concentration vs. mindfulness

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meditation is very important to me. most of the time when i meditate i simply sit still for 15 or 20 minutes and practice noticing and accepting whatever sensations i feel. this is mindfulness meditation, or at least as close as i get to it. mindfulness is the type of meditation that has been the most helpful to me. at times, i can be so unaware of what i feel and how it affects me that i don’t even realize that i’m physically sore or sick or extremely anxious about something in the future. mindfulness is the antidote to that lack of awareness and refusal to accept the facts of what i feel. but mindfulness isn’t everything when it comes to meditation.

this article talks about concentration meditation. after reading it, i can see why i’ve been stuck in my practice for a long time. i have steadily improved at mindfulness, but my ability to avoid getting distracted has stayed at a complete standstill. a year ago, i could meditate for around 20 minutes before i realized i was squirming and thinking so much that i was no longer really meditating. and today, i still can only sit for 20 minutes before the same thing happens.

concentration meditation, as taught by this helpful video, seems like the answer. the narrator describes this type of meditation as going to the gym for the brain, to make it stronger. the article i mentioned a minute ago even talks about concentration as a tool, which could be used for good or evil, but is powerful either way. this practice includes some approaches that i normally would avoid, because they don’t fit into mindfulness. for instance, in this concentration practice the narrator directs you to count your breaths and say the number in your head, while mindfulness rarely encourages naming, even at the beginning stages. both types of meditation seem to converge as they improve, so that, in the end, you might be able to sit still and accept sensation and avoid distraction and not name anything at all.

i’ve also found a lot of help in metta meditation, which is a whole different type of practice that involves a lot more naming and thinking. i like the idea of having a whole arsenal of practices, developed by people thousands of years ago who had no televisions or computers but just as much of an ability to sit still and notice, deeply, what it is really like to be human. i recommend the article and video for a practice akin to lifting weights, tough, intentional, driven by willpower, which will leave you calm and all the more able to find a deeper peace and acceptance with your mindfulness practice.

Vipassana meditation is something of a mental balancing act. You are going to be cultivating two separate qualities of the mind – mindfulness and concentration. Ideally these two work together as a team. They pull in tandem, so to speak. Therefore it is important to cultivate them side-by-side and in a balanced manner. If one of the factors is strengthened at the expense of the other, the balance of the mind is lost and meditation impossible.

 

atoms are mostly empty space and i am mostly atoms

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meditation is teaching me what it is like to learn how to do something. perfect practice makes perfect, which is to say, 1. i continue to use guided meditations and read and listen to podcasts about buddhism and mindfulness, and 2. i continue to practice it as a habit for a certain amount of time most days. i decide to practice – whether i want to or not – for the sake of deciding to do it. or for the sake of the small bump of reward-endorphins i feel as i start and when i finish.

this might be too rationalist/materialistic, but it is odd to think that what i perceive as an inability to recognize and feel confidence in my own achievements might be a simple equation of low output of a certain chemical that would alter my intuitions. i hope it is more of a plasticity issue, sequences of firing neurons, and that i can fake it till i make it as they learn better sequences. and, by the way, it is very funny that i think of my neurons as “they.” what is more “I” that my own neurons? if i’m not my neurons, then who am i?

i am not my brain; i am not a captain at the helm of a ship sitting behind my eyeballs; at least part of what i think of as myself is my emotions, and those emotions are directed by chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, and there are more of those chemicals in the stomach than in the brain, so why don’t i assume “Me” is peaking out my navel?

 

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and it doesn’t stop there: why does it feel like Me is only in my body? on the smallest scale that we know about everything is made of atoms. the things around me in my bedroom – desk, bed, blanket, book, empty glass with residue of protein powder and such and such a color and at such and such a distance from myself – are clouds of atoms. atoms are made of particles, and most of them are empty space. that empty space is a vacuum; i and everything around me and everything that i imagine still exists outside these four walls is mostly empty space. a brain takes in what it can process through the senses and uses that to build a desktop display full of folders with programs and apps and word documents named “this is what a desk is” and “this is what anger feels like,” and so on.

so if i am a pile of atoms, mostly made of nothing, and we (the atoms) are sitting on other piles of atoms (bed to floor which is the top of the next ceiling down)…well, what is stopping me from being everything?

alan watts doesn’t make me squirm like weirdo-new agists

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Image result for alan wattsi really love alan watts; i was super lucky to get introduced to eastern philosophy and meditation by his posthumous pop culture resurgence. i can’t say i’m an expert on him, but what i’ve encountered in his books and recordings is inviting and insightful and, most of all, extremely reasonable and grounded. i get frustrated by transcendental meditation teachers who charge $1000 for a magic (see also: not actually magical) mantra, or hippy philosophers can’t stop babbling about pot and LSD. then i go back to alan watts, and listen to his very respectable sounding english accent, and enjoy the lack of silly promises or intentionally obfuscated po-mo jargon. just a very thoughtful, non-holy human who translates meaningful philosophy into 60s slang.

if you want somewhere to start with alan watts, try this or this

alan watts, acceptance of death, many other things

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i always name posts in 3s, but not on purpose. lying bitch in a whore-drobe.

this lecture, by the man with history’s most calming and trust inducing voice, is full of ideas that made me sit up with surprise at thinking them. we teach our children disgust to keep them from vomiting, to worry about pain and death like we do, to foster an overpowering ego that they can never quiet locate. i don’t feel like being a windbag about the ideas he presents, because i’d honestly rather listen to it again.

a picture of me, and thoughts about procrastination

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theory of procrastination (still in progress);

“never put off anything important for much longer, always put off something unimportant indefinitely. itches to be scratched do not count as anything important, unless you have put them off for so long that they are. sex, drugs, and media may or may not be itches. priorities determine what is important and not procrastinated or what is unimportant and put off indefinitely. jobs, marriages, and aspirations may or may not be priorities. if you let anyone else set your priorities you will not be satisfied with the results and will spend too much time scratching itches until/unless you manage to recognize and face your own priorities and scratch those instead.”

– the man who fell in buffalo, about five minutes ago