Category: Psychology (Page 1 of 2)

A Meditative Practice

I started meditating in earnest in 2010. It was an odd time, looking back, to have started meditating. Things in my life were the best they had been since I was 18, and I felt life finally on a trajectory living up to the promise. In hindsight, when you are stable is the best time to start a practice. Life comes at you fast and hard, and if you have not established a practice in advance, you are unlikely to find that required peace of mind just picking it up when things are grim. I know there are many people who write about Meditation. I have not read but one book from Thit Nat Han and one book from the Dalai Lama. But together with an previous life in prayer – or at least, what I had understood prayer to be – and a good understanding of my needs, I put together a practice of my own.

Sharing your Meditative practice comes with some fear. Afterall, your methods are yours, your space and time are yours, the environment is yours, your mind is yours, and nowhere is this required to be more certain than in Meditation. Yet, it is a service to share, and if it is worth something to someone, it is for the better. I will ask you to decide.

Like most practices, mine starts with my breath. Specifically, I breath through my nose. For reasons perhaps personal or perhaps environmental, I am typically mouth breather. This, I think, likely helps with the effectiveness of my breathing in meditation. It gives my Meditative practice something distinctly recognizable, and when I, as moments arise, feel I am in need of more calm concentration, I can switch to my nasal breathing, and the benefits of my prior efforts kick in, at least to some noticeable percentage.

Like many practices, mine is one of concentration. I close my eyes, but focus my mind on something distinct, related to my breath. I have a mind that is not in need of generating ideas. I have a mind which is in need of organizing them, placing them, rounding them out. I therefore do not take a particular problem, a particular notion, a ‘mantra’ if you will, to my sessions. I don’t need it. I simply focus on something distinct to my breath.

I take a traditional cross-legged position, I straighten my spine as much as I can, and I sit. I do not need candles and incense. I do not need darkness or light. In general, I remove myself from electronics. I turn off the phone and computer. I try to find quiet, but some noise is inevitable, and the more practiced you are, the less important quiet becomes. I rarely have a timer. If you have a timer, make it an alarm to soft and quiet music. I do not use a mat, but you may be better served with a towel or rolled mat under your seat, specifically when you first start, as otherwise, you are likely to need to shift, move, or even stand, as your legs may fall asleep, you may cramp, or your joints and seat may hurt.

As you may guess, Alcohol impairs meditation. Nicotine and Caffeine, in moderation, do not. Some prescription medications make Meditation almost impossible. Others make it easier. You will have to figure these out on your own. There is no specific time of day for me. I am told by medical folks, that time of day doesn’t matter too much. But I like to know how I am, through meditation, shortly after my morning coffee; it can be a good mid-day reset; it can be a good post-work wrap up; it can help you, naturally, also to relax before bed.

It is a common idea that in meditation you should be either swatting away ideas, worries, distractions.. as they come up. It is another common idea that in meditation you are trying to listen to ‘your inner voice’. For my part, these notions don’t help much. What I try to do is, in fact, to clear my mind and concentrate on that distinct point related to my breath. This idea, together with the above, will get some people 80 percent of the way there, over time. What I find, however, is that if you are swatting away things which come up, you are missing valuable information about what is bothering you; and if you are trying to listen to your inner voice, you may simply lose yourself in it.

The trick, for me, is having learned not to ignore what comes up, but to resolve how and why it came to mind. Once I have resolved that, I can move along in peace with my focal point. The trick to this is to ‘catch yourself thinking’; if you catch yourself thinking – and what you are thinking about – then you can start to resolve the emotional, logical, and analogical path back to where the thought you caught, in fact, came from. This will tell you a lot about yourself. This process, however, is extremely delicate: it takes practice to master and it takes a certain ability to see yourself in the third person (and internally), which I don’t know everyone is capable of. Moreover, the practice of reconciling your thoughts may lead beginners to get worked up and move further from focus. For this reason, I do not chastize Meditation instructors if they tell their pupils to just ‘let your thoughts go’, but on the other hand, one is very much missing out if they do not attempt to reconcile the thoughts which come up during meditation, as they are commonly a key to understanding what it currently concerning you – whether you knew it or not.

A pass through this method, for me, will typically result in the ideas, to some extent, relenting. At which time, I am able to focus with little explicit effort. And commonly, at some point in this state, my spine will literally straighten up rather quickly and on it’s own. A few more minutes in this state is the immediate reward of my mental effort and effort to make time for the practice. The residual reward is that I am refreshed and ready for whatever is next in my day. The long term reward is that, because my breath is always with me, I can return to it, with a focal point, for a very brief stint, and take in again some of what I have given to the practice, as the stressful moments arise.

I have called this practice ‘tracing meditation’. It may have a different name for conisseurs of Meditation familiar with the Taxonomy. This name relates directly to the method of reconciling (tracing) the origin of those ideas which you catch. The cognitive benefits, besides stress reduction, are that you become much more fluid in being able to trace what may otherwise seem random products of person to person conversation, back to their real source. A very useful skill when you want to understand who is accountable for what, what presuppositions were made, and who may or may not have made a mistake in judgement.

Of Gun Violence and the Mentally Ill

Calling the perpetrator of a mass shooting ‘mentally ill’ is another way of saying ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’.  It is clear that anyone who comes to the point of killing dozens of innocents is by everyone’s lights, not right.  But calling them ‘mentally ill’ and simply ‘mentally ill’ does not go far enough.  The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent.  Even fewer are in any way ‘deranged’.  A tendency towards violence may itself mean that a person is among the mentally ill, but that does not mean that the mentally ill are violent – much less deranged.

As someone who suffers from mental illness, it can be very difficult to determine what can be done to change the stigma but to go on living an honest life, while standing up for your rights and against the stigma.  But if there is any right that the mentally ill can concede, it is the infringement on their right to bear arms, in the name of peace. This may seem like a hopelessly paradoxical position to some who, under feelings of persecution or duress, believe that they are the ones that need protection more than anyone.  But a certain faith and intelligence must go far enough to overcome the fear and feeling of injustice.

Automatic weapons have no place among our citizenry.  They make violence too easy at critical moments and for anyone.  But those with mental illness can go further and be willing to give up firearms entirely, finding other, honest and non-violent ways to protect themselves.  In exchange, they should ask, as I have advocated previously, that there be a taxation on the sale and transfer of firearms, which goes to fund mental health care in our communities.  That seems the least society can do.

The Narrative Of Dontre Hamilton

Dontre Hamilton was a Schizophrenic black man.  A Starbucks employee contacted police, presumably for his aberrant – a.k.a. ‘mentally ill’ – behavior  when he was trying to take a nap in the park.  The first pair of cops to arrive on the scene thought he was not a threat and just wanted a nap.  When officer Manney arrived to the scene – a situation which he apparently didn’t know had already been covered by different officers earlier – he antagonized Mr. Hamilton.  Officer Manney eventually caused a situation by striking Mr. Hamilton and entering close quarters combat – only to lose and subsequently pull his trump card, the gun… shooting Mr. Hamilton an unbelievable fourteen times.

This is not a matter for party politics.  Democrats – much less Socialists, much less Communists – do not own the high ground on this matter and neither does the Right.  This is matter of basic decency and understanding of the existence and legitimacy of people not like ourselves.  However, I did attend and spoke up at a forum on gun control, where Hilary Clinton was the lead figure.  I reminded the crowd that Mr. Hamilton was Schizophrenic in addition to being a black man.  It is fair so say that Mr. Hamilton’s being black and his being Schizophrenic, may have both contributed to the bias which officer Manney brought to the situation and led to the escalation which could have so easily been avoided.  But it should not be lost among the wave of ‘Black Lives Matter’ that Mr. Hamilton was Schizophrenic, and the Starbucks employee was likely not a racist.  Among all the torrential political spin, it must be said that Mr. Hamilton’s Schizophrenia was part – even the most prominent part – of what led to the injustice of his being shot.  14 times.

I suffer from mental illness and though with age and understanding it has become easier to deal with, it is quite clear from my own experience that the mentally ill are and will remain under greater scrutiny by law enforcement and homeland security.  At the forum I said that what the mentally ill need most is hope and opportunity in the face of what can feel like persecution.  In exchange for this scrutiny and infringement of liberties – and subsequent undue social resistance among the general public – they deserve the chance, with time, healing, and understanding, to be heard.  In addition to efforts to stop mental illness altogether, this is the least we can do for those who have suffered and endured without causing social harm themselves.

At the forum I also insisted that the mentally ill should not own guns, as it only puts the mentally ill in a more difficult situation should there ever be an incident.  But the case of Dontre Hamilton shows that officers of the law too must do their part to make it clear that the mentally ill do not need them.

In this you can make for yourself a wonderful world

Having been thoroughly beaten up by your own concerns of reputation, there comes a time where you must no longer live only in the eyes of your fellow man, but live for you.

I have lived in various lands and mingled with various people and with me now is a shield which fends off all comers from my inner peace.  It is something earned with experience and missing in youth (unless egregiously optimistic).  The protection  may amount to “easy-come, easy-go”, but it is more from the subjective perspective.  It is a freedom earned with trial by fire, and an honor bestowed on one from above.

The ability to love, without possessing; the ability to perform to your best, without concern for excellence; the ability to forgive as human and harmless, what society may nonetheless despise – in this you can make for yourself a wonderful world, even should your past experience be grim.

I am not less a MAN for that. But I am less a man, sure. Because I’m just a man, sadly.

Should I think you have nothing to say, it is because I am self-centered.  Or maybe it is because you have said things in the past which do not make sense.  Or maybe it is because you say things again, which I have already heard.  It is perhaps because what you say is frivolous, and I tread on higher ground.

It would all be very interesting, but perhaps I find you unattractive.  I am not only self-centered.  I am superficial too.  As a writer it is words which should excite and not how or who.  But I will say that should I choose (and off the record), I choose a beautiful woman’s casual charade to cold comfort of philosophers.  I am not less a MAN for that.  But I am less a man, sure.  Because I’m just a man, sadly.

It is sadly indeed, for in every communication their is a life behind the words.  A life to empathize with, for it is a life you could have led.  To not reflect in those moments, on what your life could have been, and allow yourself to be struck with boredom – that is self-centeredness – and it is worth fighting that.

And still it is so much easier when you are beautiful to look at.

Why Treating the Mentally Ill as Suspects is Counter Productive

The mentally ill need care, not suspicion. Yet a visit with your therapist can occasionally feel like an interrogation as they try to cover their backs from the unknown. And it’s not like their performance goes undetected. The mentally ill are simultaneously some of the smartest people in the world; though they may be treated as minds of inconsequential validity, rest assured that they are observant and capable of unwanted inference. How to treat such talent while protecting society – that is a very difficult balance.

The foremost indicator of future violence is past violence, but all too often people are buried under suspicion without any past violence at all. Should there be a need to put someone under suspicion for their condition, it must be the result of an evaluation done without suspicion, since suspicion on the part of the doctor leads to fear on the part of the patient, which leads to suspicion on the part of the system. Once there is suspicion on the part of the system, it is often too late for a patient to lead a normal life, for they will face an uphill battle for most of their lives.

It is a fact that mass shootings put more power in the hands of psychiatrists, and these psychiatrists are not blind to the scrutiny they will face if – albeit a remote possibility – a terrorist slips their grasp. But we should not ignore the fact that mass shootings make up a relatively insignificant portion of the death rate, despite their sensationalism, and a far greater number of lives are lost to scrutiny than death by bullet – though their stories remain untold.

The Objectification of Women

By this is typically meant the process by which a woman is evaluated based on their appearance, but to say that this is the objectification of women is to ignore the fact that if one is evaluated based on metrics of almost any sort, then they have been ‘objectified’ and this socially acceptable form of objectification even has a prestigious business name: Human Capital Management.

The real problems with objectification are not with evaluating people based on their appearance, which is a set of characteristics subject to objectification as well as any other. The real problem is treating people as capital, and that is just business. How to reconcile the need to objectify people while treating them as loving, feeling, breathing individuals, generally – that is our problem – and it applies to Vegas strippers as well as CEOs.

It used to be the men who treated people as capital in business, and women were a balance who treated people as loving, feeling individuals at home. Now it is an afront to women if they are not treated as human capital like everyone else, and you are ‘setting women back’ if you are a woman who does not treat people as capital in turn. Ahh progress.

This is not to say that women have no place in business, but it is to say that society has lost some of that balance, and men need to begin to treat people more as loving, feeling individuals to help regain it – Women, we need your help, so don’t lose your touch.

Little Irritating Things

A sensitivity to little irritating things is a condition. I never really believed that, but I have come to believe it. You can’t tell someone “don’t sweat the small stuff”. That is like telling someone to love.

You can tell someone to not make issues of small things for other people, perhaps because it will make things worse for themselves. But you can’t tell them not to sweat it – sweat it they will, if they are so inclined.

Not being sensitive to little irritating things is a state of mind. It can be prevented, it can be induced, it can be nurtured, but it can’t be decided upon as a policy.

The only thing I have found that helps with this – medication aside – is good health and quiet meditation. It is not so easy to simply pick up meditation only when you need it. It is important that meditation be part of your constant preparation for little irritating things.

The Difficulty of Hearing What You Want to Hear

To those who struggle with discipline in an artistic field, there is an issue of hearing what you want to hear.  When you hear that your work is good, that you should keep it up, that you should concentrate and develop it…  There is for you a temptation to throw caution to the wind and leave the rest behind and be that artist you can be, and that alone.

Of course, those who have talent must occasionally get confirmation and often deserve it, but it can also run amok.  I don’t speak of the pitfalls of the inflated ego, where one’s hubris outstrips their talents and they believe everything they touch is gold.  Rather, I speak of the simple capacity for attending to that which may allow a person to succeed in continuing to produce.  The capacity for the discipline to deliberately make commitments and deliberately stick to them – despite the muse.

After writing the posts I have this month, I have realized a great deal of the difficulties I have always faced, but this recognition has yet to change anything for me.  I have not made commitments deliberately.  I have not deliberately made good on commitments.  The indication from others that I must keep writing has only made me succumb to what is easiest and most fulfilling: writing.  Under the presumption that someday I shall be “saved” and I will be happy I continued to write. 

How can it feel simultaneously that this is a deal with the devil and a matter of following my higher calling?

Truth is, I can’t ignore the muse.  I must commit time to both writing and what is practical.  It is finding a structure in which both work together that is the most difficult, because the muse refuses to abide by my schedule.

Liars and Commitments

I always try to be honest. I very rarely misstate facts intentionally. I may withhold facts or not say the whole truth, in order to protect. I may speak indirectly to keep some things secret to some people (e.g. kids). I write fiction, which has the presumption of being a story, of some higher truth but not literal. But I don’t lie and I don’t resort to these other methods of communicating facts lightly.

Communicating is a form of commitment. It is a commitment to the person you are communicating with, that these are the facts as you understand them. It is a commitment that the person you are speaking with has a right to hold you to. If you are inconsistent, they have a right to point this out. If you are inconsistent in a way that is beneficial to you, they have a right to be suspicious. And if you are stating the highly unlikely, or what is highly unlikely given the audience to which you are speaking, they have a right to question. The system of communication breaks down when people are dishonest, and we have a commitment to the system of communication in so far as we want to take part in it.

Lies are adversarial, not just to the people to whom you are speaking, but the system of communication itself. Liars are adversarial to community. I have spoken of breaking commitments, however, and the trouble of making commitments deliberately and following through with them deliberately, rather than making them flippantly and later rationalizing away. These are also antithetical to community. They are not adversarial for the reason that they are not done with necessary intention – though under the recognition of what you are doing as ‘flippant’ or what you will likely do as ‘rationalize them away’, they may be.

Lying is also viral. If someone knows people are lying, particularly about other people, then they are less committed to the principle of truth telling about others themselves. It can be quite painful to be thoroughly committed to truth telling when you know others are not, and this can sometimes lead at least to exaggeration and at worst preemptive lying.

To be level headed, to not overcompensate or undercompensate for the emotions which you know may well be affecting your judgment, is a sometimes quite difficult proposition. It is better – I believe – not to compensate at all, but find the peace of mind to state facts and analyze these statements for errors in omission or minimization or exaggeration at a later time, making any necessary clarifications.

Truth-telling is a form of commitment I am good at and do not compromise lightly. Truth-telling is also the ethical characteristic which best holds a person together, as well as a community.

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