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Meditation

meditation

This guy probably doesn’t meditate.

I’ve been meditating for about a year now, with some frequency. It started with running for me; I’d been running for years and thought, at some point, I won’t be able to run anymore. It would be nice if I could have some kind of mental exercise type activity that I would do, that will never be obstructed by injury or surgery.

So I started meditating. It followed a similar trajectory as running did. In the beginning, it was very messy, with lots of huffing and puffing and a feeling, all the time, that I was doing it wrong. In the intermediate stage I could do it and feel okay with it, while still feeling my form was bad. In the last stage, I finally found a pace I could sustain and even toss off, though the final activity ended up being a lot different than my original conception.

I think the most useful feature of meditation is that it makes the most of time. Even short intervals of meditation feel long; it’s the most efficient way I know of making five minutes feel like an hour. This may sound like a joke, but it’s not; often, we want to ‘slow down’ and make every minute count, stop wasting time by the liter. Meditation does this. I don’t know of anything else I can do in 5 minutes that is not completely trivial, that contributes usefully to my productivity. For meditation, 5 minutes is actually a useful amount, significant in the sense that it’s enough to make a difference.

I started meditation seriously after a breakup. In the mind my mind was a barrage of thoughts, an almost painful assault of thoughts, emotions, etc. all whirling around, and pulling me with it. I remember looking t through a book that suggested this exercise that required 5 minutes of mental silence, and thinking that was not possible (note: that would still be difficult for me now, but conceptually, it doesn’t seem impossible anymore).

Which brings me to my next point. In the beginning the most important point is to lower expectations: wherever they are, lower them, then lower them some more. Then lower them even more; then, more. Because you have to keep rolling back your idea of your control over your own mind, because in truth, in practice, it’s very poor, almost nonexistent. The point of meditation, in the beginning, is largely just to show you how hard it is to focus on one thing for any amount of time. This is not obvious until you try to practice it, when you notice that, actually, you can’t focus on your breath, or keep your mind in any one place.

In theory, meditation always made sense to me. The pitch is easy to make and understand. What’s the best way to increase our happiness? The best way to become good at anything is to spend more time doing it; the more time you can dedicate to a subject, the better you’ll be at it. In the case of meditation, then, it makes sense that the best way to bring yourself happiness is to improve your frame of mind.

To do that, the best way is to take your mind, one moment at a time, practically second by second, and cease the bad habits and promote the good habits. Basically, it’s the ultimate form of fine-grained, low-level control. Compared to that, what could be better? Certainly, of the things that are under your control (i.e., the things that you can change), spreading the most mental good over the maximum amount of time seems like the best course.

The benefits are real but subtle. For one thing, I used to get caught in these kinds of anger loops with certain people in my life, where their actions (as I saw it) would lead to my reactions, which would lead to arguments. Through meditation I was able to interrupt those patterns, not by doing anything dramatic, but by pausing at just the right moment and simply not contributing to the argument. It turns out that, without support the right crucial moment, lots of arguments will quickly die out, since it’s very hard to sustain an argumentative position around someone if they don’t play ball. You might think they’re insulting you – and be careful, they might not be – but meditation gives you an extremely fine-grained control that allows you to separate the innocuous from the insulting, and respond appropriately. I had more control than I thought, including in areas where I was not being insulted, and exercising that control helped.

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