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Dan Harris — 10% Happier

Nov. 4

Mostly fuck this book. I started meditating recently (again, sorta kinda), a little bit on most days, largely inspired by this excellent short video narrated by this book's author. Go ahead and go watch that, and you've already got 80% to 90% of what the book has to offer. That last smidgen of useful info is thinly smeared across what feels like acres of obnoxious memoir.

Like, I see what he's doing, and I guess I don't really fault him for it. He believes mindfulness-based meditation is going to have the most dramatic effect for people who, like himself, sort of default to being assholes, and so he set out to write The Asshole's Case for Mindfulness. It might even be pretty good at that.

But while I won't claim to have not dabbled in being a fucker, I will say that the format is mostly useless for someone who:

  • Already realizes their mind is a network of disparate competing systems.
  • Is already interested in improving their self-directed mind control skills.
  • Just wants some practical help with that, and possibly some interesting updates from whatever the current frontline of research happens to be.

When I find that book, I'll let you know.

Jack Kornfield — Meditation for Beginners

Nov. 10

Well, that was fast. It looks like this is the meditation book to go for! Shout-out to Suzanne at work for the rec.

I have a few tiny quibbles with it, mostly about the anecdotes he sometimes uses to illustrate a point. (They seem slightly random, and also my eyebrow always goes up when someone mentions Carlos Castenada with a straight face.) But those are rare (maybe one or two a chapter) and brief, and aside from them, this is a really remarkable amount of useful, practical information packed into the minimum space.

What's up with my sudden interest in meditation? Well, I've been idly interested for a while, because getting better control over the default thought patterns of my brain has never seemed like a bad idea. But recent events (even before the election) have moved that from "nice to have" to "urgently important." (Yes, I am also looking into therapy. Yes, I probably could have used both of those things at other points in my life, like '13 or '06.)

It's already helping a bit, although it's hard to describe exactly how. Proving to yourself that thoughts are just thoughts really is a pretty big deal.

Sidebar about meditation

The yoga classes I took in college had some meditation, but it didn't take. You wanna know what really made me care about and get mindfulness for the first time, back in '08 or '09? Motorcycles. When you're riding and your face starts to itch, turns out you have to Get Over It, and stop caring about non-useful sensations and emotions. Like, go ahead and feel them! But disidentify and draw a line between things that matter and things that don't matter.

That, combined with the notice/decide/respond/notice loop that necessarily takes up your whole brain at 70 mph, made riding a kind of rolling meditative practice that has at times anchored me and helped me deal with overwhelming shit that was happening in the rest of my life. Death machine serenity, go figure.

There's also that occasional sudden craving for a cigarette I get, which I noticed several years ago will go completely away if I just stand there and look at it for a minute; I feel like that taught me a bit about the transitory nature of consciousness, too.

Anyway, that stuff was really valuable, but a little disorganized. It eventually occurred to me that I could probably adopt a more coherent practice and get some more consistent benefit.

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