Here’s a simple way to cultivate the state of mind that meditation techniques are designed to help you achieve: pretend the environment around you is actually a virtual reality simulation.
Years ago, I read a meditation/mindfulness book that suggested one way to foster the state of mind was to really pay attention to the “3D-ness” of the world around you.
And the author is correct. It really helps to shake you out of being lost in your inner narrative when you deeply pay attention to how three-dimensional the world is.
This touches on my mnemonic that “you’re either in The Story or in your senses” — in other words, you’re either caught up in your inner narrative, your Ego and emotional mind interpreting and abstracting the experiences you’re having, or you’re actually fully focused on the information airing from your senses. You’re actually seeing things, not just looking at them and telling yourself what they are.
It seems to me that there must be two different “circuits” in the brain, and not only can we only activate one at a time, but we have been conditioned over time to lend preference to the “Analytical Circuit” over the “Sensory Circuit”.
Meditation seems a collection of techniques to help us cultivate the ability to activate the “Sensory Circuit” at will, rather than it just being circumstantially invoked.
I stumbled up on the analogy of the Virtual Reality Simulation as a meditation technique when I was on one of my regular hikes at my local hiking park. I’m sure I was employing the “notice how 3D the world is” technique.
But the thought occurred to me that if it were revealed to you that what you had up until this point in time assumed was “reality” was actually just an elaborate computer generated expanse, you’d stop thinking/analyzing/rumination/ignoring, and actually look at the vistas enveloping you with the exact sense of awe and rapt attention that meditation techniques are trying to help you (re-)awaken.
I’m always looking for ways to “meditate without meditating”; the word “meditation” has so much cultural baggage that I think people get wrapped up in the trappings instead of the ultimate purpose of the techniques.
To paraphrase an old Zen saying, when someone is pointing at the Moon, they aren’t trying to draw your attention to their fingertip.
The goal of meditation is to cultivate the skill of invoking a certain state of mind at will. Various techniques assist you in achieve that goal. The techniques themselves aren’t all that important. They are training wheels.
In late 2018, I had about a week or so of sitting meditation sessions where I spontaneously reached what I think is the “samadhi” stage of meditation. I call it “level 2 focus”. I reached a state of mind where doing all the things you are supposed to do during meditation — focus on the breath, observe thoughts but do not get wrapped up in them or the mental narrative — all of this was effortless. Not only that, but it was quite enjoyable to do so as opposed to being a constant struggle.
But my biggest eureka moment was how absolutely present I was. I was not off in some zoned-out state, removed from my senses. In fact, I was never more aware of my surroundings. I heard every last noise, felt every last sensation on my skin. Rather than being “relaxed”, I was more alert and attentive than I’d ever been in my life.
I also realized I’d been aiming for the wrong thing for the past 5 years.
Contrary to my former preconceived notions that I was supposed to reach some relaxed state “deep within” the mind, retracted from the outside world and my senses — the exact opposite was true.
Up until then, my “inner focus of attention” was in some vague place “behind” my head, but deep in some abstract realm.
After this Level 2 Focus experience, I noticed how my attention was focused literally 3 inches from my face. This excessively desirable state was literally right in front of my nose the whole time.
I think I had this thought before, but it was very true now — the goal of meditation is not to reach enlightenment, but rather to stop being not-enlightened.
It’s right here, you don’t need to add anything on — rather, you need to discover how to remove the obstacles that prevent you from reaching it.
That “right here in front of your face” experience led me to revisit my old “virtual reality simulation” idea from a few year prior to the Level 2 Focus experience.
I thought I’d share my thoughts on this, as I’ve been fermenting them for quite some time and I believe they would be immensely helpful to people like me who struggle with meditation and “nothing happening”. I realized that a lot of my preconceived notions were getting in the way of an experience that is literally at the tip of my nose.
The Virtual Reality Simulation, if done with enough sincerity, will give you some glimpses of the state of mind and mental focus that you’re aiming for with whatever meditation techniques you’re employing.
It may help you discover, as it did for me, that “nothing was happening” because I was expecting the wrong things to happen.