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On Music and Meditation

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What if you meditated while listening to music?

Wouldn’t it be distracting?

Depending on the music, it can serve as background, subtly influencing your emotional state, or as challenge, training against distractions.

Alternatively, you can make the music the very focus of meditation – the anchor. You can turn the musical experience into a loving grateful meditation.

On letting go

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I remember to let go?”

“Connect it with your breath.

Let go with every mindful breath.

Values Thinking

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is Values Thinking?”

“Knowing what your values are is not enough.

Every value is a practice

Let’s say in a certain situation you can practice a specific value. I call this an OTPOpportunity to Practice

An important part of the practice is noticing the opportunity.

To notice the opportunity, the value must be active in your mind.”

“How do you make it active?”

“By thinking about it. This is an instance of priming.

To notice the opportunity to practice any value, your values as a system must be active in your mind.

Think in values. Actively evaluate everything in terms of your values.

Think of your values often.

Constantly ask yourself:

What values can I practice in this context?
What values can I practice now?

What values could I have practiced?

I call all these practices combined, Values Thinking.”

On Centering

The ancestor of every action is a thought. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize my centering practice?”

“You initiate and guide your practice with thoughts expressed as meaningful words – I call them word-thoughts

In attempting to optimize the process, you’re essentially asking:

When centering, what do I want to think?

You’re creating an optimal sequence of word-thoughts.”

“I have a tendency to overcomplicate it and create too long a sequence.”

“Make simplicity your mantra. Make the process three steps at most.

I call the first item of the sequence, the access-point. Make the access-point something deeply meaningful to you. Your highest value, your Center.

What is your Center?”

“Love.”

“That is your access-point.

Whenever you initiate the centering practice, think Love.

Let’s make it a three-step process.

What do you want the next two steps to be?”

“Breathing, and a body check.”

“So we have a sequence:

Love
Breathing
Body Check

This is the macro-sequence. Every item of the sequence can itself be a micro-sequence.

For instance, you can just breathe. But you can make it more powerful by smiling as you breathe and thinking ‘Peace’ –  the beautiful practice you’ve learned from Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Se we have a micro-sequence:

(Conscious) Breathing
– Smile
– Peace

What are the key aspects of the body check?”

“Noticing and adjusting my posture, noticing tension, accepting, and letting go.”

“So we have another micro-sequence:

Body Check
– Posture
– Tension
— Accept
— Let go

Visually, the process looks something like this:

Breathing, body check, posture and tension are essentially self-awareness practice.”

Impromptu Meditation

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What do you mean by impromptu meditation?”

“Impromptu meditation is an unplanned meditation that can be done at any time, anywhere, improv style.”

“Is that even possible?”

“It requires some mental magic.

We all form a default mental image of the minimum length a meditation session is supposed to have. I like to think of it as our default unit of practice. The larger the size of the unit, the less flexible it is. If my unit is 5 minutes long and I only have 1 minute, I’m unable to practice. 
This is a top-down process. I’m metaphorically trying to fit something into a small space.

For maximum flexibility, the unit needs to be smaller. I call the smallest atomic unit of practice micro-meditation. A micro-meditation is one embodied breath (EBreath [<link; medium read]). 
This is a bottom-up process. I’m metaphorically filling up the available space, however small it is.”

“Like water.”

“Indeed.

So impromptu-meditation requires two things:
– a mental structure: the micro-meditation model
– a mental attitude: the Improviser mindset / model

Project Inventorying Habits

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I measure progress?”

“There are many metrics you can use. 
One of them is Identity [<link; medium read].
Another one is Productivity [<link; medium read].

Another one is Habits.

In an important sense, habits are the fundamental unit of Growth. They automate behavior, making it effortless, which frees mental-space and energy.

The Growth process is both additive and subtractive. As concerns habits, it involves two aspects:

Habit-Making: creating habits (Additive)
Habit-Breaking: eliminating habits (Subtractive)

All the habits you have created and eliminated over the years have led to where you are today. That’s why I like to call habits ‘the building-blocks of Fate’.

The problem with habits is that, once installed, they tend to disappear from Awareness. They become invisible. I find it useful to make them visible again. I call this process Habit Awareness

Habit Awareness: the meta-habit of bringing habits back into Awareness”

“Why do you find it useful to bring habits back into Awareness?”

“Part of it is to counter the tendency to take them for granted. Becoming aware of your habits opens the opportunity to appreciate them (Gratitude practice).

Part of it is that habits are resources. You can use them as anchors (reminders) and triggers for installing other habits.

I’ve started recently creating an inventory of all my habits. Both big and small. Both those I’ve created and those I’ve eliminated over the course of my life. The list is far from finished, but it already offers a beautiful glimpse of my growth trajectory and serves as a vivid reminder of how far I’ve come.”

On Presence and Meditation 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I practice Presence?”

“The goal is for it to become a habit.

Use James Clear’s four rules as a guide.

Make it obvious. (Cue)
Make it attractive. (Craving)
Make it easy. (Response)
Make it satisfying. (Reward)”

“How can I make it easy?”

“As we’ve talked before [<link; medium read], the Meditation practice is the fundamental unit of the Presence practice. Thinking of the Presence practice in terms of rep(etition)s, it consists of ‘meditation-reps‘, and every meditation-rep consists of what I called ‘attentional-reps‘.

Let’s turn our attention to Meditation.

There’s two ways you can structure it:

By focusing on time. eg ‘Meditate for 5 minutes.’ 

By focusing on breaths. eg ‘Meditate for 5 breaths.'”

“How about focusing on activity? Performing an activity as meditation.
eg ‘eating-meditation’, or ‘dish-washing-meditation’, or ‘shower-meditation’.”

“The idea of making it easy is to make it too small to fail, to ensure consistency of practice. To do that, you need scalable structures, structures of adjustable length. You need to be able to identify the smallest possible unit – the ‘atom‘, so to speak. 

The atom of the Meditation practice is 1 breath. I call it the 1-breath meditation.

Not only is it doable anywhere at any time, but it also incorporates the breath into the practice, which is a powerful tool on its own.”

“By why focus on time at all, and not just on breaths?”

“There’s a Buddhist meditation practice – which I know from Mark Divine’s book Unbeatable Mind – of counting to 10 breaths. Whenever you notice your attention has wandered, you start back from zero.

There’s two principles at work here: mindful breaths, and counting breaths. We could call mindful breaths quality reps. These are the only ones worth counting.

I find counting breaths very useful, because it’s a way to assess how well you’re doing, which allows you to practice more deliberately. Ideally, count using your fingers, not mentally.

As long as you’re counting breaths, focusing on time works just as well.

There’s three ways you can go about it.

You can count to a set number. Meditate for x breaths. This can take a long or short time, based on the chosen number, and how well you’re doing.

You can count to a set time. Meditate for y minutes. Get as many mindful reps in as you can in that time-frame. It can be 5 minutes (5-minute meditation), it can even be just 1 minute (1-minute meditation).

You can count to a set number and a set time. Meditate for x breaths or y minutes, whichever comes first.

On Presence and Beauty

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I beautify any moment?”

Shine the light of consciousness on it.

Modular Meditation

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“One of the biggest stumbling blocks when trying to initiate an action is getting started.

I like to think of it in terms of ‘mental chunking‘. The larger a chunk you mentally represent an action as, the harder an obstacle it seems to overcome, so the harder it is to get started. Human beings seem to have an uncanny ability to create and exaggerate mental obstacles for themselves.

Building on that, what’s the difference between a 20-minute block of time and four 5-minute block of time? On the surface, there isn’t any. But in terms of mental chunking, the difference is huge.

This can be used strategically.”

“How?”

Think in 5-minute time blocks.

There are several benefits to it.

Let’s take meditation. The small chunks make it more likely to initiate the practice. The end of a 5-minute block can serve as a reminder to bring your wandering attention back to your ‘anchor’, your point of focus.”

“Like a ‘backup anchor’.”

“Yes.

Focusing on meditation as a practice, you can (metaphorically) think of the blocks as rep[etition]s. This can give a better sense of progress: ‘I’ve completed one more rep’. If your attention was completely off focus during a rep, if time allows, you can squeeze one more rep in. It’s also a way to create small wins throughout the day.

For me however, the most important benefit is that you can make each 5-minute block themed. For instance, you can have one dedicated to affirmations, one to gratitude, etc. You can think of them as modules. Even better, you can think of them as reusable modules, which you can combine and play with to create beautiful structures.

For instance you can alternate still and moving meditation blocks, creating a beautiful oscillation. Or you can have a balancing-meditation block, followed by tree-climbing-meditation block, followed by one whose theme is contemplation of Beauty.”

“What if I wanted to use 10-minute blocks?”

“The length of the blocks is not set in stone. It’s just one more parameter to play and experiment with.”

Macro Meditation

It’s all Meditation.


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What is macro meditation?

The essence of meditation lies in self-compassion and kind acceptance. Noticing your attention has wandered, and gently bringing it back to your point of focus.

The same principle can be metaphorically (and pragmatically) applied at the life macro level. Noticing you have wandered from the Path, and gently bringing yourself back to it.

I like to call these micro- and macro-meditation.

The initial quote linguistically encodes this idea, and I use it as a mantra to invoke it when the situation calls for it.

Also, every day can be thought of as a macro meditation.

I like Leo Gura’s concept of ‘the waking daze‘, the auto-pilot mode we’re in most of the time, and his distinction between low- and high-consciousness.

Just like in meditation the aim is to maintain your point of focus for as long as possible, in the day-level macro meditation, the aim is to maintain the high-consciousness state for as long as possible throughout the day.

What is the point of focus for your macro meditation?

Love.