Pursuit of Calm #21

 

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted
to a profoundly sick society.”

– Krishnamurti

 

Hello Friends…

Why on earth would anyone dedicate time each day to meditate?
Simply, and to quote American author and Buddhist black-belt Dr Allan Wallace “you’ll be able to do anything you’re doing…better!”

I’ve been practicing meditation for around 10 years – the first 5 years my ‘practice’ was at best consistently inconsistent, slowly it evolved to a inconsistently consistent practice, and now, for the past 3-4 years, it’s a consistently consistent practice.

There were obviously recognisable benefits in the early days, however it is only in the last couple of years of concerted effort where I am really beginning to recognise the benefits of my practice:

‘Some’ of these benefits include:

  • Improved patience: the practice of sitting still with my breathe, curating a calm, non-judgemental mind is both terrifically challenging and immensely rewarding. Rewarding in the sense of having the ‘resource of patience’ (patience for others, patience for myself) on-tap in the real-world is a superpower.
  • Not taking my mind too seriously: Using patience, kindness and humour to examine & embrace just how beautifully bonkers & random my mind is. Being cognisant of this throughout the day is hugely beneficial. Why? Because mostly what goes through our/my mind is complete nonsense. Yet we allow this nonsense to determined our outlook and the quality of our choices – we judge, label, criticise, gossip and make assumptions – all based on dodgy-data we’ve procured from where?
  • Manifesting calm – the benefits of this alone could fill pages and pages, but in short, calm allows me to remind myself to practice two pieces of philosophy I keep close to my heart. “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” [Viktor Frankl]. And, We’re not disturbed by things, but by the view we take on them.” [Epictetus]
  • Inspires me to ask questions, to take a more Socratic approach to myself and others. To be both curious and courageous to lean into and examine thoughts that provoke me. To ask more questions, rather than ‘opinionating’ or speaking in a vain attempt to prove that I’m right.
  • Becoming more self-alert to when I being a jerk, talking non-truths, not listening, being overly critical of Croc wearers…

Not a bad ROI for 30-45 minutes of effort each day.

The most significant benefits I find however are not actually experienced during the meditation process itself. The real benefits are when what I have been practicing in the morning effortlessly comes to fruition during the course of my day to day. To naturally default to, and come to the service of my mind in the heat & busyness of my day, that, I find,  is the real benefit.

Like eating nutritiously, sleeping optimally and remaining as fit and strong as possible; meditation is a practical skill. It’s another essential life-tool to add to our arsenal so we’re better equipped and more resilient to ‘flourish’ rather than wither under the duress of modern life.

I personally tend to lean into and embrace meditation as a cognitive training strategy – a method to ‘compose myself’, rather than a spiritual pursuit attempting to attain ‘enlightenment’. I’m purely practicing to mend, improve and strengthen my mental health…but if I end up becoming more enlightened along the way then cool.

Shamatha Meditation

For the past 2-3 years I have been practicing a form of meditation call Shamatha

Shamatha, etymologically speaking, means “peaceful abiding” or “tranquility”, or “calm presence”. It’s also referred to as mindfulness or concentration meditation.

What Shamatha is referring to is an array of strategies that are designed to develop your attention and metacognitive skills (introspection skills)…hence my interest. 

With heightened attention skills, whatever and wherever you apply your intention, whatever it may be, you can do so without tightening up, or getting anxious or restless, or impatient with yourself. Or when you invariably do tighten up, get anxious, irritated or impatient with yourself (which we should all expect to do…because we’re neurotic humans) is that we notice ourselves responding this way, and we then retrieve ourselves before it escalates.

Q:
Can you imagine what the benefits would be if you were better abled to approach everything in your day to day feeling less anxious, impatient & irritated?

 

One could regard the method of Shamatha meditation as ‘contemplative technology’ – meaning it entails no belief systems, no commitment to any ideology or institution or any group, it is simply a way of refining the mind in very specific ways that make the mind serviceable, flexible, supple, malleable and useful for all types of activities.
Rather than the mind being the constant source of our suffering.

Through the method of Shamatha, you hone your metacognitive skills, so you can recognise when your mind is becoming distracted or triggered. 

 

A mindfulness regime is making a commitment to keep pointing yourself towards changing

how you look at yourself and how you look at other people.

 

Meditation Preparation 
Shamatha uses different kinds of ‘support’ or ‘anchors’ to assist wth the practice – however breath is most commonly used as the key focus.
This practice has been used for thousands of years by Hindu and Buddhist yogis, and strict advocates follow a Seven Point posture.

The Seven points are:

  1. Sit cross-legged
  2. Hands in lap or on knees
  3. Have a straight back
  4. Widen the shoulders to open the heart centre
  5. Lower the chin
  6. Open mouth slightly with the tongue resting on the roof of the mouth.
  7. Eyes open, gently gazing towards to the floor, about 6 feet in front of you

Alternatively, a Seven Point posture for the more comfort-orientated Western novices like moi:

  1. Dress comfortably and sit on a big cushion, lie of the floor, or (my preference) sit up-right in a firm comfortable straight-backed chair, with feet flat on the ground – I use my office chair.
  2. Place your hands in a comfortable position. I place a pillow on my lap and place my hands, palms down on the pillow.
  3. Keep shoulders relaxed
  4. Keep head in a relaxed neutral position – I find if my head is dipping forward to my chest saliva tends to build up, then gravity takes over #bibplease
  5. Jaw slightly open, relaxed, expressionless face, mindful of tension in facial and jaw muscles
  6. Keep eyes open or closed.
  7. Set the ambience – I’m up before daylight so I like to keep room lighting to a very bare minimum, use candles or low wattage table or floor lamps. I tend to open all the windows and allow fresh air and outside ambient noises (birds mostly) to filter in. I also like to play music, very, very quietly. Minimalist, ambient, non-verbal. Either contemporary classical or electronic. [I’ve placed some recommendations at the bottom on the post.]

Meditation Process

  • Concentrate on breathe, gently in through the nose, and then gently out through the mouth. Shamatha focuses a little more on the out-breathe, particularly that small gap between exhale and inhale.
  • Accept, even ‘invite in’ the ambient distractions that are around you. The sounds of the birds, or wind or rain from outside, or the hum of the fridge, the ache in your butt, the urge to fidget and scratch, or to pick up your phone – ‘use’ all these minor, and some major urges to be distracted as moments to flex your patience. To acknowledge the sensations you’re experiencing, witness them without labelling them, and then just allow them to pass…like a cloud.
  • Embrace the inevitable. Begin your meditation knowing and anticipating that you will be distracted. Distraction is our reminder to return to the path. Every time you noticed your mind has wandered off, just bring yourself back to your breathe. If my understanding is correct, ‘mindfulness’ is our ability to notice when we’ve been distracted , that exact moment of being aware that your mind has wandered, and then we bring it back to our breathe/ present…that is mindfulness. The more times we ‘catch’ ourselves being distracted – that’s the practice. And it’s this repeated practice of practicing to ‘notice ourselves’ when we’re distracted is what eventually comes to fruition in the real world…you become increasingly alerted and notice your mind more often. Thus more often in a position to ‘retrieve your mind’.
  • “Thinking”: Avoid frustration and potentially sabotaging your practice by how you internally ‘address’ those moments of distraction. We can often be harsh on ourselves and say “f**** it”, or “this is impossible”, or “I can’t do this” etc every time our mind wanders off. We need to be mindful of the language we use on ourselves – we don’t want to escalate our thoughts further – the goal here is to witness our thoughts like a cloud. So, when our mind decides to go galavanting, as it will, then every time we notice this we just say to ourselves ‘thinking’. We say it in a very neutral way – not harsh, not condemning…you are just telling yourself exactly what your mind is doing…”thinking”. Again, and this may sound lame, or completely innocuous, but the more you can practice identifying your thoughts as just ‘thinking’, then you will start to notice this during the busyness of your day to day…and again, in a ‘better’ position to retrieve your mind.

As humans we have an innate ability to judge ourselves, to frustrate and self-sabotage our efforts. And though a common definition of meditation is  ‘a spiritual experience that takes you to the depths of who you are, to experiences joy and peace, feeling of love, light warms up your being’ (paraphrased from a google search on ‘meditation’) I think for me, in some ways, it does the opposite…it throws a much needed flashlight on our insecurities, our anxieties and neurosis…all the things that channel and accentuate our self-destructive thinking & doing behaviours. It highlights exactly where we need to look to improve and strengthen ourselves. And this a good thing in my book…confronting, but kinda necessary.

Like breath-work, meditation is not an end-all solution. But it is a profoundly powerful practice to practice. Some advice if you’re keen to start a meditating practice:

  • Change the narrative – don’t call it ‘meditation’. Call it sitting still and counting my breathe, or just breathe-work. Why? Because the word meditation can be interpreted as ‘heavy’ and ‘loaded’, and can often negatively pre-empt how you approach it.  “I can’t meditate” is something I always hear. NO ONE has ever said “I can’t quietly sit still and breathe”. “If you’ve got time to breathe, you’ve got time to meditate”.
  • Keep it short. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes only. Scale up as you skill up
  • Set the time and place: You will need 5-10 minute of uninterrupted ‘you-time’…make it so.
  • Prepare the night before: Meditation will be the very last thingyou will want to do if you are hungover, distracted, exhausted and or stressed out.
  • Active meditations are often a good way to start. Head out for a walk, sans phone/company/headphones/crocs, and be mindful of your breath and the natural elements…simple, don’t over thunkit

______________________________________

Post Meditation

Imagine the outcomes if every choice you made was shone
through a prism of self-kindness

Ultimately meditation could be viewed as a highly valued, practical tool to encourage ourselves to simply ‘lighten up’, to be kinder & gentler with ourselves.

I lose my sh!t, my train of thought, I get flustered & triggered everyday. I am also, at about 1% improvement each day,  becoming better-abled to reclaim my thoughts quicker, thus I am calmer, I ask more questions, and I’m less & less disturbed by my neurosis’s’s’s’s…we’re actually becoming pals.

This effort hasn’t just made my mind “better”, it continually improves every aspect of my life. My connection to others, my ability to garner more self-control, my ability to identify & sift what is important and what is not, and hone resilience & courage to practice everyday the virtues that support my values.

What do I practice?
I train better
I sleep better
I eat better
I move better
I talk better
I have better energy
Everything is better…and what do I really mean by better?
Everything becomes more ‘effortless’…again, not a bad ROI on 2% of my day (30min)

Q:
Is the antidote for self-liberation we seek found in the poisons that we use to keep ourselves addicted, distracted and anxious?

 

Music Recommendations

Artist:                                           Album:
Max Richter                                    From Sleep
Nils Frahm                                      Felt
Chad Lawson                                 Bach Interpreted: Piano Variations
Philip Glass                                    Solo Piano
Brian Eno                                       Ambient 1 / Music for Airports
A Winged Victory For The Sullen  Atomos
Aphex Twin                                   Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Moby                                             Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep
Dead Kennedy’s                          Holiday in Cambodia
watch Jello Biafra dance…if you can meditate through this you get a gold star and a bowl of                                                                Vegemite kimchi

Coming Up: 

  • I Haven’t Got Time For This Sh!t
  • The 4 ’S’s: Stress, Sleep, Sobriety & [P]Sychology
  • Reflection, Reading & Journalling
  • Strength Training
  • Satiation
  • The 4 “C”s: Calm, Courage, Curiosity & Consistency
  • Habit Strategies

 

 

 

Disclaimer: It needs to be noted and understood that what I write on this blog format must not be interpreted nor construed as ‘personal medical advice’.
The written word can easily be mis-interpreted, especially my own god-awful writing ability.
I try to emphasis, as awkwardly as I do, that I have no skills, training nor studies under my belt to advise or diagnose when it comes to medical or psychological conditions.
If you need professional help or advice then please seek it.  
My own advocacy is shot primarily through the prism of my own life-experience. I only promote lifestyle and the related choices and habits that optimise sleep, mindset, nutrition and physical strength. All incredibly powerful and profound methods to improve all aspects of one’s own health-wealth, but potentially not the remedy ‘proper’ for those individuals that may require professional clinical diagnosis, medical intervention and/or treatment.
Peace
Luke