Let’s get some things straight before we start. By meditation, I’m talking mostly about mindfulness meditation: Concentrating on what you are doing. It may be the movements of tai chi, or the feel of your breath, or the sound of music. What I’m not talking about is seeing visions, taking the poetry as literal truth, or anything that could be described as ‘guided.’
Lawrence LeShan, in the book How to Meditate, describes a very common problem. As he put it, in the Republic, Plato talks about the three kinds of men, the producers, guardians, and the famous philosopher-kings, and how they are represent different parts of the individual. In the Taoist tradition, the sages spoke of stoves, organs, and hot and cold energies. The Greeks did not ask Plato where the little men were in the body, but the Taoist acolytes asked the sages (and themselves) what was the nature of the hot and cold qi, and where could this stove be found in the body? “They confused poetry for literal truth.”
LeShan, for the most part, doesn’t. He does talk about the dangers of makyo (distractions and emotional delusions, would probably be the best way to put it) and other pitfalls. He makes an attempt at systemizing the various meditative systems of the world, noting their similarities, especially once you start talking to experienced meditators, and possible effects on a healthy person (insofar as scientific research allowed him at the time). Which is why I’m going to be using his book as my main guide in this particular field. It’s the least woo-woo approach I can think of.
And he starts out in a place I highly recommend for everyone, probably one of the first technologies developed by humankind for any purpose: anapana, or breath watching.
This. Shit. Is. Hard.
I once spent two weeks on top of a rainy mountain in central California, sitting and doing nothing but watching my breath for eighteen hours a day. I was exhausted at the end of each day. I intend to start at ten minutes a day, this time around, and work my way up to thirty minutes.
LeShan outlines different paths, or sets, of meditation depending on one’s personality and inclinations. Because of my focus this time around, I’ve chosen what he calls “the path of the intellect.” It starts with anapana, before adding One-Pointedness (focusing on a single object, external or internal) after three weeks, and hub-and-spokes meditation (choosing a single object and briefly exploring concepts directly linked to it before returning) three weeks after that. I’m a bit slow and I have trouble with anapana, so I may move on to one of the other meditative techniques LeShan describes after a month or six weeks, depending on how I feel.
Why would I do this?
Leaving aside (as we are) the supposed spiritual effects, meditation has a scientifically-proven beneficial effect on stress, flow, and visual perception. Unfortunately, I am not at all sure how to demonstrate any of that in front of a camera. However, recent studies point to mindfulness meditation actually raising attention spans, and improving concentration. J. J. Gibbs, in his slim little volume Dancing With Your Books, quotes LeShan’s results of meditation as being (in part) “a greater efficiency and enthusiasm in daily life,”
Much of the work of any form of meditation is in learning to do one thing at a time: if you are thinking about something to be just thinking of it and nothing else; if you are dancing to be just dancing and not thinking about your dancing. This kind of exercise certainly produces more efficiency at anything we do rather than less.
Tuning and training the mind as the athlete tunes and trains the body is one of the primary aims of all forms of meditation. This is one of the basic reasons that this discipline increases efficiency in everyday life.
For this one, along with the other “Before” videos, I will take a three minute video of myself concentrating on an external focus (specifically, a Latin textbook). My body language should give away how much I’m paying attention. I will take another such video at the end of the first month (when I wrap up with petit perception), and then another at the end of the course. If any Home Game players have a better suggestion, show me and we’ll do it together. You’ll get an awesome secret prize.
A full PDF of my (proposed!) meditation program is available here.