That’s meditation?! – La Roux, In For The Kill

That’s meditation?! –  La Roux, In For The Kill

In for the kill
by Elly Jackson (La Roux)

This song doesn’t sound like meditation, it certainly does not. But it is; at least if you get rid of the idea that meditation means sitting quietly still. Instead think of meditation as “choiceless awareness of life”. Then, this is a song with a certain kind of quality of meditation to it.

In any case, this is definitely a “pop song with truth.” That’s simply because the protagonist isn’t singing about needing or getting or losing the other person; she’s singing about herself. She’s celebrating herself even in getting rejected by the other person. That fact in itself makes this different from 99% of pop songs.

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A few understandings that help with anger

A few understandings that help with anger

This is a short auxilliary post (a “lemma”, indeed) to the Friday in Heaven, Friday in Hell post on radical non-dual acceptance. It offers a few understandings that help you step out of anger. And to avoid doubt, meditation always needs such understandings. The body-oriented meditation approach makes them much easier to use, it doesn’t replace them.

These refer to the Black Friday example, but you can easily apply them elsewhere.

When you are angry, don’t assume that anger is the main or final emotion. It may be. But until you let your body move freely, with an alert consciousness as to what it happening each moment, it is hard to know what the emotion is. Underneath anger can be pain, fear, all sorts of things. You can’t necessarily take your surface thoughts at face value. As your body moves in anger, all sorts of other things may come up.

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Gurdjieff Sacred Dance: meditation, but the very opposite to silent sitting

Gurdjieff Sacred Dance: meditation, but the very opposite to silent sitting

Gurdjieff sacred dances AmiyoToo often, meditation is presented as: sitting in silence, plus mindful daily actions. This is very incomplete. Sitting in silence suits only some newcomers to meditation. The ones it doesn’t suit feel left out or “I tried meditation and it didn’t work for me.” Really, for beginners, sitting in silence is delightful for the part of each person which is quiet / receptive / passive / allowing. Other exercises are every bit as much meditative, but give delight to our active / engaged / expansive / assertive energy. This “male meditation” is sadly neglected. In this post I’m going to present one very beautiful meditation for the active essence. It’s advanced, indeed difficult, and not for all. Please be assured I’ll explain DIY, active+silent meditations very soon which are dead easy.  But this is so beautiful to watch and to write about that I’ve put it first: Gurdjieff Movements, also called Gurdjieff Sacred Dances. For video links see below on this page. [Click here for all meditation posts] (more…)

Friday in heaven, Friday from hell: radical non-duality in action

Friday in heaven, Friday from hell: radical non-duality in action

Important note. Beginners to mindfulness meditation traditionally start with 20 minutes a day of mindful breathing. To give a sense of scale, I’m going to call that  “primary school meditation”. On that scale, some parts of this page are postgraduate-level. I’m not suggesting you leap straight from introductory breath awareness to doing what is on this page on your own. In fact, please don’t do that. This post is an artificial example for explanation purposes. I’ll get to simple practical related self-help meditations very soon.

With that out of the way, I’ll invite you to imagine Friday afternoon in two alternate realities, two parallel universes, Friday from heaven, Friday from  hell. I’ll use these scenarios to show you an active-plus-silent, radical meditation approach to anger that’s completely opposite to Buddhism. It’s “radically non-dual”, in the sense that it treats joy and anger exactly the same. It’s a practical, if postgraduate, approach to meditation that many people use and find transformative.

Radically non-dual means: remain the same while moving into opposites. This is what Krishna says in the Gita: In pain or pleasure, be the same; in success or failure, remain the same. Whatsoever happens, let it happen — you remain the same. Instead of life jerking your leash up, down, this way, that way as events unfold you have a centre of integrity, of serenity that you remain in, or quickly recover, as events pass through.

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Secular mindfulness cannot escape the sacred

Secular mindfulness cannot escape the sacred

I have to say am not a fan of secular mindfulness, aka NHS or evidence-based mindfulness. It claims to capture the good bits of Buddhism, the useful essence, and surgically excise the oriental nonsense. It certainly has value, great value. It introduces people to the practical basics of one  type of meditation in modern language. It presents the element of Buddhism to those who might be put off by its undoubted complexities (my critique of Buddhism today.) In our highly outward-oriented society, it’s indeed a breakthrough that people are being invited to look into themselves, In so far as it goes it is valuable to help people be less depressed, less anxious, cope more resiliently.

But Buddha’s proposition is something far, far more radical. Even at its best, by Buddha’s standards, NHS mindfulness doesn’t go far at all. It cuts out every essential thing that makes Buddha’s proposition, and what I’m calling radical meditation generally, so uniquely valuable. In this post I’m going to focus on one very specific, but to-me central, limitation: secular mindfulness is at war with the miraculous.

Watching a sunset, perhaps the word comes to the mind unbidden: this moment is sacred. Or in a certain moment of making love, the same: this moment is sacred. Yes, these moments truly are sacred, precious glimpses of the mystery of being.

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What makes a school of meditation “radical”?

What makes a school of meditation “radical”?

(A reminder, that “witnessing” and “mindfulness” are two ancient words that mean the same thing. Mindfulness has baggage, so I mostly use “witnessing.” )

We’ve seen a basic definition of meditation, aka mindfulness.  Meditation teachings are very varied. There are many schools of meditation, of which the most famous is Buddhism; then there are many schools of Buddhism. There is also Westernised Buddhist mindfulness, made famous by Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living. This is a bold attempt to wrest from Buddhism the bits seen as practically useful,  and leave behind what is perceived as oriental esotericism. The recent book Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman is a British counterpart, the gold standard in NHS-prescribable Westernised neo-mindfulness. And there are so many other ancient and current schools.

I am using the term “school of radical meditation” to apply to some of all this, but not to all. Gautam Buddha was a very, very radical meditator. I wouldn’t apply that term to all of modern Buddhism.

So what do I mean by radical meditation? How does it relate the the 20 minutes daily sitting meditation that is famously the starting point for beginners?

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Of another era, complex and unalive: a critique of Buddhism today

Of another era, complex and unalive: a critique of Buddhism today

Most critiques of Buddhism are written from a viewpoint that is humanist or anti-religion or science-holds-the-answers. These brief remarks are different in that I have a lifetime of experience of meditation. So unlike many critics, I have every trust in the underlying truth that Buddha pointed his listeners towards. Indeed I have immense respect and reverence for Gautam Buddha: he is a very, very great human being, one of the pillars of human consciousness. I would not dream of criticising Buddha or his teachings. My critique is that Buddha’s teaching belonged in a time long gone and in a place remote and alien. In a different world and 2,500 years later, I do not believe that Buddhism is any longer the best pointer to that same truth.

Be honest: if there was something every bit as good as Buddhism but simpler and more fun, wouldn’t you prefer it?

I’ve spent my whole life all over the world finding by much trial and error  what type of meditation works for me and what doesn’t. Knowing what I’ve learned, I’m heartily glad I didn’t spend those 40 years practising modern Buddhism (still less the logarithmically dilute version espoused by the NHS.) (more…)

“Thoughts” includes EVERYTHING

“Thoughts” includes EVERYTHING

I’m lucky to live in one of the most creative and alive cities in the world, Bristol. I’m further blessed to have a wonderful walk from where I live in to my office, along the harbour-side. This morning as I walked in it was raining with the soft rain of a September day that was mild and warm, yet carried the inescapable news of autumn . And what was I doing as I walked?  I was thinking of this post and what to say in it! What a waste of a beautiful morning.

Such random attention to other times and places is just useless junk-thinking. Ubiquitous, universal; useless. Much of what people think of as “meditation” is calming down this useless mentalising. This is often easy, by attending to here-and-now body experiences and sights and sounds, or by classic sitting meditation.

But the radical meditation definition of thought is very wide. EVERYTHING is a thought. And radical meditation confronts, befriends, and changes your relationship with every single one of them. Just a sketch list of for-examples:-

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What is “radical meditation”? (1) The Song of Ashtavakra

What is “radical meditation”? – (1) The Song of Ashtavakra

What I am calling “radical meditation” rests on the basis there is no self – that the “I” that we think we are, just does not exist. There is no-one doing our lives. But we think to ourselves “Of course ‘I’ exist.” And we dismiss it all as too remote and too niche; as esoteric and religious; as “contrary to science”; as a mad, bad idea dangerous to mental health.  So what I ought to do is to give a careful, helpful explanation of what no-self and no-doer means, and make the incomprehensible comprehensible. Instead, in this post I’m going to do the very opposite.

I’m going to present to you  (for now, other things later) one of the most hard to understand, terse, compressed descriptions of no-self and radical meditation, The Song of Ashtavakra.

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Thoughts are physical, not mental. Meditation is physical.

Thoughts are physical, not mental. Meditation is physical.

Here’s the second understanding I’d love people to take away from this blog (the first). The buzzing thoughts that interfere with happiness and won’t go away when you meditate are not mental or intellectual objects. At root, these thoughts are physical.

Thoughts are physical because life is physical. Being born is physical, death is physical. That which we call real, we call real because we know it physically. How can meditation be other than physical?

When you are angry, your body want to move in anger. It wants to scream, shout, kick, punch, even strangle or stab. When you are happy, your body wants to laugh, to dance, to hug someone. When you are struck down by grievous loss, your body wants to sob, to wail; to be held, to be comforted. When you are in love, you body wants to kiss, to caress, to play and have fun; it wants to fuck.

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Meditation is not Stop Action

Meditation is not Stop Action

If you take only one understanding from this blog, let this be it. There’s nothing in the definition of meditation about sitting still or closing your eyes. Meditation is a state of being, a shift in the relationship between you and the flow of your experiences. Meditation is not Stop Action. (more…)

The definition of meditation (and it’s not sitting still)

The definition of meditation (and it’s not sitting still)

I might define meditation as the search for an inner peace so deep and enduring that one remains at peace in the deepest hurricanes of life and in the moment of death itself. But that could as well apply to religious belief, and meditation certainly is not that.

So here is a more practical, experiential definition. It is a fairly standard definition. The links on the page however branch off in some less-standard directions.

A moment of meditation is a moment (minute, hour, week) in your life where you are

  • (a) relaxed
  • (b) present and alert to your experiences inner and outer
  • (c) no judgements or preferences about your experiences. This means: no judgement that some experience ( eg anger) is “bad” and you want it to go away, while some other experience (eg joy) is “good” and you want to have more of it. It is a kind of relaxed friendliness with experience.

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Following your inner voice: Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill

Following your inner voice: Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill

This is the first of a series of posts on changing your life, as illustrated by pop songs. Today: following your inner voice, illustrated by Peter Gabriel’s wonderful Walking up on Solsbury Hill. 

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Mindfulness in the US military – is it mad?

Mindfulness in the US military  – is that mad?

———– This post was written before I started the whole series of posts on radical meditation. It’s outdated but I left it up anyway. Please see the new index page to meditation posts. ——–

I meditate. A lot. Meditation is profoundly life-changing and when I imagine a happy future for the human race, I imagine meditation being as normal as eating. But when I read recent coverage of mindfulness meditation, I’m only rescued from a whiff of despair by hysteria-tinged laughter.

To understand why, and what this post is about, please visit this link. It pictures US soldiers practising Buddhist mindfulness meditation to prepare for the stress of battle (including the stress of killing).  (more…)

Meditation and mindfulness in therapy

B bullets 5 borage flowers on white aa-img026_crMeditation and mindfulness in therapy

I can’t imagine therapy separate from meditation. They are intertwined. Many aspects of therapy are guided meditation. Not all therapists will readily agree, probably because in the Western understanding,  meditation is often confused with concentration, eg Wikipedia:

“Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness.”

That’s false or very limited. Meditation is better described as an understanding. There’s you – your consciousness, your awareness, your spirit – and there’s your experiences: your thoughts, emotions, sensations. People in pain turn away from their experiences. But that makes things worse, not better. Meditation is the understanding that when you turn towards your experiences and allow yourself to experience them, and view them with gentle, neutral, accepting awareness, they become separate from you and they float away. And behind them is peace, joy, profound tranquility. This is the fundamental truth of all life healing.

What’s more, when you have some distance from your experiences, you gain the power to choose whether to act on them. For example, when you “feel the fear and do it anyway”, that is part of the spirit of meditation.You feel the fear, but something in you – your soul, your spirit, I’d just call it your conscious awareness – is larger than the experience. You make a conscious choice to act in a different way.

When you live in the here and now, that too is meditation. Our minds provide and endless stream of thoughts of other times and other places. Mostly, we live in fantasy not reality. But that is so universally true – every person is doing it all the time – it’s accepted as normal. But the body is always here and now and so life is always rooted here and now. So the simple act of coming present to the experiences of the moment – your breathing, you feet on the ground – pulls you out of the fantasy world of the mind. Many times, problems and fears  come from the past or the future and are tape loops in your mind, not realities of the world in this present moment. And so by coming into the present, they lose their power over you.

This latter understanding, packaged into a system, is what is termed “mindfulness”. It contains aspects of understanding that apply much more widely to other kinds of meditation. These are wrapped together with some specific meditation techniques. It’s a very useful tool and it’s excellent that it is becoming mainstream. (See for example Madeline Bunting’s enthusiastic recent article about it in The Guardian. )

Mindfulness won’t work for everyone, nor will it cure everything. Thoughts aren’t only the little ripples in the mind which you can calm by sitting for half and hour. “Thoughts” include life-wide emotions and behaviour patterns. So when over a period of weeks or even years, you become aware that you are unconsciously living out a behaviour pattern, and slowly gain awareness until the point where you can choose not to act like that any more, that’s absolutely the spirit of meditation. It’s a matter of having a gentleness with yourself and your experiences. When you run away from your experiences, you run forever. When you meet your experiences with a gentle, self-respectful, self-forgiving self awareness, the floodgates of change and transformation open.

From this viewpoint, meditation is not a specific calming technique, thought that is often handy as an adjunct to therapy. Rather, much of all therapy can be seen as assisted meditation. Some therapies indeed, for example focusing, are directly meditation techniques.

From this viewpoint, the difference between meditation and therapy is that you only go to a therapist when you are unhappy. But the Eastern wisdom is to carry on and on with the journey of meditation, allowing not just painful thoughts, but happy one too to float in and out of the mind, on an ultimate voyage of discovery of “Who am I beyond all thoughts and emotions? Who is the one who feels happy?”

The other difference is that meditation is a self-help method. Many of my clients, if they understood and practised meditation in this extended sense, would not need to come to see me.