Meditation is not a panacea

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

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Meditation is not a panacea

Dan Ingram says, ‘Caught up in “ultimate wisdom” and their “spiritual quest,” they can sometimes abandon conventional wisdom and other aspects of their “former life” to a degree that may not be very wise. They falsely imagine that by training in insight they are also mastering or transcending the first training, that of living in the ordinary world. We awaken to the actual truth of our life in all of its conventional aspects by definition, so make sure that yours is a life you will want to wake up to.”

This should be shouted from the rooftops to the true believers: meditation is not a panacea. It’s not sufficient; it’s not even necessary, if you’re trying to live a rich, fulfilling, unwasted life. Besides all the weird neurological stuff, maybe the dark night is because people are (understandably) naive and they expect meditation to solve all their problems. Meditation becomes a mind-stopper.

There’s a whole universe of self-improvement and world-improvement out there, to reflect upon, from un-poisonous PUA, to reading your brains out on smart, feminist blogs, to learning how to be vulnerable and intimate, to learning how to constructively argue, to powerlifting, to sprinting, to hot sex, to writing, to healthy eating, to job negotiating, to empire building, to critical thinking, to safely channeling your inner sociopath, to strategically saving the planet, to tiling inanimate swaths of the multiverse with human values. What might you care about? How can you find out?

Personally, I put a lot of time into a recursively bootstrapping self-optimization.

In LessWrong jargon, that might mean, among lots of other stuff, you gotta explore your ugh fields, you gotta explore and update your beliefs about self and world.

In popular language, that means lots of journaling, lots of soul-searching, lots of therapy, lots of intimate conversations, lots of life experiments, lots of pushing your limits.

Ken Wilber (and lots of wonderful-but-dated psychology writing) talk about “the shadow.” LessWrong and lots of scholarship are wary of naive introspection. Herbert Fingarette talks about self-deception. Tim Wilson talks about the adaptive unconscious. Robin Hanson talks about evolutionary signaling pressures that underly said self-deception.

I’ll just call it, “You need better mental models of yourself, better maps of your own territory. Form hypotheses about your intentions; test them. Form hypotheses about your goals and desires; test them. Become less wrong about yourself. It takes a lifetime; never stop.”

Another helpful distinction made by David Deida is “yoga” vs “tantra”. In his jargon, yoga is about healing, doing remedial work, building a strong foundation. Tantra, on the other hand, is about pushing limits, taking risks, going after something. The same protocol can be used for yoga or tantra. And the boundaries blur, and you can be working in both domains simultaneously or alternating rapidly. But know which one you’re doing or which one you’re erring on the side of, at any given time. Are you pushing your limits with a chance of getting fucked up, or are you working on becoming less fucked up and less fuck-up-able?

Besides knowing yourself and knowing what kind of projects you’re engaged in, you have to make friends with yourself, all of yourself. Self-compassion and all that. That takes a lifetime, too.

Remember, one of the classical enlightenment goodies from before, attentional control?

I want to give attentional control a special mention because it leads into a larger theme: The more you’re able to reach into yourself and tweak things, the more responsibility you have to not screw yourself up. I don’t like trying to shut stuff out so I can concentrate; I deeply value the input of my myriad neural subroutines (voices, parts, protectors, perspectives, cares, concerns, rages, urges, impulses, longings, hopes, desires, fears, reminders). If they’re unhappy and won’t let me concentrate, I’ve found there’s almost always a very good reason (to one of *them,* anyway). Will you check in and take their concerns seriously?

Granted, learning to skillfully respond to large swaths of subsystems at once, via a manageable number of strategic, proximal actions-in-the world, can be extremely frustrating. But the possible dividends are huge. “You” are also your subsystems, if you let them. You contain multitudes, and they can be the richness and texture and nuance of your life. And if you ignore too many of them, they can rise up and destroy you. (Quarter life crisis, mid-life crisis, burnout, angst, ennui, suicide, etc.)

Here are some resources I like for “yoga” and “tantra,” for knowing yourself and surprising yourself, for healing, strengthening, and stretching yourself, metaphorically speaking:

[see book ideas below]

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself, am I running away from something because I’m afraid? Or am I striving towards something because it’s beautiful and I care? We all do both; protection and promotion together are necessary and sane. But which one is running your life?

Meditation can too easily be used to run away, turn away from the world and hide in the dark. But meditation can also be used to run towards: feel more, hurt more, care more, love more, desire more, fight harder, live larger, play harder, think more carefully, act more gracefully, act more sanely…

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (1st or 2nd ed.) reads like a manual for how to not use meditation incorrectly.

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Focusing by Eugene Gendlin

Self-Therapy by Jay Earley

Getting Things Done by David Allen
(This book is a double-edged sword. It can potentially take you farther from yourself instead of closer.)

Emotion-Focused Therapy by Leslie Greenberg

Mixed Emotions by Petra Martin

The Lover Within by Julie Henderson

Male Multiple Orgasm by Jack Johnston—Step/dp/1882899067/

Felt Sense: Writing with the Body by Sondra Perl

Arousal by Michael Bader

Compassion Focused Therapy by Paul Gilbert

Resolving Inner Conflict by Jay Earley

After the Honeymoon by Dan Wile

After the Fight by Dan Wile

When Panic Attacks by David Burns

Exposure Therapy for Anxiety by Jonathon Abramowitz, et al.

Core Catharsis by Lloyd Gregg

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven Hayes et al.

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2 thoughts on “Meditation is not a panacea

  1. Pingback: how to do foreground/background meditation | Meditation Stuff

  2. Pingback: therapy, counseling, etc. | Meditation Stuff

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