I have a confession to make… It is a bit shameful… At least I find it shameful or rather there is a feeling of shame attached to it though rationally I know there is no justification for that shame. A couple of posts ago I talked about how I’d quit watching pornography. Though I didn’t also mention it I’d also quit masturbation generally.
I hadn’t quit either of them for any moral reasons but because I’ve heard from multiple sources that there is a lot of energy surrounding sex and orgasm in the body. So I wanted to experiment with that in my spiritual/meditative practices.
To do so I’d have to quit masturbation which is easier said than done. Especially if you’re like me and you’ve got a libido that would shame a rabbit. For months I tried quitting. Some times I’d manage 5 whole days before up the tumescent member popped and demanded to be touched and I – being the grotty servant I am – would acquiesce in shame.
This was until a month ago. I don’t know how or why but the desire just left. I’d get erect from time to time but it had no pull, no attachment to my inclination. So for a month I did not masturbate and it was easy. It was like I was in a state of grace.
On this weekend though… the day before I posted my analysis of my view of beauty before and after porn – see how shameful it is… I’m almost as bad as those WWJD priests preaching abstinence whilst fondling choir girls (at least I wasn’t saying you shouldn’t do anything phew!) – I got very drunk. The next day on the hang-over I watched porn and masturbated!!! And since then the tumescent member has regained his influence!
And the reason I watched porn and masturbated wasn’t because I had a desire to… but because I wanted to see if I was truly free of it… I tested the state of grace and it broke 😥
WOE IS ME! :p
Meditation becomes like a tool-kit. We encounter different situations in life and for every one of those situations meditation has something to offer.
Of course there are circumstances that involve concentrated thought about a variety of things and whilst you are engaged in such activities you cannot be meditating at the same time. Meditation can be a thing to use when you take a break from them to get your brain back into that state where ideas and creativity flow.
In exercise meditation is particularly effective. I run about 3 miles a day. Some days I find it a breeze; I’ve got plenty of energy and I feel like super-man. Other days it feels like a real grind. On the days when it’s easy I find that a diffuse focus, watching the world around me as I run and just being universally mindful is a beautiful thing to do. On the days when it’s a grind I’ve found that if I meditate on the feeling of my feet slapping the ground then I can put myself into a trance and it becomes agreeable.
I think the same thing is happening when you listen to music and run. The music gives your mind something to focus on and that puts you into a trance. I stopped listening to music when I run though. Not because I think it’s immoral or anything like that but because I don’t want to be dependent on things. Also because I had the thought the other day that if a zombie apocalypse were to happen I’d be sorted in terms of cardio. But if you have to listen to music in order to run long distance that would be useless in a zombie scenario.
In social interactions I’ve found that focusing on the other person – aka meditating on the other person – to be highly effective. (If you feel anxious in social interactions try to do that and watch your anxiety at the same time. Have faith that your anxiety is not based on reality.) I look them in the eye and listen without internal comment to what they say. Often responses I give surprise me but they always seem to be appropriate. Whereas before when I’d spend time thinking about what I would say I would stammer and there was always a contrived nature to my utterances.
Media has robbed people of their innate sense of beauty. The problem with the media is that it sets up a standard and then people – especially men (at least that’s how it seems to me being a man) – think that beauty is determined by how closely a woman resembles this ideal.
Let it be clear: I am not a sexist. Sure if you were to average out scores on physical strength tests men would be “superior” but in the modern world physical strength is an irrelevance. In all relevant factors men and woman are identical. But I am a man who is now talking about beauty and given that my opinions are MINE and are subjective I can only talk about a man’s view of beauty and seeing as I’m a heterosexual they will be about the beauty of women. Disclaimer over.
Recently I quit pornography. I don’t mean I was once a porn-star. I mean I quit watching it. This along with not really watching TV anymore puts me in an ideal position to compare the two states. How I saw women before and after.
The main conclusion I have come to is that I had been robbed. What I naturally found beautiful encompassed much wider range than what I thought I found beautiful under the spell of media.
It’s not that any specific body-shape or type is beautiful. If I try to analyze women I find beautiful in terms of physical characteristics now I find that there are no universals. Rather it’s that a woman’s body expresses her personality. The make-up they wear, the emotion lines they have, the asymmetries of the face. All of it is beautiful. Well not all because sometimes it’s expressing quite grotesque character flaws. Funnily enough some of the women I found beautiful before I find ugly now.
I think a key factor in it is also that I am not gauging women in terms of how it would be to have sex with them. I think that when one stops gauging people in terms of sexual attraction then inner beauty shines out and sexual attraction arises out of that rather than just being a shallow measure of a person. Something that is fleeting.
Different meditation techniques – or rather different anchors – work better in different emotional environments.
I meditate three times a day. I used to do 2 20 minute sessions and before that I did 2 5 minute sessions. I enjoy the practice so much that I haven’t found it hard to do it more often. In fact I find the opposite to be true.
The technique I began with was this: I would pay attention to the feeling of my hands in my lap. Whenever I was distracted I would bring my attention back to my hands. Simple.
I found that this technique didn’t work so well in the morning. My mind was springing all over the place. This could be something to do with the neuro-chemistry involved with waking you up. For a while I fought this. I would stick it out and just build up a feeling of annoyance. This annoyance was no doubt caused by me wanting to get to that state of peace that comes during and after a good meditation.
One morning I thought I’d try a different approach. Instead of keeping my attention on the feeling of my hands in my lap I’d let my attention wander. The only restriction I gave was that when I realized I was lost in thoughts I’d bring my attention back to the hands and then immediately let it wander again. I also tried to keep it focused on sounds and feelings rather than thoughts. This worked a treat.
I didn’t get the same depth – or rather the same type of depth. When I meditate on the feeling of my hands and I’m able to keep my attention fixed there I find that my body goes to sleep but I stay awake. My breathing becomes very deep and regular, everything becomes louder but quieter (if that makes any sense). I think it’s called a trance. Anyway it’s very pleasant. When I let my attention wander I find that a peace arises but it’s a more lively peace.
I’ve also found that when I’m feeling anxious – especially on or before a date with a woman – that meditating on the feeling of anxiety is incredibly powerful. This is because the feeling of anxiety prior to such an event is often so intense that it’s easy to maintain focus on. I’ve found that through maintaining focus on the feeling the feeling goes away. Then there’s a period of calm – a hiatus – before the inevitable thought “I’m going to meet a very attractive girl who I want to like me” pops in and causes a fresh wave of anxiety to focus on. This whole process has become a pleasure rather than a torment because of this.
The popular idea put out about reaching this state of not wanting stuff is that it is hard. Instead of calling it “Not-wanting-stuff” big ominous words like enlightenment, nirvana and awakening have been used. The business of not wanting stuff is popularly portrayed as serious stuff.
One of the most popular images out there concerning the path to not-wanting-stuff is that of renunciation. Before one can become enlightened one must undergo serious privations. You cannot eat certain foods; in fact it’s best not to eat for most of the time. You have to sit and meditate for long hours every day. You have to undergo extreme physical regimens. Basically the whole idea that is put out in a lot of the kung-fu movies. What’s the most common image that comes to mind when you think of enlightenment? Isn’t it some Asiatic monk in yellow robes meditating in an uncomfortable position.
The problem with this way of attaining not-wanting is that it isn’t really not-wanting. You are acting on the desire to not desire. You engage the rational mind and it comes up with the instructions “To stop wanting things you must wean yourself off of things. Have no things. If you like it do not have it. If you do not like it have it”. The problem is that this is really the 1st way (which is really no way) of stopping suffering. This is really a way that entails controlling phenomena so that you no longer experience happenings that you don’t want to experience. It’s subtle but once you see that this activity is no different to attempting to control your experience it is quite evident. I mean look at the life-style and the isolation that the monks have to set up for themselves in order to attain the end of this path.
Mindfulness is a much better way. With mindfulness we don’t seek to control experience at all. We just watch it. As one practices this things that bothered us stop bothering us. For example I had a migraine for 3 days a couple of days ago. In the past I would have tried to distract myself from it. Push it away from myself. But this time I just watched it and it became pleasant. It was still painful but the watching of the experience was satisfying and interesting. The same method is used with pleasant experiences. Instead of avoiding, of controlling WATCH!
Mindfulness deals with anxiety effectively because it deals with thoughts. Though mindfulness can cause anxiety to stop it doesn’t always do so. The power of mindfulness doesn’t lie in its capacity to make bad sensations, thoughts or whatever stop. The power of it lies in the fact that it takes you beyond them, it gives you a lofty perspective from which you can watch the things that bother you. You can even watch the “Botheredness”.
When you have such a perspective things cease to be so dramatic, so in your face. As time goes on in the practice everything becomes stuff that is happening.
This is probably the reason why it is one of the main practices in Buddhism. Buddhism is all about suffering; or to be more exact it is all about the cessation of suffering. This is what nirvana is. Nirvana comes from the pali word that means “to extinguish” and the thing that is extinguished is the cause of suffering.
What is the cause of suffering? Desire.
Life is a long sequence of events, of happenings. People suffer when something they want to happen doesn’t happen and when something happens that they do not want to happen. You can quibble as much as you want but all suffering falls into one of those two categories. So how do we deal with suffering? What is the best way to deal with it? As I see it there are two ways of dealing with suffering.
One way is to control events, to make happen what we want to happen all the time. There are two problems with this approach. 1. It is not always possible for us to control events. 2. Even if we could make happen what we wanted to happen all the time we would get bored because it would be like cheating in a game. Have you ever cheated at a computer game and noticed how rapidly it lost interest?
The second way is to not want stuff. Some people may say “But that would be boring”. Well if you find not wanting stuff boring then you are wanting stuff. You are wanting stimulation so you don’t understand not wanting stuff (nirvana).
To be continued…
I think I was too hasty in ascribing my performance anxiety to the role of clever person I thought I had to up-hold. Sure in my later life it certainly manifested itself through that but it wasn’t the deep, under-lying thought routine that caused it. That thought routine was the need-to-please.
Everyone – at least so it seems to me – has this need though it doesn’t always manifest alongside anxiety. This is because as I said before anxiety is often caused by physiological factors and only gets tied to mental factors if it is already present.
The need-to-please is a funny desire. It’s totally irrational of course because 1. There are no universal criteria that if fulfilled would please everyone and 2. The criteria we think – however subconscious that thought is – we need to fulfill is not derived from anyone.
We cannot possibly know the preferences of another person. This is partly because our preferences aren’t really fixed quantities. At one time of day I really prefer chocolate at another I really prefer bacon. To say either chocolate or bacon are my absolute favorite is to deny the living character of preference.
Most people don’t even know their own preferences. Even in the case of reflective people the preferences they admit to themselves that they have aren’t the result of an analysis of their native taste but a sanitized version that is culturally acceptable within whatever culture they socialize.
Often the “person” we are seeking to please is a total figment of our imagination. It is an out-ward projection of what we see as acceptable or successful that we project onto other, real people. See most of the time the other is so caught up in judging themselves through us that they don’t have the time to actually judge us. It’s quite absurd when you look at it. Even in the case where someone is actually judging you it’s not their judgment that you see in them but your judgment of yourself projected onto their face.
This need-to-please causes us to act out roles that we think are socially acceptable. In my case it was the clever person but other roles include the ditsy blond, the crazy guy, the doctor and so on. Sometimes the roles are given different names. One time in my friend group we were describing ourselves in terms of characters from “The Big Bang Theory”.
Another way that thought can create anxiety is called performance anxiety. I think that’s the name though that could be to do with sex though if it is then it is just a particular example of the general rule I wish to pontificate upon today.
Performance anxiety is what people experience before an exam or before going on stage. They perceive that they have to perform to a certain standard. Though this perception may be true in the case of an exam or a role in a play even there this perception doesn’t help.
It’s the cause of that strange phenomena whereby stupid people shout at clever people on game shows because the clever people couldn’t recall an answer that the stupid person could.
There may even be arguments for how this form of anxiety can be beneficial in competitive environments. It becomes a problem though when a person – and I was that person for a long time – has the same perception concerning everyday social interactions.
With me it came about that I thought I was clever and because I was clever I had to behave in a certain way, talk in a certain way. You know use big words and never say innit. So I would go into social situations and just not be authentic. I couldn’t carry a conversation, couldn’t hold eye-contact. Every social situation became a trauma because I would not only be trying to come across as “clever” (which is a very stupid thing to do) but I was simultaneously berating myself for not being authentic. I saw how stupid my actions – or rather the source of my actions – was but I couldn’t bring myself to behave otherwise. It was like there was a dive to be taken and I was too cowardly to take it.
It’s evident that such behavior is stupid because if someone doesn’t like you why does that matter? When it comes down to it what is there that you want to do that someone looking down on you will stop you from doing? Nothing! (except in cases like acting or a job interview but they are not the vast majority of social interactions). By behaving from a place where you are worrying about other people’s opinion of yourself you often bring about their disapproval. You become a prostitute for approval and people sub-consciously find that distasteful.
The problem was that no matter how much I understood my predicament knowledge did nothing to help me. So how did I remedy this situation? Mindfulness!!!
Descriptive statements are superior to normative statement. A descriptive statement or proposition is of the form “A is X”. A normative statement is of the form “A should be X”. Descriptive statements say something about the way things are and normative statements say something about the way things should be. All normative statements are based on descriptive statements and this is why I say that descriptive statements are superior.
Take for example the normative statement “You should frequently change the oil in your car”. This is based on the descriptive statements “You want your car to function well”, “You want your car to last a long time”, “You do not want your car to be expensive to maintain” and statements like “Cars run well when they have clean oil” and so on. The normative statement “You should frequently change the oil of your car” is only true if you actually want your car to run well. If you do not then the correct normative statement would be “You should never change the oil in your car”.
The main spring of a normative statement is preference. So really normative statements are true or false depending on the preferences of the person who it is aimed at. Descriptive statements on the other hand are true or false independently of the preferences of the person who states them or the person to whom they are said. A ball is spherical independent of our tastes concerning shape. A ball should be spherical is only true if you prefer spherical balls. This is another reason why I say descriptive statements are superior to normative statements because they have an independence of subjects. Or at least they seem to.