On Meditation and The Meaning of Existence

I have been reading about this new trend in an old practice called Mindfulness. It seems to be based on Buddhist meditation practices which help calm one’s mind and focus on the present. I think there’s value to Mindfulness and meditation practices because our culture overloads us with information and stimulation of the senses. To sit and contemplate one’s existence is a positive thing. I have been reading about this new trend in an old practice called Mindfulness. It seems to be based on Buddhist meditation practices which help calm one’s mind and focus on the present. I think there’s value to Mindfulness and meditation practices because our culture overloads us with information and stimulation of the senses. To sit and contemplate one’s existence is a positive thing.

But, while I think meditation has many benefits, I have a problem with some of the promises of “Mindfulness.” There seems to be a strain of thinking that suggests Mindfulness will help you give meaning to your life. I also notice that some definitions of Mindfulness use the term “present moment.” This is an odd idea because it’s impossible to focus on the present moment. As soon as you reach out to grasp it, it becomes the past moment. This is the slipperiness of time – it can’t be stopped or slowed down.

These two ideas seem to me to be a reaction to the fear of the passage of time. I don’t think the purpose of meditation is to extend the present moment or to give meaning to it. Let me explain.

mind·ful·ness /ˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/
noun
1.  the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  “their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
2.  a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

We live in the present, but we are always making a bargain with the future. For example, consider a daily task list. Daily lists are about planning the immediate future. The lists are made so that I will do what I need to do that day plus what I want to do. I will do the laundry in the morning so that I will have time in the evening to read. I will make a grocery list today, so that when I go to the store tomorrow, I won’t waste time and money when I get there. In this way we have expectations about the day. But, at any time, an unexpected event, such as a car accident or an unexpected visitor, can upset the day’s plans and the daily list is forgotten.

And it’s not only daily plans we entrust to the future. We have a vision of our future life in 5 or 10 or 50 years. These form our hopes and dreams of where we will be in the future. Will we have a family life or an adventurous life or a successful career? And this creates anxiety in our present life because we know from experience in making plans from day to day and from witnessing other people’s lives that there is no guarantee our lives will turn out as we expect the future is veiled to our mind.

So, what to do? We need to look at the accumulative effect of time. Returning to the example of the daily list, we understand that if we have been diligent about daily work in the past that missing a day or two is not going to make a dramatic difference. We can make up the lost tasks on other days. If the interruption is more serious, such as an accident, then we know our daily routine is going to change in more drastic ways.

The same thing applies for longer stretches of time. If, for example, you decide to have a career then you must train for it. You may have to delay one job for another. You may have to go to school. In short, you sacrifice the present for the future.

If you try to hold onto the present, you will always fear the unknowable future.  Our future is made up of unforeseeable events, but it is also made up of the plans and sacrifices we make in each present moment.

When I was about the same age as my third child is now (30 years old), my husband and I changed our minds about having more children. We had originally decided that the two children born to us were enough. But, we moved to Texas from New York and I had quit working to be home with the children. We realized we had time to have more children and as we had no other family in Texas, we thought it might be good to reconsider having more children.

I remember being pregnant with my third child, a daughter, while watching the two older children playing. I remember thinking that they were doing so many things on their own and babies take up nearly every free moment of your life. Why was I starting from zero with another child? I put it out of my mind as the choice had already been made. And it turned out to be a happy choice. There would be three more children to come after her.

There is an experience in old age that is called “feeling the weight of one’s years”. When I was middle aged, I thought back to my 20s. Two decades had gone by – but it while that is a lot of years, it did not seem so long in the past. I also could see a future ahead of me. The children were young and I could see that my life was not finished. I could only understand “the weight of years” in theory. I had many more years ahead of me. It wasn’t until I reached my 60s, and my youngest child had left home that I finally felt the weight of years. At that time, I felt more that I lived a full life. Not everyone gets the joy of experiencing old age, so I feel doubly blessed in that. Perhaps, if I am lucky enough to live another 20 or 30 years, I will have an even greater appreciation.

If someone had told me when I was 20 that I would end up in Texas (I’m from New York) with six children and no career when I was 60, I would have said that was crazy talk. Now, at 62, as I hold my third grandchild, my third child’s first baby, I can see that the sacrifices I made over the years were a blessing in ways I could never imagine in my youth.

So, we can’t see the fullness of our lives until many years – innumerable present moments – are behind us. It is only then that we can truly understand the entirety of the moments that make up our lives.

My point is this: Meditation does not help you give meaning to the present. You already have meaning. Your existence has meaning. The understanding of the meaning of your existence grows over time. In other words, meditation can help you appreciate meaning in your life, but it does not create it.

So, do not be afraid to let go of the present, but fully embrace your life so that you can walk boldly into your future.

Until next time. 😊

Cancel Culture: How to build a Tranquil Spirit in a Chaotic world.

There are times we don’t make progress in our work because something in our personal lives is holding us back. We may not feel worthy of the dreams you have for yourself. Even if we realize that this is the starting point of many heroic stories you find it difficult to place yourself in those stories. So, this is something we must begin to gain control of in ourselves. Our own dignity is worth cultivating, and that must begin within each of us.

I believe that there is nothing that can happen to us in life that can keep us from “starting over.” I don’t mean physically. Aging and any physical damage to our bodies are obstacles to be overcome. What I am talking about are things that damage our psyche and our spirit.

Especially now, in the new “Cancel Culture,” where people are bullied out of their jobs and are often cut off from family and friends there is so much fear of being singled out for humiliation. Many of us, who are of the baby Boomer generation, feel fortunate that the worst antics of our youth reside in our friends’ memories and not on video online somewhere. Still, we are all vulnerable. Our words can be taken out of context. We could be caught on cell phone video at our worst. We are all worried about being judged in a bad light.

Life, even at its worse, goes on. Even at our lowest point, we must move and think and start again. It may a great effort, but it must be made every day.

We must have faith we can return to life, though it may be different than it was before. The human spirit can overcome terrible events. It’s important that we keep that thought close to us when anxiety threatens to overwhelm our minds.

If there is something that you have done that is wrong and continue to do, even if you were compelled to do it because of your circumstances, then you must struggle to change that part of your life. If you can find help then get it.

Continue reading “Cancel Culture: How to build a Tranquil Spirit in a Chaotic world.”

Becoming a Writer: From elusive thought to the written page…

Why is it your best thinking is done in the shower or driving to work, but when you sit down to write your mind is strangely, stubbornly blank?

Where did those thoughts go? How do you get them back so that you can write them down?

Our brains are divided between two operating modes. We have two hemispheres in our brains. We, the general public, call them the right and left sides of the brain. In popular culture, our artistic half resides on the right side and the calculating, logical side resides in the left. This is not quite correct as neuroscientists have recently discovered. Though, it is true that one side of the brain tends to dominate certain activities and the other different activities that roughly correspond to a “creative” side and “deductive” side, the communication between both hemispheres of the brain is greater than what we used to think.

When you are doing those mundane, mostly automatic tasks such as taking a shower or driving a familiar route to work, your right side (where wordless, creative thought goes on) is free to wander around in your consciousness. Those wonderful, swirling thoughts begin to stray into your left side and take the form of pictures, ideas, and conversational forms. In effect, they surface from your unconscious to your conscious mind.  So, what happens when you sit down to write and those thoughts scatter? It’s because your critical, conscious mind takes over again. It says to your whole brain: “Here is a task that I must concentrate on” and banishes the arty, unconscious part of the brain to the recesses of your mind, effectively cutting you off from the unconscious mind where those thoughts originated. This response, from what I have read, is an evolutionary development that is a normal survival response. So, is there a way to coax those thoughts back from your unconscious to your conscious mind in such a way that they can be expressed concretely?

Turns out that you can….if you follow the instructions in the book, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.

[Please note that I get a commission if you use the Amazon link. There is also a free .pdf copy of it here: Becoming A Writer ]

AmazonBook Description: Becoming a Writer remains evergreen decades after it was first written. Brande believed passionately that although people have varying amounts of talent, anyone can write. She also insists that writing can be both taught and learned. This is Dorothea Brande’s legacy to all those who have ever wanted to express their ideas in written form. A sound, practical, inspirational and charming approach to writing, it fulfills on finding ‘the writer’s magic.’

 

I was surprised to see that even back then the understanding of the divided brain was not so much different than we understand it today. Truthfully, we still don’t know much about the brain and our ideas of the structure and biological processes change over time, but the basic idea that our brain attends to problems in a divided manner remains the same. Exactly how it works is something left to science. Why it works is best left to philosophy. Getting it to work? Fortunately, for us, exactly how the brain operates is not necessary to understand how to train it to help us get the creative side of the brain and the stubborn, skeptical part of our brain to communicate more effectively.  It simply takes a good teacher and the willingness to practice and modify the practice to fit your needs.

I’ve had this same problem for so many years, and the past year seemed to be the worst. I wouldn’t have believed there was a way to get at these thoughts. I almost gave up. But, in just the first week of practicing the lessons from this book, I wrote down a dream, a number of ideas for essays, descriptive writing – which has always been hard for me, and a piece of dialog that I thought I had lost forever.

Keep in mind that what this book promises is help in recalling your thoughts in a way that you can dump them onto the page. What comes next is the actual craft of writing. The ideas and words that come still need to be shaped into a finished form. But, if you are like me, the first block to writing will be overcome. It is a remarkable feeling of liberation.

The blog I found this book on is a writing blog called: Writing About Writing (And Occasionally Some Writing) And I am eternally grateful to the blog’s author, Chris Brecheen, for bringing it to my attention.

Until next time…😊

 

New Beginnings

To My Readers:

The world becomes more divided each day. It is difficult to decide how to tell what the truth of a matter is, much less what to do about it. We are continuously overloaded with information from many sources.

The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it doesn’t tell us which information is correct and it can’t tell us how to live a good life. We long for a kind of “evaluating science”, a method to cut through all the conflicting facts and opinions to find a way for ourselves and those we care about.

On this blog, I want to look at the confused world we live in today and try to make sense of it, at least enough to make life a bit more stable. We need a place where we can stand calmly in the center of the storm and push back against all the swirling problems that threaten to overwhelm us.

It’s a question that I’ve been engaged in as a personal journey for most of my life. Fortunately, I have found some wonderful guides along the way and here I hope to share some of their knowledge and wisdom to anyone who happens to stumble across this way.

I do not have a publishing schedule yet. And, I’m still in the process of setting up this website, so bear with me. Thanks! 🙂 Liz