Been meaning to write this for a while, as its been maybe close to three months since I started meditating every day, twice a day, and feeling really good about it.
I mentioned it a little bit here, in my piece about observing peoples’ behavior on Twitter, and how I saw consistently in myself prior to picking up meditation a pretty strong consistent feeling that everything I do is wrong & everything everyone else does is wrong.
Often this would (and still occasionally does, but radically less so) manifest in anger, alternating with creeping anxiety and sometimes depression – despite having a pretty otherwise ideal life, in my opinion. I wanted to find a way to “be less angry” but couldn’t figure out how to control it directly. As I wrote in that post:
How does one confront one’s own anger, one’s own anxieties, one’s own depression – let alone have to deal with everyone else’s? The levers are not always so obvious or accessible when you’re in the depths of it all, as to how to change any of it.
As I also mentioned in that post, I remembered David Lynch talking in interviews about how meditation helped him overcome that in his life, and was like, well, it’s worth a shot.
I admire his work and dedication to TM (transcendental meditation), but have always felt pretty strongly uncomfortable about all the trappings around TM. My stance is that if this connection to the ground of being is universal and an essential human birthright, then there’s almost no chance that it’s restricted to one specific technique, however committed to it Lynch himself might be. Turns out there is some research to back this up:
Benson found that it made no real difference what phrase was repeated: you could pick more or less any word or short phrase and get the same result. So that removed any mystical or philosophical ingredients from the technique, at least in terms of its ability to evoke a beneficial physiological effect.
So before I get to the specifics of my very loosey-goosey technique, here is someone else who seems to feel the same way, though he is perhaps a bit more strongly against the TM org than I am (I don’t doubt they do some good work, personally):
His theory matches mine (and I love that he does the video while rolling a joint, tbh), that essentially any mantra will work, though I’ve seen videos where Lynch is adamant that *only* the TM ones will be effective. I’m pretty “meh” about that, but here’s a list of mantras you can pilfer from if you’re approaching this from a sort of chaotic direction, like I am. I’ve not done the official TM training, but it sounds like they often assign you a mantra based on age and gender. That might be “fine” but it might also be irrelevant or not at least not that relevant to your situation… I also personally think it’s a tad bit weird to get wrapped up in Hindu mysticism, etc. when I’m not a practicing member of that religion or culture, and am not really leading a Vedic lifestyle etc. But your mileage may vary.
I also found this Rick Rubin video discussing and comparing TM to other techniques to be pretty good:
I especially like what Rubin says at the end of this video:
there’s no good or bad version it really is just if you learn a technique and show up and do it, it works
So the things I’ve cribbed from TM in terms of technique are:
- Mantra meditation (you repeat a word or phrase to yourself internally)
- 20 minutes, twice a day
I know 20 minutes twice a day sounds like a lot, but my experience has been like, if I don’t engage in this practice, I’m not sure how good my quality of life is going to be or if I’m even going to make it in the long haul. So compared to that alternative, giving this gift of 40 minutes a day to myself is a no-brainer.
Over time, I quickly found that instead of being a drain or a time-waster in my day, it became a refuge & haven and I even ended up feeling like I actually had *more* time in my day, because I ended up more ordered and focused internally as a result of it. Now it’s something I look forward to doing, that is often immensely pleasurable & rejuvenating.
You can presumably use any timer available to you, but I sometimes use this one:
I like that there are 3 bells that sound at the end to tell you when its nearing completion.
I also bought myself a timer on Amazon that has a silent vibration + light option. I use that in situations where I need to be more “stealth” in terms of not making noise.
When I in an environment that allows it (my garage), I also burn incense, Nag Champa. I find it really helps to ‘get in the mood,’ though it’s not a strict requirement for me. It’s a ‘nice to have.’ I think the pleasant smell of the incense plus the sort of droning repetitive smooshy sound of the music can really help ease you along & give you another set of sensory things to hold onto, almost like the mantra itself.
When I began, I set out to use this practice as a way to cultivate “listening without judgement” – which interestingly is something that Rick Rubin actually describes almost exactly and in nearly the same words in his book The Creative Act, which I didn’t know at the time. I just figured this could be a good pathway for me to be able to reduce being so judgemental & critical about everything and everyone (myself included, especially), since that so often lead/leads to anger towards others & then frustration, since most of the time there’s little you can actually do to change other peoples’ behaviors anyway.
So based on that, I originally used as my mantra two phrases, usually tied to inhalation and exhalation: “listen” and “shh.” I read that real TM is not a breath-focused practice, but found this helpful nonetheless.
I’m not sure if this is a “real” technique or what tradition it might be associated with, but I’ve found it to be good sometimes to do long breaths in through the nose, and then long breaths out through the mouth. I saw this originally in Yoga, where the breath out is kind of pushed, in something I think they call a “lion’s breath.” I’ve found that engaging in that for about 5-10 minutes can bring on all by itself a sort of high/stoned feeling even without any drugs. If you’re doing a mantra chained to breath cycles, this is easier to keep up. If you’re doing one not linked to breath, then the two might get confused. I’ve often found that this in through nose, out through mouth breathing seems to supersede the need to keep repeating a mantra.
About clearing your mind: I guess that’s what a lot of people say you “should” do while meditating, but it is 100% *not* what I do, especially when in the ‘listening without judgement’ mode of things. In that, I specifically want/invite to have bubble up in me whatever it is I’m concerned about/whatever’s worrying me, etc. I let it fully unwind and express itself, and have its say. And I listen, I stay with it. And I try not to judge it, not to assign a good or bad label, etc.
I’ve found in life that a lot of suffering isn’t from the thing itself, it’s from the reaction to one’s own reaction to the thing. Like there’s whatever is the trouble, and then there’s this second layer of like feeling bad/angry/sad that you’re having this reaction to the thing, and then that just goes off into a loop you can’t escape from. Repressing it does no good, and often makes it worse, so letting it fully express itself seems to be the only way.
I also found early on, though it happens somewhat less now, that I would allow myself sort of the space to react to the thing that was expressing myself. Like, if I’m not judging the thing itself, then I’m also not judging or restricting whatever my reaction to it is. I’ve also gotten to the place where I’m “allowed” to interact or respond to it, and then I listen too to that without judgement.
I’ve found the net result of all of this to be not just better listening skills, but also that I end up being kinder to myself.
It seems like, following this path or whatever, that you just end up naturally getting into states where your mental chatter reaches a lower level or quiets altogether during intervals. Then you can watch those, and also listen without judgement, without trying to force anything to happen.
A word about drugs, which I mentioned earlier: I’ve seen plenty of times the conventional wisdom that drugs are bad for meditation. Probably there is truth to that in many cases. I’ve also seen that there is an emerging trend of “high yoga” (I also do about 30 minutes of yoga twice a week, which is another thing that lead me naturally to pick up meditation), and that in certain varieties of yoga & Hindu practice, there is in fact a long, possibly thousands of years old tradition of using cannabis.
I won’t bother arguing if this is right or wrong or try to sway anyone else’s opinion on the matter. But what I’ve found is that – if you’re into it – cannabis use can have an absolutely profound effect on what you experience while meditating. Like incense & music, I don’t use it all the time for meditation, but when I can get to the right place with it, the results can be amazing. Blah blah blah, don’t use it as a crutch, and all those obligatory disclaimers, etc. But also don’t overlook it as an incredibly powerful tool either.
Anyway, it’s funny, because strip away all that, and the actual technique is pretty basic. I’m pretty firmly convinced at this point that you could probably do everything wrong, as long as you just sit or lay down for twenty minutes twice a day with your eyes closed (without falling asleep), and you would still see the benefits of it, of dedicating time to quiet and stillness.
I certainly have. I feel like it’s given me my life back, and allowed me to sort of “catch up” and re-orient myself amid the ups and downs of life – and definitely helped reduce my anger, though I’m still working on that (and pretty new to the practice). And as I said, given me a consistent refuge that I can go to again and again without limitation.
I don’t know how to close this out, so here are some of the David Lynch things I watched or listened to as I was becoming curious about meditation. I don’t really believe in gurus, but I think if you had to pick some, probably master artists like David Lynch and Rick Rubin probably aren’t the worst ones. Perhaps some of this will inspire you to experiment on your own and find out what works best for you: