Meditation: Teachers and Technology
January 11, 2022 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Meditation is an ancient technology. Can we hack it? This post will introduce you to the recent rise of consumer-grade at-home wearables aimed at assisting your meditation practice; and also list out some prominent western teachers and researchers who have adapted the ancient into the modern.

Meditation comprises an ancient set of instructions to develop focus, calm the mind, and ultimately to directly experience the true nature of consciousness itself (consciousness without object to be conscious of). In recent years a good number of at home consumer devices have been released targeting the first two!

Muse headset: an at home EEG, developed by Torontonian Ariel Garten originally targeted at thought-controlled gaming, now one of the top wearables for meditation and neurofeedback. Paired with an app, the device measures & analyzes brain signals, using audio feedback to help improve focus, for example by changing the soundscape from a rainstorm to a gentle trickle as you move in and out of concentration. In a similar way it can also be used to lull the brain to sleep. There is another app you can purchase to get the raw signals if you prefer to do your own brainwave analysis.

Myndlift, a fairly pricey app, can be paired with the Muse and an additional electrode to allow for more targeted neurofeedback training. Working with a live neurocoach who sets your training protocol depending on your goal (eg., reduce anxiety, increased concentration etc), you then play a video game on your phone with positive reward when your brain exhibits the target brainwaves.

Don't like the muse? Focuscalm is another option. Want to develop focus AND control shit with your mind? Neurosity crown. They even have a rental program. Another option for brain training with these devices is Divergence neurofeedback.

Prefer to gently buzz your brain with electromagnetic stimulation? Neorhythm may be for you.

Can't decide which tech to buy? Cody Randall has an active youtube channel reviewing these devices in depth.

But what is the research correlating brain frequencies to felt experience in meditation? Here is a primer on brainwaves and their experiential correlates. Most specifically high gamma has been noticed in advanced meditators. It is a growing field of research. You can read some Non-dual research here (PDF).

Now, keep in mind there are different types of meditation, categorized by what the meditator focuses on, and the quality of their awareness as they focus. Largely the categories are: focus (shamatha, e.g. single-pointed focus on breath, mantra etc.), loving-kindness (metta, e.g., generate warm fuzzy feeling and emanate it to self and others), mindfulness (sati, e.g. alertly yet non-reactively noticing what appears at the center of one's awareness, observing it briefly and then letting it go) and nondual awareness (rigpa, e.g., effortless heart mindfulness or colloquially 'emptiness', 'awareness of awareness' etc.).

For each of these meditation categories there are a few western teachers that stand out.

For focus, the seminal book The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa stands out as a how-to meditation manual of the mind, a clear western explanation of the Buddhist model of consciousness and how to alternatively use peripheral awareness and attention to develop deep focus while combating mind wandering and sleepiness. Meditation practice is thus broken down into 10 distinct stages of concentration, each stage having a distinct skill to master before moving to the next. Spoiler: In this model ego (thinking, narrating, deciding) is considered the 6th sense, not the center of identity we think (ha) it is.

Focus meditation it can also be viewed as developing the mental state of flow. Instead of "flow"-ing upon, say, the act of writing or during sports, one develops "flow" upon the meditation object such as the breath. Meditators would call this meditation state access concentration. Once access concentration is achieved, the secrets of the mind begin to reveal themselves. Pioneer flow researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi died last year.

Alternatively, or once your flow is strong, develop Mindfulness focus with Shinzen Young, a secular American monk who teaches students to clearly observe the contents of their own consciousness, dissecting sensory experience down to its essence, and with luck ultimately leading to experience the nature of one's own mind itself (vipassana). His short free online course is here. Forgive the effusive first session; the depth starts session 2 and beyond.

For metta, though not Buddhist in origin the research of Barbara Fredrikson on the 10 positive emotions, their causes and functions is an excellent primer and she has a simple set of guided meditations. Here is her free online short course on Positive Psychology and how to increase the 10 positive emotions in daily life.

If nondual (primoridal) awareness is your gig, go directly to recently popular, ever-secular "out of left field" Loch Kelly, who ditches long meditation sessions entirely. Instead, Loch leads students through a series of short awareness exercises to quickly shift out of the narrating mind into non-verbal awareness, and then shift from that non-verbal awareness into the expansive oceanic oneness he calls Effortless Mindfulness. Skip his books and go straight to the audio teachings which are most impactful in training in his method. A great in depth interview with Lock is here. You can listen to some sample exercises here.

If you're not put off by monk in robes or a statue or two, consider Mingyur Rinpoche, master of the Kagyu and Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. His online independent study Joy of Living course is a secular introduction to meditation, heart awareness and awareness practices. He also teaches the more traditional practices.

For a more Western-friendly translation of the stages of the path to enlightenment, try listening to Dr. Dan Brown (not the pulp-author). Warning: intense, deep, and Buddhist. That is also my rap name. Bear in mind, his declining health impacts communication, hence the monotone delivery.

Still want more content? The Deconstructing Yourself podcast run by former editor director at Sounds True, Michael Taft, deserves a special shout out; Taft interviews Western teachers and researchers in the topics of meditation and consciousness and teaches his own map of the stages of meditation. Forgive the trippy intro/outro music.

Western Buddhist thinking has shifted from viewing Enlightenment as a binary (and, practically speaking, unattainable) state, to that of a continuum of Awakening. We begin with short glimpses of our true Buddha nature and, relying upon the wealth of Western-styled teachings, train to extend such glimpses longer and longer until Awakening is maintained under all circumstances.

May this post be of benefit to all living beings, and blessings to you whatever stage of practice you are in.

Note 1: This is not by any means a comprehensive summary of meditation and the excellent western teachers that are out there; one could also look into the teachings of Adyashanti, Jack Kornfield, Leigh Brasington, Andrew Holecek, Ajahn Brahm (PDF), Rob Burbea and verbose Daniel Ingram (PDF).

Note 2: I'm not personally affiliated nor get any kickbacks. I own some but not all of these devices.
posted by St. Peepsburg (50 comments total) 110 users marked this as a favorite
I tried a muse headset a few years ago and felt it was kind of vague and useless, but that was an older version. I'm curious for any first-person anecdotes for the newer tools.

I also did professional biofeedback therapy for a few months this year and it was interesting but I didn't love the therapist. I'm not convinced the neurofeedback represented anything real, but the heart rate variability and skin conductance readings definitely mapped pretty clearly to my anxiety and I was getting better at controlling it. The professional software they were using was quite clunky and old, but it seems like many of the home-use biofeedback devices hide the raw data from you to avoid running into trouble with the FDA/etc. The reward-based biofeedback and meditation apps don't work at all for me because it just makes me focus on the reward and the prediction of success/failure instead of the actual activity like meditation or relaxation.
posted by JZig at 10:11 AM on January 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Some clinicians believe that meditation can cause psychological problems in people without underlying conditions, and that even forty minutes of meditation per day can pose risks... meditation is horrible for me
posted by robbyrobs at 10:30 AM on January 11, 2022 [11 favorites]

Some clinicians believe that meditation can cause psychological problems in people without underlying conditions, and that even forty minutes of meditation per day can pose risks...

Would have been really nice if the Harpers article stated who these clinicians are and how they came to have that belief.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:22 AM on January 11, 2022 [5 favorites]

Willoughby Britton at Brown has been one of the leading researchers on the risks of meditation for some people.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:26 AM on January 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

I recommend reading McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald Purser as a critique to the mountebank promises of meditation.
posted by mfoight at 11:29 AM on January 11, 2022 [13 favorites]

Damn, this is a heck of a post.

I'd been meditating for a while with the help of The Mind Illuminated, which is indeed a pretty good book. I's been several years since I fell out of that habit though. I keep on thinking I should start again.

Right now my SO is in the next room talking to their therapist about how stuff I've given them from my former meditation practice has been pretty helpful, so maybe that's an extra kick in the ass...
posted by egypturnash at 11:52 AM on January 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

i think for many laypeople such as myself who have no training or exposure to "meditation" other than what we see in our lifetime exposure to media, we have a tendency to think of it as a woo-like thing people do but i did recently come to a personal realization that's helped me be more meditative, and it's the conceptualization of simply ceasing to be part of externality.

i go be quiet and still and just imagine the cosmos existing without me being a distinct and separate part of it. whatever it is, it is it without me in it. time is passing, atoms bounce, heat rages against entropy, and i am a ephemeral, incorporeal nothing for as long as i can manage to maintain the effect.

i know it sounds trite and is probably day 1 material in a meditation class, but one can read and hear something a thousand times without getting it.

i don't have any "disrupt spirituality" apps or devices to sell you, so my apologies on that modern capitalistic failure.
posted by glonous keming at 12:13 PM on January 11, 2022 [18 favorites]

perhaps we should meditate on our need to 'hack' everything.
posted by kmkrebs at 12:35 PM on January 11, 2022 [21 favorites]

During some meditation with a very experienced neighbor a couple years ago I had one observation, that it may work "more" for some folks than others.

I'm a very quiet person, just in general I'll have a book in hand but while I'm aware of the clock on the other side of the house and other elements of me in this place my thoughts a just quite still. So when the bell was rung after 20 minutes it was just normal, no struggle to keep quiet. When there was a discussion about thoughts I just had little to report. I'm weird.

It does seem like many folks just have trouble stopping the internal dialog (too often it's external also) so practice or tools to manage that seems like a good idea. More for some than others. It does make me sad that there usually seems like there is a bit too much overlap between sincere "mindfulness practitioners" and sneaky scumbag scammers.

(no I'm not weird or special, it just seems like there is a range or people that are different but it's hard to tell)
posted by sammyo at 12:41 PM on January 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Maybe check out the Loch Kelly links above - he doesn’t advocate long meditation sessions which can be destabilizing kind of by design, but he does short 10s to few minutes awareness practices. People have asked him how he handles this risk and his method is to teach the path first (the outline of meditation stages) so people know clearly that there is Something after the Nothing feeling, just jumping over a brief gap to the other side which is expansive and peaceful. But if you don’t know the other side is there to catch you, you can panic mid leap so to speak. And the awareness practices don’t go faster than you’re ready.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:46 PM on January 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

I started meditating in 2015 after becoming aware that I was living with an unsustainable amount of background anxiety in my life. It helped a great deal. Just last month I got a Muse headset to support the quality and depth of my meditation, and so far that's been great for adding depth to my practice.

As with others chiming in, I've had concerns and caution on this journey because:

1 - Capitalism has seized on meditation (and wellness/mindfulness generally) as a productivity hack, which means the slime of the beast is already smeared all over this thing.

2 - Spiritual bypass, or only focusing on the superficial good feelings, is a real Thing and very clearly feeds into the capitalist takeover of the project.

3 - As a person of faith, I have been uneasy with the selective borrowing of Buddhist concepts out of their original spiritual context for use by westerners (including myself) in search of vibes. There are some incredibly important things for western spiritual travelers to learn from eastern practice. But, colonialism. Sigh.

I have no doubt that meditation is a valid, scientifically defensible practice for benefiting mind and body. It makes me incredibly uneasy to see how it has been co-opted in so many different ways and directions. As with anything good in life, I reckon our job is to cut through the nonsense and honor what is real and true.
posted by sockshaveholes at 12:53 PM on January 11, 2022 [30 favorites]

Just dropping in to say that years ago I used to listen to Gil Fronsdal's talks and Andrea Fella's talks and enjoyed them very much. These weren't direct lessons in terms of how-to or tutorials. The info came from hearing these topical homily-type things about how they interacted with the world and applied their practice to it. I think I'll dip in again, thanks OP and friends for the reminder.

Edit: looks like there are guided meditations too in there.
posted by drowsy at 1:09 PM on January 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

Great FPP, St. Peepsburg!

I feel uneasy about the idea that meditation is a simple "technology" that can easily be extracted from its setting and applied to, I don't know, corporate retreats. Meditation practices are generally embedded in philosophical (usually religious) frameworks, and, to maybe a lesser degree, cultural settings, which help with some of the stages that people get hung up on. If you want a cautionary tale of what can go wrong with solo meditators working without teachers or a community, Shoko Asahara is an excellent example.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:41 PM on January 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

Oh, I just got done listening to a Brad Warner lecture where he was talking about developing a meditating mind that just takes what comes, and he said that, if you can give up hoping for the positive experiences and treat them as another phenomena, it helps you do the same when you have a bad meditation experience.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:43 PM on January 11, 2022 [11 favorites]

Like GenjiandProust, I feel compelled to point out that in the traditional religious frameworks that use meditation, meditation is only one of the tools used. I don't like seeing this stuff unhinged from ethical and interpersonal practices, and I'm weary of seeing all these secular meditation guys use their alleged religious credentials in ways that, as someone embedded in a religion, don't feel quite right to me.

Also a lot of these guys focus on attaining particular mind states as though somehow having a specific mental experience is going to fix things and, well,
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 1:44 PM on January 11, 2022 [11 favorites]

my new breathing mantra is:

posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 1:52 PM on January 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

I should add that i am not dunking on this post or St. Peepsburg -- I think a lot of these ideas and tools can be inserted into a meditation practice or, at the very least, give you a new way to think about some of what you are doing. There is a lot to dig through here, and it's going to keep me busy for a while.

I have generally liked what Brad Warner has to say. His Hardcore Zen page is a good place to start. He does a reasonably good job at presenting the central ideas of Dogen's specific take on things and untangling some of the more complicated ideas.

All that being said, I do think the Neurosity Crown sounds like a rare drop in a MMORPG....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:00 PM on January 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Guided meditations always bug me because I feel like they're interrupting the process they're trying to help enable. There's nothing more disruptive to me than being told when to breathe -- usually faster than I naturally want to if I'm relaxing and being aware of my breath -- or waiting for someone like Loch Kelly to finish the rest of his sentence after a Shatner-like pause.
posted by Foosnark at 2:09 PM on January 11, 2022 [5 favorites]

I am pretty disappointed that a detailed and wide-ranging FPP about meditation has picked up so many "meditation is bad" comments, especially when we've just had a lengthy MeTa post about treating FPPs more kindly and not immediately trying to negate the premise of a post. Can we have a little more "yes, anding" or maybe "no,buting" and less "nope?" That would certainly bring a little more loving kindness to the site....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:40 PM on January 11, 2022 [25 favorites]

Thanks Genji. I also wanted to mention that I deliberately chose secular teachers to keep the post neutral for metafilter audience but if y’all want hard core Dharma boy will I have a follow up post lol. Vajrayana or bust!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:59 PM on January 11, 2022 [9 favorites]

Gently, I do want to note that Brad Warner has worse-than-average social politics compared to the aggregate of Zen teachers writing in English. I'm not pointing this out to say he should be cast into the flames or anything, just would like people to know that if they are reading him and feel put off by his reactionary streak (as i was), that other teachers have very different things to say on social issues. Lots of white Zen teachers are low-key racist in an ignorant way, but Warner has a particular manner of actively casting his aging white man blindspots as dharma that I find pretty harmful.
posted by dusty potato at 4:12 PM on January 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Did some trimming. Agreeing with the above: it'd be good if folks can engage with the post more in terms of the post per se and not so much using it as a jumping off point for beefing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:18 PM on January 11, 2022 [5 favorites]

I clicked on the first link, and a website fronted by an ad for the company behind the website popped up. The name of the company sounded really familiar as I remembered recently reading about them somewhere else on the web. A search here brought up a discussion in 2013 about them.

Yes, meditation can be a very powerful tool. I’m just bothered by all the commercialization and mechanization that has happened here in this country. Americans have a need for quick solutions. Instead of a six month regimen of diet and exercise, some gadget advertised on TV is offered. Hacking your mind is just a gimmick. In one of my courses on Buddhism, a guest speaker said that there are two simple rules for mediation. Sit down. Shut up. Everything else are just crutches to achieve that. And yes some of us need those crutches. Sitting down is easy. Shutting up is next to impossible. The first time your mind finally shuts up, is followed in seconds by Wow! I did it!! So, if a tool works for you and you feel like you are getting somewhere then good. But there is nowhere to get to.
posted by njohnson23 at 4:26 PM on January 11, 2022 [10 favorites]

Thanks for including the link to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, St. Peepsburg.

I grew up with a parent who practiced Tibetan Buddhism, and spent a couple of years living in a community of Tibetan Buddhists (but for secular, NOT spiritual, study). I am deeply critical of lots of aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, and the behavior of many western practicioners makes me feel flames on the side of my face. It is a milieu rife with hypocrisy, denial, internally discriminatory and Western colonialist garbage, sexism, and abuse. I am about as turned off by the vogue for meditation (which is currently linked in the west to Tibetan Buddhism, and a bit to yoga) as it is possible to be.

And yet - it has given many of the dearest people in my life meaning. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is the one Tibetan teacher I’ve heard speak whose words and personality resonated with me. For anyone else who is critical/concerned, but who thinks Tibetan Buddhism as a tradition *could* offer them something, I’d recommend checking him out.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 4:26 PM on January 11, 2022 [9 favorites]

(In particular, Warner's poorly-developed and retrograde understanding of identity leads him to perpetuate the harmful idea that people with "identities"-- racialized people, queer and trans people-- are clinging to them by virtue of living and talking about our lives-- as opposed to white cishet men like himself who happen to be unencumbered by identity and thus conveniently come preloaded without that attachment.)
posted by dusty potato at 4:29 PM on January 11, 2022 [9 favorites]

"Meditation" is used in different ways. Some of the sources in St. Peepsburg's fantastic post consider meditation as a tool to directly cultivate calm and diminished anxiety, while others (I would argue the ones truest to the Buddha's original teachings) consider meditation as a tool to see things as they are, which - for many - can have calming long-term effects.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:42 PM on January 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

This is a great post, am enjoying the discussion.

I have been a meditator for more than 20 years in various disciplines, and am a current student of Zen. Meditation can be hard on people with psychological problems, especially anxiety and depression, as a student becomes hyperaware of disturbing inner dialogue. Having a wise and skilled teacher is essential. My current teacher is a practicing therapist and has been adept at guiding me through rocky sessions when I'm anxious.

Also want to say that mindfulness without ethics is problematic. You can learn to be a mindful murderer or more intentional thief without a moral code. The fact that the U.S. Army teaches mindfulness says it all.
posted by missinformation at 5:08 PM on January 11, 2022 [7 favorites]

I had heard of different Meditation techniques in my 20's, ancient times. The ones I heard of were all insistent that if you did the work (the particular meditation exercise) the changes would happen. So I just picked one, following the breath, and started practicing it.

I was mainly interested in quieting the one-thought-to-the-next-to-the-next-(etc).

After many years of haphazard practice the thoughts started slowing down and the gaps between them got bigger. Then periods of 10's of minutes where they didn't happen at all.

That was enough for me.
posted by aleph at 5:09 PM on January 11, 2022 [6 favorites]

I think the other thing is, not every meditation has to be a Meditation™️
The Metta links above are a good example of just generating positivity and growing those feelings. The positive psychology research is pretty clear about the health benefits, cardiovascular and immune system.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:24 PM on January 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

I think it might be prudent to separate "the part of meditation that involves searching for a particular state of focus and calm" from "the deeper philosophical and spiritual implications that gave rise to meditation." The idea of "hacking" meditation is interesting, to me, in regards to the former, but I also think it's important not to let it distract from the latter.

It's a separation of "what" and "why"—I think that the pragmatic benefits of meditation are interesting, like the thought that it's increasingly becoming a thing, and have found various kinds of meditation aid (some very silly!) beneficial to me when I did not feel like I was in a place to maintain a dedicated practice, but simultaneously wish there was more curiosity as to what, exactly, gives rise to those health benefits: what it says about us, and about our relationship to ourselves, that might make such a relatively intangible practice so physically impactful. For me, the real promise is that deeper sense of awareness, of consciousness and humanity and the ways in which our contradictory natures might be grappled with and turned into a new perspective on being alive. But I know there are others for whom all that is entirely beside the point, and who'd rather do away with the intangibles and focus on practical application.

I don't think it's worth faulting people who come at meditation "the wrong way", and hope that anyone who comes to it finds it does wonders for their life, but I do hope that some people follow its thread and find the far more curious and profound world of thought from which meditation as a practice stems.
posted by rorgy at 5:50 PM on January 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

I had a walking regimen which included meditation. The reason at first was that I noticed if I daydreamed while walking, or ruminated, it made me lose energy, as if driving my body and my thoughts, was too much. It was obvious on the uphills. I started using some of my old meditations from Kundalini yoga. It, in one sense, completely pared back visualization, creation, left me with moving, breathing, and seeing. My mind has it's own forward motion, and I have done a lot of work to quiet it, in order to be. I did a lot of searching for technique. One thing is to be kinder about myself, to myself, to cut down on the striving and second-guessing, vying with what the moment has to offer, and accepting it, graciously all the way around.There is a large, "meditation is evil," screed in current day Christianity. Face it, there are all kinds of hostile postures in vogue today, and meditation is a great way to establish a point of peaceful coexistence with the all.
posted by Oyéah at 6:20 PM on January 11, 2022 [7 favorites]

As a person of Indian origin, I'm appalled by the idea of meditation "hacks." This isn't a referendum on St Peepsburg or anything, but it's just one more example of how capitalism and the go-go-go of American society (or maybe, the "one born every minute" of American society) manages to exploit both Western ennui and Hindu/Buddhist spirituality.

My grandfather, to whom I was very close, used to meditate every day. I lost any sense of religion after he died of cancer when I was 12 (I'm still kind of mad at whatever kind of god would allow cancer in the world), so it's particularly hard for me to see a twisted application of what was, to him, an ancient and sacred connection with his (and I guess my) past.
posted by basalganglia at 6:22 PM on January 11, 2022 [15 favorites]

Thank you for the excellent post! I checked out the brainwaves explained link and a few of the different paths that I hadn't run across!

I can see the attraction of devices ('look, it's working!'), but they are not for me. I wasn't aware that these were on the market though I'd heard good things about therapies (ptsd related?) with talk therapy using biofeedback devices I thought based on heart rate.
posted by esoteric things at 6:59 PM on January 11, 2022

Ever since I was a little kid, there is a moment in the Catholic Mass that is very dear to me. It's the moment after you receive Communion, when you go back to the pew and are supposed to kneel down and pray. I never prayed. I just sat there, feeling what it felt to be part of a moment, and opened myself up to God and just said, "Please" and then shut up and listened.

It's the closest I've ever come to meditation. I never got an answer. I never expected an answer. It just felt like it was a moment of closeness with the universe, where I could just let it move through me.

Thanks for this FPP. It reminded me of a thing that has always been very dear and very personal to me.
posted by gwydapllew at 7:07 PM on January 11, 2022 [13 favorites]

Funny timing with this post. Just yesterday I realized that huh, I've been meditating for almost 10 years. It's not a big practice - I've never gone on retreats etc. But I sit for 10-20 mins everyday. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's so so hard. I've stopped for long stretches of time but I always come back to it again. I started with version one of Headspace but now I prefer just me and a timer. A few years after I started, I wanted a deeper understanding of my meditation experience and struggles, so I began reading about Buddhism and following certain teachers.

Honestly I'm not sure why I stuck with the practice! I'm not a very constant person and I wasn't aiming for any goal. I started out of curiosity and all I knew is that I like how my brain felt during and after meditation. And I noticed how life felt different when I meditated regularly vs when I strayed from the practice.

In retrospect, it's one the very few things that I can say has made me a better person. By nature I feel things very deeply and am very reactive (as a child I would have high highs and low lows) and somehow now I'm less so? I still feel the emotions but now I can better stop, take a metaphorical breath, and decide what to do with that feeling. Which has made me kinder and more generous to myself and to other people.

So I guess what I'm saying is, yes this is a practice that comes from deep and rich variety of traditions which can feel overwhelming! And when we add in a dash of capitalism, perfectionism, and now science by way of gadgets, it can start to feel like there's a right way and wrong way to meditate. Or pressure to "get results".

But really the heart of meditation is so beautifully simple. Where do you begin? At the beginning. Sit (or stand! Lie down! Or walk) Get quiet. Pay attention. Use tools and guides if you want but also give it a go without. Notice what feels different. Repeat, over and over - this is what it means to have a practice.

There's that Viktor Frankl quote "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Meditation has helped me find and know that space and it gives me great peace, strength, and joy to know that I can always return to that space.
posted by kitkatcathy at 7:26 PM on January 11, 2022 [22 favorites]

that is a magnificent post, St. Peepsburg. thanks!
posted by 20 year lurk at 7:33 PM on January 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the post, St. Peepsburg.

There's that Viktor Frankl quote "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Meditation has helped me find and know that space and it gives me great peace, strength, and joy to know that I can always return to that space.

This is my experience with meditation also. I don't ask for more. I am only seeking self-knowledge and the ability to be aware and conscious of my thoughts so I can be deliberate and authentic in my (re)actions.
posted by Thella at 7:37 PM on January 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

As a person of Indian origin, I'm appalled by the idea of meditation "hacks." This isn't a referendum on St Peepsburg or anything, but it's just one more example of how capitalism and the go-go-go of American society (or maybe, the "one born every minute" of American society) manages to exploit both Western ennui and Hindu/Buddhist spirituality.

As someone who was raised Buddhist (I'm of Sri Lankan descent) and still identifies with that tradition, I'm suspicious of the capitalism's co-opting of meditation too. But the Buddhist teachers were the ultimate 'hackers' of meditation, starting with Buddha. The mahayanists took the meditation traditions of the and did all kinds of weird and wonderful things with it, and if you look into Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism), the whole premise is to accelerate the path to enlightement through innovative syncretistic meditative practices. I'm not as familiar with Hindu traditions, but I bet there are many similar innovations through the ages too.

I'm totally fine with the West doing their own thing with eastern contemplative practices. Every region that Buddhism has spread to has innovated, sometimes startling so (Chan/Zen is a great example), and now those traditions are rich sources of comfort for so many people who would otherwise not have been exposed to meditation's benefits. Buddhism's strength is that it's so adaptible. Here's hoping that the current flowering of meditation in the West brings about fresh innovation and the seeds of new schools.
posted by sid at 8:09 PM on January 11, 2022 [15 favorites]

+1 for the Deconstructing Yourself podcast. Ditto the Loch Kelly stuff.

I didn't come to meditation until I had a catastrophic life event a couple years ago. I found a therapist who practiced Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and he pointed me to resources that included Loch Kelly and basics like the Headspace app, which I still use. I'd tiptoed into meditation before, but I was completely turned off by the historical/religious baggage that came along with the practices and teachers I found at the time. I'm grateful that practitioners have helped strip away that baggage so that people like me, who have no history or experience with meditation in a religious context, don't feel like we have to accept that side of it to engage in a practice. Now that I have comfort and familiarity with the physiological aspect of meditation, I'm able to experience the religious traditions as something more akin to parable than orthodoxy (rightly or wrongly, depending on who I ask).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:34 AM on January 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Great post, thank you! Bookmarking for further perusal.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:53 AM on January 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

I bought a light-sound brainwave machine (Mind Gear PR-2X) in the 90s; it's a box attached to a pair of headphones, and a pair of blacked-out sunglasses with LEDs attached to each eye, and it runs one of several programmes in which the glasses strobe (alternating between left and right or simultaneously) and a drone plays on the headphones (the frequency difference between left and right ears being equal to the flashing frequency of the glasses, I think), in order to entrain your brainwaves. To use it, you lay down, put the glasses and headphones on and started a programme, which went between 10 minutes and an hour (though typically 20-30 minutes). I used it at the time, though left it in storage when I moved to the UK in 2004; in 2020, on my last visit to Australia, I retrieved it, and have used it again a little, though not regularly. The main effect I've noticed is that, sometimes while using it, one gets images floating up into one's mind's eye, much like when drifting off to sleep. There's possibly a feeling of being refreshed afterwards, though I'm not sure it's significant.

The company which makes it is still around; a year or two ago, they had a lot of the next generation of this device (built into a portable CD player) discounted. The current generation is a Bluetooth headset with an accompanying iPhone app; IIRC, it costs a few hundred dollars.
posted by acb at 2:46 AM on January 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Some of the sources in St. Peepsburg's fantastic post consider meditation as a tool to directly cultivate calm and diminished anxiety, while others (I would argue the ones truest to the Buddha's original teachings) consider meditation as a tool to see things as they are, which - for many - can have calming long-term effects.

It's my experience that an effective way to curb anxiety is to break its feedback loop. A big part of a panic attack for instance is "oh no a panic attack, I better panic!" If you can catch that early on and disengage from judging/reacting to those feelings that's a big help.
posted by Foosnark at 4:35 AM on January 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

I see now with the “hack” wording I may have inadvertently framed it in a “disrupt” / capitalist way. I just think it’s so terribly cool that the technology exists to read our own brainwaves at home and will cause an explosion of research and at home experimenters since they are so much more affordable than standard equipment. Researchers would never consider researching consciousness and finer states of mind before, and now just yesterday I listened to a podcast where the guy was researching what happens in consciousness during an “ah-ha” insight moment and compared it to predictive processing. I received the muse as a gift a year ago and it’s a fun toy. It’s helped with equanimity (to not get excited when the “you are in flow” audio signal chirps) and now I’m using it for some more advanced neuro feedback to help fine tune the deeper flow states and I can see a difference. I also wonder if the technology could be used to combat memory decline / improve mental acuity.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:40 AM on January 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

@kitkatcathy your comment describes my experience very well. I began meditating in middle school because my dad said it would make me better at relaxing before basketball games. That slowly transformed into a habit and then an interest in Buddhism. Sometimes it is hard to separate from the background progression of growing up, but I am really grateful for what meditation has brought me.

@sammyo your comment resonated with me. There are a lot of people in my life who seem to embody the mindful behavior that meditation tapes talk about but hate meditating.

Thanks for this thread!
posted by dreyfusfinucane at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Researchers would never consider researching consciousness and finer states of mind before

St. Peepsburg, I may have misunderstood this point, but there's a pretty large body of research on brainwaves/consciousness explicitly focused on meditation - I'd be glad to go dig up some links if you haven't come across it!

The earliest stuff I know about in the US focused on Transcendental Meditation, but then I think there's also stuff around Jon Kabat-Zinn's creation of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in the 70s and an increasing awareness of/interest in Tibetan Buddhism through the 70s/80s - as well as explicit research agendas under projects like the Mind and Life Institute. EEG, skin conductance stuff, MRI, and definitely lots around stress responses and outcomes for psychometrics and symptom management for certain kinds of disease.

There's also stuff in sleep research, like what's being done at the Prerau Lab at Harvard: "Our lab’s research focuses on experimental and computational approaches to understanding the neural correlates of consciousness in humans—specifically how sleep affects the brain. We specialize in using the state-of-the-art in quantitative approaches to develop novel statistical signal processing algorithms for the analysis of neural data, with direct applications to basic science, biomarker discovery, and medical device development."
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 12:16 PM on January 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

dreyfusfinucane, or anyone else, if you have the time could you describe briefly what kind of meditation you did in middle school? I've thought about trying it with my ADHD son, both to help right now and possibly give him tools for the future. But I know nothing about meditation as I don't meditate myself, so I don't know if it is a good idea.
posted by anzen-dai-ichi at 1:33 PM on January 12, 2022

@anzen-dai-ichi In middle school (and actually still) my dad was a big fan of guided body scan meditations which ask you to progressively focus on feeling/relaxing each part of your body. I found it more approachable than other forms which ask you to clear your mind or focus solely on your breath because you have a clear directive and it feels nice.

I think basically any introductory guided body scan meditation will be roughly the same so I'm sure there are a ton of good ones out there on youtube/the apps!
posted by dreyfusfinucane at 4:59 PM on January 12, 2022

Thanks! I think I'd feel more comfortable starting with such a "simple" meditation. I'll go see what I can find.
posted by anzen-dai-ichi at 3:06 PM on January 13, 2022

don't just do something - sit there!
posted by lalochezia at 6:28 PM on January 13, 2022

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