Mindfulness Is A Noun Or A Verb – We Put Our Narrative Onto It

Both parties are having a very similar experience although each one of them has a very different interpretation of the ideas that are being aired. Each one will believe their idea is better because they will have felt just how right it was when they thought it. What they hear, the other person’s idea, will not have the same quality. They won’t feel it in the same way – both in terms of intensity and rightness – and it will be as though it exists as something that is different from them. Both parties will feel and belief that their solution is the best and each will likely go to bat for it.

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At some point in the recent past I happened across an article titled “The Problem Of Mindfulness” that made my brain throw an error before taking over and getting me to click on the link. I am glad it did, because I got a lot out of reading the article as it reminded me about how far I have come in terms of getting clear on what the present moment is and what the experience of being in it is like. While I did have a challenge with the title, because it begs the question and therefore usurps a number of my brain cycles, I got a lot out of the mental journey caused by reading and reflecting on what the author wrote.

While I have a number of disagreements with what they say, I think it is a good article. It is well written, it comes from the heart and from the author’s experiences, and there is very little in it (possibly nothing) that is distracting in terms of style, language, grammar, or sentence structure. This final point is very critical because it allows the article to stand on its own and to be a thing independent of the medium. The ideas that the author puts forward are evaluated as objectively as they can be and it seems like a lot of care was taken to remove most of the details that might cause a subjective interpretation or trigger a cognitive bias. For example, I had no idea the gender of the author until after I read the article and revisited the page to do some follow-up review. Their gender is probably important to them, but it is not relevant to those who consume the article.

This is something that I think I need to highlight more. Ideas are good, bad, neutral, provocative, progressive, regressive, transformational, ignorant, biased, inclusive, future-altering, creative, etc. and, in an ideal world, they are consumed and interrogated based on their merits. A good idea that you do not like remains a good idea, so ones opinion of the idea should never factor into the critical evaluation of it. The best example here, and one that may remain relevant in perpetuity, is Donald Trump. In this case I am not actually making reference to the person. I am making reference to the idea that is “Donald Trump.”

He does not conform to the stereotypical role of US president or traditional western world leader. His presentation is something closer to a mid-twentieth century union leader than a diplomat of a superpower. There is a straight shooter quality to him that on first glance seems authentic and trustworthy, but does not stand-up to any level of scrutiny. It is authentic in so far as it is true that he is thinking the thing that he is saying in and around the time that he says it, but there is no evidence or proof that the thoughts existed before the moment or have much of a life afterwards. There doesn’t seem to be any stacking of ideas that is building to a grand theory or understanding of things. It is just a stream of ideas, one after the other, and mostly non-sequiturs.

Which is why it is inappropriate to dismiss everything he says out of hand or to accept everything he says instantly. There are a few very good ideas in the totality of everything he communicates, just as there are some absolutely awful things. Uncovering these things will only occur when you take the time to divorce the message from the man and allow the idea to stand alone. The problem here is that this takes a lot of effort and it is not something that comes naturally or is even remotely palatable to do. It’s easier to say “he’s a genius, MAGA!” or “he’s a dope who is ruining the country” and then take this view into the evaluation of the next thing he communicates.

Like most things, the middle way is ideal, but it lacks all of the power and energy that tribal reactions affords us. This is what I try to do in-spite of the fact that it is draining and a lonely pursuit. Fewer people operate this way now than at any time in our history and I have a feeling that this approach will be effectively eliminated within a couple of decades. But until then, I’m going to try to detach an idea from its creator and consume it as though it came from someone who has a strong track record of putting forward reasonable perspectives that are not dogmatically charged or partisan.

So given all of this, here are my thoughts on the article title “The Problem Of Mindfulness” and the ideas that it puts forward.

The way the title reads is that “mindfulness” is a lot like a dryer that hides a single sock, if you are in a great mood, diarrhea, if you are feeling nothing much at all, or something between homelessness and   cancer depending on just how down you are feeling.

Of course, when the page opens and the reader is greeted with the article, the title is there, superimposed over a picture of someone’s face, both of which are being joined by a subtitle that would, if not for the first one, cause the brain to throw an error.

“Mindfulness promotes itself as value-neutral but it is loaded with (troubling) assumptions about the self and the cosmos,” which indicates that its creator is making much more troubling assumption than the noun or verb “mindfulness” has, is, or will. Let’s also throw “can” into that mix as well.

Before moving forward, I need to declare my conflict of interest here. I am a fan of mindfulness meditation and a big believer in the positive effects of disenchantment and its close relative disillusionment. Phrased more crassly, the sooner someone takes their head out of their ass and begins to see reality in more objective terms, the sooner they can start to do more impressive things in the world and with their life. For example, a lot of people have challenges realizing or learning that there is a boundary between themselves and other people, meaning that everyone else has an experience of reality that is theirs alone and rarely (never) is their perspective from your point of view. This makes sense logically. So much sense that you may even think “what a stupid and unnecessary statement to make,” which is exactly the point I am making. From YOUR perspective it is unnecessary, so therefore it is unnecessary. That doesn’t change the reality that until we learn to act otherwise, our first impulse is always going to be to see things from our own point of view followed by a castigation of anyone who is not aligned with it.

It doesn’t need to be this way, you can train your brain to table harsh judgment of dissention for later in favor of considering how the world would have to be in order for someone to believe something OTHER than what you believe. Here’s the rub, the world is actually much closer to that way than the way you believe it is.

And it is this way for EVERYONE. We evolved to get it wrong and we do, until we realize that we are wrong and take the steps to correct our path.

For me, mindfulness meditation represents the main step we can take in order to correct our path. So it follows that “mindfulness” as a noun and verb is making reference to some aspect of what we experience when we practice mindfulness meditation. It allows us to notice what is actually going on from moment to moment and in doing so, creates a juxtaposition between reality and what we think is going on. This may or may not make sense to you on any level, but once you spend any amount of time sitting still, with your eyes and mouth closed, noticing the sensations of your breath on the area of skin above your upper lip and in and around your nostrils, things will become more clear. You are probably still not going to understand what I’m talking about, but you’ll begin to grow more certain that I am actually talking about something that is real, and not spewing a new age or metaphysical creation designed to improve my position on some enlightenment hierarchy. And the more you practice, the more in-focus these two things will become – reality and the experience of reality that each one of us manufacture from moment to moment.

With that out of the way, let us move forward and deal with the two main goals of what I’m writing here. They are to address the authors concern and to then address my concern with how they went about addressing their concern.

The author has a long back ground with, at least in terms of observational exposure to, meditation. And they admit that they were bored when they went to the temple. They practiced a few techniques during university and later served as a control group member in a large scale University of Cambridge study about the effects of mindfulness. Read the original article, both to validate my summary and to gain more insight into how the author is approaching the subject. And I’ll add that it is a good piece of writing.

They found the practice of mindfulness, like many people do, to be rather destabilizing. For one thing, it reveals a lot about the world that we have never paid attention to, either because we learned to ignore it or because we never took the time to notice it. Those in the first group find mindfulness a lot easier to integrate and it tends not to rock their world nearly as much. They can be curious and fascinated with all that is reveals while never feeling like they are losing their grip. The second group, those who never noticed the things in the first place, tend not to fare so well in the short term. Initially their mind will be blown by all that they become aware of and the automatic nature of perception and how the brain manufactures ones experience of being alive. But this will usually give way to feelings of loss, confusion, and detachment. Feeling this way sucks. It won’t make any difference if the core lessons of impermanence are taking hold, the feelings are real and experiencing them has a negative valence until they go away. Over time though, things will stabilize as the brain updates the software and begins to gain confidence in its predictive accuracy. At some point in the future, everything will be assimilated and you will move forward with a new mental process called “mindfulness” that can be called upon as needed, and which will run in the background making sure that your perceptions are closer to reality than they were before.

About this fact, consider what happens when someone in a long term committed monogamous relationship cheats on their spouse / partner. Initially nothing happens to their partner, the world is the way it was the day before. It will continue to be this way until they find out about their partners infidelity. Then all hell breaks loose. Personally, I don’t think people should cheat when they are in committed relationships. It’s a shittie thing to do and is an act of immense disrespect to yourself. BUT, if it happens and you make the decision to tell your significant other about it, do it as soon as possible. Do not wait any longer than is necessary because the longer the gap, the greater the damage you will be causing to the other person.

Cheating on a partner is bad, but continuing along as though nothing happened for years only to come clean about it later is pathologically selfish and has the tendency of shattering the other person’s world view. The reason is very simple, and it is exactly the same thing that happens with the second group mentioned above – those who did not choose to ignore how the world actually is because they never realized how the world actually is – it causes them to question the past and to doubt their own judgment and their experiences. If someone comes clean five years later, they are forcing their partner to reprocess the last five years of their life before they can move forward. Sure, they are not going to be completely stuck at ground zero, but a very large portion of their mental energy will be redirected away from the day to day tasks of living and onto assimilating the new information and updating their long term memory as it applies to their relationship, their partner, and their shared experiences.

Over time, they will probably get through it. The brain is remarkably resilient and can process many different types of traumas. But the energy expenditure required to adjust to the information that your partner cheated is proportionate to the length of time between the act and when it came to light.

Something very similar happens when someone takes up mindfulness and starts to realize that how they have been experiencing the world is not aligned with reality. It will be resisted and denied until it can no longer be disregarded. Then will come the difficult tasks of reframing and reorganizing everything you know about the world to accommodate the fact that there is, for example, no self. A lot of stuff will need to get torn down and rebuilt, and this will take time and mental effort, and probably a good diet and sufficient rest / recovery. But it can happen so long as the person stays the course and relinquishes their attachment to their old world view. Anyone who jumps ship will find their swim back to their old reality to be less challenging than continuing forward, but they will be returning to a different place than from where they left and will likely be embittered about the subject as a whole.

My own experience with onboarding meditation was similar to what the author experienced. But I was older when I started and was certain that my world view was inaccurate which was leading to a drop in predictive accuracy. My journey had me leaving behind something pretty crappy and while I was not certain about the “goodness” of what I was choosing to move towards, life had taught me that different is good when the normal has become difficult, challenging, or painful. It needs to be said that I had already learned to doubt the validity of what I knew, so as destabilizing as I found the transition, it was no more so than the year leading up to the start of the journey.

The author does a good job at shining a light on the lack of thoroughness in the on-boarding that many people have with mindfulness practices. There is no doubt that had she engaged the practice more when she was young and being dragged to the temple, she would have been guided with a lot more vigor and care than what many people experience presently in western societies. But that is the nature of things. More care is taken with younger people as well as in places where what is being taught is viewed as important or is a big part of the traditional culture. North America is new to mindfulness, and when coming from a tradition of capitalism with a side serving of violence, it is not surprising that the care is being taken to collect the money as opposed to guiding the people.

This is not the fault of mindfulness, as either a noun or a verb, and is should not surprise anyone that the “money over everything” view is muddying the waters. The thing is this, mindfulness is like any skill, it takes time to generate, it is going to be messy in the middle, and it cannot be done for us. It is the quintessential selfish undertaking that one could argue is impaired by other people and enhanced by temporary isolation. It is like committing law to long term memory or learning how to solve advanced calculus equations, a teacher or instructor can help along the process, but the individual needs to do the practice to stimulate the brain growth to support the new memories or the new way of thinking. To this end, it is a less than optimal capitalist venture since capitalism places experience or perceived value at the top of the service offering. You cannot do mindfulness for your customers, they have to do it themselves, so the only way to make money doing it is to offer something that is scalable. Which in this case means something that is incomplete, is useless crap, or is actually counter-productive and harmful.

The medium is the message here. Those who seek enlightenment and the cultivation of the skill of mindfulness through a smart phone get smart phone levels of enlightenment and mindfulness. Smart phones are tools to trigger the release of dopamine through the activation of outrage, exposure to novelty, and social validation / approval. Mindfulness is a tool to make you aware of what is happening from moment to moment. While these things are not the exact opposite of each other, they are reasonable close to being completely dissimilar. Meditation, the primary way to cultivate the skill of mindfulness, is as close to doing nothing as someone can do without being asleep. The mind is very active, you are alert, but you are focusing so intensely simply because you do not want to become distracted, outraged, etc. Cultivating mindfulness is an act that inhibits the release of reward chemicals, so it offers no hook that business people can use to capture you as a customer.

The author talks a lot about the concept of “no self” in a way that makes it difficult to reconcile the truth of it with the experience of being or having a self. I am not aligned with them here. Two things that seem to be in contradiction can coexist simply because neither one of them actually does. It is kind of like Schrödinger’s cat or the wave–particle duality in that sometimes something is one thing while other times it is something else (meditation and mindfulness have NOTHING to do with quantum mechanics and my use of QM terms is only to describe the fact that sometimes we will need to look at things differently in order to understand them more completely).

You are a physical being, a meat sack if you will. You are made-up of matter, and that matter obeys laws of physics and chemistry, and other subjects. Materialism applies to people just as it applies to rocks or dogs. The difference is, as far as we know, rocks and dogs do not have a well-formed narrative identity of themselves. To make reference to a rock having “no self” seems redundant. It seems similarly so, although not necessarily completely so, to say the same of a dog. But what is the different between these two things, and then, from these two things and us? It seems to me that human beings have reflective consciousness that gives them the ability to think about the world and about things that are not there or are not presently happening. Rocks do not have this ability and while a dog may be conscious and does have the ability to learn, we get no sense that there is any depth to their understanding of what they are or their uniqueness in terms of being a distinct piece of life.

What this means is that as something is happening, it is just a meaningless thing that is occurring – it is a collection of molecules moving in a particular direction. So in order for it to mean something, the observer will need to take a moment to reflect upon what is occurring, allowing their brain to interpret the collection of molecules and their corresponding vectors as being something. But this process is not an act of mindfulness in the purest sense of the term. It is a result of reflection and by virtue of the fact that any meaning is generated, the person is no longer living in the moment and is instead living in a latency period between stimulus and response.

So when we are simply experiencing reality as it unfolds from moment to moment, there is no self. When we are perceiving and understanding what is unfolding from moment to moment, there is a self. It is slightly confusing but not at all if there is a willingness to understand what it is all about.

It just seems really out of place in modern life because without reflection, modern life could not have come to be. But no self makes a lot of sense and is more easily observed and appreciated when someone is sitting in a forest meditating away from everything that has been manufacture. Simplicity allows for the sustained existence of no self because it affords the opportunity to do nothing other than take in whatever is occurring from moment to moment, so basically what is steaming into the brain from the senses. Other people and manufactured material objects make this task nearly impossible because they create the need for rules. This causes complexity and moves the person away from the role of observer and into role of reflector in order to generate an understanding of what is going on.

Neuroscience has revealed a lot about the nature thinking, and one part that applies to no self / self duality is captured by the two self’s phenomena. Specifically, your brain operates with information in two ways. The first way, the no-self way, is about experience. This is what happens from moment to moment and it is what is lumped into the experience of “now.” The second way is about the remembering self, which is what your consciousness recalls about an experience. While it would be partially correct to refer to this as long term memory, given that long term memories do contribute to what we remember, it is not the entire story. The truth is that most of us do not actually remember most things very well and what comes to mind when we are thinking about the past is a combination of long term memories and things we make-up on the fly to fill-in the details or manufacture a more rich or complete narrative. The point here is not to suggest that neuroscience has uncovered evidence to support the truth about what the Buddhist teachers have been saying for centuries but to lend weight to the notion that sensation / experience is a different thing than perception / reflection / remembering. So given this, it makes sense that we should hold different views about two different things.

There is a Buddhist / Zen saying that goes something like “before enlightenment work, after enlightenment work” that addresses the next concern the author has about “mindfulness.”

They raise a very good point, but do not track in on the source of the issue with any vigor or accuracy, when they state: “In claiming to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions, mindfulness oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself.”

The first part of the sentence is more or less accurate, as it would be if it was said about anything that is put forward as a panacea or cure to everything that ails a person, culture, or society. The second part of the sentence is less accurate. In fairness, they were writing an article and not a text book, so there was probably a word count limit in place for them. However, that does not negate the responsibility an author has for guarding their words and to speak as clearly, accurately, and concisely as possible. Their article is not a work of fiction so it is reasonable to assume that what is written down is factual and represents the truth as the author knew it at the time. Putting aside their right to have and voice an opinion, that sentence journeys well into the realm of a statement of disinformation or a statement that is demonstrably false.

The first thing is that mindfulness is a skill, so a noun or verb, and makes no claim about its abilities to do anything – in exactly the same way as reading is a skill and completely incapable of promoting its virtues. Mindfulness needs boosters because mindfulness is not alive. The problem then is not with anything that mindfulness itself is doing but with the claims that are being made about it. In the event that this seems so obvious and therefore unnecessary to mention, it is worth pointing out that racism is both a problem and a part of our internal operating system. Many skills or behaviours that human beings are capable of, that seem to lack any value in modern life, are there because they served a valuable survival purpose at one point in time. Racism is not good, but the ability to identify those who are not like us and to treat those we are similar to had a place in our evolutionary past. It is an antiquated thing, particularly given that every unique race has suffered MORE at the hands of those who look like them than those who look different, but so too is the appendix and a considerable amount of our DNA given that it doesn’t seem to code for anything at all. Well the appendix used to do something and those unnecessary genes used to code for something that promoted survival.

So the problem with mindfulness is that people who promote it are making extraordinary claims about what it can do and how it will impact the lives of anyone who uses it as an approach to life. The problem the author is making reference to is the overstating or direct lying about the utility of mindfulness made by the people who promote it. This is something that I agree with, but it was not stated as directly as that in the article.

The second part of the sentence “mindfulness oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself” doesn’t hold up nearly as well, even when translated or updated to reflect what is actually going on. I believe that the author is intending to say “the skill of mindfulness is presented as a simple way to understand yourself.” This is true and it is not a problem. The fact is that human beings are biological machines whose brain manufactures meaning out of electrical impulses that are triggered by collisions between the body and molecules that are not a part of the body. The tree we see is a collection of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc. that is in tree form. What we see is the light that bounces off of some of these molecules and hits our retina. When we touch it, the molecules of our skin are repelled by the molecules that make-up the tree, so this ends up stimulating receptors on the skin that trigger electrical impulses to flow into the brain that cause the sensation of touch. If we were to eat the tree, tree molecules would stimulate taste receptors, if we were to smell it, tree molecules would stimulate olfactory receptors, and when we hear the tree, receptors in our inner ear are simply responding to air that is coming off of the tree and going into our ears.

I am not intending to be irreverent when I say that it is “simply” anything, but our experience of a tree is so much less than any narrative story we manufacture to capture the entirety of our knowledge about trees. It is our brain that do all of the heavy lifting that allow us to perceive things and to understand the world in reflective terms.

The fact of the matter is that most of what we know about things is just a story we are telling ourselves and sharing with other people. It is accurate in so far as it works in allowing us to navigate our way through life with a lot of ease, but nearly all of it is just manufactured rules about collections of molecules that human beings mostly agree on just so they do not have to think about it anymore than they have to.

Considering and then assimilating this fact is alarming, at least initially, but our brain will reconcile things very quickly and it will allow us to go back to living life as though we didn’t gain the insight. From an experiential point of view, the facts and the truth are of much less consequence than the position and movement of the molecules that we bump into. So no matter what we learn, life will return to normal quickly because it must be lived by each one of us.

The skill of mindfulness is a way that anyone can gain clarity into the nature of the world and, more importantly, the nature of our social interactions and social conventions. It will allow someone to  uncover what they are in terms of molecules and what they are in terms of a narrative understanding, while giving them great power to figure out what is important, what is real, and what is worth pursuing. It isn’t going to fix anything EXCEPT the delusions someone may have created about what is going on from moment to moment. It is not a cure for clinical depression, it will not help someone grow taller or regrow their hair, and it will not open up the doors to effortless success. But it can allow someone to experience what is actually going on in the world, to gain a better understanding of the difference between sadness and depression, it can help someone accept the reality of their height or hair situation, and it can give someone the clarity to figure out what actions they need to take in order to find greatness and to then make the decision on whether or not they actually want it.

Mindfulness, when practiced consistently, gives someone the ability to separate the sensations from the perceptions and to then make the decision to act in a way that makes the most sense to them in terms of these sensations and perceptions. But that is all it is going to do. The reason some people feel calmer when they practice it is because it dissolves the narrative, for a short period of time, which will allow for whatever triggered emotions to run their course before returning the person back to their baseline. There are two ways to describe it, the first is the feeling you have right as you wake-up in the morning without an alarm clock and when you have nowhere to go – your mind is at ease and filled with next to nothing. It doesn’t last very long, but while it does, it is still and peaceful and nothing is pulling it one way or the other. The second is the feeling you have right after a very intense workout as your heart rate and breathing return to normal. Physically you feel fantastic and mentally you are overcome with a sense of wellness and indifference to the world. Your mind has been parked into unflappable so you feel, for a spell, like you are on vacation and weeks away from having to deal with the real world again.

Now consider what you have just read and apply it to the author’s statement: “to look for richer explanations about why you think and feel the way you do, you need to see yourself as a distinct individual, operating within a certain context. You need to have some account of the self, as this demarcates what is a response to your context, and what flows from yourself.”

Who we are is not a static thing, and a lot of what we may choose to believe we are is subject to the present emotional state at the time of perception. Before my long intense bike ride, I may be an angry co-worker who doesn’t take the time to consider the ideas of other people before pushing my own solution forward. At the end of the bike ride I’m more than capable of working through their solution to actually see the merits of what they are suggesting and realize that not only is it better than my idea, but it is the only way forward. I would suggest that this insight occurs because the “self” has disappeared affording me an objective perspective that is based on the consideration of a more complete view of the available information. There is no ego so there is no desire to be the problem solver, only a desire to have the problem solved as effectively and as permanently as possible.

The tendency for people to see the world only from their own perspective and to view this perspective as being more important or valuable is a characteristic of something called disordered attachment. With the exception of a few people, everyone has a bias towards their own point of view simply because there is nothing so real in the universe as it. Every moment of our waking life is experienced from inside ourselves and a good case can be made that most of our dreams are also from our own unique point of view. “We” exist somewhere right behind the eyes, nose and mouth, between the ears, and slightly above our tongue and throat. All of our physical sensations have a “I” quality insofar as they tend to originate on our skin, or at the boundary between “us” and the rest of the world. It is reasonable that we would create and carry such an inflated perspective given that there are only two things in the world and that “we” are one of them; the other one is the rest of the world / universe.

But this isn’t the entire picture because EVERYONE has the same sort of perspective and experience of being alive. When you are in a room with nine other people, there are ten unique perspectives, each one as the sole center of all experience. This means that no specific reality is more real than any of the rest. As many people as there are on the planet, there are that many versions of the real world running. So we are real, but we are not really real.

Disordered attachment is a type of psychological attachment or dependence to something, someone or some activity. It is consider disordered because it is out of proportion to reality or to the nature of things. The solution I was forcing through, for example, is only held by me as the better solution when I am attached to it and am therefore willing to dismiss the merits of my co-workers solution. However, at the end of my intense bike ride or at some point after around 5 minutes of meditation, my attachment has evaporated because my emotional state has returned to baseline and I am more able to see the world in objective terms. This can only be a good thing given that a good idea is a good idea regardless of where it comes from. By eliminating the disordered attachment, objective reality can come more clearly into focus and the world can get better for all those who are relying on the best possible results.

There are a slew of cognitive biases that have at their core this type of disordered thinking / rationalization. The ego centric bias, the Ikea bias, the fundamental attribution error, and conflicts of interest are just a few of them that apply directly to the work situation I outlined. The ego centric bias has someone rely too much on their own perspective and experience, the Ikea bias has someone inflate the value of something that they created well above the fair market value of similar items, the fundamental attribution error has someone view their own decisions or actions as being related to situational factors while viewing the decisions and actions of others as being the result of character traits, and a conflict of interest is the tendency for people to unconsciously act in ways that promote an outcome that will benefit them all the while believing and feeling like they are acting objectively. There are many more, but this list should be sufficient to provide evidence that things are not as simple as they seem or even as we perceive them to be.

However, intense exercise, a good night’s sleep, or a mindfulness meditation session can go a long way in mitigating the impact of being the center of ALL of your experiences simply because they put some distance between the stimulus and the response. This time delay will allow any emotional response to fade and it will reduce the perception of the magnitude of any gain or loss.

This piece of it is rather peculiar. The “self” is something to which things happen and this allows for the “self” to react to those things in a way that seems like it is automatic and beyond any conscious control. However, this is not the case for most things. With the exception of being physically hit by something or getting physically ill, most of the stuff that occurs doesn’t actually happen to anyone, or at least it does not actually happen to us. We see or hear it, but our bodies are in no way implicated by what happened. This means that the perception we have of events plays a much bigger role in how we go about living our life than anything that actually happens to us or our bodies. This leads to the situation that when something occurs in the world but that only impacts us in terms of our perception or narrative interpretation of it, we have a chemical response that causes us to “feel” something BUT that reaction is not to anything that is real. If we think about two co-workers putting forward different solutions to a specific problem, not much is happening in a physical sense – some brain activity creates a thought that is the solution, and other brain activity causes muscles to contract in very specific ways that allow air to flow out of the lungs, passing over the vocal chords to make a very specific sound that is the air vibration equivalent to the thought. Both parties are having a very similar experience although each one of them has a very different interpretation of the ideas that are being aired. Each one will believe their idea is better because they will have felt just how right it was when they thought it. What they hear, the other person’s idea, will not have the same quality. They won’t feel it in the same way – both in terms of intensity and rightness – and it will be as though it exists as something that is different from them. Both parties will feel and belief that their solution is the best and each will likely go to bat for it.

But this is only happening because each one is acting as though they are something independent from the other and that the other is part of everything else. While this may be narratively or perceptually correct, it is not correct in terms of what is actually going on in the world. A detached third party would simply listen to both ideas and give their opinion on which one is the best because they are neither of the two self’s who have been tasked with solving the problem. They get to be objective because both solutions are coming from outside of them. Their ego does not factor into it as they get to say “the best idea is this one” and get back to doing whatever it is they do. They will probably feel that one of the answers is better, but they will not be inclined to feel that their OWN idea is better simply because it came from inside of them.

It is worth suggesting that this level of insight – to notice that cognitive biases have a sensation and that I am as prone as everyone else to be subjected to them – really only came to life for me when I spent a lot of time meditating, noticing my thoughts and feelings arise and pass away, and getting very clear that the next thing that I think about or the next sensation that I have is most often a complete mystery to me. The most I can do is to try and shape them by paying attention to very specific things, but generally speaking, there is a very random nature to almost all of it. Which brings us to the final concern the author raises.

“After a certain point, mindfulness doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for and analyse your feelings.”

I believe that the opposite is true, that we can only take responsibility for and gain insight into our feelings through the practice of mindfulness. Right where the author claims mindfulness impairs our ability to own and understand our feelings is the point I believe that mindfulness facilitates these things. I also believe that we are talking about the same phenome and may actually believe more or less the same thing.

It seems that their conclusion here is based off of some of the other concerns they mention; which means that all that comes after may not be rooted in reality or fact. For example, if someone does not allow for the duality of self and no-self, they are powerless to draw any other conclusion that “mindfulness doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for and analyse your feelings” because if there is no self, there can be no ownership of the feelings that are being experienced and nothing there to analyse them. But it there is only a self, the observation that thoughts and feelings just seem to flow out of our spontaneous brain activity becomes a lot tougher to notice or it must exist in a world to which it is incompatible. Both concepts are needed because there are times when we are a self and times when we are no self. The author has laid out their concerns with this part of it which has had the effect of limiting the moves they are able to make without appearing to contradict themselves or outline a paradox / problem.

I suppose I am more willing to allow for the coexistence of mutually exclusive ideas because I am very confident that the experience we have of being alive from moment to moment is not well enough understood to limit any aspect or to allow us to say that “there is no self” or “there is only a self.” There are times when it seems to be a self and other times when there appears to be no self, so I’m going to hedge my bets by assuming that they are both accurate while conceding that there is probably a more complete theory or understanding that covers them both perfectly. Apart from this being a safe move, given just how complex consciousness is, it has the added benefit of allowing me to pick and choose the best or most effective stuff from whichever side I happen to be considering. My goal here is to point out and highlight what works and why it may be of value, as opposed to pointing out what doesn’t work or the underlying historical problems with a technology such as mindfulness.

Cultivating the skill of mindfulness will go a very long way in helping someone understand what feelings are and what they are not. It will also give a person the ability to critically assess what is going on in terms of their emotional reactions / responses. On the very surface level, knowing that you are experiencing the sensations of anger moments before you have the emotional experience of anger can be very helpful in determining the appropriate course of action. Anger may be the right response, but it may be an overreaction, and one with a big downside. On a deeper level, having a more full experience and understanding of an emotional response will allow the emotion to be all that it is and ONLY what it is. You can be sad because your sports team lost, but you do not end-up devastated or left feeling aimless.

Most importantly is the fact that by gaining the ability to see and feel emotions more accurately, you will begin to gain the insight into what the whole thing is all about and how your brain will react to the things that it believes are happening and the things that actually do. I would be inclined to suggest that you cannot possibly have a cursory understanding of your feelings or your motivations / action unless you are able to notice them as sensations, experiences, and linguistic narrative expressions. Having access to one or two of these things is not complete enough to be useful as each one supplies a portion of the information. But when all three are available and processed, we are able to create a more complete understanding of any situation and move forward having made any decision from a place of being fully informed.

In summary then, the skill of mindfulness is an essential piece of the equation that allows someone to figure out what is actually going on and what actions need to be taken to ensure continued survival. Without it, we are moving forward on autopilot, oblivious to the lack of depth in our understanding and completely unaware of the impact our manufactured fiction is having on the decisions we make. It allows you to figure out what is going on, what you did, and why you did it along with illustrating the subjective and self-serving nature of most of your perception.

Again, while I did not agree with much of what the author said, we simply have a different opinions. I see and understand the world differently than them and that is fine. They do point out some of the legitimate problems with the subject of mindfulness and how it is being introduced to the western masses. While most of these challenges are the consequence of the people who are involved and have nothing at all to do with the mental skill of mindfulness, generating awareness of these problems is a very good thing to do because it can go a long way in helping people avoid the pitfalls.

I liked the article in-spite of the fact that I did not not agree with much of it. Obviously, I believe that I can provide some of the missing insight and to help clear-up the authors concerns, but I have no problem if the author never changes their opinion. That is because their article was worth reading and forced me to dig in a little on some of the ideas or beliefs that I have about mindfulness in order to figure out what it was that I was not aligned with. At the end of the day that may have been the author’s goal – I know that it is one of mine when I write – and since the piece was well written, it allowed me to think about the subject very quickly and without having to decipher a hidden message.

The Problem Of Titles – Capturing Your Attention Because Attention Is The 21st Century Currency

So that’s the problem of titles, they are tool that is used to grab and hook your attention by exploiting a gap in the social software contained in the brain of each human being. When used this way, they bypass the need for informed consent or conscious choice, and lead you on to a page or into a place you didn’t have any plan on going.

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This is an odd post because it quickly jumped the tracks and took off in a very different direction; not surprising, given that brains do that sort of thing when they are allowed to. The consequence is that this shorter post will be followed in a few days with the longer one that reflects the direction my brain took with it. The link to that post will appear in the comments once it becomes live.

At some point in the recent past I happened across an article titled “The Problem Of Mindfulness” that made my brain throw an error before taking over and getting me clicking on the link. The error it threw was analogous to a hissy fit that a 3 year old might throw when faced with a parent who is telling them to go to sleep or to eat their vegetables – they were being made to do something that they didn’t agree or want to do. It was the best attempt of a near half-century old brain to hone in on the fact that something about the real world was not aligned with the internal representation it held and that maybe the real world isn’t as real as everyone would like to belief. The declaration of “up with this I will not put” was made via an automatic hand and finger movement to cursor onto and left click the link.

The title of the article is powerful, which is the reason why it landed on me the way it did. It hooks the brain and triggers it to do things WITHOUT ever asking for permission. It is a form of manipulation, and while the ask the author is making is not a big one, on some level it is less than moral. My rational for making this declaration is that it is my brain and I therefore should have final say on what goes into it and what processes fire-up to deal with the world. I have a problem with anyone capturing any part of it without my permission or consent.

The title “The Problem Of Mindfulness” implies that there is a problem with mindfulness and unless you agree with the statement, the brain is going to handle the statement as though it is a question. This transforms the title into “what are the problems with mindfulness?” It is version of the logical fallacy known as begging the question – which occurs when an argument’s premise assume the truth of the conclusion, instead of supporting it. This is sort of like what happens when the question “when did you stop beating your wife?” is asked – it implies that you used to beat your wife, before it is established that you are even married. It is leading because the human brain automatically assumes to be true all of the things that are requirements for the statement to be true. Once these assumptions are made, they become “facts” unless they are immediately engaged and proven to be false.

I do not think there is any malice in what the author has done because when I read the article it is clear that they believe that “mindfulness” is being used in ways that are problematic. However, this does nothing to disabuse me of the notion that the title is having an effect on the reader’s brains that is automatic and unconscious. It is, in a way, the antithesis of mindfulness, hence the reason for my visceral reaction. Having spent thousands of hours meditating, it has become very clear to me that life is lived on autopilot for most people most of the time. I am not making a claim that the same is not true for me. My practice has only given me slightly more than zero control over what my brain is doing from moment to moment, and this affords to me only the occasional glimpse into the transient experience of being alive.

Begging the question, along with all of the logical fallacies and cognitive biases, are things that we can get a better handle on through logical means vs. experiential ones. BUT once we learn what they are and put the time in to learning how to notice them, the way they feel will eventually begin to surface. Each one of them and each one of us, will have a unique experience so I cannot say what begging the question will feel like for you. For me, it feels like manipulation or like someone is trying to sell me something, so it makes me feel queasy. But it has a tint of anger that I can best attribute to my modal-intensity being directed towards proving something that I know is not provable. Again, this is what it is like for me, how other people react to it will be different. The truth is though, most people will only react by assuming the unsupported premise is true and moving forward with whatever that belief causes them to think or do.

In fairness to all those who approach the world with good intention, two key things need to be stated. The first is that lying, dishonestly, and manipulation are very new things to our evolutionary path. Our species has had very little experience with them, so the hardware and default software we are running is the product of a world in which truth and honesty were the primary ways of operating. Advanced language that communicates abstract ideas is a necessary requirement for lying and subtle mind control to be possible. Then, in order to actually act this way, the incentive to do so would need to be much larger than the disincentive to. These factors date this type of behavior to the last 10000 years which is not nearly long enough for the brain to have adjusted to combat it.

The second thing is that the best article in the world, or the best idea that has ever come to a human beings mind, is effectively worthless if no one reads it or it is never shared with anyone. A strong title is a simple way to get people to read the article or consume the idea. If the article is helpful and moves someone forward in their life, a case can be made for skipping the informed consent or free choice part of the equation and tricking someone into reading. I do not agree that the ends justify the means but some people might.

I have been told that my articles would get better traction is they were more controversial or if they were more inclined to cause outrage in some people. I agree, and I don’t care to journey down that road. It isn’t my goal to trigger either one of those things. My purpose is much closer to the opposite of them and could be summarized as trying to eliminate suffering by helping people create order in their lives. Whether or not this is a noble or worthwhile goal doesn’t factor into it. Nor does the desire to get hits or page views. While I would love all of these things to happen – to achieve a wide reach in terms of readership and impact, and to be considered a righteous person who played a role in the betterment of the lives of many people – if my ideas do not appeal to the many or do not stand on their own, that’s just how it goes. At the end of the day I have to live with myself and I have always found it difficult to sleep well when I have tricked someone into doing something that, while it may be in their best interest, was not something they would have willingly agreed to do.

So that’s the problem of titles, they are tool that is used to grab and hook your attention by exploiting a gap in the social software contained in the brain of each human being. When used this way, they bypass the need for informed consent or conscious choice, and lead you on to a page or into a place you didn’t have any plan on going. Those who lack the mindfulness to notice it happening, may not have the ability to then liberate their attention and redirect it back onto whatever matters the most or is most important to them.

When You Know What You Are Looking For, You’ll Be Willing To Pay To Get It

Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work.

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When it comes to personal training and basically any type of training, there are two type of clients, those who do what they are told and everyone else. Those who do the work are generally self-motivated. They may not know exactly why they are doing what they do, but when pressed on it they can come-up with a good reason, or two, or more. Intuitively they understand that they must pay the metaphoric bill before they eat the metaphoric meal – the bill is the work and every decision that moves them forward while the meal is the results they are seeking. For me, these clients are moderately interesting to work with and most of the joy comes from the validation that my methods and programs work and from the empathetic joy of seeing someone work hard, get what they earn, and feel good about it. I enjoy the conversations as well because these types of people have a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.

Everyone else acts like training is a meal at a fine dining restaurant. It’s an experience to have and the bill will be paid at the end after they know that the experience was worth it. These people are a lot more work. There is a different problem to be solved and I may not know the answer because they don’t know the question. They don’t necessarily do what is being asked of them because they don’t really know why they are in front of me, asking for my help, on a journey that they may not even have started. It’s messy with a much lower success rate. The best case is that they actually start the journey and figure out why it is important OR that a light gets shined on the life they are living, the future that this will create for them, and a sense of peace about both.

The truth is that it is much more important to me that they find out what their goals actually are and not important at all that they achieve a goal that was never theirs in the first place.

I like my life and I believe everyone else should like their life too. If I can be of service and guide / help them automate the making of the life of their dreams then all the better. Sometimes they are already living the life of their dreams and just have never taken the time to notice it. They may not realize what is involved with chasing down a goal and that the actualization of the goal can be rather unfulfilling. After you reach your goal you are still you. You may be a leaner, more muscular, faster you, but at the end of the day, you remain you.

I used to believe that everyone should work out and improve their health. This is something that I no longer believe. I know everyone will benefit from moderate exercise, improved nutrition, reduced stress, and a more mindful approach to life, but that doesn’t mean everyone should go after these benefits. Sometimes these benefits actually make people miserable. Having single digit body fat is hard work and requires a lot of sacrifice. Once you achieve it, it requires continuous effort to maintain because it is a possession of sorts. It is now YOURS to lose, and this knowledge can generate a considerable amount of negative mental energy. And regardless of what you do, if you live long enough, you WILL lose it. Everything that arises will pass away, your discipline, your 6 pack abs, your youth, even your earthly existence.

A quick conversation can unpacked that a person just want to feel happier with who they are, the solution for which is meditation. After a few months of twice a day practice is all that is needed for the laws of nature to reveal themselves, and equanimous acceptance is bound to follow.

An effective consultation can reveal that the goal is simply to feel better. The prescription here is simple, improve posture through the use of structural balance movements, core and breath training. When we automate standing up straight when your head back and breathing deeply into our belly our psychological mind set shifts towards confidence, security, and contentment. The experience of pain is reduced and we feel and act more capable.

Cultivating and maintaining mindfulness is very easy and will add tremendous value to your life because of the compounding effect of experience over time. Improving and maintaining posture and appropriate breathing requires 5 minutes a day of work and offers similar compounding lifelong benefits. These things are easy, and anyone can achieve them. And if they are actually what the person is seeking, it is better for everyone in the long run to just go straight for them.

I am not suggesting that someone should not work out to improve their health. They should, most people should, but it is even better if the person actually wants to do it. There is no downside when someone works hard to get what they want AND need. The same cannot be said when someone gets what they need but do not want. Needs and wants are not the same and when they are not aligned who are we to decide what another person needs?

I find this approach helpful when it comes to training and coaching. Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work. Anything other than this is an indication that they do not really know what they want or that they have not taken the time to get clear on why they want it. A simpler solution likely exists for them, one that has them invest a lot less time and allows them to go directly to what they want.

That Time I Said Something Wise

This sounded familiar to me because when I started practicing [meditation], I had the same belief that it would fix things. After years of practice I had come to accept that it did not fix anything. In fact, it does not do much of anything OTHER than make you more aware of what is going on from moment to moment. What will be will be, you just seem to feel it more intensely

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If someone was to ask me about that time I said something wise I would tell them about the last full day of my third mediation retreat. But of course I would, because that was a moment when there was no doubt that the words that came out of my mouth were demonstrably truth, wise, and an act of complete compassion.

The retreats that I go on last for 10 days and are silent from 8 PM on the evening before the first day until 9:30 AM on day ten. Basically you meditate as much as possible from 4:30 AM until 9 PM, day after day after day. There are people around you, but you don’t talk to them and instructors recommend that you do not even look at other people, at least not in the eyes. It is just hours on end of you and your mind sitting quietly with your eyes closed, noticing the sensations of being alive. Vegetarian food is made available two times a day, at 6:30 AM and 11:30 AM, and there is a video discourse every night at 7 PM. There are four group sittings each day, three hour long ones at 8:30 AM, 2:30 PM, and 6 PM, and a shorter one from 8:30 to 9 PM. The rest of the time is spend mediating, resting, or looking after personal hygiene or laundry.

It can be remarkably boring, extremely intense, profoundly insightful, or a flat neutral experience. There is nothing to distract you, no phones, no TV, no music, and nothing to read. It is all you all of the time and this reveals the nature of your mind with untempered clarity.

I LOVE it and I HATE it and no matter how many times I go, the experience is never the same but always follows the same sort of pattern. It is kind of like walking along a forest trail at different times of the year. The route or path is the same but the journey is always different depending upon the season.

My wisest moment arrived at around 11:35 AM on day 10. This is the final day and at 9:30 AM the silent portion of the retreat ends. We are allowed to talk to other people if we like and it is presented as an opportunity to slowly re-integrate ourselves into the real world by communicating with the other participants. At this moment in time, each of us have more in common with each other than almost everyone else in the world. By ramping up our conversations with each other, we are in a better position to reengage the world the following morning when we leave the center.

I have no opinion about the accuracy of this and tend to find the elimination of silence to be jarring and unpleasant. As happy as I am to have the retreat wind down, the contrast between silence and people talking is almost too much for me to handle. But so is life from time to time, so maybe that is the point of it.

There tend to be three types of people who go to these retreats. The first are psychonauts. These are the people who have found out about mediation, think it is cool, and relish in the thought of completing a retreat as though it is a badge of honor or an accomplishment of something. The second are the mindful-curious. These are the people who have, for some reason, started to consider the possibility that consciousness is not the thing that they thought it was. They are not sure what it is, but they are interested in finding the true nature of the mind and what existence is all about. The final group is the psychology skewed. These people have, for one reason or another, an internal operating system that doesn’t serve them as well as it could. They are not necessarily, or even likely, to suffer from a psychological pathology that is chemical in nature or for which they need to be medicated. They just engage the world, their mind, and their brain in a way that to some degree less than optimal. This causes them existential difficulties in so far as their life is tougher than it needs to be or is lived with a sense that they are living slight out of phase with the real world.

I am a member of this final group, and I rediscovered mediation when I noticed the thought that life was tougher than it needed to be. I’ll eventually write more about the specifics, but generally speaking, I have a tendency towards feeling anxious and would have labeled my prevailing thought patterns to be those of something approximating generalized anxiety disorder.

The flavor of the conversations you have on day ten will be determined the group that you belong to and your group affiliation will be obvious based on the level and nature of the energy you give off once you begin talking again. Basically it will be one of three things – “I made it” pride, “I realized” curiosity, or “I am like this” acceptance.

I was talking to a guy from the third group on our way back from lunch when he mentioned that he was going to ask the instructor a question at the end of the next group sitting. I asked him if we was willing to tell me what he was going to ask and he mentioned that it was about anxiety. Specifically, when he was younger, about fifteen years ago, he was diagnosed with anxiety because he was having panic attacks at school. The solution was medication to be taken when an attack was starting. It worked in so far as it treated the acute nature of the attacks but it didn’t stop them from occuring. As he got older, they occurred less and less frequently and he hadn’t experienced one in five years since he had graduated from university and started working. However, earlier that morning he had experienced what felt like the start of one during the group sitting. This was a concern because he thought he was cured, so he wanted to ask the instructor how long he would have to meditate for before he would be cured. He believed that after developing and continuing a practice for a few months or years that the brain would clear itself up and he would never have anxiety again.

This sounded familiar to me because when I started practicing, I had the same belief that it would fix things. After years of practice I had come to accept that it did not fix anything. In fact, it does not do much of anything OTHER than make you more aware of what is going on from moment to moment. What will be will be, you just seem to feel it more intensely. You still get angry, you just realize that you are angry sooner and feel the anger more. You still get sad, you just realize it sooner and feel it more profoundly. Mediation helps me because these two things work together to more quickly move me through whatever emotional experience that I am having. The end result is that I feel more and suffer less, which is a positive. I am still the same as I ever was, the same code is running, I’m just a little more in tune with what I am experiencing from moment to moment and this awareness gives me the clarity to not get so wrapped up in it. I react less and more often choose to respond by doing nothing.

So I asked him what he thought the instructor was going to say and then what did he hope they would say? I don’t recall the exact words that he used, but the essence of how he replied was a single answer to both questions. That it is normal right now and that everything will go away completely within a couple of months, and maybe as long as a year.

I try to do things that reduce suffering in other beings, and baring that, I try to avoid doing things that will cause suffering. I did not know how the instructor would answer the question, but I knew how I would answer it, so I asked him if he wanted to know what I thought the instructor might say. He said sure, so I answered. Be aware that by answering the question I was trying to reduce his suffering in the long run but knew full well that the action I was taking had the potential of causing it in the short term.

“I used to want the same thing, but I come to realize that it is never going away. I am prone to experience moments of intense and almost overwhelming anxiety and went on my first retreat because I was almost certain that there was a better way to experience life. And I was right and I was also wrong. The fact of the matter the anxiety is still there and it is probably always going to be, but it doesn’t mean what it used to. It used to be something that I wanted to get rid of, so I’d resist it and approach it as a problem to solve. Maybe there were times when I was able to make it go away, but I always feared that it would come back again. I wanted to be free of it so I could just go about living my life the way I believe everyone else does.”

I paused for a moment to make sure he was still with me and started-up again when I realized that he was.

“But what meditation has taught me is that there isn’t anything wrong with me and there is no reason to actually want to get rid of the anxiety for ever. Most of the time it is just a drag, but some of the time it is actually helpful, so I know my life wouldn’t be the same if it never came back. It’s natural and normal for me, so there is no point in battling with it or labeling myself as defective or less than other people. We are all equally worthless, sentences to live out our live on this planet in the middle of more or less no where. The universe is just so big that my anxiety and your panic attacks can’t actually mean anything in a cosmic scale.”

I pause again and notice that the wheels are starting to spin a little faster in his head.

“I still get anxious. Probably just as often as I used to. It kind of feels worse now than it did before, but there is a big difference now. Now I know that it is going to pass, just like everything else. It is temporary and if I wait long enough it will go away. And you know what, then I’ll be glad it is gone. It’s kind of like the opposite of feeling happy. Happiness doesn’t mean that same thing that it used to any more because I know that it will pass and when it does I will no longer be happy. But just like the anxiety, it will probably come back in the future and I can be happy again, for a moment before it leaves.”

This pause was different, at least what I noticed was different. There was a look of pain in his eyes, and his face wore that heavy weight of the world look. This was the suffering I had anticipate causing.

“All I can do is choose what I pay attention to. That’s it. I can’t control what my brain and body do from moment to moment, at least in terms of a anxiety showing up. But I can choose to be completely happy when happiness rolls in and enjoy it for what it is, just as I can choose to notice what anxiety actually feels like. When I’m anxious I can direct my attention to the sensations on my body and notice what the moments of anxiousness actually feel like, and if I feel them all over, it it feels the same on different spots, and if my noticing the sensations of anxiety change how my brain deals with. I’m free to pay attention to it, to ignore it, or to play around with it and try to think about what it reminds me of. If I needed to act, I would have acted. Since I didn’t, there is no survival trigger for the anxiety so it doesn’t matter very much.”

He was still with me.

“But it isn’t going to disappear, or it might. I hasn’t for me, and I haven’t read or heard from anyone who has eliminated it from their life entirely through meditation. But by paying attention to it as an experience in the moment as it is happening, as opposed to treating it as a problem to solve, it starts to mean something else and this I have found to be a lot easier to deal with. But it isn’t going anywhere and meditation isn’t going to fix you because there is nothing wrong with you. You just get anxious from time to time and you have convinced yourself that it is bad. It isn’t good or bad, it’s just an experience you have from time to time. Be curious about it and teach yourself to notice what it is actually like as an experience as opposed to giving it power by making it into something it isn’t.”

There was a little back and forth, but not much that seemed to matter. I had crushed his dream that mediation was a solution to this problem and obliterated the hope that he was one day going to be free of panic attacks and anxiety in general.

A few hours later, after the afternoon group sitting, I asked him what the instructor had said and he told me he didn’t ask. When I asked why, he said that during the sitting, the anxiety started to fire-up again and he choose to just notice it as an experience as opposed to react to it as a problem. It hadn’t been all that bad. In fact, it was just something that was happening that wouldn’t be happening for very long. It wasn’t that it disappeared instantly, it just seemed to shrink in significance and became the rushing sensation that was his experience of anxiety. I thought this was great, but when he continued, I realized the wisdom of what I had shared.

“If it isn’t going to go away, I’m going to be living in fear that it is going to show up. And that thought is actually one that kind of begins to trigger it. That is unreasonable. I’m either going to be having panic attacks or living in a state of fear that I’m going to be having one. So if I just accept that they will show up from time to time and really make the effort to uncover whether or not they are a problem, I’ll at least know if I need to do something more about them. If that last sit is anything to go on, they are just kind of shittie, like the feeling you get after running up some stairs or trying to catch a train that you’re late for. My heart was going faster than normal, but I was free to direct my mind onto whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to pay attention to it. This didn’t make it go away, but it made it just a thing that was happening.”

I smiled and replied with “that’s cool, and kind of a powerful insight eh?”

The retreat ended the next day and I drove home with the radio off, happy that it was over and excited to be seeing my girlfriend again.

In the days and weeks, and months that followed, as I continued to practice, anxiety still continued to show up, and I think it will always play a role in my life. Most of the time I’m able to just label it by saying “there’s anxiety” and it fades away. Other times it gets a grip and I have a moment of wondering if I ever didn’t feel it or if it will ever go away, but then I catch myself and start to pay attention to the sensation it triggers, or the sensation that triggers it. I notice just how similar it is to excitement, or too much coffee, or to the moments after a tough working set in the gym that causes my heart rate to fly. The key is that after all of the mediation, I’m able to notice when it rolls in and make the decision to do something about it if doing something will help or to just let it be.

I am not cured, and I have very little reason to believe that I ever will be, because there is nothing to be cured from. This is how my brain operates. I’m just free to choose my approach, so by deciding to view myself as normal, and to act with curiosity when it comes along. Because it is going to come along and realizing this fact was a moment of wisdom.

Feeling The Past? Beat It Back To Live Your Future

Spending so much time in my head – because I ride by myself so much – I’ve started to develop an awareness of the moment when my unconscious moves an idea into my conscious mind. It’s startling to experience the influence of a past pattern trying to rekindle its influence and it is wonderful to sense my emotions begin to build as that influence almost takes hold. I’m starting to be able to observe the process start as opposed to allowing it to continue, only to reflect on the poor choices later. Stopping the emotions allow me to return to logical thinking; which tends to render a much easier and quicker movement through whatever it was that almost triggered my past to begin again.

This skill is developing because I’m able to spend a lot of time by myself, thinking about stuff then thinking about nothing and repeating over and over again. Hard bike riding is meditative to me because the intense efforts or challenging terrain make necessary a silencing of the mind and a shut-down of that audible internal narrative that causes me to believe I am the center of the universe. It is of practical advantage because the trail eventually gets easier or I tire from the exhaustive effort and slow down; both of these things tend to shut off the meditation, re-empowering the voice to remind me that I am all that matters. The key thing is, after having consolidated your consciousness into the present moment, you become aware of things that you had stopped considering or had not normalized.

For example, my clothes don’t matter when I’m 3/4 of the way up a big hill. What the guy who cut me off on the way to the gym yesterday thinks about me doesn’t come into my awareness when I’m about to lock up my front wheel on gravel just to slow down enough to not launch over the escarpment fence. This stuff doesn’t exist then because I can’t manufacture it into existence. And when I’m not so tired or so focused on not crashing this knowledge carries forward into my conscious mind. I KNOW it doesn’t matter so it’s much easier to push the thought out of my head or simple justify them out of existence because I know they are the creation of something from my past and not necessarily the reflection of what I want for my future.

That is a summary of course and it represents the evolution of an aspect of self-awareness that has taken close to 15 years to move from not being considered, not just as a possibility but at all, to a well organized reality that I am able to engage, observe and manage.

So what? Well, given that we are pattern matching machines with a tendency to unconscious automation of anything that requires effort, we are most likely going to repeat patterns over and over and over again until we do something to stop repeating them. We KNOW something isn’t working for us, but we just keep doing it like a mindless computer following a program that has been written because we are, in many ways, mindless computers that run programs that were written in the past by our experiences and interpretations. Given this, one is not likely going to escape their past (stop running the program) until they accept that it is happening, which can take a while. They must then learn how to interfere with the program by preventing it from starting (avoiding the triggers entirely which is really tough to do) or observing the program beginning to start and stopping it dead. One gains a tremendous amount of independence and self-control by learning how and what these these old programs feel like, so in many ways self-awareness is the solution while avoidance is a treatment.

Our pasts become our future when we allow old patterns to become present behaviors. If these patterns are not working for you, you NEED to break them and you need to gain awareness and feel them before you are able to stop them. It can take a while to gain this awareness, but once you have it, you’ll be able to beat back these old patterns and create your future based on what you decide as opposed to what you did in the past.

Posture, Breathing, Intention, Aura – What I Meditate On

Posture, Breathing, Intention, Aura are the things that I will meditate to when my attention is not better placed elsewhere. Each one leads into the next one, building into the presentation of a purposeful me.

Appropriate posture is absolutely critical for taping into the energies of your body. When you first feel your body blend in with the earth’s gravity you will understand exactly what I am talking about. Gravity seems to pull the hips downward in such a way that they force the shoulders back, opening up your chest. It’s a powerful feeling that tells you that you are aligned. As the feeling builds, your mood and thinking will change to correspond to this improved state. Your breathing will become easier and deeper.

Once this happens, I shift my attention on to my breathing. I will be breathing from the belly instead of the chest. My diaphragm will be drawing air deep into the lungs and the abdominal muscles will be contracting and forcing it out. This will be a dramatic change from the normal shallow chest breathing that is more common and the consequences will be improved oxygen and CO2 exchange, increased breath size, decreased breathing frequency and a passive massaging of the organs of the abdomen. As attention remains on the breathing, there is a building sense of energy and stillness of the mind. Now I direct my attention to my intention.

When I’m mediating, my intention is to find peace and unity. I find these things when my mind is silent and they come about because of the sensation of NOT being ME. Thoughts and feelings of me being a part of everything, part of the individual global picture that everything belongs to, are peaceful because I am aware of no suffering and no isolation. It is within this peace and unity that I find the power to create and build my intention aura.

My aura is the energy I give off or sum total of the paralanguage that I radiate. Some people see energy auras radiating off of other people, others pick up on an energy field that radiates while others present paralanguage communications that indicate to everyone around them that they are positive, powerful, confident, at ease, peaceful and open. These may or may not be the same thing, but in this deepest stage of my mediation I am attempting to build an aura that others can pick up and draw power from. I want to beam energy and positive intention to everyone who sees me and I want to coat myself in a field of energy that allows me to hold on to this aura for as long as I can. It may seem unlikely, but people have commented on me looking different when I do this. They are unable to place exactly what it is that they are picking up on, so they just say different, and maybe a little brighter.

I will focus more on aura than anything else because of the four items as it is the only one that you cannot measure.

My practice of aura building goes back to my university days when I lived with Tony and Beth and was prone to fall asleep in front of the TV at night. As I feel asleep I would try to focus my attention on feeling a warmness within my fingers or toes. If you think about it, other than when you injure yourself or are in some sort of distress, you are rarely aware of anything existing within your body – you know there is something inside your head when you have a head ache, your back when you have back ache, in the muscles when delayed onset muscle soreness and your stomach when you bring in food or cold water. But you are, for the most part, oblivious to internal sensations of your limbs. This makes sense, given that the human perception works by determining contrasts – when you are not injured or sore, you have no reason to be aware of your limbs and will quickly and completely habituate any awareness. My goal with turning my attention towards my fingers or toes is to tune in to these sensations and try to perceive them.

It takes a few minutes to feel something but I slowly become aware of a warmness either in the fingers / toes or in the hands / feet. My eyes are closed so I imagine that blood is pooling in the extremities and this is create both a pressure and an increase in temperature – whether or not this is happening is irrelevant, what is critical is that I feel it happening. Once I feel the heat, I work at growing the heat up my arms / legs towards my torso. As the sensation builds I shift my focus towards my arms or legs, depending on how I started the aura-nurturing portion of the mediation. The sensation is a lot easier to generate once the whole thing has been set in motion and very quickly I feel both my arms and legs and my torso quickly fills up with feeling. As the awareness takes over my entire body, I reestablish the connection to my breathing and allow it to keep the sensation alive. I will try to maintain the feelings for as long as I can, imagining that there is something radiating from my body. Since my eyes are closed I visualize a sort of blurry field about 6-12 inches surrounding every part of me – I imagine that it is like looking at the top of a toaster that is on when the heat coming off of it makes the air rising from it look and behave like a liquid. I try to see myself surround in a field of that. After some time I would fall asleep. Upon waking the next day I would find myself full of energy and beaming with a social confidence and I’d be free from anxiety.

The aura building process works the same sort of way now, except I use the posture, breathing and intention steps to prime my body and mind and get them ready for it. After a lot of practice I am able to achieve this state with my eyes open and when I’m doing other activities like riding a spinning bike, climbing a hill or cruising a long straight section on a road bike or climbing a steady section on a mountain bike. With my eye closed I find the sensation easy to create when I’m doing resistance training. In fact, I credit my ability to generate this body awareness for big improvements in isolating specific muscles during resistance training sessions when it is critical to feel the muscle contracting.

I did say that this is the only item of the four that cannot be measured so why would I make it the biggest part of my mediation? Well, because I think there is something happening and I do enjoy improved feelings when I focus on generating an aura. Even if it is only psychosomatic, the improved feelings of well-being are worth the effort. It is also possible that the sensation of heat that I generate plays a similar role as delayed onset muscle soreness in letting me know that there is more of me than I am normally aware off. I’d liken this to the increase in confidence that many body builders experience when they gain weight. They feel more confident because there is actually more of them. Regardless of the mechanism of action, I do find an increased sense of wellness following this type of mediation.

“Posture, Breathing, Intention, Aura” said repeatedly until I tune into each one of them. It’s a great way to your attention onto something that will make you feel better.