Meditation and Me Time
The question of the soul versus the self
The plague of anxiety which is engulfing what we laughingly call our society is at fever pitch. Of course, a consumer culture such as ours transfers all the emotional cost of the profit system to the private individual. Isolated, alone, and faced with one hysterical crisis after another, it is unsurprising after the solitary confinement of lockdowns that people have discovered they don’t like being with themselves.
Meditation is a big business. It is now called something like ‘wellness’ - or, in the words of Sadiq Khan - ‘Mennal elth’. To look after your ‘mennal elth’ has become a duty. Self care, they call it. Candles, duvet days, hot rocks, yoga, dolphin themed tarot cards, mindfulness. Cometh the hour, cometh the merchandise. This, however, is yet another cure which will make you even more sick.
Meditation in all its forms is to do with the self. Most meditation is mental masturbation - it’s a habit to make you ‘feel good’ which is bad for you, because it makes you more and not less of a navel gazer. To put it bluntly, if the problem is your mind you need to fix it, not indulge it with soothing rituals. Meditation is usually a painkiller for a problem. It will dull the effect and leave the cause unanswered.
Meditation as a mask
The search for a true self, a true will, is what underlies much of meditation. The idea is that there is a realer reality inside you which the material world conceals. The True You will be revealed if you do these exercises, sit in this position, say these words to yourself alone.
There is a true you and it is your soul. To mistake this for an ‘inner self’ is to magnify the problem which led you to require the search for something other than your disappointing life. Your life is disappointing because it is centred on your self. If it is soulless, it is because you have neglected your soul. No amount of ersatz Buddhism is going to bring that back.
Swami Vivekananda’s Eight Lectures on Yoga was one of the first books to gain traction in the West about what became Cosmic Stretching. It is akin to the obsession with exotic foods, an eclectic fad which is oikophobic in essence. Everything foreign is good, so it goes, and these mysterious practices of kundalini, chi, chakras are a seat of wisdom overlooked by bigoted westerners and their hateful creed.
There was also Bhikku Ananda Mettaya, or Alan Bennett as he was before he went full Sangha. Never go full Sangha. Of course Herman Hesse’s Siddartha helped stir the pot for the worship of nothing. I have nothing against nothing, as you shall see - it’s just no replacement for God.
My argument is that these traditions, when combined with the emerging Modernist current, simply induced people to become extremely self obsessed. It accelerated and continues to accelerate isolation, navel gazing and preening. Meditation is mask that does not just eat into the face - but into the soul. It is part of an assumed sophistication which reduces to vanity, a smug handshake to the self, which becomes detached from the mundane (other people’s boring lives) and proceeds to turn the dazzling kaleidoscope of the Real Me. It is, like all phenomenology, a vanity project. Mindfulness is not a good idea if your mind is full of rubbish.
Two types of meditation - Discipline and Merchandising
Meditation is different from discipline. Some techniques such as breathing cycles and posture control do indeed increase self control and are good for you. The more difficult stuff - the holding of an image in the mind, the emptying of the mind, the complete cessation of feeling at will, the deliberate slowing of the heartbeat - these too are effective means of self command and are invaluable skills.
I don’t like calling these things ‘meditation’ because they have little to do with sitting down like a pillock on a pastel mat in a pair of whorepants. They are methods of discipline not self congratulation. You don’t have to spend any money to learn them. It takes a lot of time to get anywhere with some of them. Stop reading this now, close your eyes and imagine a red circle. See how long you can hold that image in your mind - and nothing else - before it flickers.
The second type is the one I am on about. It is the one with all the candles, scents, bells, mats, poses, stretches, mantras, mandalas, mumbo jumbo and merchandise. This is the most common perception of meditation and it is usually sold by funny smelling flakes of both (or all) gendersexes. People who play didgerdoos like to go on about it. A strong odour of the cosmic pervades the isness business. Meditation is the commodification of alternative wellness. It explains the appeal of Gwyneth Paltrow.
Why don’t you like yourself?
If you have been told you are no good all your life, have been cruelly mistreated as a child, you will probably hate yourself. If you live in a society which constantly pushes addiction as some kind of manumission, you might feel a touch maladjusted. We have all just been locked up for our own good against a bad cold which is mitigated by exposure to sunlight. It is hard not to go a little bit insane when messages like this shape your social reality. What we eat makes us malnourished and who in their right mind would trust a doctor these days? The collapse of reality into crisis narrative is an enormous burden on an atomised society. We bear this alone and it breaks us.
Junk and Fraud
The fathers of psychoanalysis never offered a cure, but diagnosed a sickness to milk their newly minted patients indefinitely. People have indeed become increasingly dependent on mood altering drugs and ‘therapy’, and the vast wellness industry helps to demonstrate the point that something is making us all feel very bad. The answer to the mental illness factory you inhabit is not to get cosmic and polish your shabby little self image. Nor is droning on about yourself to hired strangers - who make more money the longer you stay miserable. The answer is is to get better.
Get better than you.
How to get better than yourself
Don’t waste time trying to feel better about a mess. Fix it. Here is how.
When you think you are losing control of yourself take a deep breath, deep as you can. Hold it, count 3 or 5, breathe out, hold again, repeat. Do three cycles.
Learn to tense and relax. Push your shoulders up to your ears and hold. Let go. Let your head fall to the left. Leave it. Then to the right. Breathe deeply and breathe out when you stretch. Let your chin fall to your chest. Finally, look up, pointing your chin up to the ceiling. Hold each position for as long as you can. Let your head sag under its own weight. Breathe out as it stretches your neck. Most of your upper back, shoulder, neck pain will disappear if you do this every now and then.
Sit still for five minutes and don’t do anything. Try to remain absolutely motionless. Try to work up to 20 minutes. Then you can say your rosary properly.
Practise holding an image in your mind for as long as you can. Do not think of anything else. It’s impossible at first but after a few years it is easy. Start with a triangle or something and work up to something better.
Learn to control your emotions. Hold your breath under water and keep calm. Go climbing and get the fear. Practise staying still whilst you let the wave of the terror of death break over you. When you have stopped shaking, carry on.
Learn traditional martial arts. Have someone provoke your fear, pain, anger and compassion by striking you and slamming you on the ground. Work on complete detachment from your feelings and thoughts of ‘what happens next’. If you don’t know how to spot a good (and bad) dojo, ask me.
If you care about any of this enough to ask me about how to do it then email me and I will help you. firstname.lastname@example.org
I am not a pervert and I will never ask for (or demand) your money if you need some help getting strong.
This all sounds a bit cosmic. What is going on, Frank?
I have done a lot of this sort of thing. The greatest benefit I have extracted from any of this is the following:
Being able to stop your mind is excellent
Silencing your feelings prevents panic in any emergency
Mental and emotional self command can be learned
Avoid becoming food for demons by involving some divine worship in your practice. Why do I say that? New Age practices are simply Satanic. They offer your dedication to some demon or other and it will answer and devour you. Yoga isn’t about ‘Union with God’ - it is sexual in nature and you can get a better workout lifting weights. Or doing the sanshin no kata. Never trust a hippie. If you do stretch, just stretch. Spirituality without God is taking you in the wrong direction.
I could put that in less wacky sounding terms like depersonalisation and object relations or cathexis but these are just euphemisms for demonic possession. People are so wrapped up in themselves, in so much pain, that the moment they start to do something that makes them feel better they are easily delivered into the hands of someone- or something - else. Don’t make me tap the sign.
Not everyone is Satan but you will be easy meat for any grifter the minute you feel some relief from pain or fear that has been troubling you. Cultivate self command to avoid getting suckered. Self help gurus are sharks. The only way to help yourself is to take command of your thoughts and your emotions. You must face your fear of death, because this is the root of every anxiety. When you are at peace with that, no one will be able to exploit your temporary relief.
Praying the rosary requires mental and emotional and physical discipline. Do it right and it will provide you with all the calm and inner peace you would ever require.
If you want to have a better chance of surviving life’s battles, saving lives, not panicking in a disaster, you need to learn the difference between fear and danger. There is no need to buy anything to do this, either. If you can’t go climbing, climb a ladder. You have to find something to do which provokes fear with a (more or less) managed risk. Perhaps a cold bath will do it. Practise alone before you start facing your fears of public speaking or talking to people. Once you are in control you won’t care about your fear any more, and you will respond better to danger.
Enlightenment and violence
I think it is worth trying to learn what the Japanese call mushin, which is the discipline of no-mind. I did this when doing martial arts. It broadly informs the idea of spontaneous awakening which underpins Rinzai Zen, named after Daisuke Rinzai, who is said to have achieved enlightenment as an accident of his martial training.
I got a good kicking for many years and did go a bit cosmic. I started wearing the sandals and the trousers but I never watched those gay cartoons. I still eat raw fish and love to go on about Miyamoto Musashi. Turning Wapanese? Don’t worry. You will get better.
There is a lot of nonsense written about enlightenment. I wish I had never read any of it. What I think you want is nothing.
Nothing really matters
There is nothing there behind this ‘self’ you are told is inner, true, a child. Nothing.
That is what you want.
If you are old enough to remember the way the television turned off then this part is going to be easy. When you are in distress, from fear (internal distress) or danger (external distress) imagine you are turning off your mind with a remote control like an old television. Watch the image of everything in your head - and the sound as well - shrink from the edges of the screen into a tiny bright dot. Then, let the inky blackness consume it. Let it go.
I use this technique to switch off my mind. I got to the point that it works by imagining my thoughts as balloons which I could just release out of my head into nowhere. Let all the words follow them up too. As you get better at letting go, you will find the TV trick easy.
You are not your thoughts. You are not the chatter in your mind. You are not obliged to listen to this and you don’t have to serve every feeling that springs up. Become independent from your self and master it. The self is made out of all these things, which are not lies, but they are not YOU either. You are more than a bunch of wants and anxieties and what’s-going-to-happen-to-me. You are a soul with thoughts and words and feelings.
The self is forever hungry, but the soul provides. The Holy Rosary, Eucharistic adoration, prayer with the kind of discipline which comes from dedicated practice - this will feed what is best in you, and silence that which is worst.
Learn to control your body and your mind and turn them both to God. Not only will you no longer be afraid, you will be free. Fear is a prison and it poisons your life. It is time to tell your self who is in charge.