space is a reflection of your individuality and can't be judged "right" or "wrong" (even if what happens is an incessant need to judge things "right" or "wrong"!)

Every time you pull yourself back to the breath, consider that one rep (in the weightlifting sense). The more times you notice yourself wandering off, the more reps you do, and the stronger your practice becomes.

If you find yourself paying 20% attention to your breath and 80% attention to your thoughts, that's okay. Stay with your breath for that 20%, or, if you want, try to pay a little more attention, say, 30% or even 50%. Whatever. No pressure. If you have an itch, try not to scratch it. Try to just know what it feels like to have an itch. Try to notice if it has an emotional effect on you. But if you must, go ahead and scratch. That's fine too. Just stay with your breath. It will get easier with time.

In time, if you want to, you can look into different forms of meditation, such as zazen or metta. But you could spend a lifetime with just the breath.
posted by jwhite1979 at 2:32 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


subversiveasset: I agree much mindfulness is taught poorly. I appreciated Eckhardt Tolle since (for me at least) he was able to get past the 'just do it' and describe 'being in it' in such a way that it triggered my own direct understanding of the experience.

I used to teach meditation. There are two phases to meditation: 1) finding your object 2) concentrating on that object. If you don't do #1 well then #2 will suck but if you spend all your time in #1 you may not experience #2. So sometimes you have to be satisfied with a relatively dull #1 and then concentrate on it until it becomes more clear.

So in mindfulness your object can be 1) absence of thoughts and then 2) sitting in the absence.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:35 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Hairy Lobster: "Once you get there it's easy and obvious."

Umm, what I meant to say was: "once you get there it seems easy and obvious".

It can still be rather hard even for people who've done it for a long time.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:36 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


But at the end of the day, I think/feel: but this *is* what I'm feeling. Trying to separate it doesn't make me feel any differently.

But the goal isn't to feel any differently. The goal is to feel it deeply, without any thoughtful interference. Paradoxically, when you stop fighting the feeling (with your thoughts) and just feel the fucking feeling, then it will shift and change, but not before.

So you feel angry. Instead of going 'grr anger fuck that guy!!' you go "hmm anger eh. let's feel that. ooh it's hot. it's in my chest. there's tension. it's a constriction. it's a familiar feeling. hey check that out my hands are like fists. geez this anger feels bad, but in kind of a good way. hey I'm feeling my feelings. I feel. I'm alive! well... guess I'm not THAT angry"

(something like that; language added for descriptive purposes; the idea is to explore the experience without jumping into a) thinking b) acting out.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:40 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


The Buddha (I think) had a fun way of illustrating the point St. Peepsburg is making. He would anthropomorphize all the different mind states, and then describe himself sitting very still in his meditation watching them all approach. He would welcome them, saying for instance, "Hello anger. Welcome." Then anger would scurry away because it did not want to be seen.

Maybe that wasn't in the Buddha's teaching. Who knows.
posted by jwhite1979 at 2:45 PM on April 15 [6 favorites]


also back to my earlier comment that mindfulness meditation is not easy! A part of your mind has to be still, in order to investigate the other parts of your mind.

So instead of mindfulness meditation i.e. sitting down & meditating, you can simply be 'mindful' i.e. alert & not distracted. The opposite of 'lost in thought.' Pay attention to your current experience.

People get confused about mindfulness. What should I be mindful about? The trees? My work? My friend talking? No. Mindful about the contents of Your Mind. What am I thinking/feeling/judging/wanting right now? You just notice. Hey I was thinking about my ex boyfriend again. How about that. or you notice that Hey I had a passing memory about my ex, and then my feelings turned sad. How about that.

It is harder to be mindful when your senses are getting distracted. Being mindful while talking to others is Level 3 meditation. So you start being mindful while you're by yourself so there are no demands on you to interact with others, and grow your practice from there.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:48 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


People get confused about mindfulness.

I found this book called Unlearning Meditation helpful. He tries to get you over the problem that whatever someone says about meditation is likely to be misleading or incomprehensible to you (because words), talks about his own experiences with frustration, and suggests some different ways of approaching the whole idea and learning what works for you.

I haven't checked out the web site yet.
posted by sneebler at 2:59 PM on April 15


(And just as you can learn it through practice and persistence, you can also lapse and backslide without practice.)
posted by saulgoodman at 3:38 PM on April 15


Hairy Lobster: "The woo/new-age crap gets injected into all of this when people project their desires for an easy path to happiness or an easy fix to their problems on the practice. That's not how it works. [...] You pile on stuff until you break under the burden and are shocked into a state of silence and realization that it was all BS....I guess it works better for some than straight up meditation."

You just slipped to the edge of your mandala. What's the difference between "injecting...desires" and "realization it was all BS"? Right? Its not that you go through a process of meditation and then see things clearly. Or that you enter the process in order to see things clearly.

The pile is not BS when it affords true perspective. Take Gothmog vs. large projectiles (YT)
posted by xtian at 4:05 PM on April 15


"But the goal isn't to feel any differently. The goal is to feel it deeply, without any thoughtful interference. Paradoxically, when you stop fighting the feeling (with your thoughts) and just feel the fucking feeling, then it will shift and change, but not before."

We were told to "be like water." Feelings splash into the pool and make waves, but soon all is still again. The feelings are real, but so is the stillness.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:06 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


xtian: "What's the difference between "injecting...desires" and "realization it was all BS"? [...] The pile is not BS when it affords true perspective."

What I meant to illustrate with the former (injection of desires etc) is the phenomenon and mindset where people try out every new spiritual fad in hopes of finding a quick fix and moments of feeling good while avoiding hard work and dedication for a long period of time as well as exposure to frustration and suffering. But without that it is difficult to ever experience the kind of shift of perspective that can be possible with persistent practice.

The latter (pile of BS) was part of describing a non-meditative (at least in the commonly used sense of the word - sitting still/emptying your mind etc) technique to reach states of a still mind through a shock/bait-and-switch experience. That technique also requires focus and persistence in practice and is also loaded with frustration and suffering because you usually have to learn and recall an incredible amount of detail-stuffed information.

When I said "BS" I meant it in terms of the realization that none of the content that was absorbed reflects any actual truth and has no value in and of itself. The value of the "BS" is only in its use as a tool. It's sort of the high volume version of the Zen master's stick effectively sending your inner monologue on a wild goose chase and then tripping it up while at full speed so it falls on its face which leads to laughing at yourself which means you've just succeeded in stepping outside and above the monologue for a moment.

So, yes, you can stand on a pile of BS and gain a different perspective from that but that doesn't transform it into a mountain of gold. The danger is always in confusing belief system type tools with actual truth. I think Robert Anton Wilson called that the "Chapel Perilous" IIRC. Which is why the proverbial Zen master hits his student over the head whenever they cry out "I got it!".
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:52 PM on April 15


I should mention, that water metaphor wasn't meant to be "now you see, Grasshopper" Deep Wisdom, it was just meant to give us hope. Because it can be really frustrating to be quiet and perceptive when your subconscious has other ideas. Wild, crazy impulses and loud emotions will come out of nowhere, or you can be tired, hung over and sick - but like the pool you can always return to stillness eventually. It's a low energy state to come back to, not something hard that takes work to maintain.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:23 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Don't think, it'll only hurt the ballclub.

I seriously need to write that "Bull Durham as Zen tract" essay kicking around in my head.

But one of the reasons I take my gym time so seriously is I push myself so hard all I can do is focus on what I'm doing, meaning it's two hours or so of peace from the constant gibbering in my head.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:38 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


What's a plate of beans without overthinking?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:39 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Bull Durham as Zen tract

I'd read it.
posted by DigDoug at 4:58 AM on April 16


It appears to me that whether it is through physical exercise, playing music, coding, sorting or meditating, the same state of mind is attained. If you can couple this with doing some core muscle exercises then you are getting a twofer. This may be where yoga does well for some people.
My osteopath gets there via working on the punch bag at the gym, my friend gets there via long distance running, another via drumming, another by dancing, another by gardening, another by doing Pilates.
The core exercises are as important as the mindfulness IMHO, and they help with breathing.

People with children may need their own space to do this, but it should be possible to integrate into the day somewhere. Pilates for new mothers is a very popular course at my local Pilates centre.
posted by asok at 6:50 AM on April 16


asok: "It appears to me that whether it is through physical exercise, playing music, coding, sorting or meditating, the same state of mind is attained."

I totally agree. In my case the practice is mostly in the form of martial arts and I find that physical exercise as meditation is what works best for me in general though we do also practice open-eyes seated meditation.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:31 AM on April 16


Came late to this thread, and was amused to see the familiar split that occurs in discussions of meditation -- on the one hand, those who haven't practiced meditation, whose posts tend to fall into the "Why would anyone want to/It seems like a lot of/I don't understand how anyone is supposed to..." category. On the other, those who have tried it, patiently attempting to explain what it is. The thing about meditation is that its benefits are something anyone can confirm through practice, and in no other way. I was an Eastern Religion major as an undergraduate and I would regularly read Buddhist texts saying, "If you wish to understand this, put down this book and practice." And then I'd go write a paper about it. Years later, I began a practice, and have finally confirmed for myself many of the things I was reading about, in the sense of "made the truth of them apparent and meaningful."
What I love about experienced meditators is their combination of supreme confidence and utter absence of smugness. I'm reading a book right now by a Westerner trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand. The title is: "The Way It Is." Christ, what an asshole, right? Only, when you read it, he (like all of them) is simply saying, "Look, this happens to be how it is. If you would like to see that it is like this, you may confirm for yourself the truth of what I'm pointing out through cultivation of a meditation practice. If not, not." There's no panicky proselytizing like you see in the insecure Western religions. It's purely informational, and you are welcome to put the book down and continue on your way unmolested by reproach (or threat of eternal damnation).
I am only a couple of years into my meditation practice. It has been tremendously valuable to me in ways that are difficult to describe to anyone who has not begun a practice. I can list the positive manifestations: cured my chronic heartburn, improved my relationship with my wife, my attitude towards my work, my resentment of my parents, etc., etc. Your experience may vary, in terms of particular outcomes. It will not vary in terms of truths confirmed. That's just The Way It Is. It's not something to speculate about or condemn or propose theories about. It's something to know.
I'd also like to clear up one thing about meditation. Meditation is not about clearing the mind of thoughts. That, too, is an outcome of the meditation practice. People often say, "I could never meditate. My mind is always running a mile a minute." But the truth is, you can ONLY meditate if your mind is running. If it's not, you're enlightened and congratulations. The practice of meditation is the internal motion of moving your attention from your thought/feeling/emotion, whatever it may be, back to your object of concentration, again and again and again. As you do this, you build up an indescribable "mental muscle" that permits you to do this outside the formal meditative practice. And when this muscle has been sufficiently developed, you begin to realize extraordinary things about what you thought was true and real and necessary. And you begin to experience real freedom, which is the absence of reactivity. You are finally free to act with your whole heart. God knows, I'm not there much of the time. But a little bit. And more importantly, I have confirmed the reality that it is possible -- the Noble Truths -- which is not bad for two years of practice.
I encourage anyone and everyone to practice meditation. It is indeed powerful and wonderful (although not in the sense of "blissful" -- my own practice has been mostly defined by boredom and frustration -- the benefits have occurred in my life outside practice). Or don't meditate. But don't try to "figure it out" or form an opinion about it. There really is nothing to figure and nothing to say about it outside of the thing itself and your own experience of it.
(And if that seems like a lot of words about something you can't talk about -- you're right. But hey, I'm only two years in, so cut me some slack for beginner's enthusiasm!)
posted by haricotvert at 2:19 PM on April 16 [8 favorites]


Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go
posted by sneebler at 6:40 PM on April 16 [6 favorites]


« Older Who is DJ Mustard? And why is he "The Sound of 201...  |  Do you lament the loss of the ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments