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April 03,2020

by Efrén Poveda Garcia

Don’t Know What To Do? Know Thyself!

Did you really think I was being that pessimistic? Oh, no I wasn’t. You know me better than that!

Sorry if my last post in this journal (“Cabin Fever,” March 29) felt depressing. Sometimes, dear reader, the necessary space limitations for a piece like this make it difficult to express everything you intended in the beginning. Even more if you want the text to make some sense (not trying to imply it did…).

Daren Thomas

Basically, I listed a number of social factors (having to behave in positively sanctioned manners, formal and informal education based on discipline and results, the culture of commercials, the electronic blitz of banal distractions, etc.) that train our attention to be
“constantly oriented outwards”
in my attempt to explain the boredom and despair a part of the population experiences when having to stay home more than one day in a row.

I concluded that “we live oriented outwards. We are emotional illiterates. And this has the following (…) implications: First, our natural curiosity and creativity have been diminished. Numerous human beings have lacked the opportunity to discover their own interests, the things they could feel passionate about, what they want in life.

Second, we get bored because we don’t really know ourselves nor our potentialities. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t there. If we could access them, we would gladly engage in different individual activities instead of feeling empty while we scroll down our timelines. Perhaps we wouldn’t have enough time to get bored. And home isolation would cease to be a synonymous of disorientation.

Hamoock

Third, we get anxious due to disorientation, but also due to the fact that the removal of engaging stimuli from the outside opens a window through which all the unattended
processes within us peep out
. To express it differently, we make (superficial) contact with the blob of frustration and repressed emotions enmeshed within us through the years. And, oh, how horrible that feels.”

(You know I hate quoting myself…).

It is time now to lay my cards on the table. Here’s the confession that my aim from the beginning has been to encourage the practice of meditation, pompous as it may sound.

We must get closer to the essence of life, but be aware that it takes courage and strife.
Expand your mind, don't let it wither and die. Come on, meditate! Come on! Let’s contemplate.

Andy Bey

Yep, you’re right. The words in the latter paragraph are not mine, but a “remix” of those by jazz musician Andy Bey. I think they beautifully condense my main ideas.

NEGLECTING YOURSELF

In the West, meditation has often been confused with relaxation techniques. But what I (and Bey) have in mind is a very different thing. Buddhist or Zen meditation doesn’t intend to force you to "empty your mind" or to "imagine a point and stare at it." Rather, it is about increasing your attention to what’s inside yourself (sensations and emotions), this is, to the inner workings of your body. It is true that to do this you must calm down a bit and breathe deeply, but the goal is not to leave your mind blank. Nor to think (which is usually believed to be the opposite). The goal is to "observe" (contemplate…) your internal states, to notice them and recognise them and accept them whatever they are, to direct your attention inwards instead of outwards.

Mandala

According to this model of the mind, people who “think too much”, and even many of those usually described as introspective, are only in contact with (trapped by?) the outer layer of
their consciousness. The layer that is worried with regards to whatever happens or happened of might happen outside. The one where thought is in fact rumination (a useless loop of negative and self-destructive ideas the presupposition behind which is that solutions have to do only with external events –therefore implying in most cases an absence of possible solutions). The one that hides bare feelings like a curtain. These people, each of us at least in part, are still neglecting themselves.

I remember when I was recommended the practice of certain relaxation techniques, consisting on emptying my mind (which is impossible) and gradually relaxing different parts of my body. The result was terrifying anxiety. There was within me a clogged volcano, one
which wouldn’t go away no matter how much I pretended it didn’t exist. In fact, what the volcano needed was to be allowed to erupt.

And I wasn’t letting it erupt. I wasn’t even acknowledging its presence. I was repressing it. To me, the real world began in the surface of my skin. The real world was the outside world, the only thing I had been trained to perceive. And from the outside world came
the fear (of punishment, of rejection, of abandonment) that, according to this vision, makes us repress emotions, makes us hide them even from ourselves.
This is why many of the emotions we will find practicing mediation will come attached to fear. And, indeed, meditation will sometimes “feel” very bad. That’s why in the beginning “it takes courage and strife.”

NEVER BE BORED AGAIN

The kind of meditation I advocate aims to increase real awareness of our own emotions and help us deal with them. It helps us set devitalising emotions free so that they exhaust themselves. One’s mind, therefore, is not blank during meditation. It is empty of thoughts, but “contemplating” emotions.

Buddha

This is what nowadays is called mindfulness in countless book covers, a denomination originated as a semantic shift. Mindfulness is the English translation of sati, an ideal state of mind of great importance in Buddhist ancient writings. To achieve it, one can perform a series of techniques. Today, in the West, the techniques themselves are called mindfulness.

North-American professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn systematised the teachings regarding mindfulness in a specific therapy after separating it from religious elements. Right now, Kabat-Zinn’s method, backed up by scientific research, is being used in medical centres, hospitals and psychotherapy offices around the world. And, yes, the correct practice of mindfulness brings relaxation, although relaxation is not its main, nor its only, purpose. Relaxation is the result of emotional release, another result being states of mental clarity and activation (not to be confused with nervousness).

I believe that these days of isolation are a great opportunity to start (or continue with) the fascinating project of discovering ourselves and develop our emotional intelligence. In our progress, we will get rid of all kinds of limiting burdens while uncovering true sources of motivation and vitality. As long-time meditators know, consistent practice provides you with new interests and passions (maybe partly lost in regulated education), unleashes creativity (idem) and makes being alone “with yourself” something unproblematic, perhaps a blessing that allows you to keep increasing your self-awareness.

POLITICAL MINDFULNESS

I know that speaking of meditation can sound, as I said above, pompous. And that’s partly due to the fact that we see it as a pastime for wealthy posh people with too much free time. There’s also the association with a particular religion, but after Kabat-Zinn that’s no longer an excuse.

I am also aware that this kind of practice has been described more than once as self-centred or as a tool for capitalism to maintain its efficiency. These assertions are mistaken, if you ask me. In my experience, and as certain research corroborates, the consistent practice of meditation heightens our empathetic abilities. This is partly due to the fact that we’re less controlled by our fears (fear makes our self-centred, worried about our tiny selves) and have more “space” in our consciousness to see, to really see, the others.

lotus

As for the practice of mindfulness in some especially capitalist and highly-demanding workplaces, I find it likely that, in the beginning, such practice can help workers to release part of their tensions. As a consequence, they’ll have more energy and a greater capacity for focusing on their work. I think, however, that mindfulness is one of the most socially and politically revolutionary tasks we can undertake.

In an order where introspection is systemically hampered, practicing it can really make a difference. In fact, it is my belief (but also an idea implied by politicians, philosophers and social scientists who speak of alienation and false consciousness) that our lack of introspection favours the current state of affairs. Therapists, educators and scholars have highlighted the potential of mindfulness for liberating people from sedimented harmful prejudices instilled by culture and institutions. Again, I will use myself as an example.

I come from a low-income background, I am very critical of inequalities, I am a gay man, a feminist, a former volunteer in immigration assistance NGOs. When I started meditating, among the first emotions I found within me there was sexism, and classism, and racism, and,
yes, also what specialists call internalised homophobia. Not in vain, I had been raised in a society where explicit and implicit messages of such upsetting sorts are steadily served for children to absorb. Consciously (in my thoughts), I was a feminist and a proud defender of LGBTQ collectives, unconsciously (in a fraction of my guts), I wasn’t so convinced. Meditation helped me become a better person to others and to myself. It still does, in fact, for this process never ends. Furthermore, researchers in psychology and education have found in mindfulness a great tool for women to regain the sense of self-worth taken away from them. Feminist theorist Keya Maitra, on the other hand, has argued that meditation can help raise feminist consciousness in women as they confront their own prejudices about women in general and about themselves as women in particular.

Miracles E-20-7

Unfortunately, it will be impossible for many to find the time and place to engage in this practice (despite the fact that you need only ten minutes a day). In some homes there’s no room for the privacy and silence needed, and to-do lists are often too long, especially in the case of women. This is why, when the COVID-19 crisis is over, one of our priorities should be the inclusion of mindfulness in educative curricula so that everybody has the tools and opportunity to develop their emotional intelligence.

The states of mind of a large number of secluded citizens these days prove this need.

HOW TO START?

I usually recommend the short but wonderful books Mindfulness for Beginners and Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, by Kabat-Zinn himself. For a
deeper and detailed exploration of the relationships we have with our emotions, your book is Face to Face with Fear, by Krishnananda (Please, do not be misguided by the author’s name. He’s a psychiatrist with degrees from Harvard and California).

“Move straight ahead, people!”

(Listen to Andy Bey’s “Celestial Blues”here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0agx-dwrFE.
For the wonderful rework by The Avener, use this address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFtHY85UieM)

Image Credits

Illustration by Daren Thomas (https://realfunwow.com/, IG: realfunwow)

A man on a hammock in a balcony in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Lucas Jackson / Reuters.

Front cover of Andy Bey’s album Experience and Judgment

Tibetan Kalachakra Mandala (Source: http://www.handmadeexpo.com/client/?action=show_product_single&cid=396&scid=434&pid=15987).

Buddha between roots in Ayutthaya, Thailand: Photo by Ohm Kittipong on Unsplash

Lotus and Grasses, by Judith McMillan

Miracles of Each Moment E-20-7, by Kazuaki Tanahashi (https://www.brushmind.net/)

April 03,2020

by Efrén Poveda Garcia

Don’t Know What To Do? Know Thyself!

Did you really think I was being that pessimistic? Oh, no I wasn’t. You know me better than that!

Sorry if my last post in this journal (“Cabin Fever,” March 29) felt depressing. Sometimes, dear reader, the necessary space limitations for a piece like this make it difficult to express everything you intended in the beginning. Even more if you want the text to make some sense (not trying to imply it did…).

Daren Thomas

Basically, I listed a number of social factors (having to behave in positively sanctioned manners, formal and informal education based on discipline and results, the culture of commercials, the electronic blitz of banal distractions, etc.) that train our attention to be
“constantly oriented outwards”
in my attempt to explain the boredom and despair a part of the population experiences when having to stay home more than one day in a row.

I concluded that “we live oriented outwards. We are emotional illiterates. And this has the following (…) implications: First, our natural curiosity and creativity have been diminished. Numerous human beings have lacked the opportunity to discover their own interests, the things they could feel passionate about, what they want in life.

Second, we get bored because we don’t really know ourselves nor our potentialities. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t there. If we could access them, we would gladly engage in different individual activities instead of feeling empty while we scroll down our timelines. Perhaps we wouldn’t have enough time to get bored. And home isolation would cease to be a synonymous of disorientation.

Hamoock

Third, we get anxious due to disorientation, but also due to the fact that the removal of engaging stimuli from the outside opens a window through which all the unattended
processes within us peep out
. To express it differently, we make (superficial) contact with the blob of frustration and repressed emotions enmeshed within us through the years. And, oh, how horrible that feels.”

(You know I hate quoting myself…).

It is time now to lay my cards on the table. Here’s the confession that my aim from the beginning has been to encourage the practice of meditation, pompous as it may sound.

We must get closer to the essence of life, but be aware that it takes courage and strife.
Expand your mind, don't let it wither and die. Come on, meditate! Come on! Let’s contemplate.

Andy Bey

Yep, you’re right. The words in the latter paragraph are not mine, but a “remix” of those by jazz musician Andy Bey. I think they beautifully condense my main ideas.

NEGLECTING YOURSELF

In the West, meditation has often been confused with relaxation techniques. But what I (and Bey) have in mind is a very different thing. Buddhist or Zen meditation doesn’t intend to force you to "empty your mind" or to "imagine a point and stare at it." Rather, it is about increasing your attention to what’s inside yourself (sensations and emotions), this is, to the inner workings of your body. It is true that to do this you must calm down a bit and breathe deeply, but the goal is not to leave your mind blank. Nor to think (which is usually believed to be the opposite). The goal is to "observe" (contemplate…) your internal states, to notice them and recognise them and accept them whatever they are, to direct your attention inwards instead of outwards.

Mandala

According to this model of the mind, people who “think too much”, and even many of those usually described as introspective, are only in contact with (trapped by?) the outer layer of
their consciousness. The layer that is worried with regards to whatever happens or happened of might happen outside. The one where thought is in fact rumination (a useless loop of negative and self-destructive ideas the presupposition behind which is that solutions have to do only with external events –therefore implying in most cases an absence of possible solutions). The one that hides bare feelings like a curtain. These people, each of us at least in part, are still neglecting themselves.

I remember when I was recommended the practice of certain relaxation techniques, consisting on emptying my mind (which is impossible) and gradually relaxing different parts of my body. The result was terrifying anxiety. There was within me a clogged volcano, one
which wouldn’t go away no matter how much I pretended it didn’t exist. In fact, what the volcano needed was to be allowed to erupt.

And I wasn’t letting it erupt. I wasn’t even acknowledging its presence. I was repressing it. To me, the real world began in the surface of my skin. The real world was the outside world, the only thing I had been trained to perceive. And from the outside world came
the fear (of punishment, of rejection, of abandonment) that, according to this vision, makes us repress emotions, makes us hide them even from ourselves.
This is why many of the emotions we will find practicing mediation will come attached to fear. And, indeed, meditation will sometimes “feel” very bad. That’s why in the beginning “it takes courage and strife.”

NEVER BE BORED AGAIN

The kind of meditation I advocate aims to increase real awareness of our own emotions and help us deal with them. It helps us set devitalising emotions free so that they exhaust themselves. One’s mind, therefore, is not blank during meditation. It is empty of thoughts, but “contemplating” emotions.

Buddha

This is what nowadays is called mindfulness in countless book covers, a denomination originated as a semantic shift. Mindfulness is the English translation of sati, an ideal state of mind of great importance in Buddhist ancient writings. To achieve it, one can perform a series of techniques. Today, in the West, the techniques themselves are called mindfulness.

North-American professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn systematised the teachings regarding mindfulness in a specific therapy after separating it from religious elements. Right now, Kabat-Zinn’s method, backed up by scientific research, is being used in medical centres, hospitals and psychotherapy offices around the world. And, yes, the correct practice of mindfulness brings relaxation, although relaxation is not its main, nor its only, purpose. Relaxation is the result of emotional release, another result being states of mental clarity and activation (not to be confused with nervousness).

I believe that these days of isolation are a great opportunity to start (or continue with) the fascinating project of discovering ourselves and develop our emotional intelligence. In our progress, we will get rid of all kinds of limiting burdens while uncovering true sources of motivation and vitality. As long-time meditators know, consistent practice provides you with new interests and passions (maybe partly lost in regulated education), unleashes creativity (idem) and makes being alone “with yourself” something unproblematic, perhaps a blessing that allows you to keep increasing your self-awareness.

POLITICAL MINDFULNESS

I know that speaking of meditation can sound, as I said above, pompous. And that’s partly due to the fact that we see it as a pastime for wealthy posh people with too much free time. There’s also the association with a particular religion, but after Kabat-Zinn that’s no longer an excuse.

I am also aware that this kind of practice has been described more than once as self-centred or as a tool for capitalism to maintain its efficiency. These assertions are mistaken, if you ask me. In my experience, and as certain research corroborates, the consistent practice of meditation heightens our empathetic abilities. This is partly due to the fact that we’re less controlled by our fears (fear makes our self-centred, worried about our tiny selves) and have more “space” in our consciousness to see, to really see, the others.

lotus

As for the practice of mindfulness in some especially capitalist and highly-demanding workplaces, I find it likely that, in the beginning, such practice can help workers to release part of their tensions. As a consequence, they’ll have more energy and a greater capacity for focusing on their work. I think, however, that mindfulness is one of the most socially and politically revolutionary tasks we can undertake.

In an order where introspection is systemically hampered, practicing it can really make a difference. In fact, it is my belief (but also an idea implied by politicians, philosophers and social scientists who speak of alienation and false consciousness) that our lack of introspection favours the current state of affairs. Therapists, educators and scholars have highlighted the potential of mindfulness for liberating people from sedimented harmful prejudices instilled by culture and institutions. Again, I will use myself as an example.

I come from a low-income background, I am very critical of inequalities, I am a gay man, a feminist, a former volunteer in immigration assistance NGOs. When I started meditating, among the first emotions I found within me there was sexism, and classism, and racism, and,
yes, also what specialists call internalised homophobia. Not in vain, I had been raised in a society where explicit and implicit messages of such upsetting sorts are steadily served for children to absorb. Consciously (in my thoughts), I was a feminist and a proud defender of LGBTQ collectives, unconsciously (in a fraction of my guts), I wasn’t so convinced. Meditation helped me become a better person to others and to myself. It still does, in fact, for this process never ends. Furthermore, researchers in psychology and education have found in mindfulness a great tool for women to regain the sense of self-worth taken away from them. Feminist theorist Keya Maitra, on the other hand, has argued that meditation can help raise feminist consciousness in women as they confront their own prejudices about women in general and about themselves as women in particular.

Miracles E-20-7

Unfortunately, it will be impossible for many to find the time and place to engage in this practice (despite the fact that you need only ten minutes a day). In some homes there’s no room for the privacy and silence needed, and to-do lists are often too long, especially in the case of women. This is why, when the COVID-19 crisis is over, one of our priorities should be the inclusion of mindfulness in educative curricula so that everybody has the tools and opportunity to develop their emotional intelligence.

The states of mind of a large number of secluded citizens these days prove this need.

HOW TO START?

I usually recommend the short but wonderful books Mindfulness for Beginners and Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, by Kabat-Zinn himself. For a
deeper and detailed exploration of the relationships we have with our emotions, your book is Face to Face with Fear, by Krishnananda (Please, do not be misguided by the author’s name. He’s a psychiatrist with degrees from Harvard and California).

“Move straight ahead, people!”

(Listen to Andy Bey’s “Celestial Blues”here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0agx-dwrFE.
For the wonderful rework by The Avener, use this address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFtHY85UieM)

Image Credits

Illustration by Daren Thomas (https://realfunwow.com/, IG: realfunwow)

A man on a hammock in a balcony in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Lucas Jackson / Reuters.

Front cover of Andy Bey’s album Experience and Judgment

Tibetan Kalachakra Mandala (Source: http://www.handmadeexpo.com/client/?action=show_product_single&cid=396&scid=434&pid=15987).

Buddha between roots in Ayutthaya, Thailand: Photo by Ohm Kittipong on Unsplash

Lotus and Grasses, by Judith McMillan

Miracles of Each Moment E-20-7, by Kazuaki Tanahashi (https://www.brushmind.net/)