Fucking Meditation, How Does it Work?: Or, what are you doing and why are you doing it?

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At the weekly web meetup today, someone brought up what I call the “what am I doing and why am I doing it question.” Once you realize that meditation is a human invention, a human game played by humans, it’s natural to ask, well, now what? No gods, no masters, or something.

Or, rather, there’s this thing that’s been around for thousands of years. And lots of people alive today say it’s really valuable to do it. And/but, everyone recommends a different version. And how is meditation or Buddhism or whatever different from Christianity or prayer or whatever? Lots of stuff has been around for thousands of years. That doesn’t necessarily make it good idea. (I’m not dissing Christianity, at least not tonight. It’s just late and I can’t think of something in the class of like bloodletting that’s been around for thousands of years and is still around.)

Ok, so science. Meditation is being studied, but not (yet?) at the granularity of this is what you should do for minutes or hours a day.

So, like, what should you do and why should you do it? And should you even do it? We were talking today about what’s the proper control for meditation? Aging? Like what if a lot of the seeming benefits of a decade of meditation are just, like, getting older and wiser and having a brain that’s mentally and emotionally connected somewhat differently on some sort of DNA-encoded plan. If all you really had to do was just get older, then meditation is this big huge massive waste of time.

But, of course, you can do all sorts of crazy shit with meditation. And here I go making claims myself. But let’s take them for a given for a second.

But that doesn’t actually solve anything. How do you pick? How do you actually know if you want any of that? How do you know if any of that is worth the time and risk? Let’s say you’re pretty sure you want something; then, how do you get it in like an hour of meditation a week, for a couple years, versus three hours of meditation a day for a decade?

Well, yeah, read books, talk to teachers, test teachers’ claims for smaller, easier-to-test stuff before even remotely putting trust in more costly claims. See if the teacher is even remotely functional in the real world. Ask lots of questions about what their inner experiences are like. Engage in lots of mini-experiments on your own time–try to have “peak” and “peek” experiences, to catch glimpses of stuff that you might want to become stable, enduring traits, someday.

Another way I look at it is, follow what feels good right now. Tease apart your inner experience for stuff that you like, and then explore amplifying those things. And look for ever-subtler stuff, fine-grained aspects of experience that limn and color and shade consciousness, that make it three-dimensional, or whatever.

There is always talk of not getting trapped by beautiful or blissful or, in the past, psychic stuff [vid] on the way to enlightenment. And that talk is ubiquitous now–it seems like everyone knows not to get trapped by that stuff. All the meditation maps are available on the internet; I think there’s much less of a chance of getting “trapped” or “lost.” I mean, I’m still afraid of getting trapped in local maxima.

Or, as one of my acquaintances put it, you don’t want to end up in a state that “globally omniscient you” wouldn’t want to be in that, nevertheless, “local you” has no incentive to escape.

I’m still afraid. But I’m way less afraid than if I was living 1500 years ago and I had access to one teacher and no printing presses and no internet forums.

It just… seems so grim to like grimly hammer away at your meditation to practice to maybe be “enlightened” someday. Maybe. Daniel Ingram, if I remember correctly, makes that point that it should often feel good. Often. And he uses video game analogies.

I think faster progress can probably be made if you take total control of your practice. No gods, no masters. You feel into what you think is possible and then you reach for it and see what happens and how you like it and whether you want to do it more and whether you get a sense of whether you like where it’s taking you.

I know that’s maybe super intimidating. I’ve mentioned that it took me like eight years to even feel like I had any sense of what what I was doing was doing to me. I was stumbling around in the dark without a flashlight. So I sort of hope it goes a lot faster for everyone else. That’s one of the reasons I write on this blog.

There were a couple books that I found helpful, even within the past couple of years:

These books are rather… fluffy and poorly edited. They aren’t necessarily a good use of your time. I’m almost, almost recommending them purely for their titles. But, holy crap, are their theses important and necessary.

Why meditate?

Because you want to.

How do you meditate?

With great fucking difficulty.

It’s really fucking hard to let go of other people’s instructions and protocols and habits. And eventually you have to, or at least be willing to let go of the side of the boat often. And at first you flail and space out (and think that’s a bad thing) and flail some more, searching, searching (fold that into the practice…). I wrote my own damn protocol. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, one of the longest projects I’ve ever undertaken, and I didn’t even know I was undertaking it, sort of, blah blah. You don’t have to be that anal, or it’ll write itself when you’re ready. Or something.

When instructions stop making sense, or you thought you knew how to follow them and then you don’t, or you thought you were doing it right and now you’re not sure–

That’s a good thing. That’s a good problem to have. You’re starting to own the practice. You have enough experience and space that you can even begin to consider those questions.

Sometimes your selection of meditation practices goes in a spiral or an orbit. I would drop practices because I just got completely lost in them; I no longer had any idea what I was doing. Or I would blunder ahead until they made sense again. Or I would read my brains out until they made sense again. Or I would eventually come back to them with a new perspective that helped me revalue or reinterpret them. Sometimes I just needed a refresher.

I mean, maybe you’ll be less anal than me. But I found this time consuming as well as a cognitive and emotional energy drain. There is opportunity cost. This is mental and emotional energy that could be spent on other things.

And, like, yeah, I don’t just meditate “for the love of it.” It is fascinating. But also sometimes I’m lost and afraid and I want things to make sense or I’m in pain or I feel like I have nothing to hold onto. And I meditate because of that, too (as well as do a vast pantheon of other varied, constructive, and healthy things).

So I guess I’m making the point that a lot is at stake.

But fascination and curiosity and skeptical-hairy-eyeball discernment and fucking-brains-how-do-they-work are not terrible compasses…

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One thought on “Fucking Meditation, How Does it Work?: Or, what are you doing and why are you doing it?

  1. There’s a thing where the feedback is often a long time in coming. How do you know when to be patient and when to drop a thing that’s not delivering?

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