The Importance of Mindfulness and The Connection Between Mindfulness and Meditation

If I would have tried to conjure up an impression of mindfulness in my head a couple years ago I would have imagined an affluent woman in her sixties, drinking tea and looking out over her oceanfront view, with a warm and contented look on her face.

Today, I’ve come to know better. Mindfulness isn’t some far off, esoteric destination only available to those who meditate and live on a higher plane. No, mindfulness is simply the practice of observing yourself and consciously focusing on your emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Wikipedia defines mindfulness as the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditational practices…

Now, the interesting thing about this [this definition] is that I personally came to understand and know mindfulness not as a result of study, but as a result of practicing meditation. And when I began meditating, I did not even know this was going to happen. I wanted inner peace. And meditation helped me connect to that – but more importantly, I became aware that there was something within me more still than my thoughts, and I became aware of what it felt like to transcend that [my thoughts and feelings].

As a result, I became more self-aware. I realized when my feelings were making me feel poorly. I began to automatically notice on walks when I wasn’t being attentive to myself – when I was out of touch with the present moment. And I would focus on my breath, and I would return to that stillness. And I would feel better. I felt better because I could stop identifying with whatever I was thinking or feeling, and I could check back in with myself, with the eternal part of my soul that’s always present and connected – whether my mind is or not.

Mind you (pardon the pun), I’ve never read a book on mindfulness. And I have a lot of work to do to improve on this practice – namely, I need to not only practice the awareness of my body, thoughts, and feelings – but I need to consciously choose to practice the intentional non-judgement, and acceptance of these sensations – because for me personally, I typically go straight into self-talk, and other cognitive behavioral practices so that I can “optimize” how I feel. And while I don’t think this is a terrible thing to do, I think the act of acceptance and non-judgmental awareness will help me let go of some of these [less positive] feelings with greater ease.

So, this morning I wanted to look into mindfulness and I watched handful of videos, the best of which I have included below for you, my dear reader.

Sam Harris: Mindfulness is Powerful

This is an important video to watch, because aside from Sam Harris describing the purpose and value of mindfulness, he asserts that mindfulness should not be viewed as a religious experience, but rather as a bridge we can use to close the gap that exists between science and spirituality. I think disconnecting meditation from Buddhism makes it more approachable and less seemingly unobtainable. The power to transcend ourselves is truly within us all.

…the sense of self that we all carry around from day to day is an illusion. And cutting through that illusion I think is actually more important than stress reduction or any of the other conventional benefits that are accurately ascribed to mindfulness.

The enemy of mindfulness and really of any meditation practice is being lost in thought, is to be thinking without knowing that you’re thinking. Now the problem is not thoughts themselves. We need to think. We need to think to do almost anything that makes us human – to reason, to plan, to have social relationships, to do science. Thinking is indispensable to us but most of us spend every moment of our waking lives thinking without knowing that we’re thinking. And this automaticity is a kind of scrim thrown over at the present moment through which we view everything. And it’s distorting of our lives. It’s distorting of our emotions. It engineers our unhappiness in every moment because most of what we think is quite unpleasant. We’re judging ourselves, we’re judging others, we’re worrying about the future, we’re regretting the past, we’re at war with our experience in subtle or coarse ways. And much of this self-talk is unpleasant and diminishing our happiness in every moment. And so meditation is a tool for cutting through that.


Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain’s Default Mode with Meditation

Dead on. Selected quotes and citations follow:

There was a study out of Harvard that showed that short, daily doses of meditation can literally grow the grey matter areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness. and compassion and shrink the grey matter associated with stress. 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

There was also a study out of Yale that looked at what’s called the default mode network of the brain, it’s a connected series of brain regions that are active during most of our waking hours, when we’re doing that thing that human beings do all the time, which is obsessing about ourselves, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, doing anything but being focused on what’s happening right now. Meditators not only turn off the default mode network of their brain while they’re meditating but even when they’re not meditating. In other words, meditators are setting a new default mode. And what’s that default mode? They’re focused on what’s happening right now.

From an article on the study out of Yale:

“Meditation’s ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years,” Brewer said. “Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect. This gives us some nice cues as to the neural mechanisms of how it might be working clinically.”

And finally, Dan Harris’ closing words on happiness as a controllable choice:

The common assumption that we have – and it may be subconscious – is that our happiness really depends on external factors: how was our childhood, have we won the lottery recently, did we marry well, did we marry at all – but in fact, meditation suggests that happiness is actually a skill, something you can train, just as you train your body in the gym – it’s a self-generated thing, and that’s a really radical notion. It doesn’t mean that external circumstances aren’t going to impact your happiness – it doesn’t mean that you are not going to be subject to the vagaries of an impermanent, entropic universe – it just means you are going to be able to navigate this with a little more ease.


Chade-Meng Tan, on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence: 5 Lessons

If you want to learn more in depth on mindfulness, I suggest watching this full talk, but Cade-Meng Tan, delivered to an audience at Google, but at least watch from 24:12 to 31:50

If you do not wish to watch those seven minutes, here are my five takeaways from that portion of Chade-Meng Tan’s talk.

The Ability to Turn Emotions Off

There are a couple of very useful things, and they’re so useful that the degree of self-awareness that you can gain can create profound changes in your life. The first example is that if you’re able to perceive an emotion the moment it is arising, that gives you the power to turn it off if you want to. It gives you choice. Therefore, you have a choice of, “Hmm, I feel anger rising. Should I be angry or should I be not?” You can choose. I mean, there are situations where I chose to be angry, and because I was getting ripped off [to be purposefully assertive]. I figured the best reaction is to put that out to other people. And the situations where you’re “Nah, I don’t want to be angry, especially since she’s my boss. Let’s turn it off.” So you have a choice. The first thing, already, this is life-changing. If you have to ability to turn off anger. Already, it changes your life.

How Self-Awareness and Emotional Awareness Translates into Self-Knowledge, and Opportunity

Another example is that if you have a lot of strong self-awareness, emotional awareness, the emotional awareness translates into self-assessment. You get to know yourself a bit better. You get to know your resources. This is what I’m good at, this is what I’m bad at. These are my strengths, these are my weaknesses. This is what I really like to do, this is what makes me happy, and so on. And the effect of that is that once you are able to figure out, quote on quote your “deepest values and motivations”, then you know what opportunities to look out for. If you did not have the insight, the opportunity would just come and go. However, because you had the insight, you catch the opportunity when it’s there. Therefore, you’re always successful. And then people will think you’re very lucky. I mean, you’re lucky, but at the same time, you’re there to catch your opportunities and you’re able to catch opportunities because you have deep knowledge of self.

Making the Shift from Existential to Experiential

There’s a third one, which is even more profound, which is this: if you experience an emotion, we like to think that our emotions are existential experiences. What does that mean? We like to think the emotion itself, is us. And it reflects in the language that you use. For example, we say, “I am angry. I am sad. I am happy.” So the emotion becomes me. I become the emotion. However, as the power of your mind, the sharpness of mind, your resolution, your vividness becomes stronger over time. You discover something about a process of emotion and then you read an emotion in a very subtle way that has a profound change in your life. And that profound change is this: is going from existential to experiential, which means going from “I am angry” to “I’m experiencing anger. I’m experiencing happiness, or sadness, or whatever.” What does that change? Now it changes from “I am this, this is me” to “My mind is like a sky.” Then emotions are the clouds occupying the mind, but they’re not the mind. So that’s a powerful shift.

Separating Emotion into a Physiological Experience – Changing Your Perception

But wait, it gets better. The way it gets better, which is – there is another step you can go. As your attention becomes even more refined, you discover something else, beyond being experiential. You discover that the process of emotion, the experience of emotion is physiological. You experience emotions in the body. Every emotion has a bodily correlate. And then you discover something. You discover that painful emotions are not that different from painful feelings in the body. For example, I hurt my hand. Ow! And then I know this is pain, I know this is unpleasant, but the pain is not me. It is a sensation in my body. Having that perception changes everything. Because it’s not me, I can do things about it. I can take Tylenol. I can massage. I can put in ice. Or I can ignore it. Or I can experience it mindfully. Or I can just eat ice cream and forget all about it. And so on. There are things I can do because this experience is not me.

Using Mindfulness to Practice the Habit [intention] of Loving Kindness

The first habit that is very conducive to being socially skillful is the habit of kindness, or loving-kindness. That is a habit of looking at any human being, anyone you’ve never met before. Looking at any human being, my first thought is, “I want this person to be happy.” I want this person to be happy: that’s just it. Already, you can imagine if you have that mental habit coming effortlessly, it changes everything. You go into a meeting room; you look at everybody, you think, “I want all these people to be happy.” It reflects unconsciously in your body, your face, your language, your tone of voice, your facial expression. Because it reflects unconsciously, it’s picked up unconsciously by the other person. Their feeling, their perception is, “I like this person. I don’t know why. This Meng guy, I really like him. Maybe it’s his good looks. I don’t know.” [laughter] But it’s not just the good looks, it’s because I’m wishing for this person to be happy. I want Tara to be happy, and Tara can sense it unconsciously. In a situation like meetings and so on, if you have that mental habit all the time, people want to work with you. Then you find yourself becoming successful. You’re not clear why. But it’s this; it’s just simple things like that.

Note: You should read Chade-Meng Tan’s book Search Inside Yourself, I will be!


Start Your Own Mindfulness Practice

The following three videos will allow you to practice what mindfulness feels like. Start with the first and build up to the third. As you learn what this feels like, you’ll be able to do each without a video guide; although, I am still a big fan of practicing guided meditation on a regular basis.

The Quick Mindful Check in

5 Min Mindfulness Check in

Guided Mindfulness Meditation Practice

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The Rise of Black Wolf: Learning From My Spirit Animal and Finding Your Own

I love coming across things that impart purpose and meaning to my life. Without running the risk of sounding overly egocentric, I think in this case, we can all take a lesson or two (or many more) from nature.

Here’s the opening sequence from The Discovery Channel’s The Rise of Black Wolf:

He is Black Wolf, a two year old loner who recently broke from his pack. No wolf wants to be alone, it’s too hard to make a living without allies, but Black Wolf is willing to take the risk for a higher-status, a better territory, and a chance to breed. The urge to breed with his own kind drives him onward – until he stands before a new valley ruled by a mighty pack.

Their presence draws him closer, but this is dangerous ground. Here, conflict is a way of life. High rank and breeding rights are often achieved through force – many die young. But he is no ordinary wolf. Instead of strength and aggression, he’s armed with cunning, and he brings his own recipe for success. His entire young life has led to this moment.

In the past I was more driven by my Hawk totem / spirit energy, and in my experience every spirit animal has it’s drawbacks as well as it’s powers, but now the rise of my own Black Wolf in my spirit is taking charge. It’s a beautiful thing to connect with and embrace your own metaphoric animal energy and spirit animal identity. I’m far from an expert on totem animals, or spirit animals, but I believe there is power there; there’s something in identifying with the nature of an animal and understanding it that can help you uncover your own strengths, abilities, and weaknesses so you can capitalize on your potential. Remember, animals do not have the worldly baggage and societal limitations that humans do, as such, they provide a window into the soul unlike any other.

The Rise of Black Wolf Documentary

I hope you watch the full thing, it’s fascinating. The ending made me cry, spoiler alert – do not watch the following clip if you do not want to spoil it.

The Rise of Black Wolf Ending: Spoiler Alert

Totally made me cry (watching the full thing will explain why).

Note: You can also buy the DVD, The Rise of Black Wolf on Amazon.

Finding Your Spirit Animal

I like this page about finding your spirit / totem animal, and remember – google is your friend, but beware of bullshit ‘how to find your spirit animal’ quizzes; although, the one here was accurate for me (after the fact that I knew from my own intuition, which leads me to think it is potentially reliable). But I definitely recommend trusting your intuition largely here [in discovering and understanding the meaning and purpose of your spirit animal energy].

Here’s another great page on finding your spirit animal as well as the difference between a spirit animal and an animal totem.

Update: Missing Content on Black Wolf’s Secret Never Before Revealed Life as a Casanova

This is unreal. So, I wanted to watch it over again as I made dinner and I pulled it up on youtube, but then something interesting happened. I noticed a section on Black Wolf’s ‘personal life’ that I definitely did not notice the first time I watched it. I checked against the version I embedded here and sure enough the embedded version was missing a small but highly important section. My immediate instinct was that it was censored or edited because it was aired in a conservative country. So I popped a phrase of the subtitle into Google, and it turns out it was aired in Indonesia – a country notorious for television and internet censorship (The Indonesian government does not even allow kissing to be shown on TV). Perhaps the censors felt Black Wolf might be a bad influence…you tell me. The omitted content can be seen in the following sections of the alternate upload, which was broken into sections.

MISSING CONTENT: 9:16 – 10:00

Missing Content: 0:00 – 0:38

Ironically, the ‘censored’ content is perhaps one of the entertaining tales Black Wolf has to offer [transcription follows]:

So when a dark, handsome, and very available stranger shows up, what’s a young wolf to do? For the rest of 2003, Black Wolf blossoms into his new role as Casanova, wooing females from his base of operations on the park road. The charcoal female especially finds him irresistible, pretty soon she’s spending more time with him and less with her father’s pack. Typically, a couple like this forms a pair bond and starts it’s own pack, but it turns out Black Wolf is not a one woman guy; he seems content to stay right where he is, cavorting with multiple druid females and mating with them on the sly – but bonding with none. He passes another year without commitment – free of any responsibility. Eventually such behavior has consequences; in 2003, Black Wolf becomes a father.

Like I said, many, many lessons to learn from nature : D

 

This is Who I Am – Reflections on Quantum Change

One thing I’ve learned about life is that we never know what the future holds.

Over the past four years I’ve been in a place of self-discovery – and as anyone knows who has been there, it’s a hell of a ride and it won’t let you off until it’s done with you – until you have gained what you needed to gain in order to move on.

And like the man shipwrecked, eventually you wash up on the shore and find yourself looking up at a clear blue sky.

It’s difficult to come out of something like this – where you are suddenly in a place where the fear is gone – and to start going all Eckert Tolle with your sudden clarity, but I wanted to share a resource I put together so that others may benefit from it.

And there is very much a part of me that doesn’t want to share things like this out of my own selfish inclinations to keep myself guarded, but that’s not how I want to live.

And as a note to anyone who feels lost right now: there is a rainbow of transformation at the end of it if you can keep your soul intact through everything; if you can remember who you are while being open to completely changing. Know that it’s possible to hold onto the parts of you that are sacred while releasing everything else. Take advantage of the opportunity to go through a quantum change and seize it. Eventually, all the questions you have been asking will answer themselves and the asking will cease to matter and you will learn to care far less about the things you think. And just maybe, you will learn that you are not a body and a mind, but a soul. And if that happens then you can step out of your head and change everything.

What follows are a series of reminders and affirmations about who I am and what’s important to me at 29. What helped me create these was taking a hard and honest look at who I am versus who I have pretended to be, as well as the mistakes I have made in my twenties, and the impact they have had on my life.

 

P.S. I never thought I would be so thankful for this time in my life, but at this point I am overcome with an almost undeserved gratitude at the fact that I went through this quarter life crisis of mine – despite all the pain I went through to get here. There’s just a lightness to my soul that I didn’t think would ever be possible.

P.P.S. The music of John Mayer has been a truly valuable and therapeutic tool in this journey of mine, from listening to ‘In Repair’ at my lowest, to ‘Gravity’ at my most melancholy, to ‘Stop This Train’ at my most nostalgic, to being able to finally get ‘Shadow Days’. (I could seriously write a novel on his music) As an artist he has really managed to define and illustrate the lessons of a quarter life crisis – something he admitted to going through himself. In fact I would almost say that he could be the Patron Saint of my quarter life crisis. I am so thankful for his music. And I don’t know if this particular song will speak to others, but for whatever reason it’s found me now.

What David Foster Wallace Taught Me: Art as an Anesthetic for Loneliness

DFW

We’re existentially alone on the planet. I can’t know what you’re thinking and feeling and you can’t know what I’m thinking and feeling. And the very best works construct a bridge across that abyss of human loneliness.

David Foster Wallace David Foster Wallace wrote that “Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.”

Tonight, I thought of this as I watched a dog awaken from his slumber beneath a patio dining table with the sullen look in his eyes of a lonely child who wakes up to an empty room.

Seated above him was a family of four, warm and loving, noshing on their sushi and quietly enjoying the evening together. The dog, while surely a member of the family, was physically present but gave off the energy of someone deep in their own world – like catching a glimpse of someone on a walk alone, a snapshot of a face far away in thought – and whatever the subject of his thoughts may have been, like all thoughts, they were encoded in a cryptic language, their contents known only to the thinker himself; a citizen of his own skull; a box of bones no one else would ever know.

For a moment I saw what an outward projection of that unspoken belief [that deep down we are different] looked like. The dog knew that he was different from everybody else; he was – to me – a self-aware animal; he was not like the others, the others weren’t sleeping on the sidewalk during dinner. How I wanted to take that dog home and make him my equal. Maybe I would talk to him on long walks along the shore, nice thoughts.

Perhaps he was a spirit animal, a guide destined to remind me of some ancient ineffable truth; perhaps it was written that I witness him wake up and look around at the cool lonely evening. Maybe my perception of his disposition was merely a projection of my own. Questions that can only be answered by the ether of the universe, playful questions.

Would the dog have reminded David Foster Wallace of the loneliness of his own existence – as it had reminded me of mine?

David Foster Wallace wrote a lot of beautiful things on loneliness as it was an element of his life which his psyche would render him deeply familiar with [1] . And while I never knew him – I feel like I did. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer who is fond of illustrating “what it means to be a fucking human being” – or maybe, in borrowing the words of TLC’s Fanmail – it’s because Just like you, I get lonely too. Either way, his ghost haunts me because he was not altogether unlike me.

He was a messenger, someone who could speak for a certain intellectual sect of the populous in quirky and unapologetic sentences that tested the limits of the English language. He did not apologize for this, nor did he filter his writing to sanitize his output for easier digestion. Just watching an interview with him, it’s apparent that his mind had a few more gears than most. Now, I can hypothesize as to what the accompanying costs of a mind like that would have been, but even in my own hubris I do not claim to match the intellect of the late Mr. Wallace; however, I can only imagine the psychic burden of possessing such a deeply philosophical and analytical mind – especially one that ran at a pace as electric as Mr. Wallace’s.

And nonetheless, I entertain myself in asking whether – instead of taking this transportive journey in my head to some timeless space where the present reality becomes a lens through which I see the world – were I a different person with a different mind, would the thought merely have been: “cute dog”?

I suppose I’m parsing my thought process into an existential hypothesis that really has no bearing here beyond hemming and hawing over my own cognition. In light of the fact that I’ll never be able to comparatively measure my own thinking against anything other than behavioral output, I must admit that this has no application beyond a speculative thought exercise. I suppose the real tangible benefit then is whether this somehow is going to allow me to better understand my own psychology – a quest which I pursue through my writing in order to more effectively manage my own psyche.

I guess what it boils down to is that life can be a bit more mentally all-consuming for those quote intense thinkers for whom paradigms abound and life is constantly being interpreted through new lenses, moment by moment. Whether this contributes to loneliness, I’m not sure – but, as David Foster Wallace did, I too have struggled to reconcile with certain aspects of my psyche – namely a sort of sexual-like frustration at not getting out my thoughts and feelings, a condition David Foster Wallace described as being ‘marooned in our own skulls‘. Comparing a kind of intellectual loneliness to sexual frustration is an odd and potentially perverse choice of similes to the non-artist I suppose – but to the individual who regularly seeks le petit mort / catharsis / actualization through art, I hardly think drawing a parallel between sexual frustration and a sort of enigmatic artistic frustration is by any means a stretch of the imagination. Is the means to the end of each [art and sex] not meant to stave off loneliness – to recharge some fleeting part of our sanity by discharging our emotions? Are we not touching at the heart of Freudian catharsis?

I recognize that the previous paragraph is borderline mental masturbation [2] – save for the fact that it’s a clever reminder to the importance of creative expression – but, my point is: creative function serves to produce more than the output of creative works; it’s the act of creating itself which allows the artist to reconcile the tangled meaning of his inner-world through his conscious expression in the outer world. If he fails to do this, who will understand him? How will he fully understand himself? Will he not be lonely? Will he not then be left to chase away the loneliness he has failed to confront in his art? As I grow older the value of leaning on art (both composing poetry, and prose, and digesting it + music) has become one of the paramount pillars of my mind – allowing me to deal with feelings and moods too dark to chase away in the real world.

In arguably one of the David Foster Wallace’s greatest quotes, he distinguishes between things that chase away loneliness and things that treat it:

Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.

As someone who has personally found solace in precisely the things which David Foster Wallace lists as places where loneliness can be treated, I find this quote reflects a universal truth about the choice we have, our personal agency in deciding whether we are going to chase away loneliness or confront it, transfigure it, and treat it.

Loneliness untreated is a ticking time bomb, and there will be consequences to yourself and to those you love should you attempt to chase it away rather than treat it. The habit of chasing away loneliness is simply not something one can sustainably maintain; eventually every shred of the false comfort and security that you manufacture by chasing away loneliness is ripped away upon your inevitable and necessary return to reality. And when you have been stripped of the temporary refuge you sought, you will be left facing the very same loneliness you tried escaping: the scab comes off, you bleed again.

Ugly words, but not nearly as gripping as David Foster Wallace’s description of facing substance addiction from Infinite Jest:

–and then you’re in serious trouble, very serious trouble, and you know it, finally, deadly serious trouble, because this Substance you thought was your one true friend, that you gave up all for, gladly, that for so long gave you relief from the pain of the Losses your love of that relief caused, your mother and lover and god and compadre, has finally removed its smily-face mask to reveal centerless eyes and a ravening maw, and canines down to here, it’s the Face In The Floor, the grinning root-white face of your worst nightmares, and the face is your own face in the mirror, now, it’s you, the Substance has devoured or replaced and become you, and the puke-, drool- and Substance-crusted T-shirt you’ve both worn for weeks now gets torn off and you stand there looking and in the root-white chest where your heart (given away to It) should be beating, in its exposed chest’s center and centerless eyes is just a lightless hole, more teeth, and a beckoning taloned hand dangling something irresistible, and now you see you’ve been had, screwed royal, stripped and fucked and tossed to the side like some stuffed toy to lie for all time in the posture you land in. You see now that It’s your enemy and your worst personal nightmare and the trouble It’s gotten you into is undeniable and you still can’t stop.

The quest to chase away loneliness is indeed a slippery slope for many, one that can easily morph into the kind of toxic and dangerous, enslaving type vices; before too long, your escape becomes your morphine and you become a mouse seeking more of that substance / thing / feeling on your quest for an even mental keel. Vicious cycles are one of the few things that prevail in the battle to combat loneliness.

As David Foster Wallace further elucidates in Infinite Jest: Most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking.

It’s one of those opaque truths that define the way we operate in life: our relationship with our own thinking and whether we are in the habit of chasing away loneliness or treating it. David Foster Wallace talked about how to prevent going through life alone by choosing how to construct meaning from experience, by ‘learning how to think’:

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliche about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many cliches so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.

But what happens when you fail at this? As Dave Wallace said, you will be totally hosed.

I imagine that for those beautiful minds who fail to live in a way that effectively treats their loneliness, they simply arrive in the place that many find unendurable.

For someone like David Foster Wallace, who had battled severe depression, this meant hanging himself and betraying the words he had once written: “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.”

For the millions of Heath Ledgers and Junior Seaus of the world, single moments indeed are unendurable. And it’s not just chasing away loneliness that can be disastrous – but perhaps even viewing the world in a way that gives way to loneliness.

In saying: Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else, was David Foster Wallace projecting his own egocentric paradigm, which reflected his personal thoughts and belief that deep down he was different from everybody else? It’s our differences that separate us and it’s separation that creates loneliness. And so it’s tragically ironic that David Foster Wallace himself told once an interviewer:

“The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die.”

I certainly do not presume to decipher someone’s suicide, nor do I desire to; there exists a certain smugness to the idea of laying claim to knowing why someone choose to end their own life that I just don’t like, but David Foster Wallace didn’t cloak his struggle with depression in secrecy – something I find very brave of him. He eloquently describes both depression and loneliness throughout his writing, so much so that Salon.com called him The defining voice of depression.

It’s rare that minds like his open up, but when they do it becomes a doorway for the rest of us to journey into a world within ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise be capable of understanding. This is quite a gift – as only someone who has passed through the mental gates of their own personal hell can accurately describe what the unrelenting grip of depression and loneliness feels like; without people like David Foster Wallace, depression and loneliness remain the elephant in the room; it’s there, but no one dare talk about it or try to transform it.

It’s this aspect of inherent generosity within David Foster Wallace’s writing that has benefited me in my attempt to better understand my own life. And because of this the substance of his writing remains an asset do me; it makes me less lonely. An objective which he had intentionally strived to achieve:

There are a few books I have read that I’ve never been the same after, and I think all good writing somehow address the concern of and acts as an anodyne against loneliness. We’re all terribly, terribly lonely. And there’s a way, at least in prose fiction, that can allow you to be intimate with the world and with a mind and with characters that you just can’t be in the real world. I don’t know what you’re thinking. I don’t that know that much about you as I don’t know that much about my parents or my lover or my sister, but a piece of fiction that’s really true allows you to be intimate with … I don’t want to say people, but it allows you to be intimate with a world that resembles our own in enough emotional particulars so that the way different things must feel is carried out with into the real world. I think what I would like my stuff to do is make people less lonely.

When we think of loneliness we construct our understanding of it around proximity and relationships, but as DFW wrote, “Loneliness is not a function of solitude”, and loneliness is not remedied when two people from subjective viewpoints intersect at the same point in space and time. Loneliness is something we experience when we are unable to express our inner-world; when we can’t reconcile the meaning of our internal truths through the lens of our external relationship with reality.

As Carl Jung stated in his biography:

Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.

David Foster Wallace echoes Jung’s sentiment about communicating the unseen in his views on writing fiction:

…writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers share and respond to, feel.

Isn’t that called vulnerability? Okay, I’ll give it a try:

Having previously admitted this – yes, I sometimes get lonely; however, I do not over indulge in self-pity (at least I feel compelled to have to tell myself this). I might indulge in under and over sleeping, in mild agoraphobia, and in occasional culinary gluttony (an Oreo shake sounds delightful right now), but I do these things with a healthy dose of balancing guilt that prevents them from evolving into something more than unhealthy and immature defense mechanisms. We all slip up (don’t we?). For me, the cycle might be: 1. Feels like crap > 2. neglects health > 3. Feels guilt for neglecting health, gets ‘back on track’. Perhaps that’s simply self-abandonment, self-neglect. Either way, I’m not adverse to discussing the parts of me that make me human. As an adult I realize that there is no such thing as a hero without flaws. It’s not that I celebrate my flaws, but I believe in self-honesty; unfortunately, as David Foster Wallace one remarked: Genuine pathological openness is about as seductive as Tourette’s Syndrome.

Now obviously that’s simply the ego driven part of me acknowledging that sometimes my writing goes to places vulnerable that I cannot go to in real life (outside the bubble of a therapist’s office), and that by nature this kind of free, unmasked prose is antithetical to the ethos of American success culture and American machismo, but so far I am unable to produce this kind of writing without inserting an apologetic and excusatory clause such as this; although, I suppose I apologize in vain, as I long ago accepted that I would not be the kind of person who cared more about outward appearances than the authenticity of his own art; alas, the emperor knows he wears no clothes, for I am naked but only slightly ashamed.

But that’s what you sacrifice in art, you sacrifice what you have to to not be lonely.

Footnotes:

1. I’m taking a lot of liberty in saying this, and were he a living writer would I say this? I don’t know. I don’t query myself this because of his suicide, but rather because it’s typically not couth to draw inferences about someone’s real life from their fiction. David Foster Wallace had been in treatment for depression for twenty years and wrote beautifully on loneliness in a way that has connected with me deeply; he painted loneliness as only the lonely artist can.

2. Sorry for another seemingly hyperbolic innuendo, but yes – “mental masturbation” really is the linguistically correct choice here.

Meditations Session One: On Stories and The Waking Dream, Self-Worth, and Happiness

Update: 11/5/2014

I’ve just published a new entry on story and personal mythology, which this compliments excellently – enjoy.


Technically, these are the second set of notes originated through my newfound journey into meditation. The first were published in my entry: Transcendental Realizations.

Per my previous post, I am going to attempt to make a habit of transcribing the handwritten notes written at the end of each meditative experience into sessions which I will publish here. The only caveats being that I am unsure whether or not my future meditations will maintain the same transcendent quality as the initial experiences – and additionally, whether the act of publishing the notes itself will somehow hinder my ability to achieve the same egolessness required to produce them. But I’m excited at the prospect of being able to continue this journey and incorporate these experiences into the journey that is 7Saturdays.

Note: Everything within bold text (section headlines included) or parenthesis (except for the squiggly kind) and brackets was added at the time of this publication to organize / clarify and or add afterthought to the notes at the time of publishing.

Attl: Typing these up as I watch Cloud Atlas, one of my favorite movies.

Stories and The Waking Dream.

  • We’re all just acting out the stories we tell ourselves. (The way we justify our feelings based on the stories we tell ourselves about the past [how we are interpreting life])
  • Find out what your waking dream is (Your relationship to the present moment [your behavior] based on your attachments [feelings and beliefs] from past experiences.) and change it.
  • There are no other limits than that waking dream which we call reality and the degree to which we let the reality (the waking dream) of others influence our own (waking dream). (We get to decide whether we respond [by operating from our stories] or react [by operating from their stories] to others.)
  • If we’re not taking action towards the future we want, we’ll end up with the future we think we deserve.
  • If we look back at the past we’ll tend to see that we’ve created for ourselves what we felt we deserved at the time, based on the stories we told ourselves.
  • When someone says you create your reality, this is the essence of what they are talking about – everything is story (waking dream).
  • To rewrite your story you have to go into the soul and step out of the narrative of your conscious mind {thoughts} (the present) and step into your true power as a creator (where there is no past, present, or future, only the stories that guide you – these you must rewrite).

Reinterpreting Our Stories

  • This inner work is about creating a new story in which we create a new and more healthy, forgiving, accepting understanding of the past using our present relationship with reality to let go. Then the past no longer has the same power over our future.
  • (Reinterpreting our understanding of the past (our stories) to change the roots of our beliefs and feelings requires us to use both the positive experiences we’ve had in life and our vision for the future experiences we desire to establish more rational and empowering beliefs and feelings, which will then shape the waking dream we desire.)

Letting Go of the Past

  • Letting go of the past is about forgiving yourself and others (for the past) for the way you’ve felt (you feel about the past).
  • Holding onto the past is about the emotional reaction we have to it. We can only release ourselves from that reaction once we’ve forgiven ourselves for our feelings and let go of our attachment to them.
  • We must resolve the past attachments that are preventing us from feeling good enough about our future self.

Questions About The Past

  • What beliefs from the past are holding you back from feeling worthy?
  • What fears do you have that are stopping you from feeling fully deserving of your desires. (?)
  • (Q:) What events in the past cause those fears, and how can we forgive and let go. (?) (A:) By reinterpreting our understanding of them (the events in the past that cause our fears) with more rational and empowering beliefs based on the positive experiences we’ve had in life.
  • What experiences are those beliefs rooted in and how can we reinterpret our stories of them from a healthier, more rational perspective? (See: Reinterpreting Our Stories).

The Past and Fear

  • Fear is rooted in past attachments {feelings / beliefs}, outcomes and experiences.
  • It doesn’t serve us to base our present relationship with life on our fears. (Hence, why we need to reinterpret our stories.)

Questions About The Future

  • What do you need to to do to create that you deserve the future you want {dreams}. (?)
  • What do you need to be doing each day to create both inner peace – present centered actions – {gym, meditate, writing, walking} with (and) future centered actions {(i.e.,) work, goal setting, planning}?
  • Which activities are beneficial to both (inner peace and the future) {meditation, inner-work, self-reflection, introspection, breathing, and envisioning}?
  • Which activities, habits are counter to both (inner peace and the future) / unhealthy {self-pity, getting caught up in past emotional traps, self-destructive behaviors} (?)
  • Which needs of yours cause the needs that you have (<- recursive thinking, or unintentional sentence error…hmm) that trigger those unhealthy / self-destructive behaviors. (?)
  • What inner work do you need to do on yourself to address your unhealthy needs?
  • What desired emotional states are driving those unhealthy needs. (?)
  • What beliefs of yours do you have that are driving your needs for those emotional states. (?) {i.e., if I am loved then I am worthy.}
  • What stories are behind those beliefs?
  • What inner work do you need to do on those beliefs to transform them into healthy / empowering beliefs. (?)
  • How can you reinterpret them (your stories about the past) to more accurately reflect the reality you want for your future. (?)
  • The stories you tell yourself are going to determine the stories your children tell.
  • What stories did your parents tell themselves (The feelings and beliefs they had that originated from their outcomes and experiences in life) that you need to let go of (i.e., stop responding to life from their stories). (?)

Self Worth

  • Being happy with what you have is about being happy with who you are.
  • We accept the love and the life we feel we deserve.
  • If we want something we must believe we are worthy of it.
  • We believe we can achieve the things we think we are worthy of.
  • Feeling worthy of a thing (love, success, a goal) is about feeling good enough for it.
  • The inner work of building a new relationship with the past is the key to building a new relationship with yourself.
  • Carry yourself so that your esteem is worthy of your dreams and then your actions will be.
  • Self worth ultimately requires nothing more than self-love. Build abundant self-love and you will have no problem feeling worthy of abundance in life.
  • (All of the above can be worked on by doing the inner work of reinterpreting our stories.)

Happiness

  • Separating feelings (soul based, self-aware stories) from thoughts (conscious mind, outer world, unconscious stories) is one of the most empowering skills you can develop… to learn to feel from the soul (inner world) is to access the divine wisdom of the soul’s ability to perceive the world from a loving and unattached (unattached from the thoughts, ego, and outcomes of the outer world) perspective. This is the key to happiness.
  • (Examining and reinterpreting the underlying stories that shape our beliefs is essential to growing the compassionate self-awareness we need to operate from soul based / self-aware stories.)

Note: If you’re still not sold on why you need to reinterpret your stories, read my entry: The Power to Change Your Life.

My Budding Romance with Meditation

Meditation has recently become a central part of my existence, and I’m in love.

I started writing about it in Transcendental Realizations and as a follow-up entry I published A Cocktail for The Soul, which encompassed simple instructions for my current favorite meditation technique.

Using the same technique detailed in the latter entry, I’ve enjoyed truly phenomenal experiences. Some of which I am not brave enough to detail – but needless to say, they have been mind blowing.

Having an experience where you can access something that feels like a higher consciousness is akin to losing your mental virginity. And truth be told, I didn’t expect that; however, I did do a lot of research and I entered into it very well prepared.

Prior to this year, my ‘meditation / transcendence’ experience was comprised primarily of the following:

In no particular order of importance:

  • The rare Yoga session where I felt a breakthrough.
  • The rare introspective walk with the right combination of sunset, solitude, and moving music (I recently wept watching the sunset while listening to this mix.)
  • Using my Heartmath Institute Inner Balance Sensor to meditate using the quick coherence technique. (This “taught” me how to breath and get into coherence and has been wonderful. I still use it when I meditate, but when using the aforementioned “Soul Cocktail” technique I don’t follow the breath pacer and use it primarily to gauge the quality of my heart / breath balance.) Wonderful gift / great purchase by the way, and you can also practice heart coherence techniques without the sensor but it really helps. Here’s a great video on coherence that got me into this.
  • The rare sensual embrace which love lent a certain spiritual quality to.  (Can’t give you any advice here – but I expect heart coherence has something to do with it.)
  • The rare night looking up into the dark above my bed and getting deep into the right balance of thinking and feeling. (This is kind of hard to explain, but I would describe it as the combination of gratitude and wonder.)
  • The rare kind of workout that gives you an almost spiritual endorphin high.

However the problem for me with each of these transcendent experiences is that I could not easily recreate them each time – hence why they were ‘rare’. Often a walk is just a walk…etc.

I’m expecting that as I continue to grow spiritually the frequency with which those activities are peak experiences for me will improve. I’ve already started to notice this – for instance: when I wept watching the sunset I had meditated for two hours that afternoon. I’m also expecting that as I grow more and become more attuned to myself and educated about things like heart coherence, I’ll be able to better understand the exact physical, mental, and spiritual factors that influence peak experience and thus be able to get into those states with more frequency and ease. So, I would summarize these two statements in saying that as I become more practiced and knowledgeable I’ll become more capable of these transient moments of self-actualization. Unfortunately, since having a peak experience with the above listed activities can be a hit or a miss, I’m not doing them with the same frequency I would be if they were transcendent / peak experiences each time.

I’m a big believer that we do things in order to change our emotional states; we are naturally inclined to pursue ways of changing our state. The downside is that many of us never learn healthy and empowering ways of accomplishing this and as a result we end up using things like television, food, sex, and alcohol to change the way we feel. When those things become so central to our coping in life that we become addicted to them – even something like sex or working out can be unhealthy.

For people who don’t pursue powerful and healthy ways of changing their emotional state, their peak experiences are extremely rare. They may happen while traveling or sometimes they even happen incidentally and we don’t even realize what it was – we were just watching the sunset when this powerful sense of awe overcame us.

Some people are on a pursuit of peak experience and they don’t even realize exactly what it is they are chasing – these are the people who describe themselves as “adventurers” or “adrenaline junkies”. I’m inclined to go so far as to include self described “hopeless romantics”, or people with “a sense of wanderlust” (I have personal experience with both). Side-note: people often say they suffer from wanderlust – I think people should start saying “I suffer from being a hopeless romantic”. (<- this entire paragraph is a piece of shit structurally and grammatically – but I don’t feel like rewriting it.)

In hindsight, I feel that my wanderlust and hopeless romanticism both stemmed from emotional needs relating to peak experience. Once you’ve transcended everyday consciousness in an Oxytocin releasing way, it’s hard to go back. And while both my wanderlust and my hopeless romanticism helped me to create myself they never helped me to find myself.

As digital nomad Mark Manson puts it:

They say that people who suffer from wanderlust are in a perpetual state of either looking for something that doesn’t exist, or running from something they can never get away from. My experience tells me it’s not a question of either/or but rather a statement of both and how much.

For me my wanderlust and hopeless romanticism were attempts to alter my relationship to the world and to fundamentally change the way I felt about myself.

However the problem with both is that you’re placing the fulfillment of extremely important needs far outside of your own control. So, while there may be those moments of peak experience in a new city, or that time in the relationship that felt like a dream, you ultimately run the risk of finding yourself back in your home city or single again. Then it’s back to the emptiness and the need to continue searching. You’ll find ‘the one’ or you’ll find the ‘right city’ that ‘finally feels like home’. But in the end, no one else can save you from yourself, and wherever you go, there you are.

Were it not for the incredible meditative experiences I’ve recently had and the higher consciousness insights I’ve garnered through them, I would never have come to see any of this. I’d still feel empty and lost. Not that I don’t have my moments, but through meditative self-exploration I’ve become aware of the underlying mechanics of my conscious thinking and I’ve started doing inner work on the needs I need to fulfill for myself (internal fulfillment).

I never expected that this part of the journey (meditation) would be so powerful and enjoyable. Prior to my recent experience I viewed meditation as the kind of thing addicts (i.e., Robert Downey Jr.), zen hippies (i.e., Jeff Bridges), or overachievers did. And since my initial ideas about meditation were that you had to sit in an uncomfortable position in silence for an hour chastising yourself for every thought that entered your mind, my first attempts were forgettable to say the least.

Conversely, it’s been a life altering experience now that I am using an approach to meditation that works for me. I don’t think I’ll ever give it up. It’s been more beneficial than therapy; although, I definitely do utilize the knowledge I’ve gained in therapy in my self-inquisition and in the expansion of my self-awareness.

I must state that it wasn’t by accident that I’ve uncovered such powerful insights about myself through meditation. I’ve been doing inner work and searching for solutions to the conundrums I’ve faced in my life. I’ve realized that growth is the only way to keep up with change and it’s central to my personal philosophy that I work on growing to be the best version of myself I can be – for myself and for others. It’s not easy to stare into yourself and work on the recurring themes and stories in your life. It takes courage. But you have the courage within you, and much more to be found should you embark on the journey.

The impetus for writing this came from my experiences meditating yesterday: I meditated twice within a 24 hour period, and both instances were (damn, I can’t even find the right adjective) powerful beyond what I had expected – but equal to what I had hoped was possible. I followed my own instructions, as described in the A Cocktail For the Soul method, forming my own intent prior and commencing writing immediately after.

It was a wonderful surprise to discover that I entered into a similar (but less powerful) state as the state I was in during my Transcendental Realizations experience. As a result of this, when all was said and done, I had filled a few pages of my notebook with some fucking wonderful chicken scratch (it’s a language only I can decipher).

Based on the fact that this blog is the closest thing I have to a legacy and writing here has been central to my growth and identity, I am going to start blogging (G-d I loathe that word to describe my writing) – ahem, publishing my meditations. Not that I think myself a modern day Marcus Aurelius, but as Meditations was, these writings have also been directed solely at myself and not obscured by consciousness or ego.

I obviously am not going to behave like some stoic Sarah Jessica Parker – where I just meditate, hop on my laptop, and start blogging snarky self-advice. No. I’m going to continue doing as I’ve done and chicken scratching it after meditating, and then wait until I feel ready to revisit it – whether that’s the next day or the next week – and then I’m going to type it in an organized manner here.

If I feel that for any reason this practice is inhibiting my abilities or drawing my ego into a realm it doesn’t belong, I’m going to discontinue it immediately.

Currently there are a couple other topics I am excited to write about (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Defence Mechanisms) as well as some poetry I want to write, so things are going to continue as normal for me, but I would love nothing more than to have a long and organic relationship with this higher consciousness or soul-centered egolessness in which I am able to continue the growth and discovery that meditation has provided me with thus far. And if I can publish it too, wonderful.

I am not sure what is possible or what will be, but I am willing to go for it.