What, Where, How – Meditation in Daily Life

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Most meditation techniques focus explicitly on the “what” and the “where”: Pay attention to X (where X equals sensation, change, vanishings, etc.) Figure out what it is, figure out where it is, do it faster, do it with greater clarity.

That’s fine. And, of course, there’s a “how” component, the meditation instructions themselves.

But, the instructions kind of break down when the words or the teacher inevitably say, “Ok, now take your practice into daily life.”

Um, take what into daily life? I’m a big fan of *living* my life, not dividing my attention in two, trying to apply some kind of technique while I’m paying my taxes or something.

I don’t like these instructions: “Just focus on only what you’re doing.” Or, “be mindful of whatever it is you’re doing.” What if I’m doing something complex and ambiguous? And “mindfulness” is too vague and ambiguous of a concept. It’s also not what you’re supposed to be doing during meditation, anyway:

http://theravadin.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/coming-back-to-remember-sati-ii/

(Of course, some well-placed remembering to relax or breath, or something much more targeted, is smart and healthy. It’s good to be able to step into and out of automaticity appropriately.)

Anyway, what about stuff to do during daily life that doesn’t mess up actually *living your life* and is highly generalizable to any situation you find yourself in? The answer is another “how” aspect, the “adverbial” aspect.

I think Cheri Huber gets this right (paraphrasing):

“Focus on the ‘how’ not just the ‘what’; Focus on ‘process’ not just ‘content’.”

http://www.amazon.com/The-Key-And-Name-Willingness/dp/0963625543/

(She writes fluffy stuff, but I think it fits the median audience, and there’s advanced stuff in there, too.)

Anyway, when the content is never quite right, what’s your ongoing, intimate, moment-to-moment stance/approach/relationship to that content?

Zen sometimes emphasizes this: Instead of emphasizing the content of sitting, they emphasize the act of sitting. You can’t complete the act of sitting; it’s ongoing, and you have to be with that process.

You can’t really complete life, either. Objects, goals, content keep coming up. And that’s fine. Work with those objects, use them, think about them, manipulate them when you can. But you can’t complete life. There’s no winning move. So can you viscerally, tangibly, deliberately, feel into the act of living, spend some time taking the reins of the usual automaticity, moment to moment, and feel into the process, the *how* of how you’re living. Or, feel into the *how* of how you’re approaching a particular act of living (taxes, job, etc.)? And guide that “how”? Adjust its trajectory a little bit, for the better? The *quality* of the process? Adverbs: Cleanly, gently, impeccably, lovingly, more relaxed, more ethically, more willingly, more open, more aligned… whatever palette, whatever wordless qualities you want to draw upon, or feel into, or call out to you, or you’re drawn towards…

That’s a relatively non-disruptive practice that you can take into daily life, that you can actually live. It has a transformational aspect, over time, just like meditation.

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5 thoughts on “What, Where, How – Meditation in Daily Life

  1. I don’t think that most meditation techniques are about do X, do Y. That misses the essence.

    If I type: “Just focus on only what you’re doing.” into google I find that you are the only person who writes that sentence. It’s a strawman. People don’t actually give that advice.

    >And “mindfulness” is too vague and ambiguous of a concept.

    If it’s to vague that means that you don’t have references experiences for the concept that are strong enough to give it meaning. Nothing more nothing less. It’s not the kind of thing that get’s clear if you read a bunch of books.

    >Um, take what into daily life?

    That’s actually a good question. Stay with it. Don’t try to go for the easy answer that resembles what you already know.

    It’s the kind of question that you stay with for a month and then you get an answer.

  2. >> People don’t actually give that advice.

    False! Check out the book “How to Cook Your Life.” (Annoying, because his meditation book is quite good.) This is so standard Zen advice. At least, that’s how it comes across, even if it’s not what they mean, and that’s bad. Also see Thich Nhat Hanh’s stuff and a lot of the neo-appropriated evidence-based stuff that’s popping up. Maybe not in so many words, but this is a thing. Granted, though, that maybe I’m underestimating how people are interpreting what they read. But, I think as written, it takes you in a non-optimal direction.

    >> If it’s to vague that means that you don’t have references experiences

    Google “mindfulness vague OR ambiguous” 🙂 I can enact multiple precise reference experiences that could be described as “mindful.” I still assert that, as a non-broken, steady-state, they are probably all incompatible with functioning in life-affirming ways in daily life. I’m interested in mindstream invariants that are continuously good, and I don’t think pop-mindfulness and mindfulness-sloppily-communicated-by-well-intentioned-meditation teachers is the best way to get there. I’m sure some of them get it right, or they can correct mistakes in person, but I’m not finding it in accessible or even relatively technical books.

  3. You say it comes across that way. It might very well be true that you can’t mentally distinguish the sentence you wrote from the kind of advice that Zen teachers usually give when it comes to living your daily life.

    I can do an exercise of focusing on eating an apple but that’s not the essence of what bringing meditation into your daily life is about.

    I know that I lose mindfulness if I focus an hour on playing a video game even if I don’t think about things outside of the video game while playing it. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to not have mindfulness while playing a video game but that being focused isn’t enough.

    You say that you don’t want to apply some technique to divide your attention into two. But that’s not the point. The point is doing one thing at a time. If you do your taxes than you do your taxes. Not because you are focusing on doing your taxes but because you are in a state where doing your taxes is in your mind and you don’t waste effort thinking about how doing your taxes means that the government is taking money away from you.

    >I’m sure some of them get it right, or they can correct mistakes in person, but I’m not finding it in accessible or even relatively technical books.

    Yes, the kind of knowledge can’t be found easily in books. A book can’t tell what state of conscious a reader has when reading it.

    If I meditate and I go away and don’t notice myself going back, a teacher can say: “Come back.”
    Going through that process a bunch of times creates a mental representation of the concept on being mentally present. You can’t really explain a qualia in a book, whether or not it’s a technical book.

    A book might give you a koan to illustrate a concept but you would probably reject that koan as to vague. I recently had the experience of taking around halve a year to process a specific 30 minute teaching by a teacher. How do I know it took half a year? In addition to mental thinking, the night after it finally made click parts of my body got really warm and relaxed. Warm enough that I was sweating much. The last time that happened was at the seminar at which I got that 30 minute teaching.

    There just no one hour version of teaching certain concepts so that someone immediately understands it.

    If you want to learn a subject like string theory you can do that by reading textbooks and solving problems. Meditating about koans and meditating in general is probably equivalent to solving those problems but there are things that just aren’t well communicated in a book.

    Reading a meditation book is like reading Stephan Hawkings books to learn about physics. It gives you an idea but not the full understanding.

  4. Similar phenomenon: You also can’t effectively learn martial arts from books. When I was a kid I would buy loads of martial arts books with written instructions and photographs of the movements, and accompanying explanations of how the movements were supposed to feel. It was all useless. I only gained any skill in martial arts when I came into contact with skilled teachers and got fast, iterative feedback.

    Your map of your body lies to you in the same way, I think, that your map of your inner space lies to you. After doing a lot of martial arts you get a feel for your own skin. Your body maps get better. I imagine a similar thing happens for your internal-qualia maps. Except, I imagine it’s somewhat different because intuitively it seems that there is nothing concrete to ground the territory which these maps are representing. My fist exists. My brain learns its position in space. Turn off all external sensory signals and rely only on internal phenomena, and how do you tell the difference between experiencing X and convincing yourself that you’ve experienced X?

    On that note, I have, in the past, experienced ki energy and torrents of ice and fire racing through my body and all kinds of crazy stuff, and I’m convinced that in my particular case, those experiences had much more to do with self-hypnosis and simply expecting really hard to feel something, than with successfully achieving the proper outcomes of the meditation protocol.

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