Know thyself

Know thyself

Advice inscribed on Apollo’s temple by the ancient Greeks. Pretty good advice too. But how exactly should I go about getting to know myself?

Well, if you want to know your mind… sit down and observe it! In other words: meditate. People think of meditation as an arcane mystical endeavor with some vague and esoteric benefits. But in reality meditation is very simple.

Not easy. But simple.

Meditation is like bird watching only you’re the watcher and the bird. It’s science where you are the scientist and the experiment.

Let’s define what we mean when we are talking about meditation. There are all kinds of varieties but for the purposes of this post I’ve got something like the following in mind:
1.) sit
2.) close your eyes
3.) focus on the sensations of breathing
4.) don’t get lost in thought
5.) notice that you did get lost in thought
6.) don’t be upset
7.) bring focus back to breathing
8.) repeat

Pay attention to everything that happens while meditating and learn about the nature of your own mind. For example, even though we’ve got step number 6.) there could be a tendency to get frustrated.

Where does that frustration come from?
Who is frustrated?
How does it feel?
Does it make sense to be frustrated?
Does it help to be frustrated?
Do I like being frustrated?
How do I stop being frustrated?
Am I ever frustrated in normal life?
What can I learn on the meditation cushion that I can use in normal life?

Or… I set an intention to take a seat on this cushion for 20 minutes. I am now maybe 2 minutes in and a voice in my head is suggesting strenuously that I get up and do something else.

Am I that voice?
Am I the one hearing the voice?
Who set the intention?
Who got distracted?
Who is in conflict?
What do I mean with ‘I’ and ‘Me’?
How can I be talking to myself?
Why does that voice in my head try to make me get up?
What else does that voice tell me?
Is that a voice ‘I’ should listen to?
When perhaps, not?

Or… I sit down and focus my attention on the breath and try to keep it there. And invariably get distracted. Over and over again.

Why do I get distracted?
Should I try harder?
Expend more effort?
How do I focus harder?
Does it work or do I still get distracted?
What if I don’t expend effort?
I am setting my own intention, using my free will, expending effort and willpower. Why can’t I just focus on my own breath?
What does that say about our freedom to do things we intend to do?

Or… I focus on the breath. Get distracted. Try to remain equanimous. Observe how equanimity gets made. What does it take to not get irritated, frustrated or bored?

What happens when I get annoyed?
How does it feel?
Where in the body do I feel it?
How would I characterize the sensation?
How does my mind interact with the physical sensations?
Are the sensations unpleasant?
Can I just ‘be’ with the sensations?
What to do with the accompanying chatter in my mind?
How much time elapses between input, reaction and thought?
Does that happen once, or in a loop?
Can I interject?
Then who am ‘I’?

Oops, wrong exercise. Damn! Back to the breath. My ass hurts. I’m bored. I don’t need to meditate! This Jorma dude is a moron.

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