Category Archives: Meditation

My favorite books of 2017

I felt this was a pretty weak year for books. I don’t know why. I only really loved three books that came out this year.

Especially with regards to work, I found I learned a lot more by doing rather than reading. I’m curious if this trend will continue.

That being said, the best books was incredibly good: because of the first two books below, I’ve tried to up my meditation to 40 minutes a day and reduce social media to under 30 minutes a day. I’ve also done a lot to reduce iPhone screen time. I’ve also spent much more time contemplating the nature of the self. My meditation practice is a little less tactical and includes more philosophical exploration.

I feel more in control of mind than I have in years.

Why Buddhism is True by Robin Wright

Robin’s thesis is:

  1. Our brains were mostly built during hunter and gather times.
  2. The modern world has hijacked useful desires (for food, sex, stimulation, and status) so that they are no longer that useful (we over eat, watch too much porn, constantly check our phones, etc.).
  3. There is no CEO in your brain. Your brain is made up of a bunch of competing desires / modules. And whichever you feed and reward will grow stronger.
  4. Meditation is a technique that can reduce the power of the feeling -> action sequence. Desires need not be orders if they are observed with distance and objectivity.
  5. The idea that there is no CEO of the brain also fits Buddhism’s core philosophical tenet that the self is an illusion.

I think arguments #1 through #4 are correct. Robin surveys a mounting body of scientific case evidence that makes this case, from evolutionary psychology to neurobiology.

I think #5 is directionally correct, but that ultimately humans do not have a brain that is powerful enough to make hard claims about these types of metaphysical conditions.

iGen – Jean Twenge

Jean’s thesis is that:

  1. Socio-economic conditions (in part families having increased wealth and less children) has led to a lengthening of childhood. High school is the new middle school.
  2. The iPhone has fundamentally altered how teens interact.
  3. Taken together, changing socio-economic conditions and the smartphone has led children to be more tolerant, less risk taking (sex, alcohol, and driving are down… marijuana is up), more insecure, less happy, less religious, more concerned with wealth, and more politically independent.

I’m not an expert in the field, but I found her found her argument compelling.

This generational shift is a striking example of how productivity and technology can combine to change societal values.

For you parents in the crowd, she gives thoughtful parenting recommendations at the end of the book.

The Dark Forest Trilogy

I previously reviewed the books here. Some of the best science fiction I have ever read.

The series is premised on this logic path:

  1. The primary goal of each civilization is to survive.
  2. There are finite resources and space in the universe.
  3. Civilizations tend to expand.
  4. Civilizations tend to advance technologically.
  5. You have no way of truly knowing whether an alien species is peaceful or hostile.

If this ends up being true in our reality, we will likely be destroyed by more technology advanced aliens.

Meditating Away Education Reform

I am at my best when:

  1. I work out at least 45 min 6 days a week.
  2. I have 0-1 drinks five days a week and 2-3 drinks on at most two days a week.
  3. 90% of my calories come from whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and seafood.
  4. I meditate at least 10 minutes a day.

I do not believe in diets or 90 day exercise regimes or anything like that, so my effort is spent trying to tweak my life to make the above livable long-term habits.

I am improving but have a long way to go.

As for meditation, I started meditating in law school and even lived in McLeod Ganj for a few months, where I worked with the Tibetan Government In Exile.

But I find it very hard to meditate daily, especially when so much of my life is structured around quick and / or deep mental bursts.

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Recently, a friend recommended the app Headspace, which I have started using.

So far, the meditation techniques are fairly basic (I’ve only done the first four), but, despite (or perhaps due to) their simplicity, I find the mental barrier to begin meditating is lower with the app.

I hope this continues and my practice improves.

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A common meditation technique is to let your thoughts float by as if they were clouds; to treat thoughts as separate from consciousness; to understand them as passing sensations.

This week, as I was meditating, education reform was on my mind, and as the app instructed, I let the thought of education reform float away.

It felt very good and, for an instant, fully dissociated me from the education reform tribe.

My guess is that this is an important habit to cultivate, that emotional separation is as important as intellectual separation when it comes to acting with empathy, reducing bias, and developing non zero-sum solutions.

On Meditation: Increasing Wellbeing or Internalizing Existential Truths?

meditation

I recently read Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

I found the book fascinating, both in terms of getting insight into the author’s journey, as well as its coverage of meditation.

At various points in my life, I’ve been drawn to Buddhism generally and meditation specifically.

After reading the book, I was left wondering about an issue that I continue to struggle with.

The question is this: should one approach meditation as a way to increase well being or as a way to internalize existential truths.

Research demonstrates (and my personal experience affirms) that meditation can increase mental wellbeing.

This in and of itself is a reason to meditate.

Another reason is this: meditation can be a way of coming to a realization that the self is an illusion, and that most suffering arises from mistaking this illusion to be real.

This, from what I understand, is a core tenet of Buddhism.

It is also aligns with my belief that most strong version of free will are incorrect.

Of course, these two reasons to meditate need not be mutually exclusive.

But, personally, I am unsure that the second reason to meditate is tied to an attainable goal.

I believe that we can increase our mental wellbeing.

But I’m unsure if we can ever consistently internalize the illusion of the self.

At moments, we may be able to perceive this truth, but it is hard to function in daily life with this truth at the forefront.

Legend has it that the Buddha (and others) have achieved this state.

But unlike other foundational religious beliefs (such as Jesus rising from the dead), there is no physical way to prove the state of someone’s internal mental existence.

With our current knowledge base, we may never know if it’s truly possible to extinguish the sense of self for a continuous period of time.

Personally, I’m skeptical that it is possible. I think that evolution either directly (the sense of self provides survival advantages) or indirectly (intelligence needed for survival produces sense of self as a side effect) forces us to maintain a sense of self.

Of course, I may be wrong about any of this: about meditation, about free will, about what’s mentally attainable.

I don’t know the answer.

But when I think about mediation, this is what I think about.