The Simple Truth Of Meditation Practice

I find that many people are turned off from integrating meditation in their daily lives because they are confused about what meditation is. They see meditation as having to do with things like gurus, spiritual attitudes, right versus wrong ways of living. There seems to be this idea that to be a meditator you almost have to be a religious like person firm in your beliefs. But this is not the case at all. Many great meditation teachers have been just, if not more, troubled as you and I.

Meditation in its most fundamental form has zero to do with any belief system. If a person wants to take it in that direction, nothing wrong with that. But meditation is fundamentally about relaxing the mind. Taking a certain amount of time each day to rest the mind by paying attention to what is actually happening in the PRESENT MOMENT rather than being all tangled up in JUDGMENTS or thoughts about the FUTURE and PAST. Meditation is a practice of just letting things go and becoming silent, for a little while.

It is my belief that most psychological issues that we deal with are the result of a tired mind. In the same way that if you were to over use any muscle it would begin to give you discomfort and pain, the brain is the same way. If we over use our brains with too much thinking and doing, how can we expect to not suffer psychologically as the years go by? It is not logical to think that one can remain mentally healthy and constantly refuse to rest their brain.

So, this is all meditation really is.  No need for gurus and spiritual or religious belief systems, if one chooses not to engage in that way. Meditation can be just a practice of resting the brain in the present moment. Letting the brain just be. And unlike religious or even spiritual systems, when a person regularly engages in this type of meditation, they need no proof as to its positive benefit.

Advertisements

“Watch Your Judgments!”

I was sitting next to my meditation teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center one cold and rainy Monday night. His classes were often not that crowded, which was one reason I went to them. I would go to his meditations and talks once or twice a week to practice and study formal Zazen meditation. Everything was silent and calm. I could hear the rain coming down outside. And then he farted. Some people laughed. I noticed a feeling of revulsion and disgust arise in me for a moment, but then I let it go.

Often during his meditations, the teacher would yell out, “Watch your judgments!” “Watch your judgments!” Other times he would do things with the intention of creating strong judgments in us. He would make annoying noises by tapping the wood floor with various objects. He would yell out various things like, “Watch the breath!” or “Watch your mind!” He would even say things like, “Isn’t this boring?”

Some people found his teaching style too offensive and/or bothersome. Sometimes during his talks he would talk about offensive things. He swore a lot and he would sometimes drink whiskey during his classes. He continually pointed out that the more a person attached to judgments, the crazier they became. His teaching style was based in provoking strong judgments in his students, so that we could learn to not be as attached to all the judgments that came into our minds.

I found his teaching style helpful in dealing with my own judgmental mind. I also found him to be very entertaining, poetic and authentic in a world where people often hide behind masks.

The definition of mindfulness that I like is, “The awareness that arises, when we pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” By non-judgmentally, what is meant is not that we do not judge. The brain is a judging machine and judges all the time. To not judge is almost impossible for humans. By non-judgment what is meant is that we are aware of when we are judging. This makes a huge difference because when we are aware that we are judging we are not as defined by our judgments.

Why would we not want to be defined by our judgments? Because like my meditation teacher said, judgments make us crazy. Most of the judgments that we attach to during the day are negative and distorted perceptions of reality. When we judge we are only causing ourselves to become negative people. We end up separating ourselves from things and people as they are, and this often leads to a very unhappy, fearful and rigidified way of living.

When we can be aware of our judgments, but not be as defined or rigidified by them, we have a greater opportunity to live a freer, more mindful life because we are better able experience and accept things as they are.

What my meditation teacher meant by crazy, was living a life that was not able to be aware of and accepting of what is (this is similar to the idea of suffering, which is also the inability to accept reality as it is).

Whether it was him farting, yelling things out during meditations, drinking booze, talking about his love life or making annoying sounds during meditation- my meditation teacher’s instructions on learning how to watch judgments, rather than be defined by them, has been one of the most important teachings and practices I have come across in my life.

And I suppose I am a little less crazy as a result.

“Why Do You Do What You Do?”

It is a question that I do not ask myself enough, but the life coach I have been working with asks me this question often. She believes that if the answer to this question does not involve joy, pleasure or something similar, what you do is what is causing your unhappiness, lack of purpose, depression, anxiety, etc.

In America, I would say that the vast majority of people do what they do because they have to make a living. They are following someone else’s script of what success means and doing what most others are doing around them without any meaningful connection to why they do what they do.

We are not really taught how to follow our own intuition. Instead we are taught how to follow a path of success developed by others. But we often end up sacrificing what we really love to do.

Burnout is a condition that many working people suffer from. Burnout (and not addressing burnout) is responsible for so many illnesses. What many who are dealing with the stress of burnout forget is that instead of valuing people who can do a lot, it is important to encourage the valuing of people who are able to balance their lives. When there is a mismatch between effort and reward, one’s energy is what gets drained.

“Why do you do what you do?”

Is your behavior driven by joy or by obtaining a goal? Keep in mind that joy is exists in the pursuit much more than it does in the realization of the goal.

Through my work with a life coach (I often try and engage in work with a mental health professional of some sort, because it is important for me to stay on top of my own personal growth and well-being or else I will not) I have been made aware of some things which are easy to forget.

For example, ego-involvement versus task-involvement. Ego-involvement is when a person’s feelings of self-worth become hinged on their performance such that they do the activity to prove to themselves that they are good at the activity and thus worthy as individuals.

Task–involvement is when people are more involved with the task itself than with its own implications for a person’s feelings of worth.

This distinction is also related to the difference between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is focused on outcomes that are separable from the activity (making money, status, recognition). Intrinsic motivation is self-determined activity; that is to say, that people engage in the activities freely, because it is already interesting and enjoyable for them.

It is extrinsic motivation that burns out one’s life, thus leading to the condition of burnout.

To get to a healthier place in our lives where we feel better and live with less stress, anxiety and depression it is important that (among other things) we find a way to make the shift from ego-involvement to task-involvement. Thus, regaining our intrinsic motivation.

As yourself that classical psychological question, “Why do you do what you do?” Then listen to the answer.

Spending Time More Mindfully

I often hear people say, “I just need to do more.” Doing more seems to have become one of the more popular themes in our day and age. People need to meditate more, exercise more, eat healthy more, have fun more, work more, have sex more, socialize more, make more money, behave more, love more, post on social media more, spend more time with loved ones and on and on and on. How much more can we really do before we spontaneously combust? I think we are already doing enough.

When I have this conversation with people I normally say that I do not think it is about doing more as much as it is about learning how to spend time more mindfully. This is often referred to as time management but I am not a big fan of this term since it sounds so rigid and strict. Instead, I prefer to think of it as learning to spend the time that we do have in more mindful ways.

Most people already do way too much and to compensate for the burn out and stress that doing too much creates, we spend much of our time in various states of withdrawal and distraction. Whether we are on our phones, on social media, drinking at the bar, surfing the internet, watching television or YouTube, playing video games, creating unnecessary drama for ourselves and others, over sleeping or just spending too much time doing nothing- these (and many others) are ways that we tend to deal with the stress in our lives. The problem with these distractions is not the distractions themselves but the amount of time we spend immersed in them. These distractions often take up a good chunk of our time and we end up spending the rest of our time just trying to catch up. This is why habitual distractions are often referred to as negative coping strategies.

What I ask other people (and myself) to do is to ask themselves, “What is really important to you? How do you want to spend your time while you are still healthy and alive?” Then I recommend to write it down and post it where you can see it and then try and do more of whatever the answers are. This is the beginning of spending our time more mindfully.

Another important part of spending time more mindfully is to be aware of when we are not doing the things that are important to us because we are caught back up in the habit of distraction and then to stop doing whatever it is that we are distracting ourselves with. To get back on track as soon as we become aware that we are just killing time.

We only have a certain amount of time a day when we have the energy and attention to be able to do the things that are important to us. This is why it is so important to spend our time wisely. Habitual distractions take up larger chucks of time than a person is normally aware of. Just the simple act of checking your phone or the internet for ten minutes here and there can take up hours a day if a person is not mindful. Then what often happens is that we spend the rest of our time just trying to catch up and the cycle of stress and distraction from stress continues.

In spending your time more mindfully you are making a daily effort to really do the things that are important to you and not spend as much time doing the things that are not of much importance to you. Being mindful can help us be aware of when we are getting caught up in things that are just a habitual distraction and then return to doing what really matters most to us. We all only have so much healthy time allotted to us, this is why it is so important to learn to live our lives more mindfully.

Seize The Moment (A Friendly Message In A Bottle)

A fresh perspective often helps. It is like placing a new operating system into a computer that is not working right. Our older, more habitual ways of thinking and being take ahold of us really quick and before we know it we are sucked in and being held hostage by them. All logic goes out the window and once again we are lost in habitual negative thought (rumination). This is why I thought I would send you this friendly message in a bottle.

Seize the moment! The moment is all you ever really have. If you really examine all those worries spinning around in your mind, how many are actually happening right now? How many of your worries are actually grounded in the reality of this moment? How many of your previous worries have actually turned out that way you thought they would? (Probably none or at least very few.) It is important to ask yourself these questions if you want to seize the moment.

It might sound harsh but believe it or not most people just want to remain stuck and live in despair. Emerson called this a quiet life of desperation. When it really comes down to it, most of us just want to keep doing what we have been doing, just stay stuck. Things seem easier this way. We don’t really want to try. We don’t really want to understand why we feel the way we do. We don’t want to see what is really going on because then we would be forced to change. “Waiter! Can I just have another drink please!”

Why are we like this? Continually just perpetuating our own unhappiness?

Fear.

Fear causes people to prefer consistency, security and practicality. What is that old saying? Fear disguises itself as practicality. Something like that. We prefer the practical. We want to play it safe so we can remain secure. But there is a big problem with this way of thinking. When we make choices from a place of fear and we let fear run our lives, we often end up living lives we are not happy about living. We end up in places we don’t want to be in.

But people seem to prefer security over living the life they really want to live. We want a scripted plan so that we do not have to deal with the uncertainty of the future. The irony is that uncertainty or the absence of security are always here. No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow no matter how scripted your life is. No one has control over the uncertainty of life no matter how good at worrying they are. There really is no security even though we work so hard to create it. Worry is often a main symptom of of the never ending striving to defeat uncertainty.

When we really are seizing the moment, living life fully- anything can happen at any moment. But being present in this moment, realizing that what we are worried about happening is not happening now, frees us up to live more fully in this moment. Whether you need a scripted life or you are able to accept the general uncertainty of life- the future rarely unfolds just how you think it will.

Mindfulness is a helpful practice because it helps us to be able to put fear aside so that we are not making choices from a place of fear. I know that many people think this sentiment is morbid but the truth is that you are going to die. Maybe tomorrow or maybe in sixty years. Whatever the case- it will always feel too soon, so why not do what you want to do? Why not live the life you want to live? Why not seize this moment and live this moment fully? Why keep putting this off because in this moment you insist on continuing to make choices from a place of fear?

Mindfulness practice allows us to sit down with ourselves, ground our attention in the present moment and see clearly what is actually going on now. We are then better able to make a logical and clear assessment of reality when we do this. We are better able to see through all of the worry, self-doubt, self-loathing, fear and push through these negative emotions. It is only by pushing through these more unpleasant emotions that we can then seize the moment and really begin to live the kind of life that authentically feels like a good fit for us right now.

I Choose Depression

When I told my mother that I am dealing with intense depression she said, “Well son, depression is a choice.” Then she quickly escaped any further conversation about it by making up a story that she was in a meeting and had to go. What meeting? My mom has not worked in over twenty years.

Even though I felt deeply wounded by her quick dismissal of my pain, I thought about what she said. “Depression is a choice.” Am I choosing to be depressed?

A fellow psychotherapist whom I sometimes have lunch with deals with serious depression. But he is one of the happier people I know. He often says, “I choose joy. I choose to be joyful because I have to.” Really? You have to? I find it odd that someone who is very depressed could appear so happy. Something seems very forced and inauthentic about it to me, but who am I to judge? Don’t most people do this?

Deep down, depression is a choice. It is true that I have little interest in happiness. I find positivity and happiness to be incredibly banal and superficial states to be in. If I am happy, great- I will enjoy it. But it is the pursuit of happiness and positivity that I think is responsible for so much misery.

As a psychotherapist, the one thing I hear all the time is, “I just want to be happy.” This I feel is the root of most people’s unhappiness (and empty bank accounts).

I choose not to be happy. If happiness shows up, as it sometimes does, I don’t turn it away. I enjoy it. But I choose to not strive to be happy and positive. I don’t think I should be happy. In fact, I think the desire to be happy is just as dangerous as driving a motorcycle at high speeds.

Depression is a logical emotional reflection of the world we are living in today. Just like a pool of water reflects the sky and trees that hang over it, depression is a reflection of the world the soul is living in today. The soul is lonely and in a state of terror and despair. The soul is sad about all the sensless violence all around. The soul feels under threat from the absence of creativity and authentic community in our working and private lives. The soul feels stuck by political and economic conditions outside our control. The soul feels empty because the more it tries to find fulfillment in external things, the more alone and empty it feels. The soul is quite frustrated in the Capitalistic world of today.

And then there is the simple fact of our own mortality. The fact that everything we love, everything we hold close to ourselves, everything we have earned, even ourselves, will disappear. When a person really looks closely at the image being reflecting by the pool of water- depression is what they will see.

Most chose not to look at all. Just keep looking away. Say you have a metting to get to.

My mom is right though. I do chose depression because depression is what I see reflected back at me, especially in my work as a psychotherapist. I mean how could I hear about the worst things that happen to people in life, day after day, without feeling depressed? How could I be a psychotherapist and be happy? Happy Psychotherapist is just another term for Sociopath Psychotherapist, Psycho Psychotherapist or plain old Shitty Psychotherapist. If a therapist is able to be happy while hearing about the worst things that happen to people, stop seeing them. They do not care about you, even though they may act like they do.

The best psychotherapist I ever knew, who was given all kinds of awards and wrote several books and was a prestigous mentor to many including myself, jumped off a bridge.

If I am going to provide guidance to those going through the various difficult aspects of life, I want to be one of them. I want to get real with myself and stop pursuing fake dreams of Hollywood induced happiness. How else can I really help? This is what I learned from him.

In middle-age, my life has become more about learning how to live with, learn about, accept and get better at describing the image being reflected back at me, rather than trying to change it, run from it, fix it, deny it, worry about it, complain about it and/or ignore it (common stratageies in the America of today).

Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone. This is my strategy. I leave my depression alone. I see it and accept that it is there. I lean into it and learn from it. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I just notice that it is there and smile at it. Sometimes I notice that it goes away.

Because of depression I am pushed further inside of myself. I am forced to let go of any kind of belief in the attainment of any real Hollywood fulfillment through economic and material gain (consumerism) and instead work towards transmuting my loneliness into real solitude.

I meditate. I contemplate. I sit alone.

Loneliness is a terrible feeling of disappearing even when we have so much and are around so many. When lonely, we can never get enough and are continually in pursuit of more. We even feel separated from ourselves when alone so we turn on the TV for company. Solitude means to be at home in ourselves. A person who is in real solitude is a person who is comfortable within themselves. A person in solitude is a person who is no longer disappearing. They have arrived. They are two people in one. Friends with themself. A person who is dealing with lonliness (which is the majority of people in American society) is no one in one. They have no friend within to sit with.

The person who is striving for happiness is often no one in one. This feeling of being no one within is the fuel that keeps us searching for more. Some of the greatest empires and fortunes have been built by these kinds of people. But this striving is an endless pursuit because it is the pursuit which is creating the loneliness.

Depression pushes us down into solitude. The person with depression is given the opportunity to become more at home within themselves by being pushed further within. The person who survives and successfully manages depression is the person who has been able to move from loneliness into solitude. Those who do not survive depression or who end up having depression destroy their lives, have not been able to move through loneliness. They get stuck in continually feeling as if they are disappearing inside because they are pursuing happiness on the outside.

So yes, I do chose to be depressed. Why not? Depression helps me to relate to the world in a way that feels more logical and sane. The happiness and positivity craze that the vast majority of people are suffering from at this moment in history, only leads a person away from themselves and towards more lonliness. Just do a Google search on the amount of people taking psychiatric medications and buying self help books in this country. The pursuit of happiness and positivity creates a superficial existence that lacks substance because it is always in pursuit of something. Depression is deepening. It pushes a person further within themselves because there is the realization that the loneliness in the outside world can never bring them the happiness they were looking for.

Fuck happiness. Stop buying their books and going to their workshops. Stop ingesting their pills. By now don’t you see that it does not work? Instead, get better at being depressed.

It is only through going further within, through the deepening of one’s relationship with oneself that real solitude can be attained. And it is when we discover solitude within ourselves, that we really start to live free.