It may seem counter-intuitive to sit down and meditate during an emergency, but we are currently, all of us – globally, experiencing an emergency of a very unique nature. One where many of us will find ourselves with nothing but time to occupy. The default would certainly seem to be to spend that time freaking out. Or you could try something different. Sam Harris lays it out very well in this specifically targeted podcast Meditation in an Emergency. Perhaps, check it out with some of the free-time you now find yourself strangely enough, burdened, with.
One of the common misconceptions about certain types of meditation is that the ‘goal’ is to ‘empty your mind of all thought. The method is to find blank mind through a process of focusing on breath, i.e. the present moment. This is a VERY simplified description, but instagram only gives me 2200 characters, and I’ve got more to say, dig?
It is difficult to maintain this level of focus for long periods of time. Your thoughts scream in and totally screw shit up. Letting streams of thought that we would normally follow ad infinitum to pass and ’starting over’ with the breath/moment is the exercise. This repeated ‘restart’ action is the Practice itself and the skill you are trying to build.
We all have a Path we are on. I don’t mean this is the spiritual, mystical, voodoo sense, but in what we want to accomplish and how we strive to conduct ourselves in the World. Goals, habits to form or break, etc.
When you are meditating you break focus and start to think, to follow your thoughts down rabbit holes. The hardest part is not to chastise yourself: “Wow. I totally suck ass at this. I’m terrible.” Let those thoughts go, WITHOUT beating yourself up, and return to the moment. Starting over. And over. And over. And over.
We are ALL going to fuck up. I did. I got off my Path. Was eating like crap, not getting proper sleep – just generally not paying attention to what the hell I was doing. My cart was completely off the PATH.
We beat ourselves up, feel bad, ashamed, disappointed. And that’s what I was feeling. So – even though I thought I didn’t really want to – I went for a bike ride. That was the reset button. Returning from the ride, all the fuckups were history. I realized that I literally was no longer the same person who had made those mistakes. I had started over.
Thats how life rolls. You go through it and you screw up. We all have and we are all going to continue to do so. It is inevitable. It’s how you address these moments that will determine your level of satisfaction and contentment.
For now, I’m back on my Path. Until I fuck up again. Which I am 100% sure I will. And then I will simply start over.
I didn’t look or listen for anything in particular, I just let the details of this particular moment in the neighborhood come to me: the quality of the air—heavy and warm, the incoming summer storm kind; birds; two couples having a conversation down the sidewalk; the clinking of dishes coming from inside the house to my right; distant hammering from a construction site somewhere in the blocks behind my house.David Cain, The Alternative to Thinking All the Time
I happened on this quite by chance recently.
My oldest daughter has a job at the local fried chicken joint now. I often have to go pick her up. Her shift ends at time ‘X’, but really she has stuff to do after so I’m never sure when she gets out exactly so I sit in the car in the parking lot and wait.
Usually it’s around 9pm on a moderately busy street corner of a semi-residential section of town with a riverside park across the street. These summer nights at dusk by the river, there’s all manner of stuff going on.
Initially, I’d surf instagram on my phone, read a book, sometimes try to meditate, but eventually I just got round to watching and listening. Doing exactly what he describes here. Immersing myself in that moment and the goings on at that exact time, tuning out all the other irrelevant noise – stuff that is either unimportant or I can’t do anything about at that time anyway – and often yes – I’m sort of startled out of it by her opening the truck door.
I always feel really refreshed, awake and present after.
So got an email in my inbox the other day announcing some new NIN live shows. Always a surprise to get an email from NIN. I joined the newsletter years ago and they only send out a note when there’s shows or new music. No spam. No 5 posts a week. That’s newslettering done right – but I digress, perhaps a separate post on that.
Although I regrettably can’t attend any of the live shows announced – they’re in Europe, and I’m far too old for these type of shenanigans – it did get me thinking about NIN live shows and a series of fantastic ‘from the stage’ videos shot some years back by band member and long-time art director* Rob Sheridan. These are great clips, and just as advertised, gives you the feel of standing right there on the stage. No gimmicks. No editing, just performance.
And that’s what’s striking. The intensity of the performance. Trent is intense. These cats are intense. Anyone who knows anything about Trent and NIN knows he’s a pretty intense guy. His performances and lyric matter are cathartic.
Then something occurred to me. When was last time I did something that intensely?
Don’t mistake intensity for anger, angst, rage. Intensity can apply to other emotions and situations. I think we most often associate it with violence or extremes of physicality or action, but it can manifest in other ways as well.
noun: intensity; plural noun: intensities
1. the quality of being intense.
adjective: intense; comparative adjective: intenser; superlative adjective: intensest
1. of extreme force, degree, or strength.
“the job demands intense concentration”
synonyms: extreme, great, acute, fierce, severe, high;
(of an action) highly concentrated.
“a phase of intense activity”
synonyms: extreme, great, acute, fierce, severe, high;
2. having or showing strong feelings or opinions; extremely earnest or serious.
“an intense young woman, passionate about her art”
synonyms: passionate, impassioned, ardent, fervent, zealous, vehement, fiery, emotional;
I started to think about when most average people (say, non-superstar musicians) could act or behave with Trent’s level of intensity. Is it even called for in daily life? Should we be more intense at times?
Can we think intensely – would that be considered meditation?
Can we parent intensely?
Can we apply a similar kind of intensity to our job? The daily grind?
I was thinking perhaps I exercise intensely. Sometimes though I’m still thinking about other things. Intensity seems to imply singular focus. Sometimes exercise seems passive. I’m riding the trainer or on a bike ride and I’m suffering. That seems more like it’s something being done to me, or I’m struggling through it vs. me directing intensity at something or acting with intensity.
Do we need more intensity in our lives? Does it make sense if you make your living pumping gas that if you tried to be more intense about it, you would be better at your job? Happier?
Or is it something that only applies more where we often see it – to creative activity or performance. Sports. Physical activities. Do we feel like only artists, musicians or athletes can be intense. Is this because primarily we see these activities as emotional, tied to or expressing emotion, or perhaps because they might be extremely difficult.
Can you be an intense garbage man? Would it matter? You career is in some ways your life – should you do it with more intensity?
____ *band member and art director for NIN - I can think of a lot worse gigs one could get.
Here is this year’s blog reboot.
I have stopped and started this thing more times than I can count, so I’ve stopped trying. It would seem, at some point, what I am destined to do, so I will roll with it. I have a bit of a new format this time, a renewed habit of writing offline, and a few posts in the vault so we’ll see what that gets us. As someone of the age who has seen the birth and development of ‘blogs’ it never ceases to amaze me the breadth they now encompass and people’s compulsion to keep feeding them, including mine. It seems quite silly, really. If everyone had placed messages in bottles and tossed them in the sea, we’d have a sea of bottles. Essentially the same game. Well, I guess now you can search for a specific bottle, but whatevs.
I had initially deliberated about starting separate blogs for the different topics I tend to write about but eventually nixed that as too hard. I still felt that tons of categories was kind of a drag and overbearing so I’ve winnowed it down to 3 categories that sort of encompass what I write about for the most part.
Headspace and meatspace.
I continue to try to enrich my mental experience on the planet while also trying to optimize the condition of the meatsuit that carries me around it. I had been pretty successful in losing some weight last year, have gained some back, and sort of plateaued. Changing things up some now, specifically with regards to what and how I’m eating to try and shake things up a bit. Exercise has never been an issue aside of time to do it, and I’m finding more of that now, in addition to making it more of a priority. All of this is greatly improving the ambience in my head – combined with an increase of reading and introspection and decrease in visits to the Internet.
Fitting that I’d be writing about leaving the Internet alone on a blog. Weird that it’s like a ‘thing’. “HEY. STOP PLAYING WITH YOUR INTERNET.” Since it’s inception I’ve been fascinated by it and even more so with social media. I’m sure it’s been unhealthy at points. But I found, sometime around the time I took this blog offline, that it wasn’t really all that fulfilling anymore. Checking in on various sites and SM platforms was only making me angry, frustrated, or leaving me with a feeling of hopelessness, or WTF? So I checked out for a bit. Stopped following all those people who annoyed me but I’d felt obligated to for some reason. Life’s too short for that.
I stopped commenting, for the most part, because in most cases it’s the cyber equivalent of banging your head against the wall. People come online and post stuff they’re passionate about partly to validate it for themselves. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind with a comment on their post. You’re just not.
I’ve been trying to be much more discriminating about what I post. There’s a bunch of different acronyms out there I think, floating in the inter-ether about things you should ask yourself before posting something on the internet. I’ve basically narrowed it down to is it informative or uplifting. I try to steer clear of pretty much everything else. I don’t know how well I’m succeeding, but I’m trying.
Things I’ve Been Reading
As I said I’ve been trying to read more, and to read more actual books, vs reading ebooks on my phone. I initially thought that was great because I could read books anywhere, but I found though I was reading more, I was actually absorbing less due to distractions of the environments around me or the compulsion to click away and answer a text or email etc. I’ve gone back to – gasp – checking books out from the Library. I’ve found that the ability to take a book somewhere and leave my phone entirely somewhere else has been hugely liberating.
One book I read recently that addresses that very thing was The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. A great read. Ironically I read it on my phone, when I was still doing a lot of that. Interesting discussion around theories and studies that support that current generations of peoples’ brains are actually being physiologically changed by the way they read and consume material. This book is kind of old too, so I’m sure there’s a lot more out there about it now. On a sort of related note, there’s a new book out I’m anxious to read, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity by Douglas Rushkoff. I want to read it real bad, but am trying not to cave and get the ebook version. Kicker is that I’m not sure I want to spend the beans for a physical copy and of course it’s not at the library yet.
Other books I’ve read recently and enjoyed greatly include Robert Pirsig’s classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, An Inquiry into Values and Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. Both of these were fantastic and made a huge impression on me. The kicker for me is whenever I come across I look forward to re-reading, then I know I’m on the right track. Both of these fall in that category.
I also recently finished Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air – a book I’ve heard about for years, but just finally got around to. I’d read Into the Wild a few months back as a precursor, so I was looking forward to this one. Both of these books I read in a matter of 2-3 days’ binge reading – I don’t know if that’s a testament to my enjoyment and immersion in them or Krakauer’s writing style. I do find I like the way he writes and Into Thin Air lived up to every bit of its hype.
Some months back, Ryan Correy posted a video of Dan Harris talking about his experience with meditation, something I was curious about. Dan’s talk resonated with me and I’ve been meditating fairly regularly since. In the video he mentions a book by Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. I was interested in reading some of his work, as I’d been hearing his name various places for a while as an author to check out. I picked up The Power of Now from the library, and though I found it an enjoyable and informative read, it got a bit spacey for me towards the end. There are definitely some good ideas and takeaways in it that I have found useful and/or inspiring.
The next read.
Somewhere in my internet wanderings I came across the High Existence website through a shared link, or something, I don’t remember. They have a suggested reading page which I found had some interesting titles. I picked up one of them yesterday from my library, The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton and am looking forward to digging into it. I’ve got an account over at Goodreads.com, so if you’re into that sort of thing, let’s hook up – I’m always looking for books to add to my ‘Want to Read’ list.