Meditation

What Meditation Isn't: 5 Common Misnomers of the Ancient Practice

What Meditation Isn't: 5 Common Misnomers of the Ancient Practice

So you want to meditate… kudos to you for wanting to improve your mental health and life. When I’ve practiced it consistently, which admittedly wanes depending on the week, meditation has changed my life for the better. While some have tried to quantify meditation with a number, I feel like that might be doing meditations benefits a disservice. With regular practice, you just aren’t the same person you before meditation; suddenly there is space between thoughts and you are more present. You’re kinder, more loving and more patient.

But there is a lot of disinformation on what meditation actually is. I’ve heard wild things about meditation from people trying to reach astral planes or from novices who believe that meditation means clearing one’s mind of all thoughts. So without further ado, I thought I’d try to address 5 common misnomers about meditation.

Food, Meditation, Exercise and... Economic Class?

Food, Meditation, Exercise and... Economic Class?

I’ve just finished a slew of books on the environment and neuroscience in the last month. They include:

All of them are worth a read, except maybe “Healthy Brain, Happy Life,” which turns into a “Sex In The City” memoir-type for many of its pages. There is also a very common theme in all of them: eat well and avoid processed foods that are environmentally damaging; meditate to find peace of find; and exercise for emotional well-being.

You Are Not A Narrative

You Are Not A Narrative

Human beings are narrative creatures. As Yuval Noah Harai and others have noted, most of our basic institutions are based on some of collective fiction that would fall apart if examined too closely. This goes for things like nationalism or the idea of a nation state or even the concept of money and value. (For example, money is almost entirely imaginary at this point. 90% of is just computers sending back amounts from account to account that doesn’t really exist in any tangible way).

But humans are also narrative creatures in the sense that we view our own lives as stories with a beginning, middle and end. It’s the reason our novels and movies follow this basic format. It’s a trick of memory. Narratives are how we make sense of immeasurably complicated world. Without narratives, I think most of us would lose a sense of identity.

Existential Dread: The Struggle And Search For Meaning

Existential Dread: The Struggle And Search For Meaning

A friend of mine is really struggling with anxiety. It's not your typical anxiety. It's a deep existential anxiety. This person no longer sees the point of living. 

"What's the point? I know people who work at restaurants and have been doing that for years. They hate it," they told me recently. " But it's what works for them. Imagine doing that for the next 40 years. And then dying... you die. What is that for? What did it mean? Nothing, right?"

The truth is I largely agree with this as I told my friend. But it is a pessimistic viewpoint. Life might be meaningless in the grand sense. And yes, most of us do not get to control how we spend our time. And there's just an endless list of injustice in the world from climate change to vast inequality to the American prison system. But it is not the only thing. 

When You Stop Meditating Consistently...

zazen_and_nature_by_aik_art-d3i4beg.jpg

There is an old Zen saying: You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. That saying always resonated with me because it speaks to the importance of meditation not only for relieving anxiety and being productive but for seeing the true nature of your mind and reality.  

But I haven't been meditating consistently. I could give you a lot of excuses or reasons. There has been lots of travel and change in my life recently for instance. Those are perfectly valid reasons... 

The odd thing about not meditating consistently is that you stop remembering what you are missing. Your mind turns into slush like most people's. Your attention span is much shorter. Your emotions pop around like a pinball. You're more susceptible to mood swings or giving into unproductive habits. But the thing is you're mostly unaware that you're doing it. 

And that is the real benefit of meditation: awareness. Awareness of your smallest movements or your breath. Awareness of what spikes your anxiety or what your temptations are. Awareness is key. Without awareness, we can become mindless, following our every urge or instinct with reflection. Without awareness, we can easily become the worst versions of ourselves. And it is that thought that always gets me to put meditation back on the calendar every morning even if I don't always do it. 

The Neoliberal Meditator

The Neoliberal Meditator

A quick blog post before I start my next session...

One of the hallmarks of neoliberal spirituality is that each person is responsible for their own lives and should not look to governments or public institutions for answers. To put it into more libertarian terms, we are responsible for ourselves. Freedom is the ideal. We don't need want governments in our health care or schools because they run them inefficiently. Privatization has the answers. 

So what happens if you're having spiritual or mental health problems in this society? Well, like all things capitalism, the answers are in the free market. Take a look at your local bookstore and go to the self-help section. Business is booming. The free market can give you a wide range of gurus from misogynist Tony Robbins to the fraud that is Deepak Chopra.  Or if you're in the mood for a more wholesome figure, Oprah's Supersoul conversations are a great place to start. Here you can learn to be your best self and can live up to the demands of the competitive marketplace. All you have to do is meditate for peace of mind to be your best, productive self.

Learning to Sacrifice in a Capitalist World: 3 Ways to Consume Less and Push Back Against Greed

Learning to Sacrifice in a Capitalist World: 3 Ways to Consume Less and Push Back Against Greed

Recently I came upon this interesting bible verse,

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciple.”- Luke 14:26

I’m not a bible scholar or even a Christian, but I find this bible verse fascinating. Is Jesus telling us to hate everyone we care about, including ourselves? Somehow, I doubt that’s true. My sense is that this is a metaphor. Jesus is discussing the notion of sacrifice for a greater good (in this case, to follow him and give up their old lives.)

The notion of sacrifice is a strange one in today’s world in that no one seems to want to do it. Capitalism, in particular, encourages us “to get mine.” As one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Noah Levine, said in a recent podcast, “Greed, Hatred, and Delusion are the norm. It’s compassion that’s in scarcity.”

Self-Care: What Does that Look Like?

 Self-Care: What Does that Look Like?

I just read this wonderful medium piece about self-care that I wanted to share.

I think there’s an assumption that self-care means checking out and disconnecting from the stresses in our life. My own tendency, as I’ve written elsewhere, is to grab a drink or watch a lot of TV to get my mind off things. Other people might go on a trip or a spa for the day and relax.

But I’m not sure any of those coping methods have ever made me feel better. What it does is push away all the feelings I want to ignore-- all that anxiety, stress and rejection that’s underneath, always percolating in my unconscious-- so I feel numb to any of it.