Daily Entry: July 13th, 2020

There will be no writing today, either for work or for personal purposes. I went to a webinar instead ("A Time to Listen"). It was solid.

Dream

Again had a vivid dream that has since faded completely.

Meditation (Day 39)

Stage 3 mastery is within reach, I can feel it, and I think stage 4 will follow shortly there-after. Once the periodic check-ins are in place in a session, I find that continuous introspective awareness kicks in. Only a few things manage to steathily steal my attention away from the breath.

This morning I woke up feeling pretty awful, but had the resolve to withhold judgement on what'd I plan for the day until after meditation. Sure enough, meditation melted away the weariness clogging up my head. It's experiences like that that really confirm that meditation is doing something and it isn't just that I got used to my ADHD medication (though, to be fair, with my new schedule the ADHD medication is kicking in during meditation).

An Introduction to Meditation by a Beginner

A lot of what I'll be talking about will be concepts from The Mind Illuminated that I have internalized and mostly put into my own words. The goal of this post is to summarize this, add in some of my experience, and give you a solid starting point for meditation.

Immediately Useful Things to Note

It's possible that you decide not to try meditation, and I think that's fine. However, there are some ideas I just found generally useful that I want to share before you decide to leave.

Your Mind is Like a Pet

When I read this concept, it brought me back to the book above. Basically, the main tenants of training have shown that positive reinforcement works way better than negative reinforcement. We've learned this pretty succinctly about pets, but we fail to apply it to humans (even ourselves).

This being said, I want to talk about frustration. Frustration is, in my experience, often the result of you realizing you did something wrong. You're frustrated for any number of reasons, but the fact of the matter is, often the exact point you get frustrated is not a useful time for your mind to get the feedback of frustration. The mind just gave you useful information: something is wrong. You want to reward that, and make your mind better at doing it sooner and sooner so that eventually you catch the incorrect thing before it even occur.

In meditation, this frustration can occur when your mind wanders and you forget to focus on the breath. This is, luckily, an easy frustration to overcome. You can work on being happy that you noticed you forgot and try to focus on the breath again. In life, there are similar frustrations where a simple altering of perspective can instead bring joy. See if you spot any of them and can make this transition.

The Six-Point Preparation Process

  1. Motivations: why are you doing this?
  2. Goals: what do you want to achieve this session?
  3. Expectations: are your goals and motivations realistic? Aim for a balance between challenge and skill.
  4. Diligence: set the intention to try for the duration of the session.
  5. Distractions: what distractions can you expect to encounter and how do you think you can mitigate them?
  6. Posture: you may be staying still for a good while, make sure your posture is sustainable and healthy.

This is a process for preparing for meditation, but I find it useful for many things. Even posture is often a good thing to think about when prepping to do something that'll take a while.

Dealing with a Busy Mind

Sometimes my mind is so scattered I can not hope to focus it towards a single thing. Instead of instantly trying to focus it to a point, focus it gradually. In meditation, there's this 4-step process:

  1. Focus on the present
  2. Focus on the body
  3. Focus on the sensations of breath within the body
  4. Focus on the sensation of breath at the nose

Like the six-point process, this idea can be applied elsewhere, though it needs tweaking to its context. Try defining your own 4-step process towards focusing on a given priority.

For instance, with work I've been playing with:

  1. Focus on company (email, slack, big thinking, using the product, etc.)
  2. Focus on team responsibilities
  3. Focus on assigned tasks
  4. Focus on specific assigned task

If you find you can not focus in the given space, give your mind more space to roam by going up the list. Start at the beginning if necessary.

Invoking Intent is Incredibly Invigorating

In the Mind Illuminated, each stage has an instructional intent to declare when sitting down to meditate. For example, stage 2's intention is to "appreciate the aha moment when you've realized you've forgotten the breath, and to gently-but-firmly redirect attention back to the breathe".

The argument is that this is all your conscious mind really does: declares purpose and validates outcomes. Going back to the "mind as a pet" analogy above, "you" don't do much, your mind does most everything. "You" point and the mind does, and then you can provide some additional feedback and/or veto some actions.

Meditation is, in a sense, about making the conscious intention, mind action, conscious feedback loop more efficient and effective.

Memorizing Key Details is Incredibly Valuable

Anything I read about meditation that I wanted to remember, I put into an Anki deck. Anki is a spaced-repetition app designed for efficiently memorizing things.

Memorizing things such that they're readily accessible in the appropriate context is like having a tool ready when you need it and not having to find where it is.

For meditation, I memorized:

  • The names of the stages (up to stage 5, stages 6-10 will be added soon)
  • The intent to invoke when practicing in a given stage
  • What mastery of a stage looks like
  • The definitions of subtle/gross distractions
  • The definitions of sublte/strong dullness
  • The elements and how they apply to meditation
  • The moments of consciousness model definition
  • Misc other things

Some of these things aren't helpful on the cushion, but having them all available makes the ones that are incredibly valuable. Knowing which stages I think I've mastered lets me know which stage I'm currently practicing in, which lets me know what I should intend to do, all while I'm settling into a meditation.

Some Caveats

You are not aiming to erase "negative" emotions from your life. I don't believe in negative emotions. Emotions are neutral, their application can be good or bad. My goal is to feel the appropriate emotions at the correct time and share them with the people I love (when applicable).

I do not subscribe to a phrase that is common in meditation circles: "Suffering is optional." Suffering is not optional. Pain is a weight, and you can train to carry quite a bit of it effectively. Suffering occurs when the weight overloads us. Meditation is the weight-lifting for strengthening this capability.

Further, meditation is not a cure-all. Many wonderful things started happening since I started meditation, it's true. What's not discussed is my years of therapy leading up to starting meditation, and the ADHD medication I started taking 2 weeks before meditation. That being said, the feeling I get from meditation each morning is transformative every time, and it sure feels like meditation is the cause of quite a few things that weren't quite in place before.

My Path

Meditation clicked for me immediately once my definition changed from "watching your mind go" to "Meditation is training the mind's consciousness by sustaining attention on a predetermined object and maintaining strong awareness of the present without directing your attention away from the predetermined object." You train the mind both by strengthening it and improving your control of that strength.

Meditation sustained for me because I had milestones to achieve, with clear metrics for success, and clear instructions on practice. These milestones are the 10 stages of meditation, of which I know 5:

  1. Practice Regularly
  2. Interrupted Attention and Overcoming Mind-Wandering
  3. Extended Continuity of Attention and Overcoming Forgetting
  4. Continuous Attention and Overcoming Gross Distraction and Strong Dullness
  5. Overcoming Subtle Dullness and Increasing Mindfulness

The breakdown of meditation into concrete, achievable goals is how I managed to quickly achieve stage 1 mastery: practicing everyday and practicing for the duration of the session. I always had something to work on, and a means of knowing whether I succeeded.

Stage 2 is about appreciating those moments when you realize you're lost in thought, and this concept was an epiphany for me and the most transformative part of starting meditation (so far). So often, I am lost in thought, away from the given moment. Appreciating this realization on the cushion made me appreciate it off the cushion, and until this epiphany I had no idea just how much time and energy I spent lost in thought. It is as though I have unlocked the ability to be awake and alert the entire day.

Within a few days, I found myself at stage 3, where you invoke introspective attention before forgetting the breath to search for and acknowledge distractions before they direct your attention away. And this is where I still am. Though, for a bit I thought I was in stage 4 (make introspective awareness continuous), and even dabbled in stage 5 (increase mindfulness). In truth, you can progress to the next stages during a session before you've truly mastered the previous one, but I think I have not yet mastered stage 3 (mastery looks like "forgetting and mind wandering no longer occur, and the breath stays continuously in introspective awareness").

What I'm Getting Out of Meditation

There was an almost immediate value to meditation that has sustained itself to this day. My energy levels are consistent throughout the day, and at a pretty high place once I end my morning meditation. I get this result before I take my ADHD medication or drink some caffeine! Though, just recently I have moved meditation to after those two things for unrelated reasons. I'm actually really curious what would happen if I took out the coffee or the medication entirely, but things are in a consistently good place, so I won't mess with it for now.

Before meditation, I would often be super exhausted about two hours before bed on weekdays, and randomly exhausted for whole days on weekends (though sometimes I had energy). Now, I don't notice a difference between weekdays and weekends.

My main hypothesis for this is that the practice of meditation, specifically the mastery of stage 2 (appreciating those aha moments of having forgotten the breath), made me realize that I was lost in daydreams constantly throughout the day. My mind was often thinking about a vastly scattered amount of things, and often it was doing so intensely (furrowed brow and everything). That's mentally exhausting.

Practicing stage 2 throughout the day has significantly curbed this habit. Especially valuable was the "meditative formula" (relax and look for joy; observe, let it come, let it be, and let it go). Don't get me wrong, I still think about random things, but now I have the tools to "practice intentionality", which is something I've wanted to be able to do for a long time.

I have also been able to develop a better relationship with my mind. Appreciating the aha moment of distraction has led me to appreciate it whenever my mind lets me know when I forgot to do something I meant to do, no matter how late. It's led to my mind being much more punctual about such reminders! Which is excellent for building a time-tracking habit, which I've successfully done.

Why I've Made This

The main goal of this post is to help people who, like me, wanted to get into meditation but didn't really "get it". My first introduction to meditation was in high school. I was told to sit upright and count up to ten and back down from ten.

I tried this, I wasn't very good at it. It felt like something could be useful about it but I couldn't place it. I abandoned it.

Years and years later, I tried this app called Headspace. I went through the first 10 sessions (they were the free bits). And... I noticed some neat things, but it didn't really click why I should do it.

I ended up feeling like maybe I was getting the same thing as meditation out of running and other exercise. Maybe the many hours I manage to get away from screens and other major distractions provided a "natural meditation". Maybe that's why I "didn't get" meditation, because I was doing it already naturally.

There was some truth to this feeling, but meditation goes deeper. Meditation is training the mind, not simply letting it be free to roam. Perhaps those natural habits have given my mind a lot of free strength training, but that power was raw and scattered. Meditation tempers it. Which is exactly what my ADHD mind needs, even after a bit of medication.

Daily Entry: July 12th, 2020

Dream

Had a very vivid dream that I almost remembered whilst waking up but it absconded.

Meditation (Day 38)

Today went really well! Increased the meditation time from 40 minutes to 45, but didn't feel the need to look at my timer near the end. I did look at it halfway through, but that was to decide to switch positions at the halfway mark instead of the 25-minute mark. My legs are still falling asleep, and whilst I'm clearly still gaining flexibility, I'll have each leg do half of the session.

Though, I have looked up stretches and exercise for the lotus position and I'll start doing this before meditation I think. Turns out my flexibility is pretty far along, but there is a ways to go, still. Possibly months.

So I'll also play with my form regularly to find a compromise between pushing it towards ideal, and making absolutely sure that I'm not hurting myself. Better to go too slow than hurt myself, as well, so I'll try to err on the side of not hurting myself.

Anyways, I really got into a solid focus by the end of the meditation. Could really feel it. It was intense, and I think I was solidly in stage 4, where gross distraction and strong dullness were kept at bay via continuous introspective awareness. Stage 3 wasn't in full mastery mode today, as I think I forgot the breath once or twice, but it was in solid form for most of the session.

I'm also really starting to appreciate the random noises I hear whilst meditating. They're reminders to verify I'm practicing, and I thank them when I notice them. Gives me a bit of meditative joy.

Blog Guidance for the Day

Ooh, new section. Instead of just reporting on what happened, let's make a bit of guidance for myself (avoiding calling it a goal). I'd like to edit and get my "Introduction to Meditation by a Beginner" in a "publishable" state today. It's not going to be good, because I don't do this. But I've been told that quantity is more important than quality, because experience will bring quality, and quantity is experience. I'd like to go for 1 thing of writing a week (won't necessarily be a blogpost each week, as there's writing to do for, say, the work wiki and stuff like that).

In any case, I'm pretty sure there's enough content in the post now, and I just need to heavily edit it. The goal today is to work on it until it's in a state that makes sense. I can do this multiple times, but the idea is that the state it's in at the end of the day is its final state. If I don't touch it today, its raw state is how I'll publish it. Which should be... understandably readable, but very rough.

No Blog Writing Today

Ended up playing a bunch of SSBM, and watching a fair amount of TV. Didn't even look at the blog.

....

I guess stick with what I said? I'll give what I've written so far a proof-read and post it. I might not have much time tomorrow, and I'm planning on devoting time I was going to devote to blog to work writing, so....

We'll see what I do, I guess. I'll probably just post it as a blog here, even.

Hmmmm....

Maybe I'll make some time tomorrow to copy it into a post here.

Welp, Went Ahead and Did the Above Right Away

Cleaned it up a tiny bit. I wanted to basically rewrite it entirely. Not happy with some bits. Maybe I'll come back to it later. Though at what point am I not a beginner anymore? Eh, figure if I haven't been practicing for a year I'm still that.

Heh, maybe my next post will be an analysis of this post.

At some point the proper blog posts should live somewhere, though.

Daily Entry: July 11th, 2020

It's a weekend day! The first weekend day wherein I'm devoting time that would be writing here to writing in blogs. Though, I'm also trying to be better about making "wife's day" (aka Saturday)... wife's day. So we'll see how much time I devote to writing today.

The goal will still be to post something tomorrow. Or, rather, have it ready to post, but maybe I take a bit to set up the blog area.

Meditation (Day 37)

New prime number day? New prime number day! Woo.

Definitely haven't mastered stage 3. I do, in fact, still forget the breath. Also, while breath is often in awareness, I'm not so sure it's in "conscious awareness". I think there's a difference.

I do believe I'm getting better at regularly invoking introspective attention, though, which is also helping me achieve vigilant introspective awareness in some cases. So, mastery will come with time, as long as I'm digilent about practicing and improving, which currently I am.

Not even disappointed that I'm not as far along as I thought (thought I was working on stage 5 at one point). It's good to know where I am. And I'm still getting some solid effects from practicing meditation that last well after I'm off the cushion.

What I'm saying is: even if progress is slow, I don't see myself getting impatient and giving up anytime soon.

Daily Entry: July 10th, 2020

Dream

I did remember my dream at the time.... I woke up in the middle of the night due to the dryer running. Thought I could sleep through it, but I was wrong.

The dream had a lot of content in it, but what I specifically remember is some sort of Avatar: the Last Airbender story, but there was a shape-shifter pretending to be Toph.

That's it.

Meditation (Day 36)

Played with the timing of my meditation this morning. Ate breakfast, drank latte, and took ADHD medication first. Did this mostly because I woke up late, but also that I've noticed being hungry during the sit a couple times and wondered how not having that feeling would affect things.

Overall, went fine. Still in stage 3. Forgetting the breath maybe once or twice during the sit. It slides from focus of attention to conscious awareness a lot, but that would be dealt with in stage 4. Found a pretty good posture at this point. A point on my shoulder gets a bit stiff, but that's it.

I think I'm pretty good at identifying various forms of dullness. It's the mind wandering that's the hard bit for me. Especially if I have some sort of obsession, like with work right now there's a pretty addicting task to work on. I can find myself thinking about it when it's not the time.

This sort of thing though continues to prove the value of meditation, I think. Not being able to stop thinking about a thing is a recipe for burnout, I believe. Giving it its own time and keeping it there will prove very valuable, and is in line with my goals and my theme ("practice intentionality").

Blog Progress for the Day

I will not be doing any blog stuff today. Woke up late, as mentioned, and there's a lot of work I want to do, and I'm pretty sure already not enough time today to do it. So, I'll make some more time by cutting a few things here and there.

Daily Entry: July 9th, 2020

Meditation (Day 35)

This morning's sit was hard. Probably forgot the breath quite a few times, though about 30 minutes in things started to settle. Managed to still get to stage 4 for a bit with a bit of vigilant introspective awareness.

Still gave me that very solid awake feeling by the end.

Had a very interesting moment where I noted how my want to look at the timer was like the want to scratch an itch. "Even if I look," I told myself, "a new desire to look, just as strong as before, will show up shortly after." That worked, and I didn't look. But then, later, a strong desire to scratch an itch just under my nose started growing. I resisted, but then the desire to look at the timer came to me again. I chuckled at how similar the two feelings were. Eventually, I gave in and looked at the timer (there was a minute and a half left in the meditation).

I only meant to look at the timer, but I noticed that at the same time I scratched the itch under my nose. What a marvelous series of events. Worth the breaking of the stillness. Perhaps it'll help me stay still next time.

Blog Progress for the Day

I think all the content I want is writtend down. Tomorrow, I'll read over what I've got, maybe note some more things I want to write, and maybe start the editing process.

Sunday still looking plausible.

Something I'll look out for is being overtly critical and also trying to cram too much in. I'm not aiming for a good blog post, I'm trying to build the habits that will lead to regular blog posts, which with experience and deliberate practice could lead to quality blog posts.

At some point I'll share the posts, too, I think, but for now I'll just publish them to an area and see what happens.

Daily Entry: July 8th, 2020

Meditation (Day 34)

I achieved a significant quieting of the mind today. My breathe slowed to the point of my needing to focus significantly to feel its sensation at my nose. Stage 3 (overcoming forgetting) is going well. I believe I never forgot the breath today, and I managed to invoke introspective attention at some key moments. When the mind got really quiet, I had some solid stage 4 (continous attention and overcoming gross distraction and strong dullness) with a good amount of continous introspective attention.

If by Sunday I have managed to never forget the breath, I'll consider stage 3 truly mastered, and start working towards stage 4 mastery (gross distraction and strong dullness no longer occurs) and playing in stage 5 (increasing mindfulness).

I own The Mind Illuminated now, and have it in my weekly review checklist to refer to relevant sections of it. Will want to read the next chapter soon, as well.

Blog Progress for the Day

Just wrote a couple sentences today. I have a couple more things to write, and then the editing process will begin. Mainly, I want to go over my experience for the first month, and the side-effects I've experienced, and how confident I am that it was meditation (not perfectly confident, but reasonably so).

Seems plausible that I can have it "published" this Sunday. Though, I may use the draft being "ready for publication" as an excuse to update how this whole blog setup works (there's a proper way to use ghost.js and how I currently do it is not it).

Daily Entry: July 7th, 2020

Dream

I was in a hypnagogic version of the compound I lived at in Tucson. Our dog Daysha (who passed away years ago) was acting stangely, and pooping very strange-shaped things. She ended up disappearing and we couldn't find her.

Meditation (Day 33)

Resisted looking at the timer the whole meditation today. Working on my neck posture still but I think I'm close to getting it. Didn't forget the breath at all today, I don't think. Managed a good system for invoking introspective attention (whenever I swallow). After the first 20 minutes of it, it felt like I had a good amount of vigilant introspective awareness as well.

Still had a fair amount of gross distractions take attention away from the breath (though the breath never also left awareness). Had some progressive subtle dullness at moments (a tell being that my vision blurs a bit).

Blog Progress for the Day

Got a good 30 minutes of writing in. Filling it up with a lot of good stuff, I think, though I believe heavy editing of the overall structure will be in order. Perhaps it'll be ready for editing by this weekend, though? This might mean "blogpost a week" could well be possible.

We'll see.

Daily Entry: July 6th, 2020

Another thing I'll be using this log for is for tagging purposes. I'll tag what I actually did in the day. This may prove useful because I often plan things in my timeblock that I don't end up doing, and that'd make searching for the days I did it hard in notion.

Might also be pretty easy for scripting purposes.

Meditation (Day 32)

40 minutes went well today! I did give in to the urge to look at the timer 1 minute and 20 seconds before the end of the meditation, but otherwise it was good. I think stage 3 (invoking introspective attention) does indeed need some work, but also trying stage 4 (making introspective attention continuous) is something I can work on as well.

I went ahead and bought The Mind Illuminated (for Kindle). It's going to be a solid reference book. For example, it'll be good to revisit the chapters on stage 3 and stage 4, as I've been in there for a while and so there might be something I've forgotten that will jump out at me on reread.

Dream

I had the dream upon waking up, and tried to narrate it back to myself. Perhaps I should have done it out loud. It is gone now.... Too bad.

Blog Progress for the Day

The first post I'm working on is "An Introduction to Meditation by a Beginner". It is an interesting process returning to a bit of writing each day. Right now, I'm focusing on adding content, and maybe organizing it a bit, but not editing or deleting anything.

At some point I'll have to decide there's enough content and work on editing it, though. And then just publish it. I think I'll create a /blog area of the site.

Daily Entry: July 5th, 2020

So! Today's the day I try to do some more organized writing that isn't simple stream of consciousness like this writing here. Which does still leave me with a feeling that I still want to write here.

Oh, yeah! I think timeblock should live in notion as well, now. I'll delete the one above (it may be gone now) and put it in notion.

....

Done.

Huh. These are going to be tiny posts now. Probably going to feel weird. I think that's fine?

These logs will now become daily snapshots into my thinking that don't belong in some draft of some blog post or something. This will see an evolution of things. Every once in a while I will stumble upon something that belongs in a blog post, copy the thinking I've already done to some blog draft, and continue it there.

This can still be a place for dreams, as well! Though I will also save them in my notion in an organized place, because I do have a fantasy project that involves having access to a lot of dreams.

Meditation (Day 31)

Today I was supposed to increase to 40 minutes, and technically I did, but it was a very undisciplined meditation. Perhaps 20 minutes of it was proper meditation. I will avoid repeating the mistakes of today, which were:

  • needing to go to the bathroom and deciding to meditate in the bathroom instead of resolving to start over
  • needing to do an eye mask for ten minutes and including that in the meditation (instead of doing it separately and taking it as an opportunity for more meditation if desired)

For 20 minutes, though, I stayed reasonably still and focused pretty well on the meditation object. I feel like maybe I'm actually still in stage 3 (overcome forgetting) with bouts of stage 4 (overcome gross distraction and strong dullness). So I may start with stage 3 intention for a bit (invoke introspective attention regularly, before forgetting the breath, to catch distractions before they lead to mind-wandering and forgetting).

I'm proud, also, that I still tried and didn't cancel the meditation, and I still got a lot out of it, but know I can do better and get more. There's always another try tomorrow, where I can follow-thru on the whole session.

Dream

In my dream, I was flying on a large airplane, and in the row I was in I apparently knew everyone. We were being entitled little brats and demanding things from the staff, and when we didn't get them, stealing them. I kept insisting to my friends to stop, but they went ahead anyways, and eventually one got caught stealing a bottle of alcohol.

He tried to hide it in a cabinet, and I tried to warn him not to hide it there, and when they searched it it was full of stolen goods, that I apparently stole. To make sure he wasn't blamed, I confessed. It seemed the reason I didn't want them to steal wasn't because I wasn't against it, but that I didn't want attention drawn to us because I had already stolen quite a bit.

We started to unload all of our stolen goods and give them backe, and apparently there were freezer drawers under our seatr where I had stashed a bunch of cheese pizzas. Which was weird to me, because I couldn't eat them as I'm fully vegan.

That's when I woke up.