Beyond This Storm Lies The Gates of Hell

Something About Nothing

Back in my college years, some thought I had psychic powers. I blame mindfulness meditation. Due to my mindfulness meditation practice, my ability to pick up subtle details was quite acute. I think I even sometimes picked up these details subconsciously!

Stonehenge

Since I was still investigating the available evidence on psychic phenomenon, I was open to the possibility of having psychic powers. As a result, I would sometimes get called on by others to use my psychic powers to help them combat evil. To my current embarrassment, sometimes this meant I was running around in the woods with others trying to sense “evil hotspots” and sometimes I would get emergency phone calls.

Woods with Fog

Woods

One day, I got an out of town phone call from a distressed group of people. They felt a friend was being attacked psychically by a former member of their group. They requested my help. The importance of this was stressed quite heavily!

“Sure! I’ll help.”, I said. At this stage, I was starting to doubt the validity of psychic powers and interacting with this group. However, I knew nothing but good could come from me doing my meditation practices. What did I have to lose? It turns out, I was about to get quite a fright!

Man reaches out with his hand

Mentally Lending a Hand

So, I laid down on my bed in my college dorm and began to meditate. By this time, I had done many years of meditation. So, I slipped quickly into a meditative state.

I used one of my favorite meditation techniques. It’s a combination of focus and lovingkindness meditation. I focused on my breath and then shifted to focusing on a mental image of a bright loving light shining from the center of my being. Through this, I was wishing good fortune on the person who was suffering.

Since no news is often good news and it seemed like lots of time had passed, I figured the person was okay. Since I was already meditating, I tried something new I had been playing with. I tried what I now call becoming Bowl Bottom Centered.

Bowl by Rebecca Siegel

Back then, I imagined myself sinking into the bed and letting myself mentally go. I would drop all and allow myself to freefall mentally. It was like letting myself mentally fall into a bottomless pit.

Surrendering myself to this meditative experience had me experience something that I had never experienced before. Although the description is inadequate and will strike you as strange, I became the bottom of the bottomless pit.

I will describe this experience through imagery and with the help of your imagination. Imagine that you are a star filled night sky. It’s all you’ve ever known. It’s your reality. The stars have always been shining. It has always been night. As far as you’re concerned, the stars will shine forever. There is no other reality. Now, poof! The stars are gone. There is nothing. There’s not even a night. It’s darkness without the concept of light.

“Yikes! What was that?” was my first thought after the experience. Since I grew up on stories which introduced hell as a real thing and read books that described hell as a cold lifeless void of nothing, I was quite concerned. “Had I visited hell itself?”, I asked myself in alarm.

Beyond This Storm Lies The Gates of Hell

The Nothing

In reality, I may have had a taste of the Jhāna stage known as the Dimension of Nothingness. Since at that time I didn’t have anyone to turn to, I had not known that such a meditation stage was possible.

That night I had a nightmare about a shapeless monster of darkness. It was so intense that after I woke up I briefly saw the outline of the thing still in my room before it gently faded away. Apparently, seeing things before or after being fully asleep is considered normal and is known as being in a state of hypnagogia.

Absent a meditation teacher to guide me and assure me that I hadn’t seen hell, I had my imagination producing nightmares about the undead for a long time after. This leads us to a few lessons to share.

A Cemetery

Dreaming About The Undead

The first is that science is your friend. If people are making wild claims without a shred of science to back it up, don’t waste any time on those claims. The burden of proof is on them. Even if something is remotely possible and yet maybe not reliably reproducible, I’ve learned it’s not useful.

The second is applicable if you’re going to do any meditating beyond the equivalent of the morning jog. If you are going to sit for hours meditating and go deep into seeing what meditation has to offer, it is essential to have an experienced and trusted meditation teacher / coach. You would be surprised what wild experiences you can have while meditating. It’s good to have someone to talk to who has already experienced them and can assure you that it’s normal.

All that said, it’s worth deeply exploring your mind. You can discover things you didn’t know about your own mind as well as reap the fruits of meditation. Enjoy the journey!

Sunny Countryside

Explore the Beauty of Your Mind

Meditation, Neopagans, and Sex

People have a natural inclination to make superheroes out of mere humans. In the United States, we throw around the titles of guru, wizard, and other titles all the time. Be wary of people putting you up on a pedestal!

I will never forget when I was teaching a group of people how to do lovingkindness meditation, as described in the My Words section in Meditating and Coming Across Colder Than Ice. During my journey of trying to explore the limits of mental abilities and investigations into psychic claims, I came across a group of practicing neopagans that were true believers in psychic phenomena. They were interested in my meditation practice. So, I taught them my practice of unconditional-love / lovingkindness meditation.

After I led them through a meditation session, one gentleman exclaimed with genuine surprise “My fever broke!” This surprise was shared by me on a few levels. One, I never claimed I could cure the sick. The other is that I hadn’t known I was meditating with someone who was sick!

From what everyone was saying, these people were experiencing positive results. Meditation made quite a strong impression on them! Since it was part of their religious practice to visualize images in their minds and they were open minded, it was particularly easy for this group of people to do well in this particular practice of meditation. This meditation practice included imagining a white loving light within oneself. Conjuring up such an image and focusing on it was quite easy for them.

This group often met at a particular person’s house. Let’s call her Sarah. It’s safe to say that if I had to pick one person who was the leader of this group, it would have been Sarah. However, there was no formal leader. At the same time, there was talk about forming a formal church.

During my visits, I inquired about psychic powers and other related powers that the Neopagans believed in. It turned out that the psychic powers were all things that could easily be explained away. As one of Sarah’s younger kids put it, “I was really hoping to see someone fly.” No flying and no scientifically measurable psychic powers like telekinesis were to be seen.

Book glowing as if magical

One time Sarah had her twelve year old daughter share a drawing that the daughter had made about me. It was a stick figure with seven colored circles on various parts of the stick figure’s body. There was also a purple ring on the stick figure’s forehead. Sarah said she hadn’t asked her daughter to make the drawing.

“But, look!”, Sarah said. “This chakra there on the picture is associated with the libido and it looks blocked!”, she says with a mischievous grin. “Out of the mouths of babes! I can help you with that.”

Now this is interesting, I thought to myself. A twelve year old did a chakra diagnosis on me and her mom says my libido needs to be unblocked. Awkward! I learned soon later that the mom wanted to have sex with me. I also learned that the purple ring on the forehead signified me as a spiritual leader. Other members also shared that they wanted me to lead them as part of their new church.

I graciously declined the honor of leading their church as well as having sexual intercourse with Sarah. Although I believed their sincerity, I knew that it would not be good to be a leader of something I did not believe in. Also, I’ve heard how cults can go sour quickly.

To be clear, it’s totally possible Sarah and the others believed in what they said. If one believes something strong enough, it is the reality that they are working from. Plus, there is real power in meditation. There are tangible gains to be had by practicing it. All that combined can be a powerful punch to the mind and boom! As a result, you might get requested to be the next spiritual leader.

With such power, comes great responsibility. Sometimes, the responsible thing is to say, “No, thank you.”

Meditating and Coming Across Colder Than Ice

A benefit of mindfulness meditation is that you can respond to your emotions and situations with more grace and with less regrets. As you “mellow out” over time, you might not express strong emotions. Since you don’t react with a knee-jerk response to every situation, some may mistakenly think you are emotionally cold. To them, you’re not showing emotions. That can seem real creepy to others!

In my life, I have been compared to a Star Trek Vulcan. That’s a person who is logical yet doesn’t show emotion. Other times, I’ve been called a robot. I even was described by a former boss as “an ice-man…but in a good way.” In college, a friend would get three inches from my face and ask me,  “Does this bother you?” just to see how I would respond. I would reply with a smile that I couldn’t see her face and thus couldn’t communicate effectively.

To counter this natural concern from others and put people at ease, one thing I learned quickly in life was that it’s important to smile. Whether or not you meditate, smiling is a key to success. As a result of this approach and my love for Batman, I was referred to by some in college as The Joker’s good twin.

Loving Kindness

Even if you smile, people can tell that you’re special in that you don’t thoughtlessly react to things. They won’t know what to make of it. People can get scared of what they don’t understand or trust. Just know that they are trying to understand you and may not have a good way of relating to someone who is so centered and balanced.

To help with this situation, I use a meditation practice that stokes the fires of compassion and well wishing for my fellow human being as well as myself. This practice is called Lovingkindness.

My Words

During my teenage years, I had a religious upbringing. So, my Lovingkindness practice included God. Since I was taught that Jesus loved us unconditionally and humans lived better together with such a neighborly philosophy, unconditional love was the foundation for my practice.

With my palms facing up and my arms out wide, I would recite to myself over and over again the following:

  1. I love myself unconditionally.
  2. I love the divine unconditionally.
  3. Through the love between myself and the divine, I love everyone and everything and allow that love to come back unto me.

Since the rhythm of “the divine” felt better, I used “the divine” for God.

Since I had read that imagining a great silver glowing light would magnetically draw people to me, I imagined that too. As the saying goes, don’t believe everything you read. I will say though that the imagery of light connecting me to heaven and then on out to everything else was truly effective in giving rise to a sense of connection.

Back then, step three of using God (the divine) to be the bridge between myself and connecting myself to everything felt critical. Although I believed in people, I felt it was too hard to connect to people without divine intervention and I needed that bridge. Nowadays, I have a deeper understanding of life, the known and the unknown, and our interconnection with all of it. 

Sharon Salzberg

These days, I use a suggestion that Sharon Salzberg made in the fantastic meditation iPhone app called 10% Happier. As a result, my new phrases are verbatim what she shared:

  1. May I be safe
  2. Be Happy
  3. Be healthy
  4. Live with ease

The “May I be safe” changes to “May you be safe” or “May all be safe” when I want to switch what to focus on. From my own experience and others, I’ve learned that you can use whatever words you want as long as you are consistent.

Takeaway

To be clear, one still has emotions when meditating. It’s just that you’ll have a superpower of seeing an emotion and choosing your response. Your superpower will scare some people. If you do a Lovingkindness meditation practice, people will be able to tell, they will trust you more, and you will enjoy the benefits that come with it.

 

Meditating on Suffering From Unawareness

As George Mumford said in the 10% Happier meditation app, “Who’s the enemy? Unawareness.” Unawareness is serious business and is a root cause for so much suffering in the world. For the individual though, isn’t ignorance bliss?

A great series of questions about the phrase “suffering from unawareness” was raised by Yuri in Mistakes and Let Go Learn From. To quote the question:

Does a dog suffer from unawareness? an ant? a tree? a rock?
Is it possible to suffer without awareness?
Perhaps it is those who are aware who suffer most.
You could say awareness is suffering ?

To put the questions into my own words, how can one suffer if they are not aware? Doesn’t it hurt more to be aware? Those are interesting and fair questions. To clarify about “suffering” in the mindfulness meditation context, we’re talking about Dukkha. If one wants to go deep with an exploration of suffering, there’s an interesting podcast episode titled Joseph Goldstein – Insight Hour – Ep. 30 – The Four Noble Truths: Dukkha. Unpacking what suffering is can get deep. Suffice it to say, suffering goes beyond just pain.

To quote Selflessness and Mindfulness Where Y O U are the Target:

In this context, suffering is also sometimes known as the dissatisfying aspects of life. The sensation of being angry, feeling ill, or sadness doesn’t disappear, but it doesn’t have the same kind of impact when one is in a state of selflessness.

Now that we’ve covered suffering and shown our understanding of the spirit of the questions, let’s get back to the dog, ant, tree, and rock questions directly. An exploration of these questions directly might prove enlightening and perhaps even fun.

Rocks

Salt

Sodium Chloride Is Yummy

Rocks are not conscious. If one is as unfeeling as a rock, they won’t suffer nor feel the typical dissatisfactions that come with life. As stated on Minerals vs. Rocks, it’s noteworthy that “Rocks are generally made of two or more minerals.” Among other things, humans are made up of minerals. A human is a constellation of many different things.

Ants

Ants are a trickier thing to talk about. Ants are special creatures of earth and are quite different from humans. Humans will take in information through their senses, automatically abstract and filter away extraneous details, and then create a mental map of what was, what is, and what might be. Although there is much about ants we don’t understand, it’s clear that ants have evolved differently to survive in life.

Ants on wood

As stated in We’ve Been Looking at Ant Intelligence the Wrong Way, “ants do not integrate all this information into a unified representation of the world, a so-called cognitive map.” They have adapted for navigation in different ways. There’s still much we don’t know about ants. So doggone it, we don’t know what ants think.

Dogs

Dogs Are Awesome

In my opinion, dogs are awesome. The more we learn about them, the more awesome they seem. As shared in Which Emotions Do Dogs Actually Experience?, dogs experience “basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust and even love.” Do dogs suffer from dissatisfaction in life? As a former owner of many dogs, yes. Dogs suffer from dissatisfaction in life. In fact, once I observed a dog’s unhealthy attachment to fear which kept it from going to the bathroom until the poor dog just lost it wherever he was. That dog couldn’t be trained / reached since there was no way to explore this unhealthy attachment to its fear.

Although dogs learn, I am not aware of any scientific evidence supporting dogs having the ability to reflect on their thinking. In other words, dogs don’t have the power of metacognition. Metacognition is the ability to think about thinking.

Dogs don’t have the same mental tools available that humans do. Joe Rogan, Sam harris and Dan Harris (cofounder of the 10% Happier meditation app), discuss meditation and metacognition in this video (NSFW due to cussing and references to recreational drug use):

Dan Harris does an excellent job in that video expanding on the concept of metacognition.

Trees

According to the article Scientists Discover Plants Have “Brains” That Determine When They Grow, trees have “a series of cells acting as a command center of sorts.” However, they also don’t have brains which allow metacognition.

That said, trees can be quite inspirational to humans. As shared on Why Trees Are The Ultimate Meditation Teachers:

A meditation teacher once advised me to look to the example trees set as steady, observant beings.

Studying nature can give us insight into ourselves and our relationship to the rest of the universe.

Human Suffering

Through our human cognitive abilities, we can take note of our thoughts and train ourselves to respond to things which happen to us as opposed to take a knee-jerk reaction to everything in life. In a purely knee-jerk kind of world, we get road rage, more regrets, and are painfully lost in our thoughts.

The good news is that starting the Meditation Journey is Simple. That doesn’t mean meditating is easy. However, that’s another topic for another time.

As opposed to unawareness or ignorance being bliss, “Our suffering stems from ignorance.” as S. N. Goenka put it. As you deal with unawareness in its many forms in life, may you be safe, be happy, be healthy, and live with ease.

Mistakes will happen

Mistakes and Let Go Learn From

When you make a mistake, you feel it. There’s an energy to it. It’s an energy that screams from your brain “Pay attention to me now!” So, how do you learn from a mistake, yet still get done with what you’re doing?

Let’s start by acknowledging that this “annoying” and sometimes “angry” energy is reshaping your mind. This energy can even be interpreted as pain. Often people will even say “Ow!”, “Shucks” or other stand-in words for cuss words. However, that growing “pain” is just the brain’s amygdala at work.

Ice-cream fell out of her hand

Oh, Shoot!

Although what the amygdala does is a key part of storing memories, it’s important to not have a knee-jerk response to every single thing the amygdala screams. If it helps, you can take comfort in knowing that there’s some good news about the mistake you made.

As pointed out in Mistakes Grow Your Brain, the good news is that your brain grows when you make a mistake. This even happens whether or not you are fully conscious of the mistake! The bad news is that it’s too common for us to beat ourselves up over a mistake. As George Mumford put it in the 10% Happier meditation app in “The Yips” section, “We dog ourselves.”

Mistakes will happen

Mistakes Will Happen

The right move to make is to recognize the mistake, acknowledge it, and then let it go. “What a minute!”, you might say. “I can’t just let it go! Don’t I need to learn from the mistake?”

Yes! Absolutely. History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from our past mistakes. The key phrase is “past mistakes.” What George Mumford suggests in the “You’re Not the Mistake” section of the 10% Happier meditation app is to do a “Post Play Reflection” or a “Post Performance Reflection” (PPR). However, you do the PPR later when it’s appropriate. In the immediate, you let go of it in a special way. I call this the “Let Go Learn From” method.

Let Go Learn From

Inspired by George Mumford, here’s the letting go part of the Let Go Learn From method:

Where do I record the mistake? Here’s something that I learned from my Dad. Almost always, I keep a pen and notecards near me. If I don’t have those, I have my smartphone and use the notes app. That way I can record my mistakes and ideas throughout the day. This technique is especially critical during conversations. Tweet me on Twitter at @FinneyCanHelp, if you want to know more about this.

Let Go Learn From

Based in part on George’s PPR suggestions, here’s the “learning from” part of the process:

  • What was the mistake?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • Play it out in your head again, but this time play it out with the mistake corrected.

In other words, replay the event in your mind as you wish it had happened. This lets you face the future with confidence based on a foundation that is structured from your new found wisdom.

Learn, Let Go, and Flow

As I shared in Mindfully Living the Path of Ease:

In self-improvement, winning is achieved by flowing towards a direction.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re flowing in the wrong direction and making mistakes helps you know that. So, take the energy from the mistake made as merely a recognition that you have gotten off track. Use that recognition as feedback into your self-improvement process.

Everybody makes mistakes, but not everyone grows in wisdom from them. As a gift to humanity, grow and share your wisdom. While you’re at it, please also share this post with others. Thank you.

Keep Self In Perspective My Meditator

Why do we have a sense of self and where does it come from? It’s a common and natural question. Yet, how useful is the question itself?

In fairness, it’s healthy and natural to be curious about how things come to be. Humans have done well by asking questions and figuring out what things exist and how those things work together. So, it’s natural to ask a question like “why do we have a feeling of self?”

As someone who has studied human motivation, the brain, psychology, and meditation for years, it’s tempting to keep on diving deep into the “why” and the “how” when it comes to the mind and the brain. Let’s give ourselves a sample taste of such.

Sample Taste of Diving Into The “Why” and “How” of the Brain

The sense of a self comes from our various systems. An example serves here. It’s possible to effect the Vestibular system so that you get a sense of moving even though you’re standing still. A sense of moving or standing still contributes to the sense of self. As shown on Sensory Illusions (SKYclip), these senses of moving and being can go wrong and cause accidents such as a plane crashing into the ground.

That addresses some of the “why is this happening and how does this happen?” kind of questions.

Recognizing No-Self

However, let’s take a step back. In the meditation world, when we say “sensing” or “observing”, we mean there is a knowing. When I do an open awareness meditation, I am just taking it all in. There is a simple knowing of all there is to perceive. You may have noticed that I did not respond with things like:

  • I perceive everything before me.
  • There is a knowing of all that is around me and my body.

For day-to-day use, it’s convenient to use words like “I” or “me.” It cuts down on confusion in conversations. At the same time, those words emphasize a sense of self. The use of the “I” / “me” words highlight the illusion of the self. If you are trying to see past the illusion and into no-self, you could try a different way of thinking.

Joseph Goldstein, a meditation teacher, shared a great tip. One hour and forty eight minutes into the Sam Harris podcast episode titled The Path and the Goal, Joseph Goldstein highlights a way to recognize “the ordinariness of selflessness.” The instruction to someone would be to not say “I am moving my arm.” Instead, you can say that the motion of the arm is being known. As he puts it, you are:

Reframing the experience in the passive voice.

Instead of saying I am moving my foot, you can say “movement being known.” That’s about as deep as you need to go to get a great amount of utility out of the concept of selflessness aka no-self.

How can one recognize this no-self throughout their day? In Busy Life Meditation, Annaka Harris does a fantastic job in outlining a strategy that only takes nine minutes a day. She calls it ‘the nine-minute-a-day path to enlightenment!’ To fully use this, one needs to do this in addition to their daily meditation.

Talking About It vs Doing It

Mentioning the daily meditation practice highlights another important idea. As the saying goes, there’s a difference between talking about golf and playing golf. Until you’re really swinging that golf club in your hands, hitting the ball, and sinking it into the hole, you won’t really know golf. The same goes for meditation.

It’s important to meditate and experiment in the lab of your own mind. If you dive too deep into the why / how of experience, you can’t see the forest for the trees. A perfect example is the following video What Is Life? Is Death Real? video. It’s a fun video to watch. Does it answer any questions for you? No. As the video says, asking some questions “..makes us feel alive and gives us some comfort.” However, just asking questions is not sufficient.

Consciousness

“What if I take it up a notch into examining what consciousness itself is?”, you ask? At least you’re at a level higher than viruses. It is certainly fun to examine what is meant by a conscious entity. For example, there are programs that can give clever responses. As said in the What is Consciousness video below:

We wouldn’t consider it [the software program] conscious, because it doesn’t have a sense of itself.

Does intellectual exploration of consciousness help you see past the illusion of the self? Anything is possible. However, based on my own experience it feels like quite the scenic route. Meditating and diving into the resources available about meditation is a more direct approach, in my opinion.

Daylight Is Burning

Contemplating consciousness is fun yet hasn’t helped me do better at the office or help people in general. I meditate and teach meditation to help fulfill my personal mission. Also, time may be shorter than you think.

As I said to a new friend that I met at an airport recently, there are seven billion people on earth to help. We have a limited number of years on earth. So, let’s get busy and start making a difference. One way to do that is to actually meditate and share with others meditation resources such as this blog post and awesome meditation apps like the 10% Happier meditation app.

Don’t miss the awesome opportunity of exploring your own mind and gaining a better life. Although not easy, Mindfulness meditation is simple and happiness is yours for the taking. Enjoy the journey.

Mindfully Living the Path of Ease

When it comes to mindfulness and meditation, I aspire to stay on the path. I let things unfold in the mind as I meditate. As Joseph Goldstein shared in Sam Harris’ The Path and the Goal podcast episode:

The path is the goal and the goal is the path. — Joseph Goldstein

My destination is my very next step. My mile marker is one foot. Like a compass, I aim for and aspire towards a direction. However, my goal is simple. Stay on the path in a direction without yearning for a final destination. In compass style, the path is my true north. I aspire to stay on the path. I don’t strive towards an end nor do I attach myself to a certain outcome. Like a river, I am the water flowing fast. Yet, I am moving with ease.

As shared in Joseph Goldstein: Letting Go of Expectations & Craving, “expectation can come disguised as aspiration.” Look closely and you can see the difference.

In the 10% Happier app, there is a Q & A episode called Non-Attachment to Results. Here Joseph Goldstein highlights the difference between aspiration and expectation. In Freeing Yourself From “Want Pain” Through Meditation and Octalysis, the pain associated with expectation and craving is covered. Freedom from want-pain is available. Choose your path.

Expectation can come disguised as aspiration. — Joseph Goldstein

Whatever comes my way, I use to my optimum advantage. As covered in FinneyCanHelp Five Fingers of Freedom, I flow like water. Mentally, I am the martial artist that will use whatever is presented towards an optimum outcome.

Like a river, I am the water flowing fast. Yet, I am moving with ease. — FinneyCanHelp

In self-improvement, winning is achieved by flowing towards a direction. It’s not a fight against yourself towards an imagined future. The aspiration to succeed is not an expectation. The setbacks are opportunities to learn and grow. It’s not a fight. It’s a journey. I flow around and wear down any perceived obstacles. As George Mumford said in the 10% Happier app, there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback. As this martial arts video shared, There Is No Opponent and there is no self:

How do I describe myself which is not a self? The description is “A river, continuously flowing, always changing, always moving, and on the path.” May you live with ease.

Man with camera looking in mirror

Removing the Mystery of Losing the Self

Listening to The Limits of Persuasion [NSFW: cussing] reveals the most straightforward and no-kidding way of explaining what it means to lose the illusion of the self. This post highlights certain parts, brings in knowledge from other sources, and shares my experience.

In Selflessness and Mindfulness Where Y O U are the Target, I covered why you care about losing the illusion of the self. However, we didn’t go deep into what it really means to lose the self. “What is the self we’re talking about?”, you might ask.

One hour 43 minutes and 20 seconds into The Limits of Persuasion, Sam reveals that there doesn’t have to be a paradoxical mystery around losing the self:

In terms of the self being an illusion, that’s not really a paradox. I feel like I can walk you through how that makes perfect sense in my world and doesn’t entail any paradox.

The various definitions of self throw everything off. Coming from the podcast as well as multiple other sources, here are some key points on the topic of the “self”:

  • People are real.
  • Your body and mind are continuously changing.
  • The subject / object relationship is an illusion.
  • Meditation can help you see that the subject / object relationship is an illusion. There really is no subject.
  • Everything that is noticeable appears in consciousness.

You can see objects. You can hear sounds. Consciousness holds all of these things. You’re not identical to what you see, hear, and think. If you drill down into all the senses and realize that they are just things that become known to consciousness then you just say “OK. It’s all perception that becomes known in consciousness.”

When meditating, you can identify that all things are just appearances. These appearances are just recognitions of stuff existing. When you try to explore who or what is holding consciousness, you realize that what you thought was holding consciousness is really just more stuff that can be observed in consciousness. Sam adds to the five senses proprioception. According to Wikipedia, proprioception is the “sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.” It’s all just raw data.

If all five senses plus proprioception are just raw data that can be observed, we’re left with nothing else. As Sam puts it:

There’s just this flux without a center. The center is only implied. When you look for the center, the feeling of there being a center can..drop out. ..everything else remains.

By “everything else remains”, it means that experiences are still known through all the senses. You still see, hear and so on. However, you’ve lost the subject / object sensation. There’s a true sense of complete integration with everything. You also recognize everything changes which includes what you normally would call your body and mind.

So, in short. You have a feeling of self. When you look closely into all the sensations of what it means to be a self, you end up just observing lots of sensations through your senses. There’s nothing beyond what you’re sensing. The sensations continuously change over time. The sensations reveal the world. There’s nothing beyond the senses that you can sense. Thus, you are the world. Meditation helps you see / observe / know all of this.

As I mention in Selflessness and Mindfulness Where Y O U are the Target, you can make a difference in life in a more impactful way without as much concern. That’s a huge benefit of dropping the illusion of the self.

You can optimize your actions in life and not be held back by the illusion of the self. You can just focus on giving to the world by being a continuous stream of action. You become just action in motion. With this, I can be a verb as opposed to a noun.

There isn’t anything that is consistently you as an unchanging entity. Just like all of life, all of you is changing over time. You can be free of the feeling of a “self” and reap the benefits for the betterment of all.

Man with camera looking in mirror

Open hand by the sea of life

Handy Tip For Focusing

Let’s cut straight to the handy tip for focusing.

Imagine your mind is a hand. When the mind is trying really hard to focus on something, it can feel like a clenched fist.

A clenched fist trying to hold on is a losing battle. A closed fist is limiting. It’s by letting go and beginning again that we maintain focus and our goals.

Clench your left fist. Do you feel how it feels? Close your right hand with your fingers up and then slowly open your hand. Let the fingers unfold and spread out.
Do you feel the letting go? The openness? The opportunity to receive something wonderful? With the open hand, the universe can give you nourishment and support.

The open hand is the hand of greeting. It’s the hand of limitless opportunity. It’s the hand of sharing.

When focusing on something, maintain your focus with an open hand-like approach. Steady your attention on your item of interest by recognizing when you’ve lost focus and gently bring your attention back.

It works for tasks. It works for meditating. This can even help you deeply and mindfully enjoy all the flavors of life.

Sharing is a wonderful feeling. With your new open-hand mindset, will you please share this technique?

Open hand by the sea of life

Person Contemplating Clouds

Meditation Brain Headbands And Wrong Effort

Focusing until it hurts doesn’t work with meditation. Yet, I understand people want feedback in their meditation practice.

Have you heard that phrase, “Focus until it hurts?” Focusing until it hurts on purpose is a bad move.

If you try to focus too hard, you’ll just end up giving yourself a headache. It’s not sustainable. It’s better to just gently apply your focus on something and keep coming back to it when you’ve lost focus. It’s the Flow Like Water finger in my Five Fingers of Freedom.

Muse Headband

What other feedback options exist? Have you heard of brain signal reading headbands like Muse? Muse is touted as a “brain sensing headband” that makes meditating easy.

There are reviews like the Wearable Review that almost got me buying it. There are also videos like the Muse Brain Sensing Headband from TechCrunch:

From the how does muse work page,

Muse gives you feedback about your meditation in real time by translating your brain signals into the sounds of wind.

So, it sounds great. However, I am concerned about the potential set up for a longterm failure. Before I go into that, I need to share my respect for what they are trying to do with Muse.

In that video above, we see CEO and Founder of InteraXon, Ariel Garten. I respect Ariel Garten’s mission and have followed the company’s journey for over five years. As Ariel said in a Ted Talk titled Know thyself, with a brain scanner:

My goal, quite simply, is to help people become more in tune with themselves.

Although I have seriously considered buying Muse, real time feedback sounds like it could potentially encourage what is known as wrong effort. A strong desire to get results immediately generates an energy that is counter productive.

Wrong Effort By George Mumford

About fourteen minutes into the session titled “Change the Mindset” of the 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics meditation appGeorge Mumford captures the concept of trying too hard and over-monitoring well:

When that energy is driving you to the point to where you’re always looking to see how you’re doing, you’re not present to what you are doing.

As a side note, George Mumford impresses me so much! The 10% Happier app has really helped distilled his concepts into a concise format. To get access to the concepts, you need to get the 10% Happier app and then subscribe to get past the free introduction material. I’m a huge fan.

If you want to read something instead, you can get the book George co-authored called The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance. Another option is that I cover George’s concept of how negative self talk feeds the “fear wolf” in Lose Negative Self Talk By Losing Yourself.

Is Realtime Feedback Useful?

Although I haven’t purchased Muse and seen for myself, I haven’t decided if using Muse is a good idea or not. It didn’t help that Arial said in the Muse Brain Sensing Headband video above:

And it’s your job to quiet the wind and quiet the mind.

When you’re mind is distracted while wearing Muse, you receive the noise of wind. Well, trying to quiet the mind head-on seems incorrect. As a meditator, your job is to observe your thoughts. It’s not to force your thoughts to go away. However, it’s possible she has to say something like that in order for people to frame the conversation quickly in their minds.

As I wrote in Meditation Journey is Simple, you don’t want to force your attention on the breath. You want to just notice that you’ve lost your focus and begin again. Recognizing you’re lost and beginning again builds up the mental focus muscle.

Listening further, I can tell she correctly understands the overall concept. She then says something interesting I had not considered before. In the context of a mental fitness gym, using Muse is where:

You get to do more reps in a single session.

That sounds very compelling. However, there is still a question here. Specifically, which part exercises ones mental focus? Is it the recognition that you’re lost in thought or the act of bringing your focus back on to the object? In other words, is it recognition or refocusing that makes your ability to focus stronger?

Where to Find The Answer?

It’s at this point where I feel fortunate that I have the 10% Happier app. I can literally send a text message to my coach in the 10% Happier app and see what they say. In fairness, they may not know because without Muse or a product like it, one recognizes they are lost in thought and brings their focus back onto the object of focus. Therefore, one is doing both activities of recognizing and refocusing. So, it wouldn’t be a burning question for those who don’t use brain reading headbands.

Although the name escapes me, there is also someone in the 10% Happier podcast that Dan interviewed who might know the answer. Unless you know of other possible sources, I am left with nothing else other than googling for the answer.

Applying This For Work

Having clear answers as to what really works is essential. Forward thinking companies are always looking for ways to increase the production capabilities of its employees. My positive experiences from working at CARFAX such as when they helped pay for a Fitbit, gives me hope that in the long run companies will support employees going after the benefits of meditation / mental-focus exercising.

However, a tool like Muse can’t be recommended until benefits are clear. Until then, recommending an app like the 10% Happier meditation app is a safe and enjoyable solution.