Do this for 5 years

Screenshot Sims 3: Sim meditating outside

Meditation is good for body and mind. (But playing The Sims 3 is more fun.)

Another question from Quora: What can I start doing now that will help me a lot in about five years?

The asker identifies as a 23-year old student, but the answer I will give here in some detail applies to pretty much everyone who is not a child and who expects to live for another five years or more.

Get started with meditation and/or brainwave entrainment.

Get started today, because the benefits accumulate over time. They actually compound, as in compound interest. Meaning: Not only is your brain slightly improved each time you meditate, but after you have meditated for five years, each 20-minute session is more effective than it was when you started. After ten year years, it is even more effective, and so on. After decades of reasonably regular meditation practice, meditation is amazingly powerful. You can enter into a deep state of meditation literally in a heartbeat, faster than a single breath. I am not making this up, I just tested this standing on my cold kitchen floor before I started writing this entry. There are others who are far more attuned to meditation than I am. But the point is, the sooner you get started, the more difference it will make every day for the rest of your life.

A habit of meditation will actually change your brain in ways that are visible on a tomography, but this takes many years. The changes first happen on a microscopic level. As more and more connections form in higher levels of your brain, the way it functions is slowly improved. This is how meditation becomes more powerful over time. It is not pure magic, although it was indistinguishable from magic until a few years ago. (And thus was often ridiculed by the would-be scientific classes of non-scientists.)

Get started today also because it does not take any time, so you won’t lose out on anything else you do. Meditation and brainwave entrainment both reduce the time you need to sleep to retain the same wakefulness, concentration and body repair. Most of you probably sleep too little as is, so I don’t recommend you sleep less. But you can, if you don’t want to be more clear-headed, energetic and healthy than you are today. A rule of thumb is that half an hour of meditation replaces an hour of sleep, but an hour of meditation does not replace two hours of sleep. In other words, you cannot simply replace sleep with meditation. But a moderate amount of meditation – up to an hour at least – will actually be free or more than free, leaving you as much time as before to do all the other things you want to do in life. More time, actually, especially as you get more attuned and your meditation becomes more powerful.

Secular meditation is now widely taught. If you already have a religion, you may want to learn the form of spiritual practice that is practiced in it, whether it be meditation, contemplation, chanting, holy dance, ritual prayers, holy reading or something else. But I will assume that the reader does not already practice wordless prayer or something equal to it, and recommend that you take up scientific meditation.

Rather than instruct you in meditation, as I did when the Internet was young, I think I should just refer you to the mostly harmless website Project Meditation. I am not really affiliated with them, I just hang out at their forum occasionally and also use their brainwave entrainment product, LifeFlow. You don’t need to be a customer to use their other services, including a thorough introduction to meditation, and a very good section called Principles of Meditation & Entrainment. It is written by one of the forum members, not the site staff. This particular person was the reason why I decided to go for Project Meditation rather than their more advertising competitor. His writing resonates so much with my heart that I would recommend him over myself if you want advice.

The text also refers to brainwave entrainment. There are various technologies for doing this, and the LifeFlow sound track used three of them. There are also visual systems. I recommend first practicing meditation without entrainment for a couple weeks, then use entrainment if you want, and eventually you will no longer need it for ordinary meditation. You may use them for special purposes perhaps. I use delta entrainment as a prelude to sleep, since I have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and cannot naturally produce deep sleep early in the night. But I would not recommend a newbie to use delta entrainment. I have recommended it before, but it seems to cause various nasty side effects in untrained people, or at least some untrained people, such as headache or seeing double. I guess it is a bit like asking a couch potato to run a competition sprint. Start with something easier.

Project Meditation has a free 10Hz sample you can download. Looping this MP3 file, you can use it for as long as you want, so you don’t need to buy anything unless you want to proceed to the more fancy stuff. There are also various other free brainwave entrainment opportunities on the Web, including some YouTube videos. Video can help you concentrate in some cases if your mind tends to wander a lot.

Again, let me say: You don’t spend time on meditation. You gain time from meditation. The exception is the first day, when you learn what it is about and decide on which technique to use. After that, it is free and more than free. It improves your brain, it improves your immune system, and it makes you feel better throughout the days and years remaining of your life.

One small warning: I only recommend a modest amount of meditation for ordinary people who want to stay ordinary people. Excessive meditation can cause dramatic changes in personality, seemingly supernatural experiences, and in some cases actual psychosis (insanity), at least if there is a family disposition toward it. 20-40 minutes a day should be fine, but meditation for hours a day should only be undertaken under the guidance of an expert and after conferring with health professionals. Of course, the same goes for eating several pounds of oranges a day, so I am mostly disclaiming here.

Reflections on quiet

“The only person who truly knows your innermost thoughts is yourself.” And even that is a very optimistic view.

Back when I first started to experiment with the Holosync Solution, I briefly mentioned something important: If this could make people sit down and shut up for an hour each day, it would lead to rapid personal growth regardless of whether the brainwave entertainment actually worked.

This is not to say that I don’t believe the brainwave entrainment works. It probably does, at least part of it. And it probably does have health benefits beyond what you could get by just staring at the wall for an hour each day. But the fact remains that staring at the wall for an hour would indeed be an improvement for most people. Or at least half an hour, but if you really want far-reaching changes in your life, why not go the whole hog and just sit there for an hour.

This may seem like an absurd thing to do. And for all I know, it may be better to play Bach for an hour each day. I keep hearing good thing about Bach, although he is a mite too subtle and refined for a barbarian like me. ^_^ But the thing is, each of us has a profound need to sit down and shut up, if at all possible. And it is a need we usually repress at all costs until our health and even life itself is in danger.

There are different levels of quiet. What we today call meditation (and which the monks of old called contemplation) is a much deeper quiet than just sitting there and shutting up. There are also different levels of meditation. But we have to start somewhere, right? And the first thing we need to do is shut up.

Even if we shut our mouth, even if we go sit down in a room by ourselves and don’t turn on the TV, or the radio, or the stereo, or the computer… even if we just sit there and say nothing, that does not mean we really shut up. Our mouth shuts down, but the brain keeps making talk as if we were not alone.

Actually not all people have that particular brain that talks incessantly. Some think in images or even in music by default. But it is extremely common that our thoughts take the form of a flow of words.  This inner monologue (or in some cases dialogue or more!) tends to go on and on when we are alone.

In meditation we make a distraction of sorts, by binding our mind to a mantra or some other symbol. This serves as an anchor for the mind, so that we can quickly jump back to that point of stillness when we realize we have been carried away on the stream of consciousness. It is like a teleport spell that takes you back to the anchor in a moment. No need to flail and get upset or disappointed or even surprised that an important person like me got carried away by random thoughts. Just jump back to the point of quiet and start again.

But – at least at the outset – the truth is that this inner silence is not really what we are aiming for. I mean, each of us is aiming for it consciously, I suppose. But not having it is an important lesson in itself. By seeking the stillness inside, we become aware of the mind-chatter, the inner talk show, the often inane babble that it all comes down to when there is nothing more to say and the mind just can’t shut up.

If you never sit down and try to shut down your thoughts, if you just distract yourself until you cannot stay awake any longer, you can delude yourself. You can think that you are this particular person, “I”, who has some clearly defined personality traits and is pretty much the same person at all times, and simply creates thoughts by the amazing power of your brain. You don’t need to wonder what to think, say or do: By virtue of simply being you, it all pops into your head when you need it.

Once you become quiet enough to listen to your own thoughts, you will realize that no, you are not that unified thing, like a pearl that is whole and looking the same from all angles. Rather, your mind is like a flock of sheep, or a kindergarten with overly excited children squabbling and laughing and crying and doing random things, talking incessantly and mostly about useless stuff. But you have to be still enough to observe yourself to find out these things.

Is that really useful to know? Yes, it really is. If you don’t know at least roughly what you are, you are deluding yourself. You will make a history, a narrative, that is actually, factually wrong. And you will be surprised over and over by things inside yourself:  Feelings, irrational impulses, sudden urges, subtle tendencies. Among all these, you are blown off course again and again and cannot understand why.

But even if not, you really need that quiet. For your body to relax, for your mind to defragment itself and settle down. For your thoughts to stop flapping their wings quite so vigorously. And to become able to fall asleep without chemicals and without being so exhausted that you cannot wake up in the morning without (more) chemicals.

So if you haven’t already, please take some time to sit down and just shut up for some minutes. Your future self will thank you.

Meditation in The Sims 3

In the Sims 3, meditation requires visiting China and learning Martial Arts. In real life, you can easily learn it from the Internet (link with sound). On the other hand, the floating and trippy colors are subjective at best.

I guess there are not many people who meditate and play the Sims 3.  The two don’t quite exclude each other, but they largely appeal to different types of people. Meditation calms and quiets the mind, while computer games tend to excite.  (With the Sims 3, that depends a bit on your play style, I guess.) Games tend to be an escape from the real world, while meditation is a grounding in something even more real than the manifest world. So they are quite a bit apart. In light of that, I find it a bit amusing that meditation in this game has become quite a bit more realistic than before.

In the Sims 2, meditation was unlocked by the Logic skill (usually at level 4), and basically froze your sim’s motives – you did not get more hungry or tired etc, as if time had stopped for you. For your sim, I mean. After a long time spent in continuous meditation, you would start floating in the air and be able to teleport.  Not exactly a fast way to travel, since it took the day to get that far.

In the Sims 3 meditation is much more realistic, although there is still the floating and teleportation at the end, which is (in my experience at least) not realistic at all. (I hear some people feel like they are floating, but that is pretty much it.) For the rest, though, the skill has become more realistic. I am not sure tying it to the Martial Arts skill was a good idea, it could have been a separate skill. But I guess it beats logic as a starting point. Anyway, you now grow hungry and your bladder fills up etc much like you were just sitting there. The only thing that happens right from the start is that you start building up “meditative focus”.

This focus lasts for a while after you end your session, and improves the quality of your work and the speed of your learning. Fittingly, it evaporates if you use the “magical” ability to teleport.  Magic is not the best use of meditation, after all.

Once you have spent a long time in meditation – not hours, but a noticeable part of a normal lifespan – you become a master of meditation. I am not 100% sure this is a feature rather than a bug, but it seems the meditative focus now becomes permanent. It says 15 minutes left, but it has said so for half a generation now.

If that is intentional, it is actually a pretty good approximation of real life. If you do keep it up for many years, meditation will really change you and make you better able to live your life, learning things and doing things better.  Quite apart from any mysterious or seemingly magical experiences you may or may not encounter along the way.

Meditation, observation & bzzness

“Because my role is observation.” (Yuki Nagato, from an anime about Haruhi Suzumiya.)

I am still in the middle of reading Butterflies are free to fly (parental, grandparental, angelic and divine guidance recommended, as this book may well cause insanity, suicide or lifelong unhappiness in the fragile or not exceptionally sturdy and well-prepared reader.)

The book quotes Jed McKenna, a probably fictional teacher of extreme truth-seeking. This is actually kind of true: “Ultimately, the only spiritual practice is observation; seeing things the way they really are.” Whether it is the only, I don’t know, but I have found it to be essential. That is why I used to call myself a “conscientious observer” for a long time. (It is a pun on “conscientious objector”, obviously, but I did not pick it only for its fun value.)

In light of this, it is puzzling that Mr Butterfly … Stephen Davis, I mean, is pretty much rejecting meditation as a kind of distraction that seeks to induce an altered state of consciousness. I am not sure what kind of meditation he has done, but he presumably has done some, being the new-age person he was. But something must have gone wrong. You see, meditation should make you MORE aware, not less. If you’re tuning out, if you’re entering the land of fuzzy, you’re doing it wrong. Sure, meditation should cause you to relax. Your body, that is. Your awareness however should increase.

There are actually two aspects of this. One is the very slow increase in your capacity to be aware or conscious, a process that takes years. A more immediate effect is the surge of available awareness when you sit down and detach from the self-generated busyness of daily life.

Usually we spend our time either doing something that requires attention, or thinking of something that has happened or will happen or ought to happen or should have happened or may happen if, but perhaps not if, and it was their fault and not mine. This is the standard human condition. When we sit down and shut up, the awareness is withdrawn from these habits, and there is a surge of free awareness. When we are new and lack technique and discipline, it is common for this free awareness to latch onto random things nearby: Either sights or sounds, feelings in our body, emotions in our mind, memories or internal images. More likely than not, the surge of awareness will magnify these so they become awe-inspiring, or deliriously pleasant, or terrifying, or otherwise larger than life. Thus we have an Experience.

The Meditation Experience is pretty much unavoidable, and sellers of related materials (such as brainwave entrainment programs) do their best to create positive expectations, which will (if all goes reasonably well) assure that you get a Good Trip instead of a Bad Trip during your first sessions.

In reality, the Experience is a side effect, and actually a distraction. What we want to become able to do is observe ourselves. We want to be able to watch our thoughts as we think them, our feelings as we feel them, without having to stop what we are doing and ponder. Usually we are almost completely absorbed in whatever we are doing, and are seeing completely through our eyes. We are not at the same time seeing ourselves from outside.

The purpose of the observation is not to evaluate, to judge. I mean, sure we can do that, but it is highly likely that this will distract us and we end up with a courtroom case with ourselves trying to defend ourselves against ourselves, and I cannot imagine how much awareness one must have to keep track of that AND the actual life we are performing the living of, at the same time.

Sure, we should judge ourselves. But before we do that, we must observe ourselves. The purpose of meditation is not to feel good, although stressed people usually feel good when their bodies relax. (Then fall asleep, which is pretty much the opposite of meditation. But if you lack sleep, and almost all modern people do, it will soon become a habit to fall asleep when you try to meditate. This is the reason for the unnatural and even painful positions of many meditation schools. A better alternative, I think, is to actually set aside more time for sleep.)

People who have been meditating deeply, frequently and regularly for a couple decades or more, may begin to become aware at all times, including during dream and finally dreamless sleep. They achieve a state of constant witnessing.

I am not saying you cannot achieve that by writing down truth, as the more or less fictional Jed McKenna proposes. Perhaps meditation is a relic from before paper became commonly available. But it works, if you do it right, or even reasonably right. You become more and more aware of yourself, without losing the ability to actually live your life while you observe it. At first you have to take time out from your life to observe yourself, but eventually you can be said to “meditate” all the time, to some degree.

I don’t actually do that, not all the time. Occasionally I am swallowed up by something I do. And I am still unconscious while sleeping, after all these years, with a few seemingly random exceptions.

But the idea of meditation is not to increase fuzziness, but to reduce the bzzness of thoughts and plans and daydreams that repeat endlessly in the head, absorbing all available awareness. Bzz! Bzz! Busy bee thoughts fly round and round in the head. Withdraw from these. Because your role is to observe, first and foremost. Well, unless you’re an ordinary human or something, I guess.

Religious and secular meditation

The religiosity of your meditation is not something outsiders can ascertain.

I was already planning to write this entry when I read something eerily related in The Challenge of the Mind by Ryuho Okawa. He says that the purpose of meditation is to contact High Spirits, such as your Guardian Angel. If it was just to sit down and not think, trees and stones would do a much better job of it than us.

That sounds a bit harsh. There are quite a lot of health benefits associated with non-religious meditation: Lower blood pressure, better sleep, better immune functioning, less tendency to smoking and drinking, better memory and a greater or stronger awareness in daily life. I have called it “defragmenting the brain” too, but there is  even more than that. Still, in my experience, there is a clear difference between religious and secular meditation.  I cannot say whether they meet in the end, because I have not come anywhere near the end of any of them, even after many years.

My history with meditation began in my mid teens or so, when I learned it directly from God.(1) I was praying and felt that it was terribly rude to just rattle off my own wish list and then hang up.  God is not a grocer or something. So I respectfully waited after my prayer, in case God had something to say to me as well.  I understand that some people do hear actual voices from Heaven, but I did not.  (Which is good, because I have a more scientific personality and would likely have been scared out of my skin.) Instead, I felt a benevolent Presence.  Kind of, when you pray, you have a distinct impression that there is someone there receiving your prayer.  I suppose some people, perhaps all people sometimes, have to take this on faith.  But I think most of us have had the distinct impression that we have “connection”.  This was like that, only stronger, and it kept growing stronger.  Like there was someone right by me that I could not see, but I could feel the aura of that luminous Presence.

In less religious terms, it was very much like sitting together with a really close friend or family member who you don’t need to engage in conversation. In these cases it is possible to just be together without thinking of what you are going to say next, simply waiting for them to say something or not – it does not really matter.  This was like that, only with awe and majesty thrown in. Kind of like if you could sit silently together with Abraham Lincoln or something. (Requires optional Time Machine.)

From that experience of simply resting silent in the Divine aura, from this grew my religious meditation.  It was an extension of prayer – it was the heart of prayer really.  And it still is to many people, who would regard meditation with deep skepticism.  “Meditation, isn’t that something that heathens do, and those New Age people?  It is probably evil spirits!”  But actually meditation has a long history in Christianity as well, although in the old days it was called contemplation, while meditation was a more active thinking on holy topics. Today these have been transposed, perhaps in the meantime there was a period of confusion where few people thought of such things at all?

It was months later that a more experienced Christian caught me in the act of silent communion and asked me if I was meditating?  So at first opportunity I looked it up.  We did not have the Internet back then, but there was a public library in the town where I went to school.  There I learned about the science of meditation, and I took up that as well. For years I practiced ever deeper meditation, until in my 20es I started having more and more supernatural experiences:  Telepathy, extra-sensory knowledge and the occasional tiny blip of telekinesis.  Scared, I prayed to God to make it stop, and I cut down quite a bit on both the frequency, regularity and depth of my meditation.  The strange experiences pretty much disappeared after that.

I have practiced meditation since then, but irregularly and not so deeply. Religious meditation in particular is something I have done only when drawn to it.

Over the past year and some I have taken up more meditation again, now with the aid of brainwave entrainment.  Using first Centerpointe’s  Holosync and later Project Meditation’s LifeFlow, I have used sound waves to synchronize my brain waves.  LifeFlow in particular has a broad range of different frequencies.  While these tools do not actually cause meditation, they create a state of brain that is well suited for the state of mind that is meditation.  During natural meditation, the brainwaves will smooth out and get slower.  How slow depends on practice and some seemingly random element.  With brainwave entrainment, you can reduce the random element and get there with much less training.  I have not found this useful for the meditation itself, although being able to induce slow-wave instead of REM sleep in the morning has been nifty. Basically, I can’t see that depth (slowness) of brain waves leads to depth of the meditative experience.  Your meditation may vary (and if so, please tell me. Actually, tell me anyway.)

There does not seem to me to be any spiritual benefits to the brainwave entrainment technology at all.  Your spirit may vary.  I find that to me, religious meditation is still a different experience.  Even though LifeFlow 8 induces a “feeling” in the brain that is very similar to deep prayer meditation, it is not it.  It is kind of like visiting the house of a friend and everything is there except your friend.

There are schools of Buddhism that do not relate to a God or spiritual beings, and yet practice meditation religiously. I would think that to them there is no such difference. But I don’t really know.  There is only so much you can experience in one life.  But luckily we have each other to learn from. So perhaps I will know one day, if I find someone who has the relevant experience.


“Directly from God”: Well, that was my experience at least.  I have later come to realize that our connection to God may not be quite what it seems:  Each of us seems to have a personal “branch office of God” in our heart, which can differ a bit from that of other people who also believe in God, even those in the same congregation, even those in the same family.  Each of us has a separate “branch office”.  I mean that for instance in each town there used to be a Social Security office, and you could go there for all your ordinary Social Security needs.  It was unlikely that you ever had any other contact with Social Security. To the common man, this office WAS Social Security.  But actually of course Social Security is a much more vast organization, and there are subtle differences in the way you are spoken to in one town and another.  It seems to be the same way with God:  There is much more to God than what any one of us knows, but at the same time God is represented in our hearts with all the Divinity we will ever need.  If our needs for God grows, so does the God within. In this way, we grow toward each other in God, our internal God presence becoming more similar as the Light increases.  If all goes well.

This individual Divine presence is probably what Happy Science calls “High Spirits”, although in Christianity it is customary to only have one, not to chat with a large number of angels, archangels and Saviors.  For us there is only one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus  Christ. It certainly simplifies things.  But of course there are actually many entities in Heaven that are far greater and wiser than we are.  We just don’t play supermarket there, as we already have all the Holy Spirit we need, and then some.  To quote a very old Christian from my home village: “We don’t need more spirit, we need to obey the Spirit we already have!”  Which is of course a pretty good way to get “more”. Or that’s what the Presence in my head tells me…

Brainwaves, entrainment & meditation

Last year I wrote several entries about brainwave entrainment and the two products I have bought and used for this purpose, first Holosync and later LifeFlow. I have tagged this entry with the same tags, so you should be able to use the tag feature of WordPress to quickly get a list of the other entries where I have used those tags.

This is a more basic overview, for those who are absolutely new to this field.

Our brain uses a combination of electricity and chemistry to do its work. Signals traverse the neurons – the nerve cells – as a change in the electric potential. Then in the gap between cells, it is converted to a chemical signal carried by a neurotransmitter. If the receiving cell reacts, it more or less recreates the signal and passes it on. Whether it does this, and whether the signal is stronger or weaker than it first was, depends on other signals the cell may also receive, and its experience with signals from that particular cell.

As you may guess by now, measuring the electromagnetic output of the brain will not allow your doctor to read your thoughts. It can only give a rough outline of what is going on in there. In fact, it is different from an EEG (electro-encephalogram) to say whether a person is dreaming or just thinking hard. But certain conditions show up very clearly, such as an epileptic attack or, on the other hand, sleep.

In sleep, the brainwaves slow down. For historical reasons, the usual thinking waves are called beta. They are quick, jagged and don’t go very far up or down usually, though there may be an occasional spike.

The next type is alpha. This appears when we are about to go to sleep, but also during daydreams and other relaxing situations. You can usually create this type of brainwave by simply sitting comfortably alone, closing your eyes, relaxing and then looking slightly upward inside your closed eyes. Don’t roll them back so hard it hurts. In this state of mind it is almost impossible to solve mathematical or logical problems, or anything else that normally requires concentration. These brainwaves are slower, rounder and more regular.

The alpha state is the one where we start doing meditation. However, the alpha brainwaves are not the meditation. This is extremely important to understand. Why then do we use this state of mind? Because 1) this is something every person experiences every day when they go to sleep and often throughout the day as well, and 2) it is a state of mind where consciousness is somewhat reduced. As I said, you cannot do mental work in this state. Most people will automatically start daydreaming (autists don’t) and their thoughts begin to drift aimlessly. Meditation consists of setting up an anchor (a mantra, a simple sequence of counting, observing your breath or something similar) and binding your awareness to it so it does not drift. Over a period of months or years, you gradually learn to remain fully conscious in a state of mind where you normally are not conscious. This is what meditation really is about: The expansion of consciousness.

Below alpha waves (frequency 12-8 Hz) are theta waves (7-4 Hz). These fill most of the night. Just after you fall asleep, or when you nap on the sofa, you remain vaguely aware of the world around you, even though your brain has already begun to produce mostly theta waves. In this situation you can still be easily roused, but you rather prefer not to unless there is some crisis. However, when you return to the same brainwaves after going into deeper sleep, this awareness has been erased, and you remain more or less unconscious throughout the night. In the elderly, some nights there is no deeper sleep, and they may therefore imagine that they have not slept at all, even though they did so for several hours.

The final level is delta (2-0.5 Hz). The brainwaves here are very slow (0.5 Hz means each wave takes two seconds!) and with a much greater amplitude (that is to say, the electric potentials on both sides are much higher). This is the deep sleep that wipes out the awareness of the mind. It is also associated with restoration of the body and brain, maintenance of the immune system and release of Human Growth Hormone.

All of these states can be induced through brainwave entrainment. You can use light or sound, sound being most used because it has no risk of triggering epilepsy. The human ear cannot hear sounds with a frequency this low, so it is made indirectly. The most popular approach is binaural beats. You need headphones for this, as it sends a different signal to each ear. The difference in frequency becomes the frequency of the resulting brain waves. For instance, a tone of 210 Hz and one of 200 Hz will give rise to a 10 Hz wave in the brain. This was discovered rather by accident. Later other methods have been devised that don’t need headphones, the most effective is probably isochronic tones. Here an audible signal is turned on and off (or from one frequency to another) at a rapid interval that corresponds to the target frequency.

With these techniques it is possible to invite the brain into brainwaves normally only found in sleep. You cannot overwhelm the brain and force it into these states though. On the way from the top of the brain stem where these frequencies are generated from the sound input, the waves have to pass through the limbic system. If this system is aroused (through intense emotions such as fear, anger or lust) the signal will be blocked. Conversely, if you willingly relax and don’t concentrate on anything else, the signal will spread more quickly.

If you play a track designed to cause theta or delta brainwaves, it is normal to fall asleep the first times you listen to it. In fact, if you don’t mind, you may continue that way. But if you strive to be alert, you will normally be able to stay awake longer and longer, and eventually throughout the session.

LifeFlow by Project Meditation takes a slightly different approach, as you get 10 tracks, one for each Hz of frequency from 10 to 1. You are supposed to spend at least a month with each, until you are thoroughly familiar with them, starting with those you recognize from waking life, and getting steadily deeper. This way you should be able to remain conscious even at the lower levels, though it may usually take a couple years for a newbie to get there.

Again, the essence of meditation is the expansion of consciousness. A host of problems in life stem from the fact that our “normal” consciousness is a fragile thing. A simple insult may be enough for it to be swapped out temporarily for an altered state in which you behave like a total stranger. The same goes for hunger, fear, lust or revulsion. Because of this, people find themselves unable to reach their life goals or even to maintain the life they already have. Seen from the perspective of someone more stable, they are like foam on waves on a storm sea, thrown helplessly about, broken apart and formed again, but doomed to once again be ripped to shreds. Anyone who has a deep and stable consciousness is certain to feel compassion when seeing this sorry state of being, but most people are sure this is as good as it gets, this is all there is.

I believe this is how some of the world’s great religions came into being, through the compassion of great souls who had a deep, stable consciousness. But because people tried to understand it without doing the practice (in other words, because of “theology”) the religions degraded into cheat codes for getting health, prosperity and generally tricking the gods into ignoring your destructive behavior and treating you as if you were someone else. As opposed to, you know, becoming that other person, from the inside out.

There is a distinct risk that the same may happen with brainwave entrainment. Already the claims made by various suppliers go a ways beyond what you should reasonably expect. But you should definitely expect some benefits if you use it regularly.

Meditation’s part in life


This tree did not become like that in 30 days either.  Keep it up.

I believe that meditation is a natural state of mind, one of several, just like the various phases of sleep and waking consciousness. All of these have their place in a healthy human life, but they have different weight through our lifetime.

In part I base this on the fact that meditation in some form (or some similar experience) is found in different cultures at different times of history as part of very different and sometimes opposing cultures. But it is also based on my own experience. As I like to say, I learned meditation from God. I was praying and I found it rude to just rattle off a wish list and hang up. So I waited for God, not necessarily to speak to me as some guy would do (I already knew better than that) but to somehow accept my presence. And in that wordless waiting, something began to know. This was where I learned to meditate, although I did not know it by name until a more advanced Christian came upon me when I thought myself alone with God, and commented on it.

Occasionally others will tell their own story about experiencing this inner stillness by some other name. I don’t think this would happen even sporadically if it were not a natural function of being human. And besides, the useful effects of regular meditation indicate that it is not some synthetic add-on to our lives but a vital part that are missing in many lives because we have become disconnected. In general, meditative practices have been connected with religion. As other aspects of religion have been overturned, such as its iron-age level of science, the meditative practices have also been discarded as people sought happiness through material abundance. This, as we know today, did not work out well. Desires run ahead of our acquisitions like the rainbow runs ahead of those who chase it. No matter what we have, we can always think of something more. That is not to say that abject poverty does not make us unhappy. But at some point, fairly early actually, there are other needs that also need to be met. One of these is meditation.

I believe that in our natural state, meditation will gradually expand later in life, while sleep gradually takes up less space. Because people fail to meditate, they only experience the lessening of sleep, and they suffer from insomnia. Middle-aged and elderly people lose productivity to a great degree because of this. Meditation will never completely replace sleep, for the simple reason that the replacement is a very slow process and we don’t live for centuries. But the 70 year olds who do meditate or pray a couple hours every day tend to be in many ways as vital as when they were young. Sure, the body becomes brittle and fickle over time, but their mind is far more resistant to the ravages of time.

It seems that the teen years are to natural time to learn meditation. But after this, it will tend to keep a low profile during the reproductive years, when attention is on the practical things day by day. Then comes the transformation to the third life stage, an event now called “midlife crisis”, although it need not be a crisis unless you cling to your withering youth. At this point, many people renew their interest in meditation, and also find it easier.

There are a few who have gone ever deeper on the Innerways at a time when others were satisfied with building up their outer lives. These few tend to become shining examples, but is this because of their practice or were they always different, since they already long ago chose differently? We cannot decide this by a controlled experiment, because it takes place for the longest time in a realm where no one can get in and see what you actually do. Only when the results become obvious can we know. Or that is how it used to be. Today it is possible with scientific instruments to measure roughly what is going on in the brain. Not each particular thought, but whether you are sleeping, thinking, meditating or daydreaming. Perhaps we will get more scientific data on this soon?

But we already know that for many people, meditation (or some other spiritual practice) is the missing ingredient to a calmer, happier and often longer and healthier life. And mid-life is certainly not too late to get started. Why should your last decades be darker and more troubled than necessary? Even a little practice each day adds up to a great change over time. In fact, a little is exactly where one should start. If you keep watering that little sprout, it will grow all by itself, until it becomes a mighty tree, obvious to anyone who passes by.

Meditation: mind and body


The mind can quickly create feelings of joy or pain, which have virtually no connection with the long time effects of what we do.

Meditation (and its recent love child with science, brainwave entrainment) is not a matter of belief. It is a matter of experience. I will comment today on some of these experiences and their time frame, which is very different for each perspective: Mind, body and spirit.

When you sit down and shut up for the first time, your MIND will release a surge of unbound awareness. If you sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed, that awareness will not be able to attach itself to sights and sounds, but will instead rush to attach to objects of the mind: Thoughts, emotions, memories, bodily sensations. These experiences are then drawn to the mind by free awareness, and will seem magnified because they are not drowned out by the usual activity of the mind. They can be pleasant, or unpleasant, or just plain weird. But by and large they will be somehow unusual. And one thing more: They will all pass. Some will fade as soon as you end the session, but in any case a regular practice of meditation will withdraw attachment and at the very least they will fade then.

This means a double threat to the casual would-be meditator. If the first experience is painful or frightening, you will not want to do it again at all. But if the first experience is pleasurable, then when it starts fading you will be upset and disappointed. Most likely you will then move on to some alternative technique, hoping to get that first rush of goodness again. In either case you fail to reap the benefits of a regular meditation practice.

While the mind acts literally in the blink of an eye, the body adapts more slowly. When you have a new experience of any kind, the brain will start growing new connections. The more unusual the experience, the more new connections in the brain. For most people, just sitting down and shutting up is a truly alien experience at first. If you used brainwave entrainment you will quickly experience some degree of synchronization between the two hemispheres of the brain, which should encourage growth of connections between these two halves. (With unaided meditation, this will happen somewhat later and more gradually.) It is not a good idea to overdose on these things, as I have reported elsewhere. It can cause seriously trippy side effects that can even be similar to psychoactive drugs, or at the very least weird and sometimes scary dreams.

The changes in the brain start within hours and continue for several weeks as the new connections grow and mature. After this they will be maintained for a while, but will slowly become more permanent and continue to grow if you repeat your practice regularly. After decades of meditation, there are large visible changes to the brain, with some parts of the brain being visibly larger and having more gray matter than in people who don’t meditate (or pray, or chant, etc) habitually. But long before this you should be able to notice that you are more emotionally stable, thinking more clearly, learning easier and sleeping better (albeit not necessarily more). Stress related illnesses will have less and less power over you. Eventually your mental health will reach a level where you see some of your past habits and thought patterns as sheer insanity.

As you can see, there is no real connection between the first rush of experience when you try meditation (or brainwave entrainment) and the lasting benefits after years of practice. The first is just a rush of new experience; the latter is a fundamental change of who you are in this world. If you just keep repeating your mantra, or count slowly to four, or chant the Holy Name, or listen to the binaural sound track, you will change. More exactly, because meditation is a natural part of human life (despite being repressed in some cultures), you will change into who you were meant to be. More about that “natural part” thing in our next update, Light willing.

Sitting down, shutting up


I need to calm myself down!  If you sometimes feel like that, you may want to read this. If not, you may NEED to read it…

I was thinking to write about the two brainwave entrainment systems I have tested this spring, Holosync and LifeFlow.  However, I realized that this should come first.

As I said already when I was reading up on Holosync, before buying the first (and for me, last) module: Personal growth and transformation will come in some form to virtually anyone who sets aside an hour a day for a monotonous task with a noble purpose. Or to put it more bluntly:  Sit down and shut up, and you will become a better person.

I do not know if it has always been like this. Probably, for in ages past, the day often went with simply working and caring for the most immediate needs. Only a few had the leisure to choose between wisdom and debauchery. But today, the whip we crack to keep us running is inside us rather than outside. The ever running, hectic mind will not be quiet. We work only half as much as our ancestors, and still we have barely time to sleep.

If you have been running around like that, not able to sit still for more than five minutes at best, doing “nothing” for an hour (or even a half!) can be a harrowing experience.  Bill Harris of Centerpointe and Michael Mackensie of Project Meditation both speak of “resistance” as being common, and even “upheaval” being possible, and they give much similar advice on how to deal with it.  Many of these things will happen even if you just sit there, say I.  Memories you had forgotten return out of the blue. Feelings you cannot explain suddenly arise, whether happy or sad.  You become aware of many bodily sensations that you did not notice before.  You suddenly think of a lot of things you should have done. You suddenly miss an old friend or relative that you could phone, or you realize that the house badly needs cleaning.

(Actually, unlike some respectable sages, I think the cleaning urge can be a good sign.  Sitting exercise increase the order within you, so the disorder around you become more obvious and contrary to you. I have good experience with doing some modest amount of cleaning and then returning to my position. But it is also possible that it can serve merely as a distraction, if the need is not real.)

More obvious hindrances are the intense feeling of boredom and urge to be entertained.  Normally people who have nothing else to do will sit down with the TV.  Failing that, a computer will do. It has endless entertainment and distraction.  (I feel the urge to open City of Heroes even now – I guess Goodwin is right that blogging can also be a form of spiritual exercise, “blogio divina” I think he calls it, although Google seems to not recognize that phrase.)

Failing any of these outlet, the human mind will throw itself into remembering (and often rewriting) the past, planning for the future, and constructing elaborate daydreams.  This is what I have written about so often lately, the “default network” of the brain.  (Google will offer to drown you in information about this if you don’t remember my earlier rants.) Everything to make sure we are not actually present in the moment.

Holosync, Hemisync, LifeFlow and many others may have other virtues as well, but arguably their main effect is that they keep people from escaping (or fleeing in horror) from the very act of quietude. Meditation and prayer do this as well, in addition to their own specific effects. Even listening to classic music (I recommend Back on principle) or watching art could have some effect.  And of course watching paint dry.

Before you go into any act of quietude with the sincere intention to make it part of your life, you should be prepared that resistance will appear.  The effect of quietude is growing awareness.  At first this awareness will be dispersed and unfocused, and therefore you will see these effects:  Random memories, feelings, impulses, small pains or itches or strange sensations of your body.  They are the first encounters of your awareness!  The awareness needs to be collected, tamed and trained to go beyond these distractions if you want to grow as a person.  You will meet things you have failed to integrate in the past, or as in my nightmare, thrown down in the basement and locked the door. You will even meet the collective delusions of our culture, and must go beyond these to begin to wake up.

But the first step is to stop stepping, sit down and shut up for a while.