Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The past and the future, revisited

I just went back and read my "The past and the future" post. It was a lot more punchy to me when I wrote it (and read it) than it is now. I was in the zone then, but haven't meditated much since. The target audience is (people like) me today! That's ironic: the target audience is people who won't really "get" it.

With that in mind, I think I can translate. I'll try to make it shorter this time:

1) "Distraction" is a state of mind, and doesn't depend on what you're thinking about. When you're reading a book and start mind wandering, but your eyes keep scanning the page, you are distracted. Your mind is doing something, consciously, but you don't know it. Seriously, stop and digest that. WTF.

At some point you realize "oh, crap, I meant to be reading," and for that split second you are undistracted. Whatever you were thinking about during that reverie you can equally well think about in an undistracted way: just keep a constant vigilance on whatever is happening in your mind. If you were constantly vigilant while reading, you'd never wander.

2) You are probably distracted most of the time. Who cares? You care. What they call a "wandering mind" in that paper I call "distraction." They seem to think it has something to do with what you're thinking about. I posit that it does not, except for the lucky coincidence that when you're distracted you're very unlikely to be thinking about now, and conversely, most times you're not experiencing now you are distracted.

Those are "most times", not "all times." If you approximate and call it "all times", you get this sweet equivalence:

Distracted == not experiencing the now

It's not entirely true, but it's a fine first approximation. A second approximation would take into account that sometimes, you're nondistractedly planning for the future right now, but I won't go there. Now. (I also think they severely underestimate the prevalence of wandering. I would guess it's "almost all the time" for most people, including me right now.)

3) Nondistraction is epic. How so?
  • Life feels utterly free and full of possibility (i.e., blissful). When there's almost no nagging about the past or the future, there's very little to drag you down*. Yes, there are real problems in the world. Worrying is not part of the solution.
  • This does not stop you from getting stuff done. It's not like you say "well, life is perfect, I'm just going to sit here." Au contraire, you realize there's very little holding you back, in reality.
  • You can be a better person to others. During distraction, it may seem natural to lash out at others when you're cranky. With nondistraction, you can tame and/or shut down those cranky neurons before they do damage.
  • It's easier to forgive others. If your mission is to improve the world in any way, it's very useful to see compassionate solutions to problems instead of malicious ones. Even when the solution requires punishment or violence.
4) The only way (that I know of) to get there is to practice. How? Sit in a quiet room. Pay attention to your breath, and only your breath. Every time you notice yourself wandering, pat yourself on the back and get back to business. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Every "noticing" is simply you snapping into nondistraction from distraction. (I call this a "ping." Ping yourself. Ping your friends.) Do this 10 minutes a day for a week and see if life doesn't seem a bit more... real. Do it.

5) Even after reading this, you probably won't do it. Why the cynicism? Because I'm not doing it, despite writing about it. Then how do I know it's worth doing? Because every time I do it, I find out the same thing: so long as my basic needs are met (i.e., I'm not currently falling off a cliff or motorcycle), after a few weeks, doing it is even more epic than I remember.

Conclusion: go. do. it.

* This feeling is akin to I was getting at with the lottery & island metaphor before: you don't have to win the lottery to feel free. When you heard that you won the lottery, nothing changed except that you allowed yourself to be momentarily free of worries. The point is, you don't have to be objectively free of worries to not worry. And it's not cheating to feel worry-less even when you're not. Moreover, the actual things you spent the money on likely did not bring you as much bliss as the mere release you felt to find out that things were going to be all right.