Meditation Is Like That Feeling You Get When Traveling Solo, All The Time

You know that excellent feeling you get when you’re traveling solo, and you’e on the first full day of the trip after the journey to get to your first destination?

You know how you realize, “Wait a minute, nobody here knows me or my past! They have no expectations of me. I can be whoever I want, and they will never know!”

It’s a massively liberating feeling. I think it may be a big factor in the “rush” people get from traveling.

I think these experiences help to release us from the illusion of believing we are somehow “required” to live up to our own subconscious expectations/requirements of having to be who other people expect us to be. As if there is a certain identity people expect from us, and we ourselves feel as if we are obligated to express and “be” that identity we imagine other expect from us.

My experience with meditation gives me that “liberation from identification” feeling all the time, even in familiar places, among familiar people.

I constantly feel like I am “traveling solo”, among people who do not expect any particular personality from me.

I no longer feel bound and obligated to be who I was yesterday, 3 years ago, or this morning.

I say things that people who “know” me might be surprised (or shocked) to hear me say. “That’s not ‘you'”, they tell me.

The ruts of identification run very deep. But I think the external social pressure of obligation to uphold and maintain those identifications is an even greater influence over one’s experience of “who I am”.

When the meditation literature speaks of “liberation”, this is currently what I think they refer to. Liberation from identification. Liberation from the obligation of identification, to be more precise.

Or perhaps even more precisely, liberation from the illusion of the obligation of identification.

Liberation is the perfect word for this experience. Because once you’ve been liberated, you can see the prison walls that were invisible up until now, and you were indeed trapped. It’s a liberation that can only be recognized as such once the liberation has taken place, because up until that point, you didn’t even know you were imprisoned.

Unfortunately, people who have not yet liberated themselves base a lot of their own identifications on the expectations of the identifications of those around them. Who they think they are relies upon you being who they think you are. And you are supposed to reciprocate and be who you’ve been, and who they think you are.

So when you’re “traveling solo” among familiar people and places, it won’t have the same flavor as when you’re actually traveling solo among strangers. You may have no ties to previous identities, but they will have expectations placed upon you.

But if you’ve been a solo traveler, and you know the feeling I am talking about, it’s a perfect analogy for the state of mind and experience of the world you’ll be cultivating if you maintain a daily practice of conscious focus and concentration mastery — meditation.

Meditation Analogy: The River Of Thoughts

I was talking to some people I’d just met while on a hike, and the conversation made it’s way to meditation. That tends to happen if you’re talking with me.

I was trying to find a simple analogy for someone to understand the experience of what one is trying to achieve from meditation, and to also contrast all the misinformation out there she had received just like I had (like trying to “clear your mind” and such).

We happened to be standing near a currently-dry river bed.

It occurred to me that the initial aim of meditation practice is similar to that of someone being swept away by a raging river. Your aim is not to stop the river, but to get out of the water!

The mind and its “river of thoughts” is constantly dragging you “downstream” with it, thrashing you about. Meditation practice will slowly cultivate the concentration and focus skills to allow you to realize you’re being swept along, then to get your bearings and find a branch on shore to grab on to, and eventually you’ll be able to pull yourself out of the river.

There is actually no need to stop the river.

Eventually, you might even want to take a boat back out on to the river. It’s way more enjoyable being on the river when you’re not being sloshed about, barely able to gasp for breaths.

Your goal with meditation should be to get out of the river, dry yourself off, and look back at the waterway from the perspective from on of the river banks.

Don’t try to stop the river!

3 Signs That Your Meditation Sits Are Going Well

  1. Nothing much seems to be happening
  2. Your mind wanders constantly, and your thoughts keep taking your attention away from the object of focus (breath, etc.)
  3. Nothing “mystical” is happening

If any of the above — or better yet all three of these indicators has happened to you during your ongoing meditation sits, then it’s a sure sign that your meditation practice is on track and everything is going perfectly. Continue reading “3 Signs That Your Meditation Sits Are Going Well”

Yögå: Is Denmark the Origin of Yoga Asanas?

Yoga is commonly associated erroneously with only the poses or postures, called “asanas” in Sanskrit. In actuality, yoga is more of a system of which the asanas are but one part. And a lesser one at that. Meditation and pranayama are the main focus of the physical activity aspects of traditional “meditation yoga” (as opposed to modern “exercise yoga”).

My endless curiosity has been intrigued since starting up meditation as to the origins of the techniques and practices. This includes the asanas of yoga, which I’ve recently started experimenting with. Some brief research revealed that I was not alone in thinking these questions, and author and scholar Mark Singleton did all of the hard work for me. He discovered what seems to be an origin of yoga asanas in the country of Denmark, where he discovered an early 20th-century Danish system of dynamic exercise called Primitive Gymnastics that were uncannily similar and not influenced by yoga or by yogis of India. And it seems as if the asanas were covertly introduced into yoga by anarchists!

Continue reading “Yögå: Is Denmark the Origin of Yoga Asanas?”

Upgrading Your Mental Operating System

This lecture that Gary Weber gave for a Buddhist Geeks conference was extremely inspiring and informational to me. I like his non-nonsense, direct experience, scientific approach to the process of meditation. And the fact that it worked for him, and he’s very enthusiastic about the results.

I’m not one for the trappings and baggage that usually come along with some of the more esoteric topics I’m interested in. Perhaps that baggage is little more than my own preconception about these subjects. That said, I always welcome the more down-to-Earth kinds of people who talk about these kinds of things, especially when they have some science to back things up.

Continue reading “Upgrading Your Mental Operating System”

Meditation: One Year

So it’s been about a year since I started doing regular, twice daily meditation sits. I’ve been meaning to post much more on this process than I have — but just like any sit is a good sit in meditation, I guess the same is true for blog posts about it.

To be honest, there’s not been much to report for long stretches. If you read back over my 30-day meditation recap, a lot of that stuff still holds true. Probably the most dramatic experience to date is that of the profound body stillness that I am able to achieve during sits. No longer do I fidget, have itches that need scratched, or any other physical distraction. It took quite a while to reach this point. But now I can even sense my body anticipating the sits and it just starts calming itself down when the “ritual” begins.

Speaking of rituals, I have expanded the techniques I practice quite a bit, according to the self-pacing suggestions and lessons over at Advanced Yoga Practices. I started out with the basic mantra focus technique, but I switched back to the breath focus technique I was using prior to discovering AYP. I not only found the mantra too distracting (“am I doing this right?”), but over at the AYP message boards it seems even some of the advanced members had been doing the technique wrong themselves! All too much for my over-analytical mind.

I also discovered in this time Daniel Ingram’s superb “Mastering The Core Teachings of the Buddha“, which is an incredibly down-to-earth and irreverent approach to this idea of meditation from a very practical view. He’s also got a great sense of humor as well as decades of direct experience. Right up my alley. Ingram isn’t too concerned about one’s technique as long as it works for you. Breath focus seemed to work for me. Mantra did not. I gave mantra a good 6 months before jumping ship. I think that is a fair run. I highly suggest giving Ingram’s book a read. You can get a free digital version in all sorts of formats at that earlier link.

So anyways, I moved back to breaths as the object of attention for my meditation sits. I continued to do spinal breathing pranayama as I had been, now up to 10 minutes from 5. I began adding other techniques to the pranayama sessions, specifically mulabandha, sambhavi mudra and ujjayi. I also began working toward the siddhasana sitting pose (a specialized cross-legged pose). These were slowly introduced over the summer months, and then in early fall I began doing the AYP “Asana Starter Kit”, which is an abbreviated set of asanas (stretches; literally “poses” or postures). These are most similar to what most people know of as “yoga” — the postures. The starter kit are a collection of mostly spinal flexibility movements. All of this info can be read up on in depth over at the AYP site in the free online lessons.

The first hurdle, as I’ve come to discover in light of many other healthy lifestyle changes I’ve made over the past year, is just to establish the habit. Just do it every day. Sit down and make it happen. Especially those days you want to blow it off. I didn’t know any of this at the time of course, so I was impatient and wanting more immediate and dramatic results. Now! It’s funny how the mind feels as if it “deserves” something for all the time and effort put in. Granted, yoga and meditation promise direct experience if one follows the practices, but there is also a bit of a time factor involved in anything that involves change.

I also got serious about a regular exercise routine last year, and the one thing I’ve learned from both direct experience and reading is that gains take a lot of time and hard work — even just small gains. And they take more time than work. And lots of persistence through the repetitive boredom than anything else. In a sense, your own impatience itself is your critical guru. Testing to see if you are actually serious about this, willing to put in the dedication and effort, filled with enough willpower and self-discipline to just sit there for 30 minutes every damn day! Just making time to sit quietly alone twice a day for 5 minutes is in itself an achievement. Forget “meditating” or doing anything at all during that time — just set aside that time in your schedule. That’s the first goal. Factor in relatively little happening during that time, and your Inner Guru sits and watches patiently to see how serious you are about all of this.

There’s actually quite a bit of satisfaction to be gained from carving out this niche of time in your life. It’s more difficult than you think, the challenges and obstacles are not what you’d expect (they are far more “in your head” than practical obstructions). Accomplishing this is itself rewarding, and has a noticeable effect on you as any other positive habit you’ve established. Enjoy that novelty-fueled dopamine rush while it lasts!

Once you’re actually on your butt twice a day and making serious effort at this, the next step happens. This is where you stop (or at least reduce) expectations. You start to try to do this meditation thing correctly. You eventually discover (hopefully) that the goal of meditation is not to “clear your mind”. Hell, you can’t be bothered with “clearing your mind” when you realize that you can barely keep your attention on your breath for ten breaths in a row. Usually not more than three in a row! By this point in time, your bhakti (“drive” or passion) to learn more has probably led you to the information that what is generically referred to as “meditation” is more accurately called “concentration”. Only when you’ve mastered concentration can you use that mental state to then attempt to do meditation.

Eventually, something interesting happens. As I mentioned at the start, the body seems to become conditioned. it’s like riding a bike in a way. Slowly, and one day without conscious awareness of the “switch”, you find you are reaching extended moments of deep concentration. Usually you notice this after the fact. Then you start sensing them happen at the time, then as their frequency increases you begin to notice the sensations preceding these experiences. Things become interesting. The experiences are very subtle. In fact, it’s no surprise that a mind that doesn’t get lost in a meandering tangle of thoughts, but instead can bring it’s focus back to the things it wants to focus on without effort, coupled with a body that offers little or no distractions, is quite ideal for noticing these subtle shifts. Wax on, Daniel-san.

Nothing “cosmic” is happening at this point. However, there is a very beautiful peace in that stillness. In a way it’s like learning to ride a bike. It’s been far too long since I learned how to ride a bike to use that analogy, but I’d have to guess it’s very similar. Even now, I still get quite the enjoyment out of simple bike rides. Steve Jobs famously said that a computer is like a “bicycle for your mind“, but I’m starting to think that role may have been filled years ago by meditation.

Sometimes I wonder if the appeal of meditation is the ritual, the self-discipline, the achievement of just making it happen every day. The whole idea of “the path, not the destination” comes to mind often. But there are also some profound moments of stillness and peace that are undeniably the result of the cultivation of these techniques. It’s said that the real benefit of mediation is the experience of your life when you aren’t meditating — that’s where the real results are to be found. Not your experience during meditation. It’s tough to really discern these things at times, especially after having implemented a lot of other healthy life changes with nutrition, exercise and quitting some bad habits. Not to mention learning more about my true nature as an introvert. But I am slowly sensing that rising inner stillness of meditation sits showing up in my daily life. I look forward to meditation sits actively now. There is a flow of inner energy (literally, and quite surprisingly so) as well as a “dynamic stillness” that I find carrying over more and more into daily life.

It’s difficult for me to type these words, as they are the kind of thing that I would have scoffed at not that long ago for being vague and subjective. Which they are, I have to agree. I can’t prove any of this. I’m also not making very big claims (at least not yet!). But part of my desire to give this a serious try was to experience it directly, and what I’ve come to learn and experience is that this is the only way to really know, and that is to do it for yourself. The Inner Guru weeds out the candidates that aren’t ready. I think anyone interested in giving this a serious try is drawn to this from within themselves. You can’t convince someone to try these kinds of things. They come to them on their own.

The crazy thing about this past year of meditation is that I’ve been pretty consistent with exercise for about the same period of time, yet I can sense more change and results from meditation than from working out. It’s probably all due to a lack of proper perspective. But for something as intangible as mediation, I’m quite impressed with the depth and effectiveness of change over time with such seemingly simple and innocuous practices. I’m looking forward to Year Two and beyond for sure.