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The Tinkered Mind

A meditation app is forthcoming. Stay Tuned.

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MEDITATION DRAFT SESSION 9: STATE VS. TRAIT

January 16th, 2023

 

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 9: State vs. Trait

 

Take a moment to sit and arrange your posture. Maintain a straight back with plenty of space for the abdomen to expand.

 

Once you’re ready begin breathing with deep exhales. We want 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.

 

Even a few simple slow breaths is enough to alter our mental state. Long exhales slow down the heart rate, and these changes in the body in turn effect the mind. After a few breaths we feel a little more relaxed, a little calmer and clearer in thought. It’s because of this impact and the fact that breathing is so easily accessible by the conscious mind that it’s often a primary focus for meditation. We invoke the physical body in a certain way in order to have a particular effect on our mental experience.

 

But the mental state created by these changes in the body is just that: a state. The quality of calmness and clear thinking isn’t necessarily a trait of the person experiencing that state. But with a prolonged practice, these states can become personality traits.

 

After years of daily meditation, I consciously decided to take a break form the practice. The reasons behind this decision were numerous, but a key question I had was whether the practice was still having any kind of effect. Had I permanently changed as a person, or was the practice still having a real and necessary role in my mental life?

 

Another reason was to prepare for the composition of this very program of meditation. I felt there could be a lot of benefit starting again, much like a beginner, or a personal trainer who purposely gains a bunch of weight and then goes through the process that their clients go through by training the body in order to regain their previous physique. If the challenges of the beginner can be vividly experienced again, then there might be some benefit to the way this meditation program unfolds as it’s created.

 

The results of this experiment were fascinating. For almost five months I felt very much as though I’d been meditating daily the whole time. But after that five month mark, subtle changes started to roll back. 

 

The plan was to restart the practice after six months, but I didn’t manage to make that happen. It’s easy to say that life was busy and stressful, but in reality the habit was simply gone. It was no longer a daily reflex to sit and train the mind.

 

And the longer time went on, the more it seemed that my mental life was regressing, and the kinds of emotions and thoughts that started emerging were very reminiscent, if not identical to the sort of mental life I’d experienced previous to my years of meditation. 

 

Now this is of course just one person’s ancedote, and it would be great if a rigorous study of this kind existed, but this kind of “ancedata” is still quite powerful, especially since I’ve seen it replicated in other people.

 

Last year I reconnected with a friend who I had introduced to meditation. Before developing a practice this person had experienced tremendous anxiety and dealt with issues of anger and rage. About half a year of daily practice had improved these issues to an impressive and noticeable degree. But much later when we reconnected, I discovered this person had started taking medication for anxiety.

 

I asked about their meditation practice, and as it turned out, they had fallen out of the habit several months prior. In the same breath, this person commented that the should get back into it.

 

After a few fits and starts with trying to reinstall the meditation habit in my own life, I finally managed to make a dedicated and disciplined go of it. And once I had some momentum with the practice something else interesting seemed to occur. It was as though I was reliving my first  couple years of daily practice, the subtle milestones that I experienced during those first two years were arriving again but this time, much quicker. It wouldn’t be much benefit to try and describe these mental milestones at this point, but I believe it’s worth pointing out this part of the experience. If years of practice could be likened to a song, then it was as if I was hearing the opening melody and picking up the beat faster than when I learned it the first time. So even if practice sputters and stops, there does appear to be a lingering affect of the practice, and not only that, every session of practice compounds that effect. It’s my guess that these traits linger in proportion to how long a person has maintained a practice, but of course that’s just a hypothesis.

 

Regardless, the experiment was valuable mainly for that second reason - for becoming a beginner again and experiencing the same frustration that can arise when trying to start something new and failing to make it stick.

 

Installing a habit in your life is difficult. A fair amount of discipline is needed in the beginning to gain some momentum, but the interesting thing is that well established habits require virtually no discipline whatsoever. No one has to goad themselves into brushing their teeth, it just happens. And it’s because of that difficult initial period of installing a habit that this program has been designed to hopefully take away some of the strain by piecing the habit apart and tackling it in stages, and gain a little momentum while the mind can be preoccupied with the sort of content you’re listening to now.

 

So, in this last minute, again bring your attention to your posture, make sure the back is straight and note any difficulties you are having with the seated position. Simply thinking through the mechanics of where and how your body’s weight is or isn’t being supported can help you figure out nuances about how best to arrange your body for the practice. Feel free to do a quick body scan as we went through in the last session, imagining a sheet of light above you descend and trace a ring of attention down around your body…

 

Then, take a few slow deep breaths through the nose and reflect on how far you’ve already progressed with this habit. If you’re listening to this session then you’ve racked up a solid number of days, and already there’s a strong momentum gathering in your habit. This momentum will continue to grow with each day and each session, and it will be this behavioral foundation, this habit of taking time to sit, where we will have the space and the tools to experience new states of mind, and eventually work towards turning those states into traits that we carry with us into the rest of our life.

 

Let’s transition now 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.


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