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Mixing the Mind (Part 1 of 3)
by Michael Erlewine
Editor's Note from Eden Kozlowski: I enjoy reading about different ways to meditate. Michael really gives a different angle to the practice making it practical for everyone.
Learning meditation is hard because it can be boring. Like trying to thread a needle, there is no easy way to do it except to do it. For starters, you have to learn to focus and concentrate. Often the breath is what we concentrate on, but here is the problem:
Going off and sitting on a cushion in the corner and focusing on your breath is foreign to most of us, perhaps a bridge too far. Of course it eventually works, but in the meantime there is a great chance we will give up and abandon trying. Instead, try mixing your mind practice with something you are already doing that requires concentration and focus.
It came as a revelation to me when the Tibetan dharma teacher I have worked with for some 30 years pointed out to a group of us that sitting in front of a computer was a good way to learn some of the basics of meditation. It got my attention because as a system programmer I sit in front of the computer a lot, probably more than is healthy for me. I was all ears.
Chances are that most of us already have learned to concentrate in some area of our life. Figure out what that area is and you are halfway there. Plus, with any luck, you like the area in which you do concentrate or at least have learned to be patient with it. You already are somewhat of an expert.
For me it was programming a computer. It takes attention, concentration, and discipline. And rather than the few minutes, half hour, or hour I managed to squeeze out for my daily meditation practice, with computer programming I was often gladly doing it eight hours (or more) a day. That, my friends, is real practice time, the kind of time needed to develop a solid meditation practice. As I used to tell myself: Michael, you will never get to heaven by going to church once a week, on Sunday. It will take a lot more than that to save you. Well, here it is.
I was already an expert at holding my body still, focusing the mind on programming, and keeping it focused. How is that different from focusing on the breath? It isn’t. Focus is focus, concentration is concentration.
Yet programming isn’t “spiritual,” right? What is? That idea of spirituality and a bus ticket will get you a ride. You have all heard of books like “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” right? There is no subject that is not spiritual, no subject that you can’t mix your mind with and practice meditation.
Am I telling you to give up formal meditation and throw away your cushion? Not at all. Keep it up, but also begin supplementing formal meditation with some area of your life where you already have learned to focus and concentrate. When you find that area, how do you turn that into “meditation?”
It is easy, since you already have mastered the hard part, learning to focus and concentrate. Once you have found an area in your life where you already can focus your attention, then just ‘practice’ letting the mind rest in that. As you tense up with focus, be aware of that and allow the mind to just relax into rest. “Relax as it is,” as the saying goes. Just be aware of it.
You want to hold your attention fixed on whatever you are concentrating, but also just let the mind rest. This too is just ‘practice’, but you are establishing a habit of allowing the mind to rest in awareness of what you are doing. This is all part of meditation. And the best part is that if you have been concentrating with focus in some area of your life for a long time, you have already built a habit identical to practicing meditation. All you have to do is realize this, be aware of it, and make it a practice.
Meditation ‘practice,” is just that, practice, learning the habit or discipline of focusing our mind. Practice is never meditation. Only meditation is meditation. Meditation practice is the scaffolding we use to learn the habit of meditation. Once we learn how to meditate, we stop practicing and just meditate. No more trying.
Chances are you may already be doing something like meditation and just are not aware of it. So become aware of it, do it consciously, and mix your mind training with whatever you already know how to concentrate on. And what types of activities are right for this?
There is no activity that is wrong for mixing your mind training with. It could be as simple as running the laundry, putting out the garbage, doing the bills, taking a shower. You name it. It is best if we can find some area of activity where we really have to focus and have been doing so for a long time. Look around you in your life and see what requires you to really be present and focused, and start with that. It could be whatever you are really good at or love to do. I totally mix my mind with photography, for instance.
Are there more advanced ways to mix the mind? Of course. There are all kinds of advanced forms of meditation. Ultimately one mixes the mind with the mind of one’s teacher, but for starters find something that you already are already familiar with and go from there. If you have interest in hearing more on this subject, there is something I could add in another blog about how we can ‘spiritualize’ whatever activity we do. Interested?
In the meantime, here are a couple of poems that are meant to be fun, the first of which is about trying too hard to meditate.
TESTING THE REST
Learning to rest the mind,
Really puts my practice to the test,
So sometimes I just need to take a break,
And simply get some rest.
And the second poem is about letting the mind rest:
THE REST OF THE MIND
You cannot rest the mind,
But you can let the mind rest.
Just let go,
And don’t mind the rest.
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About the Author
Astrologer and Matrix Software founder Michael Erlewine helped to revolutionize modern computerized astrology back in the early '70s. An archivist of popular culture, Erlewine pioneered Internet content by founding the All Music Guide, All Movie Guide, All Game Guide, and ClassicPosters.com, today some of the most popular entertainment sites on the web. In recent years, Michael Erlewine has found time to work with astrology once again, producing the StarTypes series of astrological programs. Combining tarot card-like graphic with astrological wisdom is something Erlewine has always wanted to do. "This is astrology as I like it, with lots of images to spark my imagination," he writes, "I hope you enjoy these programs as much as I do."
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