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The Tinkered Mind

A meditation app is forthcoming. Stay Tuned.

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MEDITATION DRAFT SESSION 6: FAILURE IS IDEAL

December 26th, 2022

 

On Monday Tinkered Thinking releases a draft of a lesson from the forthcoming meditation app, currently called The Tinkered Mind (If you can think of a better name, please reach out. I'm not crazy about the current one, but I'll be damned if I let an imperfect name keep me from developing a good idea.) The rationale here is simply to stave off project stagnation by taking a wish to work with words on a daily basis (Tinkered Thinking Posts) and combine it with adjacent projects. This also gives regular readers a chance to get a preview of what I'm cooking up and to get feedback before the app launches, which is a tactic that has proved extremely useful with other projects unrelated to Tinkered Thinking. 

One further introductory note: The goal of this meditation app is predominantly aimed at helping individuals build a robust daily habit by breaking that habit down and tackling it's consitituent parts one at a time and aiding the process with a new and innovative way of tracking progress, the likes of which has not been seen in other meditation apps or habit tracking apps.

Again, if you have any feedback, please reach out via Twitter  

Session 6: Failure is Ideal

Take a moment to sit and arrange your posture. Maintain a straight back with plenty of space for the abdomen to expand and do your best to stick to the posture instructions while seeking comfort. There is a sweet spot that will arise when the crossed legs and the back all sink into a place that feels simultaneously strong and relaxed.

 

Once you’re ready begin breathing with deep exhales. Again, the idea is to have a relatively quick inhale and a slow, longer exhale. I’ll count out a few 4 count inhales followed by exhales with a count of 8

 

 

Inhale till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Then..

 

Inhale again till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Continue this for a couple more breaths, and feel free to allow the exhales to be as long as you want. And once you are ready let your breathing transition to coherence breathing where inhales and exhales are the same length.

 

So when do we get to the meditating? You may have wondered this over the last couple days while we get a few foundational habit rolling. Today we’ll attempt to engage with a mindfulness exercise, and as the title of the session implies, the idea here is to fail.

 

This isn’t a trick or a quaint and contradictory repackaging designed to glide under the radar. We are very deliberately going to seek out a very specific instance of failure.

 

Popular preconceptions of meditation maintain a notion of a mind that is somehow serene and empty, devoid of thought and emotion - a perfectly inert place. This sort of idea needs to be pushed aside for the time being. The aim here is to develop a very practical ability to instantiate instances of mindfulness. 

 

Say for example we are going to spend 15 seconds concentrating solely on the breath. With this kind of task there’s a clear condition for suggest and failure. But instead of success, we are aiming to detect failure. So during the 15 seconds of silence that we will engage with, do try to focus on the slow even rise and fall of the breath. But, most importantly, be on the looking out for thoughts that pop up that have nothing to do with focusing on the breath. Remember, there is no need to shun these thoughts or feel negative in anyway that they occur. Just gently attempt to bring the mind back to the breath. Enjoy the next 15 seconds of breathing and see if at the end you can identify one single thought that was off topic.

 

15 SECONDS OF SILENCE

 

So how did you do? Were you able to focus solely on your inhales and exhales during that 15 seconds or was there a stray thought or two… or three that crept in?

 

Perhaps you are a rare individual and you were able to maintain focus solely on the breath for this brief period of time. If that’s the case I suggest setting the silent timer for an hour, after this session and seeing if any thoughts pop up during this time.

 

Otherwise, it’s more likely that thoughts did pop up, but it was so subtle you didn’t even notice you were having the thought. This is what’s happening most of the time during our waking lives. It’s actually much like a dream - thoughts are happening and we don’t even realize they are happening. 

 

If you were able to detect a thought, and at the end of those 15 seconds you were able to recognize: oh, I had a thought about this, or that, then congratulations, you succeeded in the simple task of noticing failure.

 

This is what the bulk of mindfulness training entails in the beginning - simply noticing that your mind is preoccupied with some sort of thought. The preoccupation and presence of a thought can be thought of as a “failure” to focus on the right thing, but the simple ability to simply recognize that the thought is present and in the way of the real object of focus is mindfulness!

 

It’s almost as if we develop a second attention. One that takes a bird’s eye view of the mind and which can eventually see quite quickly and swiftly that the mind has become distracted. Many people seem to think of meditation as a kind of flow state - where the mind is in a single unchanging state for some period of time. But it’s better to think of it as quite the opposite: as a very active period when you are on guard to notice what happens in the mind. Each thought that pops up is like a weed that we need to pull. Or it can even be like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos where thoughts are popping up left and right. Most of the time we are simply oblivious as if hypnotized by all the commotion. But in the beginning, mindfulness is a very active process of noticing thoughts and recognizing them as they emerge.

 

Even as you are hearing these words, there’s likely a whole commotion of thought bubbling up around each syllable and sentence as you are reminded of other things or as distractions and worries bubble up.

 

So let’s engage with another 15 seconds of silence and try to see how many times the mind wanders off the task of focusing on the breath, starting now.

 

 

15 SECONDS OF SILENCE

 

Perhaps you noticed a few more thoughts this time? In the beginning it’s quite likely that the mind is absolutely buzzing, and if you only notice one thought, or if you can barely pay attention to a single inhalation without thoughts flooding your experience, that’s completely ok. Noticing just one stray thought during these periods of silence is a fundamental success.

 

One useful way to think of this business of thoughts and the sheer number of them that can exist is to think of them all as a huge backlog of thoughts you haven’t given proper space and attention to. In a way, thoughts are a lot like children. Anyone who has spent significant time with children knows that a child is almost constantly trying to get an adult’s attention, and often that’s all they need. Once we give them a little of our time, attention and energy, they seem satisfied and get back to their play. Thoughts are just like this. They can bubble around the periphery of our consciousness, causing stress and tension, but once we notice and deliberately recognize the thought, poof, it vanishes. So imagine an enormous backlog of thoughts like this. Like a long line of children who are all waiting to get a little slice of your attention, but who let you be once they’ve got it.

 

Instead of seeing the near constant stream of thoughts that crop up as somehow being bad or failing at meditation or mindfulness, see it instead as the main work. Your task is simply to notice each thought and give them a tiny bit of attention until they vanish and you can go back to focusing on the object of attention you wish to have - in our case, focusing on the breath. After enough sessions doing this, the backlog of thoughts will thin, and grow small. Now, it certainly replenishes, but if we can remain consistent and deliberate in our practice, we eventually get through the backlog of thoughts and then we experience these brief and lovely instances of being present. This doesn’t happen overnight, but in time these instances of peaceful presence grow larger and more numerous, and eventually it becomes something we can invoke at will during any part of our day. It becomes a muscle that we train daily which we can use when anger flares up unexpectedly, or when we wish to sink deeper into a pleasant experience.

 

But most importantly remember this takes time. Tt’s why there is such an emphasis in this program to aim for a long term habit of meditation. This isn’t a weekend get-away, it’s not a spa treatment, it’s more like cleaning house - a house that has never been cleaned, and that takes time and deliberate attention. So there’s absolutely no reason to beat yourself up or think you are “bad” at meditation if the silence we explore here seems to leave you drowning in thoughts. That is completely fine and it’s expected. In fact it should raise some suspicion if it’s not the case. If it doesn’t seem like you have many thoughts, then it’s likely they are not getting noticed at all. This simple and subtle act of noticing a thought can take time to find and get good at. It’s a bit like noticing a dream. Few can do it and it rarely happens spontaneously. Luckily, thoughts are a little more explicit because we can consciously invoke them, and often do.

 

Now, as this session wraps up, let’s transition from coherence breathing back to deep exhales, and try to notice any thoughts that pop up as we go through out counts.

 

Inhale till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Then..

 

Inhale again till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

 

Continue like this for a few more moments while the session ends and think about how these simple breathing techniques are something you can carry with you through out the day - practices you can use whenever you need a sense of clarity and calm. 


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