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Hotu Matua

Is meditation a kind of focusing?

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I was reading last week the first chapters of a book about meditation.

Although I was really wary of the appearance of any esoteric content at the turn of every next page, I found myself realizing how some concepts are not inconsistent with Objectivism.

The main one is about "focusing".

For many promoters of mediation, meditation is about placing yourself as an observer of your thoughts, so that you can realize that you are not your thoughts. As an observer and master of your thoughts, you can command your mind, use it as a tool.

You can be concious about your own existence, without having to resort to conciousnes about any concrete content of your thoughts.

I think Objectivism acknowledges the role of instrospection as a valid cognitive tool for things like your own existence.

In addition, Objectivism upholds that focusing is volitional, deliberate, and that what logic thinking comes AFTER you focus.

Indeed, it is compatible with the fact that many times you find yourself immersed in a chaotic river of thoughts, like the noise of a radio station, and that you have deliberately to first recognize you are NOT that river of thoughts, and then to command them, to choose the thoughts that you think appropriate to achieve a goal, to start a logical approach to any problem or issue to achieve a goal.

Meditation, as I am understanding it, is an excercise of focusing. Focusing on what? On the fact of your existence, independent from the uncontrolled flow of thoughts that crosses your mind. On the fact that you can choose to think, choose not to think, and think purposefully.

What do you think about this?

We know that a conciousness that is devoid of content is a contradiction. But what about a conciousness whose content, at any given time, is the plain fact of your own existence, as a primary?

When I am concious that I am concious, my conciousness is not empty. I am just performing an act of instrospection. Am I right?

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When I am concious that I am concious, my conciousness is not empty. I am just performing an act of instrospection. Am I right?

I don't know, no one does, but we'll have to find out eventually to continue growing as humans.

In my experience when I am conscious of my consciousness I feel like I am thinking about my consciousness just as I would be thinking about a memory. In those cases (when looking inside, to a memory or the fact that I have an inside, or that I exist -in such a form) I feel just as conscious as if I were reading a text or image from the outside.

I never really understood what people meant by meditation (maybe to my loss). I've always thought of it as either purposeful relaxation or hyperfocus. I also notice that my mind work differently (better) when I walk and think silently for long enough until it seems that thoughts are blanked out, but as you pointed out, that never actually happens during consciousness. What I call and recall as blanking out, or actually relaxing, is just being conscious of my blood circulating, my heart pumping, my lungs drawing air to feed my aching muscles (as this only works after walking for more than 2 hours). Eventually that allows for some conscious digestion of thoughts. If successful i wouldn't be choosing what to think about but rather performing something similar to what I do while dreaming. I ignore how hygienic is to be conscious of the process.

Edited by volco

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I meditate often. For me, it has nothing to do with emptying the mind or evading consciousness, but in calming and relaxing the mind, quieting thought, letting the subconscious work, clearing the clutter of useless thoughts and distractions.

I've never been able to stop my thoughts. But the goal is not to stop thinking, but to observe the thoughts that do arise, simply observe them and nothing more.

When I am finished meditating, my focus is always sharper and clearer than it was before. That is my goal.

Meditation is powerful medicine. I recommend it.

But there are all kinds of different ways to meditate. One must shop until he finds the one that is right for him.

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Thanks, Volco and Sluggy Bear.

In mediation you are not experiencing the same thing as if you wer reading a text, Volco.

When you are focused reading a text, you are making associations, finding causal connections, framing questions, exploring answers, and sometimes memorizing.

When you are focused in your existence, you are just perceiving it. You are getting at it as a primary. It happens more or less like when you experience the beauty of an art masterpiece. You get it in a single blow.

Another difference from the experience of focusing in a text, is that in reading a text you make connections with the past and the future, or at least in a sequential order of facts and notions.

In meditation, is all about the here and now. It is not about understanding one by one the interconnections of reality, but about aprehending reality as a whole with all the connections included, myself included, in a single package.

Edited by Hotu Matua

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Even though meditation is a practice originating in Eastern mysticism, there is benefit to be had. I don't think meditation is *necessarily* about realizing your thoughts aren't really your thoughts. That's more like a philosophical interpretation than a statement of methodology. I may be wrong on that. In any case, the practice of mindfulness, which does use some concepts involved with meditation, is useful medically speaking. I don't know how extensive research is, but the idea is very useful and can elaborate on what the choice to focus means.

You *are* the flood of thoughts. I see no reason to suggest it's something apart from who you are. Because it's still you, you can control those thoughts. I think you're on the right track of analysis, though. Whether or not that's what meditation is about is not my concern, I'm only going after what is true. From what I know, mindfulness is about what you were saying of a consciousness simply aware of its existence. Aware of sounds without analysis, aware of emotions without analysis, aware of touch sensations without analysis (the terminology often used is nonjudgment, in the sense you are not trying to do anything except be aware). The point of doing this is practice with how to focus and direct your thoughts. If you are able to simply be aware of sensations, you can later use that ability to focus on content in your mind that matters without distraction. That's what research shows.

The only reason you'd say "river of thoughts" is because you have probably poor control over your thoughts. Not an inborn lack of control, but a lack of training. What's especially difficult to do is control your thinking *without* simply saving it for later (or at worst, outright repress). I don't know how else to learn to do that except through mindfulness.

This link is informative: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-meditate/

Also this: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22&oTopID=22

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Thank you very much, Eiuol.

Your comment was very insightful.

You' right: your thoughts are still happening to you, not to someone else. There is no sense in splitting your identity between Hotu Matua, the observer, and Hotu Matua, the thinker.

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I have anxiety issues. I have also practiced meditation off and on over the last few years.

When I get caught up with anxiety, two things are happening: my mind is running with thoughts about the given subject, usually irrational or unjustified thoughts; and, my body is going through some serious fight or flight adrenaline response. What a meditation break accomplishes, is to interrupt this cycle, replacing it with a clearer mind and a calm body.

The method is simply to focus my mind on my breath, and to control the breathing. The breathing should be deep, and slow. And my mind should be focused on the sensation of the breath itself, and as little else as is possible. Thoughts may come and go, but if they distract me for more than a couple seconds, I have to start over: you see, the goal is to count to ten breaths without significant thought wandering. That's all, just ten breaths. Maybe 30 or 40 seconds of breathing. It usually takes me 5 to 10 minutes to accomplish this.

There is a great value other than a clear mind and a calm body, to be had in this practice. In addition to those benefits, it reinforces that I am the center of my life. Ultimately, I am what matters to me. It is a profoundly selfish experience, which can be illustrated by the biggest hurdle I have had to overcome: the thought that I HAVE to be focusing on the issue that causes me anxiety. It's almost as if I'm afraid that, if I take a break from being worried for a few minutes, the worst will happen. I have to consciously tell myself that no, it's okay--the issue will still be there when I finish meditating. It will wait out there for me. I remind myself that it cannot hurt me in those few minutes, that in those few minutes I would not be able to actually DO anything about it anyway. The end result is that I am taking time out for myself. For ME. It is an act of placing my health and well-being as an utmost value to me, which is utterly rationally self-interested.

And this counters the idea that meditation is somehow evading. I'm not meditating all day and refusing to ever take action or think about the issues of my life. What I am refusing is to let my emotions have control of me.

I only wish that I would remember to do it every day!

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musenji,

A really clear description of the mental and emotional benefits you gain

from meditation. Hell, maybe you should be meditating twice daily. 'Reason'

being, I guess, that this could better counter anxiety by being pre-emptive, instead of merely

reactive. Would you say that's valid, in your experience?

Edited by whYNOT

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I enjoy the method Harris suggests in Louie's link. I'm not sure if it goes against the practices and philosophy of that form of meditation, but the past month I have been smoking a bowl before some meditation sessions. I find it helps the relaxation, the focus on sensation. You're much more passive. It also helps my sessions go longer. I tend to be impatient and weed will help that.

I realize not everyone will be willing/able to do this, but I think it's immensely helpful to someone who is tense and anxious.

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I realize not everyone will be willing/able to do this, but I think it's immensely helpful to someone who is tense and anxious.

I've smoked only four or five times, ever, and that was years ago. It had one basic side-effect (besides whatever the smoke was doing to my body): instant and total relaxation. It turned my brain down, and I just "existed." It was a nice experience. I can't remember how long it lasted after the drug wore off -- how long does the feeling remain for you afterward?

I have never explicitly meditated, but for me, if my mind is on a too-active/worrying cycle, a walk usually does the trick within 10 minutes or so.

Edited by JASKN

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I can't think in silence. Probably an effect of being part of the digital generation. In silence I tend to want to do something physical. When I have a flood of sound or sensation that I don't have to focus on entirely I usually get my best thinking done. Mostly in the shower, in the car when no one is talking and when music is playing. My mom was into new age when I was a kid so I was taught to meditate often. She used to listen to nature sounds or classical. For me, I set my pandora to my dubstep station and let the 'river' flow. :)

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musenji,

A really clear description of the mental and emotional benefits you gain

from meditation. Hell, maybe you should be meditating twice daily. 'Reason'

being, I guess, that this could better counter anxiety by being pre-emptive, instead of merely

reactive. Would you say that's valid, in your experience?

An analogy comes to mind. I have heard several times that if you actually experience throat dryness, then you are dehydrated, and should've had water a while ago. The time to drink water is before you actually feel a dry throat, so that that symptom never occurs.

This makes sense to me, though how I ought to know exactly when to drink water, I do not know. Perhaps via the logic of my daily activities. Or perhaps it is a question of awareness--everyone needs to feel thirsty to know when to drink, but some people are more aware of feelings of thirst than others.

Likewise, perhaps some people become aware much faster that their thoughts are not relevant to their current activities. Simply focusing on a task that requires one's attention, should theoretically prevent the kind of anxiety I experience when thinking about whatever issue causes anxiety for me. The practice of focusing on the breath should make me more skilled at mental focus in general, and help me to focus on whatever task I attempt.

That is another reason I am very interested in meditation--to help me achieve a better quality of focus while pursuing other goals (and this is closer to the line of the rest of this thread, I think). I'm not only distracted by anxiety-causing thoughts; I have a mind that tends to wander in general. This has a negative effect on, for example, my guitar practice and playing. I have seen many instrumentalists say that it is ideal to always be breathing while playing, and to make sure one isn't constricting one's breath or tensing up unnecessarily. This has been a great challenge for me, and one that I do not work on often enough.

I think that the ideal would be to keep a clear, calm mind at all times, and to integrate fuller breathing with every single daily activity. So when I think of it, I don't just sit down to meditate--I try to do it while I am actually being productive as well. That is, if I am doing a task that is automated enough that my mind can wander, then it is very good for me, instead of letting my mind wander, to focus on the breath, and posture as well, volitionally releasing any unnecessary tension.

The key is, again, thinking of it, and upon thinking of it, having the discipline to do it. It takes effort!

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