In Defense Of A Bad Habit

Don’t just do something, sit there. -A popular mindfulness saying.

Over the holidays I was staying at a family member’s house. One afternoon I was practicing meditation and the family member (who will remain unnamed) walked into the room and asked me what I was doing.

Now look, I assume that if we come upon a person putting out a fire we know what they are doing. We don’t have to ask. I thought the same applied to a person meditating but I guess I was wrong.

I felt a wave of anger rise up in me. “Didn’t he see I was meditating?” “Why would he interrupt me with such a dumb question while I am meditating?” “Really?” Thoughts like these ran through my mind until I turned towards him and answered his question. “I am meditating, what the hell does it look like I am doing?”

“But you are just sitting there doing nothing,” he replied.

I know not to argue with the color blind about color but I told him that meditation was hardly doing nothing. A slight back and forth ensued and ended by him saying, “Well it seems like a bad habit to me.”

When he left I continued on with my meditation but what he said to me kept swimming through my mind. “Meditation is a bad habit?” “Really?” “The fact that I am sitting here following my breathing and not really doing anything on a Monday afternoon is a bad habit?” I had never contemplated these things before. I had never thought of meditation as a bad habit.

And then I thought about it some more.

The man who interrupted me is always doing something. He is continually on the go. Can’t stop until the end of the day, at which point he plops down in front of a television and soon falls asleep. Granted he is a very wealthy man, an accomplished man but a man who is always on the go. Always with some sort of problem to solve. A man in a constant state of busyness within himself.

The opposite of the kind of man I want to be.

I can see how meditation could be seen by many busy Americans as a bad habit. In America, accomplishment or achievment is what is valued most. Being and staying busy is seen as a great virtue. Hell, I often hear people talking about being busy as if they were talking about some award they just won. I have never understood this. I doubt that at the end of a life a person will be happy that they were always busy. But I could be wrong.

Everyone in America seems to be continually on the go. I mean listen to all those cars. Have you ever walked around a suburban neighborhood on a weekday afternoon? No one is hanging out. No one is home except the gardeners. We are a culture that values being on the go, making plans, doing something and staying busy. We are expert at leapfrogging over the present moment.

An idle mind is the devil’s playground is a saying I often hear espoused by those who like to stay busy. I would argue that a mind which is not allowed to idle for a period of time is the devil’s playground, but who am I to argueI mean I spend time every day doing absolutly nothing. And I love it. It is my form of rebellion against the symptoms of busyness.

But really, a mind that is not allowed to idle will be a mind that is restless and able to find no calm or clarity. There will be little composure and a steady stream of issues and problems.

There is nothing wrong with being busy and accomplishing things. Obviously you would not be reading this if I did not value working, accomplishing and being focused on various tasks. But what is the state of mind that we want to be in while doing these things?

I realize that writing this essay is not going to ultimately make me feel calm and at peace. I also realize that all the other things I preoccupy myself with accomplishing are not going to make me feel calm and at peace. Not for long at least. It is the state of mind that we bring to whatever it is that we do which makes all the difference in what we do. It is not about waiting to be done with things to feel calm and focused but bringing this state of mind to whatever we do.

And without engaging in a practice that trains our mind to be idle, calm and focused in this overly stimulated world, our minds will be restless and all over the place, no matter what we achieve.

I don’t know about you but if I am undergoing surgery, flying on an airplane, at the dentist, with a therapist, in an Uber or engaging in any kind of interaction with another human being I would rather it be with someone whose mind is focused and calm even though they are busy and under stress. It just makes for a more quality interaction.

So, if meditation is a bad habit then I am going to defend this bad habit. It is the only bad habit I know of that restores equanimity, calm and focus to an organ (the brain) which is normally in a state of complete disarray.

And if what much of the scientific research suggests is correct, then it is only when our brain is in an equanimous and homeostatic state that all the other organs in our body can enter a state of health.

A bad habit that cultivates health and peace of mind is a bad habit I am happy to have and defend. Hopefully the society I live in will catch up soon enough and people will come to value an idle mind for brief periods of time everyday so that I will no longer have to be disturbed during my meditation practice while staying in family member’s homes.

Monster Mind

When we see a monster coming for us we know it. We don’t have to ask ourselves, “Is that a monster?” We know a monster when we see it coming and we run (unless we know it is a friendly monster). The mouth on each cheek, eyes in the back of its head, only one finger on each hand- all these things let us know that it is a monster. There is zero doubt about a monster when we see one.

But it is not so easy to recognize when we come upon a person whose mind is in such shape. Though he or she may have a great body, a perfect face, social status and be dressed very well, if their mind is disarranged it would be like they are growing hands from their head and have toes coming out of their face and chest. He or she would have a monster mind.

Often times we associate with monsters without knowing it. They are our bosses, our friends, our co-workers, our politicians, our parents, our neighbors and our partners. It could even be ourselves. Everyone knows when someone’s body appears to be very unusual but it is harder to realize when a person’s mind is twisted, warped or disarranged.

Just like we manicure our fingernails, brush our teeth and scrub our bodiesit is important that we manicure, brush and scrub our minds. If we neglect doing so we can end up with a mind that is a monster (warped, twisted or disarranged).

It is important that we are aware of our minds. That we are knowledgeable of what state our mind is in, the same way that we would know if our body or teeth were dirty.If we are not even able to be aware of the state of our mind, how can we take steps to change it? I think a monster is not aware that it is a monster. If it knew that it was a monster it would probably want to not be a monster.

It is first very important to be aware of our minds reactions to our own and other people’s actions. If we notice that our mind has become warped, twisted or disarranged (filled with judgment, worry, desire) it would be best to take steps to straighten things out.

Most people call it mindfulness. But regardless of whatever label you want to give it, mindfulness is really justactive control of your attention. Mindfulness is how we organize our mind. A monster’s attention is all over the place. Warped, twisted, disarranged and disorganized. When we become mindful we are taking control of our attention so that we can become more present and aware.

When we become present and aware we are more mindful of our five senses (our sensory experience). We don’t miss as much. We really notice things that we are hearing and seeing. We notice variations in color, shapes, textures and the various sounds that surround us. We have a heightened sense of smell and taste. We notice the action that is keeping us alive in the moment- the movement of our breathing. Our judgments, worries and desires cause us to become blind to these things and this can be because of a monster inside. By becoming more mindful we come alive.

A thief thinks he is looking all around and sees everything but really his desire makes him blind. He is unaware of his mind’s reaction to his actions; his desire dominates his mind. The very foundation of mindfulness is to be aware of our mind. To know what our mind is doing so that it does not become like a thief who ends up stealing our wellbeing and happiness away.

All we have for certain is this moment. This moment, right now. Are you fully here now? We cannot know for a fact that the next moment will come. The next moment is a fantasy in our mind. It does not exist outside our mind. This moment is real. It exists right here. So it is best to work on being fully present in this moment. When we are present and aware (not just thinking we are present and aware), we will not have a monster mind. Our mind will be clear, organized, sharp and attentive.

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Don't Fix It, Be With It!

The vast majority of people are busy seeking a cure. Deep down people don’t want to be helped, they want to be fixed. They don’t want empowerment and strength but want things to be quick and easy. They want a fix.

William Burroughs wrote that happiness is a by product of function, purpose and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war. You can not just think yourself happy and actually be happy if there is not authentic happiness present. Happiness is easy. We don’t need to be taught how to be happy. Mindfulness is a practice that teaches us how to suffer well. When we continue to try and think ourselves happy we remain ill equipped in managing the hardships of life.

In the self-help industry people are looking for peace and happiness just in itself. They don’t realize that you will never be without conflict and suffering. The practice of mindfulness is to learn how to work with the suffering and as a result suffer less. We suffer less when we let little victories be enough. When suffering less is good enough.  Let something help rather than always looking for a fix.

The practice of mindfulness does require continual commitment and discipline for the above reasons. To be able to be present with what is and let go again and again, requires continual practice and effort.

I think people lose their faith in mindfulness practice because they still suffer. They don’t realize that there is no end to suffering, but mindfulness helps lessen suffering. There is no being done and fixed as most want to believe. Mental health requires coming out of this fixed mindset and being ok with good enough, process, growth and the purpose that exists with just being present with what is. There is no cure. We are only done when we are dead.

The Simple Truth of Meditation Practice

I find that many people are turned off from integrating meditation in their daily lives because they are confused about what meditation is. They see meditation as having to do with things like gurus, spiritual attitudes, right versus wrong ways of living. There seems to be this idea that to be a meditator you almost have to be a religious like person firm in your beliefs. But this is not the case at all. Many great meditation teachers have been just, if not more, troubled as you and I.

Meditation in its most fundamental form has zero to do with any belief system. If a person wants to take it in that direction, nothing wrong with that. But meditation is fundamentally about relaxing the mind. Taking a certain amount of time each day to rest the mind by paying attention to what is actually happening in the PRESENT MOMENT rather than being all tangled up in JUDGMENTS or thoughts about the FUTURE and PAST. Meditation is a practice of just letting things go and becoming silent, for a little while.

It is my belief that most psychological issues that we deal with are the result of a tired mind. In the same way that if you were to over use any muscle it would begin to give you discomfort and pain, the brain is the same way. If we over use our brains with too much thinking and doing, how can we expect to not suffer psychologically as the years go by? It is not logical to think that one can remain mentally healthy and constantly refuse to rest their brain.

So, this is all meditation really is.  No need for gurus and spiritual or religious belief systems, if one chooses not to engage in that way. Meditation can be just a practice of resting the brain in the present moment. Letting the brain just be. And unlike religious or even spiritual systems, when a person regularly engages in this type of meditation, they need no proof as to its positive benefit.

Continual Fear

Whether we are aware of it or not, most of us these days tend to live in a continual state of fear. Fear seems to be what is operating our mental and physical vehicles, determining the ways we live our life. Some amount of fear can be a positive thing in terms of survival and motivation but too much fear makes life one long anxiety drag.

There is a long list of fears we deal with daily. Fear of being negatively judged by others, fear of not being able to sustain what we have, fear of being found out as the person we really are, fear of being discredited, fear of not being able to remain safe and secure in a world that seems to be growing more and more insecure. And then there are the fears of our own mortality, fear of illness, fear of growing old, fear of being hurt by others, fear of being the victim of a random act of violence and on and on. With all of these continual fears going on within us, it is a wonder that many of us still seem to be holding it together.

We tend to cope with our continual fear with our smartphones, eating, booze, working, inflating our egos, drugs, various forms of entertainment, ideological belief systems, shopping and more eating. But the fear always seems to be there just under the surface. We wake up with it at 3am, it finds us mid-way through the day when things slow down. We are good sometimes at hiding from the continual fear, but it never goes away.

Living a life from a place of fear is no fun at all. It is similar to being a prisoner on the run. An unpleasant way to live the one, impermanent life we currently have. So what can we do? Is there any possible way to be free of this continual fear?

Human beings are troubled and struggling in one shape or form. To struggle and be troubled by daily existence is as human as breathing. No one on this planet suffers from perfection, even if they are really good at pretending like they do. But we do not have to be troubled and struggle to the point where we are kept up at night by our worries or we are living life as a prisoner on the run.

Our brains are plastic and our nervous systems are always open to new possibilities of learning. What this means is that we are able to change things for the better if we put in the effort. Most people tend not to like this part because the effort is not easy, and will instead reach for their smartphones or something to eat. I am guilty of this myself. But we do not have to remain confined in the same way of being, day after day.

If we do want to change things within ourselves (not suffer as much) we need to learn to inhibit our old, more destructive patterns by opening up a space between our tendency to react in the same old ways to various stimuli and the potential to do something new. Opening a space is what helps us to interrupt our old and habitual reactive patterns and respond in a new way, thus tapping into our brains plasticity (ability to respond to life differently) and our nervous systems ability to learn new ways of being.

Despite continual fear being a main staple in contemporary life, mindfulness does give us the ability to be aware of when fear has taken over, when fear is running our life and then rather than reacting to this fear in the same old way (which can snowball into complete misery), opening a space within which you can acknowledge the fear and then let the fear move through (which it will do if you let it).

Without the ability to open a space, fear has no place to go, gets blocked up and remains continual fear.