Stuck at home, suffering from the cursed touch of the Plague Monkey. It’s hard to write when your brain has been turned into a dusty attic full of year old porridge, but sleep can be harder. So up I get, for a little while. Might as well write.
Can’t just write, of course. Gotta take a few moments to settle my mind, get in the groove. Bob Dylan today, a few moments staring out at a day almost as grey as my mood. I planned to write a few things when I got up, but it doesn’t take long for those thoughts to become a burden. Plans are anchors that hold you back. I let them go.
Talking with a student about mediation the other day. I was giving her advice for relaxing, and meditation is a great way to do that. And relaxing is important. Seems like every time I look up there is some kind of message about being efficient and productive. Everything we do is supposed to fit into that criteria, including the shape of our bodies. Screw that. I was put here to be alive, and doing that well is my only goal. Everything else can drop dead.
Relaxing is not something to be efficient about, and it’s not something to dick around with either. Thus we have meditation, which is practice for all kinds of things. It’s practice for relaxation, and it’s practice for living. It’s practice for being free. Freedom to a stoic is something that can only be given to yourself…it can’t come from anyone else. Meditate to learn to be free…
Meditation isn’t about posture or breathing. Those are crutches you can use to get yourself started, but you are better of not using them at all. Makes em easier to throw away later.
All you need to do is realize where you are. And when you are. Seems easy, yes? Right now, I’m sitting in my living room, and it’s ten twenty-two in the morning. Easy enough. But where is my mind? Is it here in my living room, in a grey morning, or is it imagining you and me having an animated conversation in a bar? Or is it thinking about what to bring for work tomorrow? Or is it worrying about the consequences of leaving the dishes alone for more than one day? And what about my screenplay? I haven’t written on that in days. If I let that go any longer it might be a failure, one more thing left by the roadside. Should I work out this morning? Did I work out before? That last workout was really hard. It made me feel kinda weak and left me a tiny bit depressed, do I want to deal with that feeling coming up again?
It’s just me here. Anything outside of this place, this moment, is pure fantasy. Every thought that isn’t related to what is here and now is wasted effort…fantasizing. If I let my brain go, it will destroy my life by constantly fantasizing about what might be coming up and what is irrevocably lost in the past. How can I do anything meaningful in life with all that noise?
The basic form of meditation is to learn to identify when and where your thoughts are. Once you’ve identified that, you can start to shut down the fantasies. If you can succeed in shutting down all those thoughts, if you can pull your brain back from it’s trips back and forth in time, you can become aware of the present.
Good luck with that. It’s hard work. The first moment of actually being aware of the present is so profound it’s like a bolt of lightening that changes your world forever. But it’s not necessary to get all the way there to find the benefits. Every moment of practice brings you a little more freedom from those nasty little chains of fantasy we tie ourselves down with. It’s hard work, but pleasurable. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote a lovely series of small blog posts about his struggles to master this kind of thinking. It’s a good read.
Of course, once you’ve figured out how to keep your thoughts in the current moment…mostly…you have to think about the past and future sometimes. Gotta plans things, gotta remember lessons, etc. How can you do that without falling back into fantasizing?
Ask me about Virtue sometimes, and I’ll tell you. You’ve just learned one virtue: Prudence. (Thought you knew what that meant, didn’t you?) Three more to go…