Tag Archives: Meditation

Learning to Meditate

One
The unpleasant feeling of being lonely hit me really hard kind of out of nowhere when I was walking home from the MRT. And then I thought about Sam Harris’s meditation lesson from yesterday: “That which is aware of sadness is not sad. That which is aware of fear is not afraid.” As soon as I thought about that, and each time I went back to it in between episodes of masochism resulting from loneliness, the feeling went away. For a fleeting moment, but it went away.

And that amazed me because that, I think, is what it means to let the ego dissolve. Sadness is a sensation but I am not sad because there’s no I. Interesting.

Two
Tonight’s meditation about emotion, day twelve, came at a good time. Sam prompted recall of a situation that was unpleasant – something to leave you sad or anxious or upset in some way. Following his cues, the point was to notice first the thought itself and then where that unpleasant feeling lies in the body, giving rise to the emotion that we’d started with.

Sam went through the exercise three times, twice with situations that bring about negative emotions and once with a situation bringing about positive emotions. He then talked about emotions as just “patterns of energy” and about how powerful it is to recognize emotions in this way. Just energy in the body, like any other feeling. Sam used knee pain as an example and I’ll follow suit because it worked. It seems the idea is to see “the feeling of sadness” in the same way as “my knee is sore” but not let the self become the sadness anymore than the self becomes the sore knee, which is not at all.

During tonight’s meditation, as always, I felt the negative emotions in my chest. When I’m anxious, afraid, or sad, my chest tightens and it’s difficult to breathe. At least once during the meditation exercise I gasped and opened my eyes, certain I was going to cry. But when Sam prompted thinking about something positive, I felt the same clench in my chest. And it rose into my throat just like tears do, but this time the feeling manifested as what I usually call “a bubble of joy”. It was so interesting to observe the same sensation and label it with a different emotion.

At the same time, though, I also started to wonder what a person becomes without deep feelings. But it’s not a lack of deep feelings, is it? It’s a lack of attachment to them during a full experience of them. The purpose of meditation is to notice whatever it is I’m actually noticing. I realize this now, writing, but at the time I worried a little, worried just for a fleeting moment, about becoming an empty shell, something not quite human.

But now, reflecting, I realize that’s not it at all. Instead it’s being able to recognize what’s there with an open mind instead of judgement and have the experience instead of letting it pass by.

Three
With tonight’s meditation experience, I thought in a different light about an earlier conversation with a friend that really upset me. I was talking about how frustrating it is to want something that has eluded me and my friend asked if I ever meditated on letting go or living without. My immediate response internally was defensive outrage, but tonight it struck me that perhaps I can separate the feeling of wanting from that which is I. And if the feeling is just a feeling and the conscious mind is what processes the feeling, there’s no need to attach any of it to I at all. Because I is just a construction of the mind. But the point is, “I can walk away from the feeling because the feeling isn’t me.”

I’m not there yet. But I think that’s the point.

Four
I’ve been finding it helpful to focus on sound. Sound comes in and out of conscious awareness and there’s nothing we do to make that happen. It’s just there and then it isn’t.

It’s the same for thoughts, though harder to grasp because I don’t find myself beginning to have a thought; rather, I find myself when I’m already lost in them. But it’s the same thing. Thoughts just appear. Like sounds. We notice them and then they’re gone, too, and we don’t notice them anymore.

Five
Watching my emotions change over the last week has been really interesting. As best as I can, I’ve tried to step outside of myself and observe what I’m feeling rather than just letting it swallow me.

I went to the climbing gym twice this weekend because I disappear when climbing. As a friend explained once, “There’s no room for ego up there.” It’s easy to lose myself in my own head when I’m running but not so easy at dance or doing yoga or on the climbing wall. I’ve been trying to engage in ways that let me spend less time lost in thought, an experiment to see what happens.

And so far, I’m not too sure.

Six
I had a conversation today that indicated ego is alive and well. Frustration for other reasons bubbled up and got the better of me and I was defensive instead of open-minded. As I teach my psychology students, we are cognitive misers and it’s less taxing to rely on emotion than reason. Knowing the traps doesn’t mean immunity from falling into them.

I didn’t realize this conversation was still bothering me when I sat down to meditate tonight, day nineteen. But as soon as I turned my attention to the breath, I noticed an elevated heart rate even though I was breathing deeply without effort. For several minutes, I couldn’t slow my heart down even though I guessed its cause. So I observed that and tried not to judge it.

While I’ve been familiar with loving-kindness meditation for a while, Sam’s inclusion of it tonight was most welcome. In its full form, you begin thinking about someone close to you and wishing them well and then expanding the well-wishing, over the course of several stages, to the whole world. Tonight’s meditation centered on just one person.

I thought about a very dear friend. And that’s when I felt my heart rate slow down. I felt better turning my focus towards another person and wishing happiness, which really means sending pure love.

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful.

Mindfulness is a journey to travel, a journey without signposts and without end. But even as a novice along the journey, I’ve had moments of utter simplicity where I’m left stunned by what is sometimes so easy and other times so challenging.

To be mindful is to be aware. Aware of what we see, hear, and think. It is to experience. It is to look outward and take in with an awareness of what we’re doing instead of just letting it happen. It sounds like doing nothing. But as I’m learning, it’s actually doing quite a lot.

Newport Beach
Newport Beach, California – December 2016

Night

Tonight I watched the moon rise. I’ve watched the sun rise. I’ve watched it set. But I’ve never watched the moon rise.

I’m on day seven of Sam Harris’s app-based Waking Up Course. I’ve been listening to each meditation lesson and then immediately doing the guided meditation. Yesterday I thought it would be nice to listen outside. So, listening outside again tonight, and still outside as I write this, I watched the moon rise.

Today’s mediation lesson was about death and how awareness of death makes us more cognizant of each moment of life. I am not afraid of death. I read and write about it periodically and have come to understand that death needs to be seen as part of life; it’s not a separate entity. (Impactful reading on this topic includes Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski.) As I listened to Sam Harris talk about the moments that we forget to experience because we’re caught up in other moments, I watched the moon. And, with that in mind, sat in silence when the six-and-a-half minute lesson finished and kept watching.

I had never watched the moon rise. Not once. And today I did.

We have only one finite life and I am slowly realizing how much of mine I’ve just let pass by. How many experiences I haven’t had because I’m not paying attention. How many genuine connections with others I’ve failed to actualize because I’m preoccupied.

So tonight I watched the moon rise. I experienced it. I was there.

Away with your senses!

With the exceptions of certain foods and things that are dumb, I’m willing to try anything once. When my friend and meditation teacher first mentioned flotation a few months ago, I was curious. I listened to what he said and did a bit of reading. I started asking around and learned that a couple friends float regularly and love it. I’ve been exploring states of mind for the last year with increasing interest and flotation just seemed to fit.

So today, I headed to Palm Ave Float Club to learn what I could learn. I didn’t really have expectations going in and was there out of sheer curiosity. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t take pictures so do click the link if you want to see what it was all about!

Because I’d read the entire website and had a chat with the woman who called me the day before to confirm my float, I knew the rules – no caffeine up to three hours before, eat a light meal, no shaving or waxing the body, bring conditioner. For once in my life, I followed directions and I’m glad I did. Since this was my first float, the staff conducted a brief orientation to help me understand what was about to happen. I was shown to a private room with a shower and float pod. My “shaman,” as she was called in my confirmation email, explained that I’d be floating in about 500 litres of water with 600 kilograms of Epsom salts (hence not shaving). Before getting into the pod, I would shower and then put in earplugs. I was reminded to close the lights in the room before getting into the pod. There’s a light in the pod, as well, so I’d still be able to see. (My eyes are so poor, however, that once I took off my glasses I was pretty helpless anyway.) The shaman showed me how to close the lid of the pod and explained the two buttons on either side – the green one turned out the pod light and the red one was in case I needed help at any time. (Not like the colors would matter once the lights were out.) She showed me a spray bottle and wash cloth, explaining that sometimes salt got into the eyes. Music would play for the first ten minutes and last five minutes of my float. I’d shower when I was done and then I was welcome to relax in the beautiful, beach-like lounge overlooking Kallang River. I’d spotted some mindfulness coloring books in there when I arrived.

The shaman left me alone and I took my shower, inserted earplugs, and turned off the room light. When the music began, I stepped into the pod and found the water to be body temperature, requiring no adjustment at all. It reached about midway up my calves. I’ve been in the Dead Sea a couple times and was not surprised by the sensation of buoyancy when I settled into the water, but did spend a few minutes adjusting my arms, first clasping them behind my head and later letting them rest by the sides of my ears. As instructed, I closed the pod and got comfy before pressing the green button.

Black like I’ve never experienced before. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed and when I deliberately blinked to test it, I found that it made no difference. Though there was music playing in the background, I realized that I could hear my breathing and the blood rushing in my ears. Through the blackness, I saw spots in front of my eyes and felt myself falling backwards, a passenger on a dark roller coaster running in reverse.

I was certain I would fall.

And then I remembered to breathe. The shaman had asked if I meditate and told me to utilize whatever meditation techniques I normally do. I started counting breaths. Breathe in. One. Out. Two. In. Three. Out. Four. Get to ten and restart from one. And then do it again. And again.

The music stopped. In the silence that followed, I lost the breath and the count more times than I had it.

I was distracted by thoughts that passed through my mind, but they found nothing to cling to and just melted into something else. I remember a moment of, “Oh, interesting” when I thought of a recent interaction that had made me uncomfortable. But it, too, faded as soon as I’d grasped it. I don’t specifically remember anything else, but I know I didn’t write this blog post in my head, which is a common distraction when I know I’ll be writing about an experience.

My breathing was loud. The rushing in my eardrums heavy. I could hear my heart even though I couldn’t feel my body. It was weightless, perfectly irrelevant to me, and had disappeared. It was eerie, like what I imagine it would be like to be in the womb. There’s nothing there. Nothing at all. Just the blackness and the breathing. Just count the breaths.

I think I drifted off to sleep at some point, or entered some state of unprecedented relaxation. When I came to, I was disoriented and confused and heard that my breathing was off before I understood. As I counted myself back, I thought, “This is all there is.”

A few moments later, or so it seemed, the music started again. I felt for my body and pulled myself into a seated position, wondering what that meant. This is all there is.

What is “this”? All what is?

In retrospect, I should have taken longer to situate myself before getting into the shower, but the strange lapse of time, odd premonition, and unfamiliar environment made me hurry more than I would have liked. Next time, I’ll spend the last five minutes still in the pod and wait until the music is over to get out. There’s a learning curve, another staff member assured me, offering tea as I relaxed in the lounge.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Fascinating,” was the best reply I could come up with.

She smiled and told me that getting used to floating takes a few tries, and I expect this is true. I noticed a few other things, though, that seem worth mentioning here. Firstly, upon getting out of the pod, I didn’t immediately put on my glasses to get my bearings like I usually do. Being a little confused and unable to find myself just didn’t seem like a problem. It didn’t throw me the way it often does.

Secondly, floating left me in a deep state of relaxation, not dissimilar to visiting the onsen or getting a facial or manicure. As a result, I was largely useless for the rest of the afternoon and wanted to do nothing more than sit and read over a cup of coffee. (Which is exactly what I did.)

Thirdly, I’m still curious. I want to revisit that sensation of falling backward, pitching into unseen space. I want to follow it instead of finding a way out of it. (After all, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind was the catalyst for booking this float.) I want to understand the realization that arose, fully formed but incomprehensible right now. Is there something to it or did the mind just do what the mind does when it dreams? I want to spend more time being nothing. It’s freeing.

I’ll be travelling for the summer but I’m already looking forward to floating again. Though I don’t know what it is yet, I learned something today. And that’s the whole point.