A year of meditation





I’m nearing 12 moths of consistent daily mediation. I thought it would be good to take stock and see where this has brought me, and that this might be interesting to share.

I’ve been interested in meditation for, what now what amounts to, decades. Almost my default New Year’s resolution would be: “this is the year I’m definitely going to take up meditation”. An initial burst of enthusiasm would tail off after a few weeks, nearly always down to a seeming lack of ‘results’.
Where were the advertised benefits – the ones that would ‘sort me out’ once and for all! A big part of what I was looking for a cure for anxiety – a constant companion, sometimes a pronounced feeling of worry, sometimes a more subtle sense of unease…an ever-present.
The Mind Illuminated
For nearly every day of this year I’ve managed to meditate for an hour. I have developed what would have seemed at the beginning to be a super power - the ability to stay with the meditation object (which was the breath to start with) for the nearly all of the hour, usually without mind wandering or indeed much in the way of thoughts.
For a good part of the year I followed ‘The Mind Illuminated’ (link below), which is by far the best book I’ve read on the subject - and I’ve read quite a few. The instruction is very clear and precise and structures everything into 10 stages. The book tells you exactly which skills – for skills they are – to master before progressing.
For example, I would often lose touch with the breath and drift into a pleasant edge-of-sleep nothingness, that felt vaguely 'cosmic'. “Is this it”? I’d wonder, “Is this what I should be doing with my mind”. I now know that this is ‘dullness’ and, while maybe pleasant, it’s not really meditating - I was floundering.
I could maybe watch 4 or 5 breaths – or more accurately think about them – then my mind would be off on a wander Even a ten minute session seemed to last an eternity, I’d sneak a look at the timer – “I’ve only done 7 minutes - come on let’s get this over with, this is boring, I want to do something else”.
Now the hour is something I relish, it’s never boring, my attention is much, much more fine-grained and when it’s flowing is almost effortless.
Lying down
So following the Mind Illuminated has made a big difference – but so too has deciding to meditate in bed as soon as I wake up – well usually after a quick coffee.
This has removed a lot of the excuses to not do it. “It’s cold, I’m going to have to put a lot of layers, I can’t get comfortable in this chair, I haven’t got time, I’ll do it later”.
Lying down to meditate is usually regarded as being inferior to sitting upright – the main problem being the added difficulty in keeping the mind sharp and focused and not drifting into sleep.
It’s true that this is something that needs to be overcome, but for me this disadvantage has been outweighed many-fold, simply by the fact that a regular practice has been so much easier to maintain.
But where are the benefits?
Throughout a good part of this year a recurring thought has been, “I’ve got pretty good at meditating – but not much has changed.” Anxiety hadn’t gone away as I’d hoped and an additional negative thought was now coming up alongside it. “all this meditation and I’m *still* feeling anxious, I’m failing”.
I was well aware of the theory – the goal isn’t to reduce pain, it’s to reduce suffering. “Pain (e.g. anxiety) is inevitable, suffering (e.g. reaction to anxiety) is optional”
Even while attempting to cultivate an attitude of equanimity – “ah there’s anxiety, I’m ok with it” – a sneaky residual part of me would be thinking “yes, but if I’m ok with it, maybe it will go away”. Which is, of course, *not* being ok with it.
Only fairly recently have I approached a place of genuine equanimity and reduced suffering – a taste of the freedom that’s on offer.
With something like anxiety there’s the bodily sensation, which physically isn’t a million miles away from indigestion. But it comes with all the extra baggage – the reaction to it - the stuff that makes up the suffering - “will it get worse, I really don’t like it, I’m an anxious person, I’m anxious about being anxious” - it’s a spiral!
If there’s enough mindfulness and equanimity to do away with a good part of these reactions – what’s left? – not much.
I’m now much more aware of the previously below-the-radar intentions, cravings, aversions, as well all the sense-data that make up my moment-to-moment reality.
A mind laboratory
This, looking to meditation as some kind of remedial self-help technique, has somewhat diminished in importance as the year has progressed.
I like way Sam Harris puts it: “The purpose of meditation isn’t merely to reduce stress or to make you feel better in the moment—it’s to make fundamental discoveries in the laboratory of your own mind”.
Incredible as it would have seemed to my year-ago-self, closing my eyes and watching the mind for an hour is an endlessly fascinating and enjoyable thing to do.

To use this ‘mind laboratory’ to learn, first hand, about: the workings of my mind, the sense of self, sensations, thoughts, awareness, even the nature of reality – all that good stuff - what could be more interesting!
Waking Up
A very good meditation app - I worked through this course of daily ten minute guided meditations initially
https://wakingup.com
Get this

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