Mysteries of the Restless Mind

I am not a profound man, but sometimes I am a curious one.  And so, I embarked on a series of light meditations over the past couple of days to find out whatever I might about the nature and movements of my mind while I listened to music.

It seems there are many different ways of meditating, so perhaps I should mention here that by “meditation” I mean merely a more or less unguided observation of my mind.  When I meditate, I do not so much attempt to control my mind as I attempt to dispassionately observe it.  As it often turns out, that’s challenge enough for me.

I have noticed again and again while meditating that I have a strong and persistent tendency to accept and reject — even to praise and condemn — the thoughts and feelings I observe.  That tendency seems to still only momentarily — like the momentary stillness between breaths.  So I think I spend most of my time judging my thoughts and feelings, rather than dispassionately observing them.  And, of course, when I’m judging, I am not actually meditating.

C’est la vie. It’s always easier to open a songbook than it is to sing.

While I am not interested in controlling my mind, I am sometimes interested in observing it deal with particular challenges.  Of course, that presents a problem.  How do you get your mind to deal with whatever you want it to deal with without, however, guiding or controlling it?

I don’t know how others might solve that problem, but the solution I’ve come up with is to put myself in some situation where my mind is very likely to deal with whatever it is I want to watch it deal with.  For instance, back in the day when I was very interested in how my mind dealt with sexual desire, I would go to erotic dance clubs to meditate.  Thus, I didn’t need to imagine or remember my mind dealing with sexual desire — I could observe it actually dealing with sexual desire.  Again, when I was many years ago interested in how my mind dealt with boredom, I put myself in boring situations — such as meditating for long periods while looking at a single spot on the carpet.  Although, I found it somewhat challenging to achieve boredom that way because the carpet was remarkably more exciting than my typical day.

So far as I recall, I’ve not had any mystical experiences while meditating, but I have learned a lot about the workings of my consciousness that I probably would not have learned otherwise.  More importantly, meditation has been helpful to me in getting beyond the past, in helping me be mindful of the present, and in dealing with my thoughts and feelings.  Despite its benefits, I seldom try to initiate meditation.  It seems better to just wait for those days when it comes spontaneously.  The other day, I felt like meditating before I decided what, if anything, to meditate on.

Meditating on Music

Now, unlike most people I know of, I’m not in the habit of listening to music.  I sometimes go for weeks without listening to any music that I don’t happen to overhear in a public place.  Yet, when I decide to listen, I do nothing but listen.  Moreover, the experience is almost always intense.

Perhaps it’s because I hear it so rarely, but music can produce feelings in me every bit as intense as watching a beautiful erotic dancer — or even a beige carpet.  So, the other day when I got curious about what my mind is up to when it deals with pleasure, I decided the best way to watch it deal with pleasure was to put on some music and see then if I would start meditating.

The artist I chose to listen to was Loreena McKennitt, who is a Canadian singer, musician, and songwriter.  For some reason, her music induces hypnotic pleasure in me.  Almost so much pleasure, that when I listen to her, I might not notice if the house were on fire around me.

The Mind on Pleasure

Some years ago, I was afflicted with severe back pain for a few weeks.  During that time, I noticed how the pain strengthened the self.  Or, put differently, how it made me more self-centered and less aware of, or sensitive to, others and life in general.  I have heard something similar can happen with intense pleasure.  That, pleasure, much like pain, can cause us to become more self-centered.  And, over the past couple of days, I  have been able to observe that happening, even though I don’t think my meditations have been especially profound.

Of course, it’s a bit more nuanced than I‘ve stated.  For it seems we become open to the object of our pleasure — in my case, the music — even as we become closed to, or less aware of, the rest of life.  At the height of my awareness of McKennitt’s music, in those moments when her voice struck me with physical force, I forgot even the carpet.

Dealing with Expectations while Meditating

I also found over the past couple days that, time and again, I had to deal with my expectations of what I was, or should be, experiencing.  Those expectations seem to come from two sources.

First, I have expectations from previous meditations.  There are things — movements of the mind — I expect to see because I have seen them so often before.  And I suspect I miss a lot of what is actually going on during my meditations these days because I tend to dismiss the movements I recognize.  “Oh, I know what that is! That’s the movement of desire.”  But I’m willing to bet I’m often overlooking subtle differences, along with a few things that are new to me, when my all too impatient and easily bored mind dismisses a thing as “been there, done that, have the T-shirt to prove it”.

I also have expectations from what I’ve read or heard about meditation.  Someone tells me, “This or that happens; the mind does x”, and instead of dispassionately looking for myself at the entire process, I find myself looking only far enough into the process to assess whether a thing is confirmed or refuted.  That’s a bit like being a tourist in your own mind.  And not a good tourist.  Instead, one of those tourists who lives only to check off on a list the sights he’s seen, and who reads the guidebook to determine what he’s experienced, rather than look for himself.

So, for me at least, I have the challenge of dealing wisely with my expectations during meditations.  Since actual meditation takes place for me only in those moments when I am not judging, I try to deal with my expectations simply by dispassionately noticing them and what they are doing.

Mysteries of the Restless Mind

So far as I know, nothing especially profound or deeply revelatory happened during my meditations over the past couple of days.  At one point, I experienced something I couldn’t map, couldn’t symbolize, and couldn’t turn into words.  I was looking, but I have no words for what I saw, for what I was looking at.  So, of course, I don’t know what that was all about.  But I did get a sense, quite frequently, of not knowing much about my mind.  That is, a sense of having many unanswered questions, and of mysteries suggested by those questions.  I’m even more curious now than when I began.

5 thoughts on “Mysteries of the Restless Mind

  1. I have never exactly understood what is meant by the word “meditation.”

    I actually have relegated the word to buzzword status, in the realm of “psychobabble.” Doubtless this is close-minded and unfair. Maybe correcting that is a project to put on my list, which is already long enough it’ll never get done.

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  2. @ Twoblueday: Thanks for an interesting comment! I see nothing wrong with your questioning the premise of any my posts, so long as you’re calling it the way you really see it — which I’m sure you are.

    To me, meditation is a sort of non-judgmental observation of what’s going on in the mind. I suspect other’s have other notions about it, but I can’t speak for them.

    I would agree with you to a certain extent about psycho-babble: Some of what I’ve heard said about meditation over the years has struck me as nonsense either because it contradicts my own experience, or because it sounds implausible to me. But there is no aspect of life that someone at sometime has not said something nonsensical about it — and meditation is no exception.

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  3. “I have no words for what I saw, for what I was looking at. So, of course, I don’t know what that was all about.” Now that is revelatory statement. I would suggest you knew perfectly what it was ‘about’ when experiencing it. I’m not sure why having no words equals not knowing.

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  4. Hi Paul! That passage is ambiguous, isn’t it? It sounds like I’m saying that I don’t know what I saw because I have no words for what I saw. But it might have been clearer for me to have said that I have no words for what I saw because I don’t know what I saw. It was quite unfamiliar and didn’t make any sense to me. Sorry for the confusion.

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