Meditation: Introduction

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In order to walk a tightrope, the walker must first be well balanced his mind. His mind must be clear and without distraction. Then and only then will the body follow instinctively, without thought. There is no time to consider the future or the past, only the step being made at that very moment. When the mind and body are focused this way, amazing things can be accomplished. This same principle applies to every aspect of our daily lives.

Learning and practicing meditation is a means of clearing your mind in order more effectively focus your attention. In doing so, you also unburden yourself of those things that are holding you back as you realize that you alone perpetuate certain problem behaviours. When you can see yourself and your environment clearly and free of unnecessary distraction, then you are free to do what you need to do, spontaneously and without having to think about it. And this comes from having the benefit of being able to focus your entire attention on the problem immediately at hand.

How do we see ourselves clearly? Well, strictly speaking, we can never really see ourselves as others see us, but we can learn to see more clearly who we are. Imagine yourself in a shopping mall, watching people move about from shop to shop. You are aware of the thoughts in your head, but not of the thoughts of the others around you. Any one person, in fact, could be thinking pretty well anything. From their perspective, you could also be thinking something very different from what you are actually thinking. So now we can begin to appreciate that your thoughts are in your head, that they are unseen, and always changing. Thought is an artifact or consequence of simply being alive and human.

You must learn to appreciate your thoughts as more of an active process in your head and not confuse them with ‘who’ you are. Once you learn to observe your thoughts – that is, pay attention to them, as opposed to getting lost or carried away in them – you will learn to focus your attention and accomplish whatever you wish with greater ease and efficiency.

What we believe about ourselves and the world around us is imaginary, being completely fabricated in our brains. What we feel and think at any one moment is simply one possible version of what our lives can be. What our brains think is most certainly no accurate representation of the way things truly are.

Imagine your thoughts are waves upon a lake. In this analogy, the wind would be what makes the waves appear – these would be the events in our daily lives. Ideally, we want our minds to be like the water in the lake: It tends towards a state of glassy stillness when the wind is not blowing. Meditation helps us to move to a state of calm but awake mind – to make no waves where this is no wind.

The purpose of meditation in the context of Learning and Vision Therapy is threefold:

  • To help focus attention by learning to recognize what is imaginary and what is real.
  • To help become more aware of one’s thoughts and impulses as simply another part of being, and not necessarily our entire being.
  • To learn to slow down and focus one’s attention by simply allowing the mind to settle.

The reason we sometimes seem to get into trouble with things is that we make poor decisions that lead to actions we regret later. This happens when we are not paying attention. We are distracted from what is going on because we are focused on either the future or the past, believing somehow that thinking and worrying about these things will help. We all have a limited capacity to pay attention to things. Even the most proficient multitaskers can only handle so many things at one time. If we need to pay attention to one thing but five other distractions are calling for our time and energy, then the first thing will suffer. Perhaps it’s a decision you need to make but cannot account for all of the future implications because your head is in the clouds thinking about unrelated issues. We each have our own unique mental ‘pie’ of attention and can only cut it so many ways. Meditation teaches you to devote the entire attention pie to what ever you need, when you need it.

Read the remaining posts in this collection to learn more about approaching meditation as well as a few specific techniques.

The only thing you can ever truly change, is what you are doing right now. Everything else is imaginary. What you did yesterday, for example, is as real as what you might do tomorrow in the sense that neither really exist. Only this exists, the present moment. The consequences of your actions yesterday also exist in this moment, but not the actions themselves. Dwelling on the past or the future interferes with your ability to make fully informed decisions from one moment to the next in your life. It is also self-indulgent as it pulls your attention away from those you love and your community.

Thinking is a skill that can be developed and our thoughts, given they are a momentary imagining of what the world is, are not permanent. Most people simply think compulsively without really being aware of it. Our thoughts do not and cannot define who and what we are because they are not real, only mental symbols used to represent real things. Because they are only representations, they can never be fully trusted for accuracy, especially as time goes on.

Thought and behaviour patterns are imprinted into our brains, like a bruise. The more the same pattern is used, the stronger the imprint becomes – like the bruise when repeatedly injured becomes darker. LIkewise, when the pattern of behaviour is no longer repeated, the pattern becomes fainter, weaker, as when the bruise heals when left alone.

Take the example of electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. With repeated ECT, patients lose all notion of their ‘self’. That is, all of their memories are wiped clean and, with any luck, their bad mental and physical habits as well. THis is not unlike reformatting a computer hard drive and starting from scratch. Imagine yourself like someone who has had ECT. What thoughts would you put into your head if you had to start over? Wouldn’t there be an advantage to be able to pick and choose what you put in your head and what you would be concerned with? If you are aware of your own thought patterns and habits, you CAN rewrite the old patterns, but unlike ECT you get to keep your memories. But this can be tricky at first.

The knowledge that we even CAN disconnect from our pasts and futures is both frightening and exhilarating. Why would you want to do this even? Everything we know seems to come from our pasts and so we identify with it. If we let go of it, do we not lose sight of who we are? As for the future, you must think about it in order to plan for it, so where’s the problem? Meditation, when done correctly, helps us become more connected with reality and and less interested in the things we cannot change, like what has happened, or what has yet to come. When you realize that all there is is this very moment, you become much more aware of the world around you, like a light goes on. With this sort of illumination, can appreciate the things in our lives with much greater passion and clarity. With a clear mind, we deal with things quickly, effectively, then move on. Rather than dwelling on the future, we focus our attention on the present moment so that we make good choices with positive consequences for tomorrow, then we move on in the knowledge that we have done all that we could have.

What we believe is only what we choose to believe, or the pattern of beliefs we have fallen into because of the path our lives have taken us on. There are realities of the physical universe that we all recognize – fire is hot, rock is hard, snow is cold, and so on. Beyond that shared common experience with the physical world, nothing is really known for certain. We all have our opinions of the world and interact with it as a function of what we think about the world at any given time. Our thoughts move automatically one to the next, like water flowing down a river. Our minds, or egos if you like, seem the same from one moment to the next, but are forever changing. It is logical and surprising then to realize that you have the capacity to determine what impact your thoughts have on you. Put another way, you can help guide your response to your thoughts and emotions by simply being aware that you are having them. And, now being aware, you are also aware that you have options.

The generator of thoughts, the brain, functions in essentially the same way one day to the next, but because it has to solve a whole new set of problems each day, it has to learn to constantly adapt. Sometimes this means it must use ‘autopilot’ settings, or program subroutines, to take care of things it can’t afford to spend too much time thinking about. These automatic settings are repetitive thoughts in your brain where the brain sets up the pattern then starts it running until it requires some sort of change in programming. The pattern remains available when not in use, but the signal strength or pattern memory fades over time. This is why it is hard to recall all the words to a poem or digits in a phone number from years past. Sometimes thought patterns are helpful, like when we seem to automatically reach for our toothbrush at night, or feel compelled to get some exercise. Other times, the brain uses more harmful thought tricks to perpetuate certain behaviours, like with addiction.

These repeating thoughts in your head often go undetected but they’re really quite obvious. They’re there, running under the surface, and you can sometimes get a glimpse of them when, for example, you reach for the keys to go run an errand where the point is really just to grab a cigarette.

You don’t have to tell the brain it wants more nicotine, it already knows – in fact, it’s busy trying to trick you into reaching for another smoke by creating responses in your body that you feel as emotion.

The feelings created compel you to act in the only way you can to satisfy that demand from your body, you find that your thoughts start to lead to the same conclusion every time and these thoughts lead to action – only the act of reaching for and smoking a cigarette will satisfy this feeling. But the feeling is not real, only a temporary state of mind and so the behaviour is insane.

While there are many benefits to the simple meditative techniques presented here, the point of meditation should never be ‘to accomplish’ something. Like if you attempt to meditate specifically to quit smoking, you are not meditating, rather, you are thinking about not smoking. Meditation, as presented here, is the polar opposite of active thinking – it is simply observing. That is, we are observing everything, including our thoughts, but not actively participating.

As you proceed through the following activities, keep in mind that there is no real ‘point’ to things. You are simply learning to observe and listen, to pay attention to what is now happening, including your thoughts. In the end, your thoughts are transient and represent only one possibility of what is real at this very moment.

I truly hope you enjoy these activities and that they help to open a new world of understanding of yourself and your child.