I feel much mellower since moving to Korea. At one time I was a very high-strung, anxious, overly sensitive, cringy, self-centered teenager and young adult. During those trying times, my father bequeathed sound advice.
“You might really benefit from some meditation.”
Sadly, the din of anxiety and toxic mindsets deafened me to most wise people’s advice.
“Meditation is stupid,” I thought.
“It’s just a bunch of monks and hippie wanna-be-monks sitting criss-cross-applesauce saying ‘Om…’.”
“That’s not me. I’m a real man. I like sports and beer and shit. I’m no Buddhist wimp.”
Sometimes ignorance is not bliss. Sometimes ignorance is suffering. Back then, my mind was rich with suffering.
Not until my senior year at Kentucky did I finally take the idea of meditation seriously. This time the advice came from Tucker Max’s The Mating Grounds podcast, a surface-level dating podcast with an underlying self-improvement program. In the podcast, Max spoke of how meditation helped calm his oft-overactive mind.
Still, I remained skeptical. However, after perusing several websites and consuming dozens of YouTube videos, I am thoroughly convinced, Meditation is one of the top-3 daily habits that I would recommend to anyone. Psychological research is only now catching up to the knowledge that Buddhists have known for millennia – meditation can promote well-being, focus, self-control, improved social relations, improved responses to stress, and a myriad of other benefits.
One can simply search “benefits of meditation” on YouTube to hear more qualified individuals speak to these benefits in detail.
Instead, I prefer to share my anecdotal and personal thoughts on how a faithful meditation habit has improved my quality of life.
While meditation entails different processes for different people, the essence of all practices is similar – exert conscious control over one’s thoughts. For some, that entails generating positive hopes and wishes for others. For others, it involves a singular focus on a mantra.
For me, I prefer to settle into a mindful presence. That involves sitting in a chair, with my back straight, and focusing on my breath. The general goal is to do nothing.
“In. Out. In. Out.”
“I have night class today. What improv games are we going to play? Can we do mind meld? No, wait. We did mind meld last week.”
“We could play Blindfolded Story. The students in the winter class love that game.”
“Oh. Thinking. In. Out. In. Out.”
My mind wanders constantly during meditation. It is difficult to not consider this mind wandering a failure. However, upon further reflection and instruction, I understand that thinking is inevitable. The goal of the practice is not to suppress thinking, but to acknowledge thinking, and choose to return to focus on the breath. There is no judgment. There are only mindful redirects.
I never realized how difficult doing nothing can be. The way American culture describes “doing nothing” tends to instead describe “passive activity”.
“Yeah, I’m not doing anything. I’m just watching T.V.”
“I’m just surfing the web.”
“I’m just checking Facebook.”
“I’m just remembering that instance when I was a bad friend.”
These mindless activities might lack overt action, but they do not match the criteria of non-doing.
The benefit of practicing “doing nothing” is gaining the insight that our minds are always at work – oftentimes outside of our conscious attention. What stories do we tell ourselves without the benefit of critical analysis? What facts about our lives to we accept as inexorably true without recognizing the layers of subjective thoughts and opinions.
“My boss is a jerk.”
“Men/women are all the same.”
“I will never get along with my [insert relative].”
“[insert problem] is so unfair!”
Meditation is a daily reminder that our lives and the thoughts about our lives are two separate entities. While we cannot change many aspects of our circumstances, we yield substantial power over how we appraise those circumstances.
This past month I dealt with the frustratingly Byzantine refund system of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, I purchased tickets for an event that was later postponed. My family and I could not attend, so I applied for a refund over a month ago. I jumped through many hoops with no results.
It would be easy to fall into an angry rabbit hole of thought. I could bewail what I appraise as an unnecessary complex refund system.
“This is ridiculous! Why don’t they just refund my Visa card? Why do I have to enter my bank account number?”
“This is so unfair. The Olympics are ripping me off.”
To make matters worse, most people would likely sympathize with these gripes, only reinforcing my unproductive venting.
However, thanks to my meditation practice, I can appraise the situation in a larger context and rewrite my thought patterns.
“Yes, it is unfortunate I have not been refunded the money. However, my financial situation is secure right now. I have a roof over my head, I eat healthy food daily, and I enjoy my job. The money has been spent. I gave the necessary information. It is out of my control. If I get the refund, then great. If not, then it is not the end of the world.”
Meditating does not produce delusional optimism. Rather, It gives me the psychological space to construct an honestly optimistic perspective. Both of the above Olympic-related appraisals have evidential merit. However, the latter is far less stressful and more conducive to well-being. All things being equal, why would I not choose the more optimistic appraisal?
While this post has been a bit unfocused (I have more work to do), meditation is also known to improve one’s focus. I will share more about that in the future. For now, all I have to say is that sitting still and doing nothing is far more difficult than it sounds.
However, my efforts have produced a powerful realization. For the majority of us, our quality of life is determined less by our objective life circumstances and more by our subjective interpretation of those circumstances.
As Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Photo Corner – Figurine Cafe Edition
Flatcap is one of the Misfits’ island-dwellers. That means weekly ferry rides to and from Mokpo. Last weekend I had the privilege of exploring the North Harbor with him and The King. One of our stops was a figurine cafe – Robots in Sunset. It was quite a sight to behold.
Iron Man faithfully greets all patrons.
Vader: If my hand is bigger than my face I have cancer? I don’t know, that seems a little far-fetched. But I’m better safe than sorry.
Stormtrooper 1: Watch me bop the boss in the nose.
T-Rex: Hahahahaha I can’t believe Vader fell for that shit.
Cop: Wow, you hold that shotgun with one arm. And with such authority. I love how strong you are. Do you really have to ransom me? I’ll gladly just stay with you.
“Okay, the first person to make a half-court shot wins one of our championship trophies.”
“Autobots…Laugh at Vader for falling for that shit.”
“I agree, Prime.”
Neymar: Why are there four balls on the field of play?
Messi: I don’t know. Why are there three teams playing in one game?
Rooney: What’s the score? Anyone knoe?
I actually don’t know who this is. #ignant.