As I’ve mentioned here and there, for a couple months now I’ve been back in the meditation game. Frankly I’ve spent more time sitting, straight-backed, listening to the screaming demons in my mind over the last 6 weeks than I had in the previous 48 years.
I’m not a Buddhist. Hell, I’m not even PRETENDING to be a Buddhist anymore. (Don’t ask. It was my early 20s. Though at least I had the self awareness (heh) to call myself Buddhish.) I’m not a Malibu Transcendental Meditation practitioner. I’m not an Eckist, and frankly I’m less religious all the time (much to my continual shock.) I’m not a Taoist and I am, without a doubt, the least Zen motherfucker you’re ever gonna meet.
Feels good. It’s affecting my life in deep ways that I can vaguely sense, but are really tough to pin down. I’m less of a mess, but I can’t really get more specific than that or I’m just trying to turn around fast enough to catch a glimpse of my own face.
But the mechanics of it bear relating. I’ll try to go through this. But there are points where it’s gonna sound like I’m leaving stuff out that I’m not. The problem is I have to also not leave stuff out.
Taken at it’s most simple and most profound, here’s how to meditate:
Sit down and shut up.
“But Flint WTF does that MEEEEAANNNN?”
S’ok. It’s a reasonable question.
Here’s what I do:
I have a cheap beanbag chair that’s shaped like a chair (rather than just an amorphous blob.) I’ve got it turned around so the ‘back’ is on the floor, and the ‘seat’ is supporting me in the back. By doing this I have space to sit loosely cross-legged, such that my feet are not under my knees. So I sit cross-legged, then sorta half-unfold my legs until I’m in a position where my knees and hips aren’t going to start screaming in a few minutes.
Put your hands on your knees.
Sit up straight. Posture is pretty important. If you relax into a lump you’re just gonna fall asleep. I’ve wondered more than once if the point of the lotus position wasn’t to maintain a requisite amount of discomfort that was an easy focus point. But more on that later.
The most useful description I’ve heard about how your posture should feel is: Imagine you’re being pulled up by a cord attached to your spine, straightening you up.
Now start the timer, whatever that means. (Ideally you can start the timer for your starting time (let’s call it 15 minutes for your first time) plus two or three minutes, giving you time to get situated.)
Close your eyes.
Breathe slowly, deeply and consistently. I personally just breathe through my nose. But there’s all KINDS of wacky horseshit out there of “in for a count of 4, hold for 8, exhale for 8.” or “Box Breathing” which is the same thing but 4-4-4. Yeah, that’s great. You’re not there yet. I’m not there yet. It’s not worth worrying about.
Because you’re going to need all your mental energy for these next two parts:
Don’t fucking move. Seriously. That itch? Ignore it. Believe it or not it’s going to go away. When you find yourself relaxing and slouching, correct your posture, by all means.
Managing your mind:
There’s an idea that people have that your mind goes blank and that thoughts are bad. Sure, calmness of mind is something to aspire to. But the only way to do that is to dis-involve yourself with what’s going on in it. Give it no importance and watch it float away. Okay okay, wtf does that mean?
So you’re sitting and you’re somehow suddenly thinking of that miserable prick in the office who’s on your ass like a bad rash. There is no way for me, sitting here typing this, to tell you how to let that storm of thoughts and feelings go. This is what I was eluding to up above when I said it’ll seem like I’m leaving things out.
What you can do is focus on something else. I recommend your breath because, well, unless you’re undead, it’s pretty readily at hand. Count out your breath, move your attention to something that has no emotional weight to it at all, the sirens outside, the conversation you can’t quite hear in another part of your building (though that’s dangerous because you don’t want the topic to be interesting.) The trick is to not FEED it and let the emotional charge associated with the thoughts dissipate, then the thoughts will follow it, as it has nothing in your mind to hang on to.
One thing you’ll try is compelling your mind into a quiet state through force of will. I actually urge you to go through with the impulse to watch what a godawful mess it makes of the inside of your brain. Go for it. Get it out of your system. It won’t work. It will pull exactly in the opposite direction which, really, should give you a big clue.
This all sounds elegant as shit. But here’s what I think is the most important thing about meditating (so far for me):
You won’t be able to do it. You’ll suck at it. Things will keep coming up and it’ll be the same things. That may or may not mean something to you. Doesn’t matter. If you expect to “win” at this you’re going to go in to a tailspin of disappointment and frustration. You should endeavor to treat this the same. Draw your attention back to your breath.
Also, you’ll probably fall asleep. It happens. You’ll figure out how to navigate around your own brain to avoid that MOSTLY, eventually.
You’ll go back and forth like this for your whole allotted time. It’ll seem endless, then, just as you’re getting a bit comfortable, the timer will go off.
Here’s the fun part:
The timer goes off. Your eyelids seem…a little heavy when you open them. Not tired. Just… a little heavy. Your breathing is quiet and steady. You don’t even turn your head too fast. There’s a feeling at the base of your skull that’s oddly well described as a cool breeze, and the world feels like you’re standing in a midnight snowfall…just a bit quiet. But it didn’t feel like you did anything. It didn’t feel like you accomplished anything, like you quieted your mind down at all, certainly not THIS much.
You spent the last 15 minutes so hyperfocused on your mental landscape that of course it doesn’t seem like you got very far.
For the next hour, give or take, you’ll be pretty damn mellow.