Meditation Pressure, When I Meditate, and 2014 timesheets.

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wo2014_lower_res med2014_lower_res

Above are scans of the two main timesheets I’ve been using in 2014. (You can click the images above for high resolution.)

It’s really nice to have an entire year staring you in the face from day one. I’ll be switching over to 2015 timesheets within the next couple of weeks. (There’s a bit of a buffer left on these.)

On the first sheet, “full dyn” refers exactly to the workout I sell, here. (In my head, for historical reasons, I call the workout, “full dynamic stretching routine.”)

“AHIT” refers to “aerobic and high intensity interval training.” That’s basically warming up, going as hard as I possibly can for as long as I can, backing off to recover, and then repeating a few times. That’s on an elliptical, bike, or treadmill. I differentiate that from “sprint” because the former aren’t high impact, and I’d rather be sprinting, when I can.

The second sheet is my meditation practice. This year I got in about 30 hours, which is up from last year, which was about 20 hours. The year before that was about 100 hours. The practice I do is exactly what I describe, here.

Why so little meditation? These days, almost every day, I’m either deliberately or spontaneously performing “mental moves” that I picked up during meditation. I feel less of a need to meditate as often as possible than I did in more distantly past years, because lots of the qualities I wanted from meditation are getting “practiced” in daily life, and I have less of a fear or sense of those qualities diminishing over time. Additionally, I think I have a much better feel for incremental losses when they are happening, so I have less of a need to meditate as “insurance,” because I’m less afraid of finding I’ve “lost something” when I need it most.

I would meditate more, but I do feel it causes some loss of cognitive momentum when I’m in the middle of a multi-day scheming sprint. It feels a bit like throwing a wrench in whatever gears are turning. I have some suspicion that that resistance to meditation is “thought addiction,” or giving in to an illusion of cognitive progress, but it’s a very mild suspicion.

When there’s absolutely nothing to be done to move my life forward, I do make the time to meditate, and it feels like a good investment, and I’m glad I did it.

That said, there is at least one class of situations where I do feel a strong pressure to meditate; like, it seems like a really good idea, so I do.

David Chapman uses the term “stance.” Brienne Strohl uses the term “posture.” I believe one of the CFAR modules(?) uses the terms “towardsness” and “againstness.” I myself use the term “inner stance” in my own thinking.

I think we’re all getting at identical or overlapping phenomena. For me, the phenomenology is a sense of “inner configuration” or delicate, nearly ephemeral alignments of not-quite-muscles. It really does feel like a complicated stance, a readiness, a certain expectation of things and patterns within self and world.

I get the biggest sense of needing to meditate (or that it would be a good idea to meditate) when I find myself flip-flopping between two different inner stances. I want those two stances to become one stance that’s ready for both stance-worthy scenarios, simultaneously. (This applies to all n greater than two, as well.)

I especially and powerfully feel this “integration need” when it seems like there’s a new, emerging life domain setting up shop alongside an old life-domain. By “life domain,” I mean well, everything–goals and people, aspirations and objects.

In these times, when huge life domains are shifting, like tectonic plates, this is when I feel a like it’s really important to meditate. (These life domain shifts feel different than when “just” new people, new goals, even a new job, or whatever, are coming into the picture. I’ll need to think about how to pin this down better.)

I’ve described before how the mind can bounce around like a ping-pong ball, between thoughts, between mental models. And meditation can train metacognition to work with multiple inner phenomena simultaneously, instead of only being aware of one at a time, where you’re not even realizing that more are available, and in fact you’re cycling through them over and over again in an unfortunate, unconscious loop.

Thoughts and sensations are “tiny,” mental models are “bigger,” and these “life domains” (I need a better name), are even bigger. When I’m meditating amidst life domain shifts, I feel like my whole inner landscape is reconfiguring, like I’m rearranging my inner surface areas, threading new patterns of mental activity within and between and across new and old. Awareness often feels like a high-dimensional manifold, to me, in time and space, and meditation, under these sorts of circumstances, feels like I’m optimizing, tuning, reconfiguring awareness to deal with a new reality more efficiently, more completely, more simultaneously. (There are shades of what’s happening, here, but more internally and with less writing.)

The “meditation pressure,” during life changes, perhaps comes from a subtle fear that “something important is going to get drowned out, overwhelmed” and, instead, “I want everything to be available to me all at once.” And meditation seems to help secure the latter, more quickly, and more securely, than going with the flow.

It doesn’t take long, maybe a few hours over a couple weeks. And that sense of awareness attempting to do the impossible, a sense of awareness attempting to alight on conscious activity that doesn’t yet exist, a sense that I’M LEAVING IMPORTANT STUFF OUT, a sense that important navigational objects are not yet fully available, a sense of “not quite grasping” starts to fade, and my inner life goes back to a sense of “business as usual.”

(And, still, this seems analogous yet not the same thing as all benefits of doing Focusing [1][2]. I’m still working on unifying everything.)

So, meditation for when “stuff is getting left out,” when you’re unfortunately wielding your inner life piecemeal, patchily, scattered, oscillatory, reactively and, instead, you want to wield everything all at once, your entire mental life, at at once, in a unified, dynamic, integrated, powerful fashion.

Instead of a feather or ping-pong ball, your mind is a laser, a fist, a warm, fully present, hug.

***

Happy New Year!

***

(You can get a USA or international 2015 timesheet by clicking here or from the header link at any time.)

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New Product: Talk About Intense Sex and Love with Hot Strangers

lengths_lower_res

(Click image to enlarge on product page.)

I’m still playing with the copy and price structure, but I wanted to get this out for New Year’s resolutions. If I fiddle with the price, it’s probably only going to go up. So, buy now to get the current price, with free updates forever. 😛

Thank you so much, everyone who’s bought something so far. At some point I’ll look into a way to (opt-in) connect everyone who’s spent some money (while completely protecting and respecting your privacy and anonymity, of course).

I really, really appreciate the support, and it’s very exciting and motivating. The clean line between free meditation stuff (YAY!!!) and paid non-meditation stuff (BOO!!!) is working really well. I’m completely on board with continuing to create ever-better stuff on both sides of that line.

As always, the more money I make, the higher the quantity and quality of everything.

(Of course, this blog is just one tiny piece of my ongoing plans for world domination. 😉 )

Early in my dating career, I started making (at minimum) a brief note about every person (usually a cis girl/woman) who I had, at least, kissed.

[…]

Through all of this, I’ve been thinking more and more about the probability landscape of present-day human phase space. That is, considering the set of all possible humans, who’s actually likely to be alive in the world right now?

[…]

Taking into account sociology, evolutionary psychology, human biodiversity, prenatal endocrinology, major histocompatibility complexes, what does it feel like to be all these different kinds of people?

And, vis-à-vis all that, in a relationship, what do I want, what do I need, and what am I willing to live with?

[…]

So. Who is out there? How can you reach them and love them and have sex with them? 🙂 How will they respond when you try?

Talk About Intense Sex and Love with Hot Strangers

Click Here to Buy Now

Updated Product: A Structured Group Conversation

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I recently announced a product, in this linked post, which can be used to add some structure to group conversations. Since that post, I’ve added an additional anonymity mechanism to the instruction set, with a slight price increase. Everyone who purchased should get the free update, automatically (let me know in the unlikely event you don’t).

I’m expecting to do many more hours of field-testing (i.e. interacting with awesome people on equal footing) in the new year, so that will hopefully bring insights, tweaks, and streamlining for an even better experience. Buy now for free updates, forever, and to be shielded from any future price increases, ever. 😛

***

I’ve facilitated hundreds of hours of group conversations, sometimes with as many as fourteen people around the table. I like to think of my meetups as fast-paced, fun, and hilarious. And, more importantly, people tell me I do a good job.

Even so, I’m always looking for new ways to create group spaces with unique properties. I like creating spaces where stuff can be voiced that otherwise couldn’t be voiced at all. (Ideally, I’d like that stuff to be voice-able outside the spaces I create, but one thing at a time.)

[…]

Have a conversation, or an ongoing series of conversations, about anything and everything, and be assured that everyone will have a voice.

Click Here for Product Page

Dignity and love

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After that last post I feel like I should write a balancing post about how natural, authentic unconditional positive regard for the self and self-compassion arise over time. The more you push your own limits the more you respect yourself, appreciate yourself, and understand yourself (as well as other people). Resilience interacts favorably with vulnerability, intimacy. You’re living an adventure, which can involve snuggling under sheets and hot cocoa, as you desire.

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terrible, dark, excruciating depressive, suicidal emotions

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[Update: Dignity and Love]

When my life and relationships are handled, when I feel secure in a positive trajectory, I feel good. When that’s not the case, when the future is not secure, I feel bad. And my feeling-state is a function of my entire life experience up to that point in time, but my feeling-state is especially a function of the contents of my working memory, and what’s happened to me in the past hour, if not the last five minutes.

Recent evidence is highly privileged. And recent evidence is interpreted with extreme prejudice.

You can get a conscious feel for that, the intense truth of “this is what just happened,” “this is what it means for me and about me,” “this is what is going to happen in five minutes and five years.”

I’m not saying that that that intense sense of truth is wrong. Your brain has been carefully integrating information, building a worldview, over however many years you’ve been alive. Your brain is brilliant. Of course, your brain was built for surviving toothy mammals and tiny tribes–not modern society. There’s going to be lots of twitchy weirdness in there. But, that pop evo psych thinking, that too, is yet another inaccurate, partial, contextual perspective.

My first point, summarizing all of that, is that your brain can present multiple truths at once, and you can inhabit them all simultaneously and ask for more. You don’t have to just listen to the loudest “truth” (though, interestingly, if you don’t listen to a truth, it’ll just get louder, so the best strategy is to listen fast and honor and integrate, so you can hear the other ones, too).

My second point is about emotions and emotional states. I’ve said before that meditation just makes me hungrier, increases my desire, increases the range, nuance, and complexity of my appetite for doing, being, feeling, giving, and having. This is likely not a recipe for happiness. When I solve one problem and acquire new skills, then I just move right to that bigger game, with its bigger, harder problems (better intimacy, better friendships, more freedom, more control, more authenticity).

It’s ok to say, “enough.” More, more, more is not likely a recipe for happiness. But it might (or might not) be a recipe for meaning, gratification, eudaimonia, etc.

Anyway, this is not actually my point, regarding emotion qua emotion, etc.

My point is about the utility of those emotions. There’s a great review article that discusses the demi-voluntary behavioral changes that can occur with strong negative emotions [1]. This was of interest to me, because I wanted to make constructive choices around the stronger and stronger emotions I was feeling, as I continued to meditate over years.

The larger and more abstract your goals are, the more likely you are to get “depressed” [2]. If you resist goal disengagement, you’re more likely to get “depressed” [3]. (I use quotes because “depression” is a label for a collection of symptoms with myriad causes.)

In some ways, I feel like I have less choices. For whatever reason, my goals have naturally(?) become larger and more abstract (and more exacting and intricate), as I’ve gotten older. And, I’ve become better able to stabilize my goals and work towards them, over long periods of time. And, regarding less choices, my goals seem less likely to let go of me.

In any case, great appetite and great hopelessness can arise concurrently. And, on the one hand, these are first-world problems, extended adolescence problems, ongoing tantrums originating in childhood slights. And we’re all gonna die, eventually, anyway, so what’s the big deal? On the other hand, these not-yet–possibly-not-ever–hopes, fears, dreams, and longings, they cut to the bone.

(Will you let them cut to the bone? Do you want to live like that? If you keep meditating, will you give up your choices about whether you’re going to be living like that or not?)

It’s odd: the tension of longing and lack cuts to the bone, but, perhaps it doesn’t cut to the soul. There’s a certain spaciousness. Perhaps, if you’re doing it right, if everything’s working correctly, you feel exactly as much and intensely as it’s safe to feel. (If something does go wrong, perhaps you have a manic episode or commit suicide.)

I want to be clear how upset I sometimes get, how genuinely, truly hopeless I sometimes feel. That’s utterly real as long as it lasts, even as I really, truly know, while it’s happening, that it’s not going to last. First-world problems.

So, anyway, here’s the main point I want to make:

Those negative emotional states are pure gold if you know what to do with them.

So you want the world to fuck off. Or you want to crawl into a cave and die. Or you need everyone to stop talking. Or you desperately need to be alone. Or even the slightest noise is a distraction. Or you don’t want to get out of bed. Or you can’t sleep at all. Or you keep pushing people away, even if they want to help you.

Some of that might be neo-ancestral monkey-brain idiocy. Mitigate the damage of that demi-voluntary lashing out.

But.

“Long- term improvements in depression were associated with a peak in the frequency and intensity of processing and greater insight, while peak levels of avoidance were associated with poorer long-term outcomes (Hayes et al., 2005; Hayes, Feldman et al., 2007).” [1]

The entire article makes a case for the adaptiveness of negative emotional states.

Global emotional state, punctate emotions, associated changes in behavior, cognition, etc.–this is all marshaling tremendous, focused cognitive resources and supporting context to solve a deeply personal wicked problem.

If I want to watch twenty hours of TV (choose your poison), I don’t.

(Actually, I mean, sometimes I do! Maybe you should watch that hour of TV or eat the chocolate, because you really will feel better and really will put you in a better, healthier state of mind. But maybe deliberately choose.)

What I do most often, very often, is I close the door, hang a do-not-disturb sign, clean off a desk, put in earplugs (or undistracting music), turn off my phone, close email/facebook/twitter, sometimes leave internet up for intermittent searching, set a timer for four hours which I can look at whenever I want, plunk down some writing tools, and I give myself no escape.

You have to be willing to have no solution at the end of that one to four hours. Maybe you’ll have no solution for months. But you’d be surprised. It’s always a surprise. Because you don’t have a solution or next action or next experiment until you do, otherwise you’d already have it.

Sometimes it’ll hit you while you’re still sitting there. Sometimes it’ll hit you in the middle of the night. Sometimes it’ll hit you right as you wake up. Sometimes you’ll wake up disappointed you don’t have a solution, and then it hits you two hours after waking up. These all happen to me regularly.

It’s almost never this single, brilliant move that solves all your problems. And often your solution will have holes or be (initially or fundamentally) unworkable. Or risk, uncertainty, pain, two steps forward, one step back, leaving a local maximum without better maxima in view. Next steps are usually little things, little experiments, emails to send, short blog posts to write, google searches to try, little bets. But, you’re really, truly, finally unblocked. You have a way forward. For the next hour, the next day, the next month, or at least the next five minutes.

(Very, very often, you’ll just find yourself doing. You’re on the phone before you even realize you’re doing it. The email is half written before you realize you were typing. You’re deep into an iterative google search with fifty tabs open before you realize you had a keyword epiphany. You’ve found that person and given zir a hug and words are coming out of your mouth before you realize you’re speaking. It’s natural, it’s automatic, it might not have happened had you not turned off your phone and deliberately agonized, and it was more or less correct next step. Brains, man.)

And when your brilliant solution is ultimately unworkable, either you realize it in five seconds or five days. And then it hurts even more. So you have to close the door and go back into yourself again. And again. And again. Do you have that strength? Do you love yourself enough? Nobody’s going to solve your problems for you.

(But, oh man, lean on the people who love you, if you’ve got them, which you might not if you feel this bad in the first place, and be open to a little bit of input, even as you tell them to fuck off.)

When you embrace the intensity of your emotions, when you surf them down to their darkest depths, when you bring a lantern, writing materials… It never hurts any less. It usually hurts more and more, forever. And it never gets any easier, though paradoxically it does.

But your life and future might be waiting for you down there. Won’t you go and see?

*I am not a licensed mental health professional and this is not mental health advice. If you or someone else is in physical danger please call 911 or the equivalent in your country.

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[1] Andrews, Paul W., and J. Anderson Thomson Jr. “The bright side of being blue: depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems.” Psychological review 116, no. 3 (2009): 620.

[2] Emmons, Robert A. “Abstract versus concrete goals: personal striving level, physical illness, and psychological well-being.” Journal of personality and social psychology 62, no. 2 (1992): 292.

[3] http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=goal+disengagement+depression

“Goals” and more stuff I actually do

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sequenced_index_cards

I’ve got a youtube video about how I’ve been using index cards for years. A card is still not a crisp GTD action or project. For me, cards are fuzzy, amorphous action/project/question/idea/reminder/trigger/event/stuff/etc. That fits much better what’s actually going on in my brain. I’m one of those maniacs that thinks the affordances of paper often still outweigh an electronic solution. (Ask me again when VR is commodity.) But, right now, when I scrawl a few words on an index card, I often can recall an entire huge context better, weeks later, at a glance, than if I had typed 1000 words into a google doc or Tinderbox note. Just my brain.

(Of course, I have many thousands of words in electronic files, but not as a living, minute-by-minute dashboard that I can bend and pocket and sort and touch. The index cards… index into my electronic and paper files.)

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with more explicit sequencing (cf. the picture above). I used to let sequencing handle itself tacitly, because symbolized goals and values are elicited, reactive, contextual, and ouroboric. (Goal stability is a combination of skill and experience but also serendipity and luck. The bloody, bleeding edge of personal and collective human striving is not legible. Much more on this in the first link, below.) Anyway, lately, I’ve found that some limited explicit sequencing and meta-chunking is nicely reducing cognitive burden.

As per usual, Work In Progress (WIP) constraints are a concern. I sleep on this stuff, over and over again, I uncomputably merge cards, find new perspectives that obviate old cards, etc. I hesitate to call this “goal factoring,” because there’s this continuous, messy ooze, as the world turns, as I learn and change and ruminate and experiment and the world bites back and months-long bets, planted out in the world, “randomly” pay off without warning.

https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/what-rationality-actually-looks-like-from-the-inside-4500-words

https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/getting-things-done-vs-deep-work

http://sandymaguire.me/goal-factoring/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/2p5/humans_are_not_automatically_strategic/

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Enlightenment bells and whistles can be unmysterious and straightforward (symphonic mastery takes a lifetime)

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I liked the article below, and I hope lots of people read it, but it’s got boring, tired tropes like, “mysteriously kill your thoughts; mysteriously kill your ‘self’” :

http://www.psychologytomorrowmagazine.com/jeff-warren-neuroscience-suffering-end/

>> Over time, Weber figured out that it wasn’t that all his thoughts had disappeared; rather a particular kind of self-referential thinking had cut out, what he calls “the blah blah network.”

Good writing; sharp details. But, the article, as usual, unreflectively, makes out the attenuation of self-referential cognition to be this glorious thing. I have no doubt that this experience can be a profound relief …and I also believe it’s very attainable and not at all mysterious or even elusive. A few years ago, I did this:

>> With carefully stabilized attention, I search with my “inner peripheral vision.” I tenuously, manage to find and place my attention on my sense of “I.” I hold my peripheral attention on that “I sensation” for long seconds. I exhaust it, deplete it. Finally, I relax. And that sense of “I” is gone. I feel hollow, like a shell. Self-referential cognition goes into a void, or “grounds out.” Any thought that has “me” involved hits that void and doesn’t continue on. It’s very scary. “Oh, shit,” what’s left thinks. “Now I’ve done it,” it says on autopilot. The part of me on autopilot figures that it’ll probably fade. And it does, after ten minutes. I decide not to try that ever again.

https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/enlightenment-ish-experiences-and-some-recent-stuff/

So, yeah, inner peripheral vision. “Self” is just another experience in consciousness, in order to give rise to the experience of “me” looking at “something.” The two arise together. And, the self experience is elusive, it sort of always moves “behind” whatever you’re looking at in the foreground. But you can attend directly to that self-sense with developed inner peripheral vision. You can fiddle with it and play with it and tweak it with inner/mental muscles you didn’t know you had.

I want to focus though on the negative aspects of doing this. As I say above, far from being “exactly what I had been looking for all this time,” it was pretty horrible, for me. (I mostly stay away from my self-sense except in the most gentle way. And, for me, that’s plenty profound, having present-moment contact with its constructed, functional nature, without messing with it too much.) Shinzen Young says that, indeed, sometimes enlightenment, at least initially, goes bad. But, he says that, in those cases, it can ultimately go good:

>> This is serious but still manageable through intensive, perhaps daily, guidance under a competent teacher. In some cases it takes months or even years to fully metabolize, but in my experience the results are almost always highly positive.

http://shinzenyoung.blogspot.com/2011/11/dark-night.html

(More on “dark night” stuff here and here.)

Of note, there does seem to be a thread of people (i.e. not just me) experiencing and then rejecting classical enlightenment experiences:

https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/deeply-valuable-experiences-meditation-zombies-and-planning-preview-2700-words/ [This is a pretty sketchy and ranty post.]

Anyway, the points I wanted to make are that these sorts of articles, while interesting and almost certainly a net good, at this stage of the game, I think can still set up a bad inner stance towards thoughts and experience. And, even with the neuroscience, there’s still a tendency to make the meditation and phenomenology aspect of it really “mysterious.” I think we can do better. And, finally, there’s that fetishization of one aspect of one kind of enlightenment experience, which in fact can be experienced negatively, which can be transient, which can be graded (not all-or-nothing), which can be non-monolithically attained (à la carte).

So, I hope people will get analytical and technical, and, maybe not a boring, irresponsible sort of “Penn and Teller” skeptical, but certainly less reverent. Because, I think being irreverent and treating all of this as sort of a non-mysterious, dry, technical endeavor… Well, I think that makes it easier to access profound meaning, surrender, sweeping experience. The felt experience of meditation for me is anything but dry; it’s rich and pervasive and intense and powerful and sensuous. But I think, perhaps ironically, the best way to help some people reliably enact that (or whatever they’re looking for) is unsentimentally, and without awe and dogmatism.

I may be arguing at a straw (i.e. maybe not that many people would disagree with me), and this is just my personal, sketchy take on this. (And, side note, again, I’m really glad that this research is being done and that these sorts of articles are getting written.)

Anyway, for some people, perhaps, the awe, reverence, sacredness, and mysteriousness can be powerful enablers or intrinsically valuable. Different people need different things. But that should probably be treated as an explicit option rather than a tacit reality. That seems more ethical to me.

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