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meditation

I've been sort of into meditation for a while. I'm not going to push it as changing your life; I don't know that it's changed my life, or had any effect other than giving me a way to break negative thoughts in the moment. Not that I've done it very regularly; OTOH, studies claim to find medium-term benefits from even short practice. And having a way to break negative thoughts is actually pretty useful by itself. That said, Western studies do claim decent evidence for meditation helping treat anxiety and depression (or at least reducing depressive relapses.) They also claim many other things, but small sample size and file drawer effect justify skepticism.

I don't see a need for 'woo', even as metaphors. It makes sense to me that if you practice focusing your attention and discarding unwanted thoughts, which seem common to nearly all the multitudinous kinds of meditation, then you'll get better at focusing your attention and discarding unwanted thoughts. Also we know the body can influence mood: you smile when you're happy, but become a bit happier when you smile; you breathe slowly when calm, but calm down when your force yourself to breathe slowly. And a lot of meditations are about attending to if not controlling breath, too.

I did find, today, that very brief meditations -- 5 breaths or 'Oms' -- helped me refocus on reading some documentation I'm entirely unthrilled about reading.

In skimming through various articles, a few kinds jumped out at me.

* Breath-attention, supposedly distinct from 'mindfulness meditation' but I couldn't tell a difference. You focus on your breathing. Maybe you count durations, or try to control how you breathe, or maybe you just pay attention to how it feels. You'll have other thoughts, you note that you're having other thoughts, and go back to attending to your breathing without feeling guilty about having other thoughts.

* Mantra: you focus on reciting a mantra. I like 'Om'. Without needing any mysticism, it's a nice resonant sound, especially if you try to say it from deep in your chest, that can easily drive out other thoughts like a ringing gong or bell. Repeat the stuff above about labeling extraneous thoughts and going back to your mantra.

* Loving-kindness. I haven't tried this much. You dwell on wishing the best, or something, for yourself, your friends, acquaintances, people you hate... It sounds foofy at odds with my personality, but I can imagine how practicing feeling positive might get you better at feeling positive. Alternately, it at least gives you a period in which you're *not* dwelling on negative emotions that stress and anger you. There's also the gratitude variant, where you focus on things to feel grateful for.

* This thing I may have invented since I've found nothing like it. I could call it external mindfulness, maybe. (Edit: or mindful seeing.) The idea is to try to be attentive to everything around you. You'll fail, at least if you do it walking as I usually do, but the point is to saturate your attention with the current moment. I get started by trying to label everything I see, in detail, or else to imagine drawing it, particularly imagining tracing edges with my hand, which really means tracing them with my eyes. If you're *not* moving, then you can spend longer focusing on individual objects, staring at them until you've run out of detail. As an example, I was making dinner earlier, and there's a row of cups in my kitchen, but I went beyond "row of cups" to looking at each cup in turn, noting the color, reading any text, noticing anything else odd about them.

It disrupts your other thoughts since it demands so much attention. As a bonus, you're more likely to notice odd things about your environment, since you're actually paying attention to things rather than letting them blur by.

If you search "walking meditation" you find descriptions that are almost completely opposite: focusing on the movement of your body, the soles of your feet, the motion of your pelvis, and such, preferable in a small safe area so you won't hurt yourself when you stumble from paying so much attention to how you walk. I haven't really tried it and think I'd prefer my "focus on everything" method.

You'll note I don't say anything about posture or position. I suspect those aren't important, unless you *want* to be focusing on maintaining a particular position; some people tell you about precise postures and breathing regimens, other say sitting or lying down is fine. I rather think that focusing on *something* is the only key element.

Disclaimer: non-spiritual atheist Westerner dabbling in readings and occasional practice.

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Damien Sullivan
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