For each of the past 36 days I have consistently meditated for 20 to 30 minutes. Usually I do this while walking although I sometimes meditate sitting in a chair.
The method I employ is simple. I focus my awareness on the present moment. In a sense I actively abide in the gaps between thoughts in a state of pure awareness that is not overlaid with chattering thoughts or judgments. That is the intention anyway. It is easier to describe what it is not than what it actually is. For example, it is not thinking or evaluating. I can usually capture it in a pure state for only a few moments at a time. Often I can capture it while my mind is commenting on it but I can sort of marginalize the commentary or allow it to exist in the background. When this happens, I am aware of the commentary but I am also in touch with the present. Sometimes my focus on the present involves observing the blueness of the sky or keying into the sound of a bird chirping or the gurgling of the stream that runs along my walking route. Sometimes I can expand this awareness to take in a wider appreciation of my surroundings. The point is that I know when I am there when I am there. I recognize it.
When I meditate I become aware of three internal minds at work. The first is “the commentator.” Some people refer to this as “monkey mind” but I personally find that term to be annoying. This is the mind that comments on everything (often it comments on the mechanics of meditation) or it flashes pictures of memories and the like. I like to think of the commentator as the mechanical brain. This brain takes in information, stores it and repeats it. It is basically a mechanical function and in a sense is “mindless” ironically. The second mind is “the evaluator.” Some people might refer to this one as the ego. This mind judges, categorizes and assigns value to things. This is the part of the mind that is critical of the self and others. It is also the part of the mind that strives to become better, sets goals and becomes jealous. The final member of the mental trinity is the observer. This is the presence of awareness that sits in the background. It is able to observe the other two minds at work. It is also able to observe itself. This last mind is the one that I try to maintain contact with while meditating. This mind is essentially passive and tends to become dominated by the other two minds if I do not actively try to keep it awake.
The main pitfall of meditation is a wandering mind. Typically, I get lost in the chattering commentary and I forget that I am meditating. When this happens and I become aware of it I simply bring my awareness back to the present moment. Similarly, I might find myself evaluating something I observe or think about. I treat this the same way. I simply bring my awareness back to the present moment. I try not to judge myself when this happens. To do so would just be another distraction. In the same way, I try not to congratulate myself when I am successfully focusing on the present. Again that is another distraction. These distractions, however, are not bad things. In fact they are they are the means by which I deepen my practice. Every time I become aware that I am distracted and I bring my awareness back to where it belongs I am flexing my “meditation muscle” which is how it becomes stronger.
Every meditation instructor or book I have read on the subject seems to shy away from discussing the benefits of meditation or goals associated with meditation. I understand this is because thinking about the benefits of meditation or setting goals to become better at meditation simply becomes the content of distraction. This does not mean that it is necessarily bad to think about these things when not meditating. However, when actively meditating these thoughts become distraction and should be treated as such. That said, there are many benefits of meditation including improved concentration, strengthened will power, the ability to not be swept away by emotion, a relaxed mood, greater awareness in general and many other things. I have found that the more I meditate consistently the more an indescribable mystery sort of unfolds inside of me. It is as if my general state of awareness is akin to being asleep and meditation is a means of waking. This is difficult to describe to someone who has not experienced it for themselves.
A final insight that I would like to talk about is the concept of the self. I think of it this way. I am not really my body or my mind. I inherited those things and I am grateful for them but I cannot really take credit for them. I had no say in acquiring them (that I am aware of anyway). Similarly, my thoughts and emotions are all products of experience. They are external in origin. This is particularly true with memories, facts and figures and anything I learned. This is also particularly true with the feelings I associate with prior abuse or praise. So I really cannot take credit for those things either (even though in my normal sleeping state I tend to take credit for them). So what part of all this is actually me? The conclusion that I have come to based on my experience meditating is that the only real part of me is that part of me that can choose where to place my attention. I suspect most people (myself included) most of the time squander their attention in the sense that they allow the commentator and the evaluator to run the show. They allow the observer to fall asleep. When I think about it, the ability to direct one’s attention is a very precious thing because it is the foundation for the experience of life. Perhaps it is the most precious thing there is.
Shame is the feeling that you have done something wrong. But more deeply, shame is the feeling that you are wrong as a person fundamentally. As a society we tend to think that shame is necessary and even a force for good because it keeps people in line and prevents them from acting badly. It is my contention that shame is completely unnecessary, often harmful and is in no way a moralizing principle.
It is supremely unfortunate that our society feels that shame is a moralizing principle. Imagine a kid caught stealing a pack of gum from a store. When he is caught he is made to feel ashamed of himself by whatever authority figure caught him. Our society feels that it is then appropriate to shame this kid because it punishes him for the crime committed. Moreover shame also prevents him from stealing gum in the future because he will not want to feel the shame of getting caught a second time. But this is not morality. Morality would be choosing not to steal the gum in the first place because he knew in his heart that stealing was wrong. It is not moral to refrain from stealing merely out of a fear of being punished.
Our society also tends to feel that feeling shame is connected to being responsible. The argument goes that if the kid did not feel shame after stealing gum then he would go around stealing gum all the time unhindered. But this is not responsibility. In fact the argument assumes the kid is intrinsically irresponsible and requires shame to make him act responsibly.
Our society also tends to feel that shame is a just punishment for the crime. The kid steals the gum, gets caught and feels shame. We clearly see the crime and the punishment. This would be fine if this is where it ended but shame tends to linger far longer than it is useful for the purpose of punishment. To illustrate the point, how many people reading this post feel regret and embarrassment to this day for situations that occurred years and years ago? Do you honestly feel that punishment fits what ever crime you committed so long ago?
In truth, shame is a virus. I say it is a virus because it spreads from person to person as people who feel ashamed of themselves tend to want to make other people feel ashamed of themselves. Consider the following example. A boss yells at his employee for making a mistake at work. That employee feels ashamed and frustrated. He goes home and sees that his house is a mess and yells at his son for not cleaning up after himself. His son feels ashamed and frustrated. He then finds his younger brother and yells at him for taking his book without asking permission. The younger brother feels ashamed of himself and because he has no one smaller than him to shame at home, he goes to school the next day and bullies a smaller kid. This is how shame operates. Notice how none of the crimes committed were the real reason why one person chose to shame another in this chain. Notice also that shame tends to be cowardly looking for weaker victims upon which to vent. This illustrates the deceptive nature of shame to both the shamor and the shamed. Each shamor cloaked his shame with the veneer of morality by accusing the shamed of a crime. From the perspective of the shamed, he will operate under the belief that if only he did the right thing he would not have to feel ashamed anymore. But even a little bit of thought about shame will confirm that this belief is false. Shame lingers as long as a person buys into the notion that shame is a legitimate moralizing principle.
The answer must be to reject shame as a moralizing principle because it simply is not. When a person rejects shame in this way he will begin to notice an awareness of the dynamic of shame and a compassion for the people deceived into thinking shame is a necessary force for good. In the example where the boss shamed the father and the father shamed the son, no one in this chain was aware of their true motivation. With awareness, however, a person caught within the throws of shame who is about to pass their shame on to another person can catch themselves in the act. They can ask themselves if this is the right thing to do. That would be an act of true morality and responsibility.
Here is my challenge to the reader of this post. The next time you feel yourself caught in the throws of shame, stop yourself. Gain an awareness of your true motivations. Have compassion for the person you are about to pass your shame onto. Have compassion for yourself for most likely being the previous recipient of someone else’s shame. Know that shame has no compassion or awareness and the true shame of it all is that our society feels shame to be a moralizing principle when it is anything but.
Feeling stuck comes from the desire to move forward from one phase of life to another but (for what ever reason) not being able to do so. The perceived reason could be any number of things including fear, other people or situations. Regardless of the reason, it is my contention that dealing with the feeling of being stuck has to be a subjective process with subjective solutions. In other words no one else and no situation can make you feel stuck without your consent. Certainly some situations are more extreme; an abusive spouse or incarceration for example. But even in these examples it is possible to deal with the feeling of being stuck internally. Here are ten methods:
- Take Action – In many ways the feeling of being stuck comes from the inability to take action. As such, taking action by pushing up against your comfort zone fights against or acts to disprove that this inability is in fact a reality. Depending on what you think your reason is for being stuck, take action to counteract this reason. If (for example) you feel that unemployment is the reason for being stuck take action and look for a job. You need to put yourself out there and address whatever your fear may be and by doing so you will cultivate courage and strength. Other forms of taking action might be cleaning your house. I find getting a haircut shifts my feeling of being stuck for some reason. Creating a check list of things to do can be helpful when feeling stuck because it takes the initiative off of yourself and puts it on the list. This at least is a good temporary solution. Ideally you want to act under your own volition.
- Cultivate Spirituality – Spirituality means many things to different people. At its core it addresses humanity’s belief or longing for there to be something more to existence than material reality. Feeling stuck is very much a feeling rooted in the material world. As such cultivating spirituality is a means of rising above this feeling. This can be done in many ways and here are a few: (a) Meditation – sit still for ten minutes, be quiet and focus on your breathing. When you find your mind wandering bring your attention non judgmentally back to your breathing. It works. I don’t know why. (b) Prayer – directly address the divine honestly with your whole heart. List the things for which you are grateful. Ask for help. (c) If you have the opportunity I highly recommend going on a retreat for a structured spiritual experience. (d) Simply try to be aware and recognize that inner voice who whispers the negativity in your ear and reinforces this feeling of being stuck. When you recognize it, name it so that you diminish it and separate yourself from it.
- Move – Remove yourself from your present situation and negative people. This may be difficult because the reason you feel stuck might be because you feel you cannot move. I have found that moving from one location to another always brings about a feeling of renewal initially. However, be careful you don’t just take your baggage from one place to another. If you find yourself repeating negative patterns after the newness of a move wears off then therapy is probably a better option. If you cannot move at the very least get out of the house and go to the movies or simply take a walk until your mood shifts.
- Therapy – Caveat Emptor: There are good therapists and bad therapists and different types of therapy works better for some people than others. I have found that Gestalt body centered therapy was the most effective therapy I ever experienced to address the feelings of shame that had kept me feeling stuck for so long.
- Wait it out – All things change; especially moods. The feeling of being stuck feels like it will never end but it will. Simply knowing this can be helpful to combat hopelessness. While you are waiting you can focus on any other item on this list.
- Read – There are many helpful advice type books out there. The simple action of reaching out for one of these is therapeutic because when you do this you are taking action. In terms of content, I highly recommend Choose Yourself and The Rich Employee by James Altucher. Both have been very helpful for me.
- Exercise – It is important to exercise, eat well and sleep well when you are feeling stuck because these actions increase your energy and ability to shift from being stuck to being unstuck. By contrast, avoid or restrict alcohol and pornography as these things tend to have the opposite effect.
- Write – I have found writing about my experiences has given me the ability to see them more clearly. Blog, keep a journal or write a book and self publish it. I have self published twice and both the experience of writing and the experience of actually publishing were both therapeutic. Self Promotion: My books are Shame and Internet Trolling (non fiction) and The Book of Bud (a $.99 novel) are both available on Amazon.
- Establish Boundaries – If your feeling of being stuck is associated with another person you need to establish boundaries with this person. This means saying “no” when you don’t want to do something this other person wants you to do. You must say “no” even if it feels bad. It will feel bad at first because you will feel like you are doing something wrong. But what you will also feel soon after is a lightening of your mood. Any prior resentment you had for this person will begin to evaporate. It is quite dramatic and unexpected how powerful this technique is.
- Stop Judging – You might equate judgment and morality but this is a false association. When you judge other people you judge yourself with equal intensity. That is because both forms of judgment come from the same place: a wounded ego. When you make the conscious effort not to judge other people the force of the wounded ego weakens. You will find that you will stop judging yourself as well and from this place you can begin to cultivate compassion both for yourself and other people.
I have found that there are four steps to effectively making something happen in life. These steps are Awareness, Attention, Intention and Action.
Step One : Practice Awareness – The first step is to simply take stock of what is by observing reality in its most raw state without judgement. This can be done by meditating. The meditation method I employ is to set a timer for 20 minutes (there are several free meditation timer apps available). I then close my eyes and pay attention to my breathing as an anchor. When I notice my mind wandering I bring my attention back to my breath. I do not judge myself when my mind will wander. This is my mind’s natural and unfocused state. It is neither good nor bad. Through the act of bringing my attention back to my breath I build up my ability to meditate. It is like lifting weights. When my mind is paying attention to my breathing I am paying attention to the present moment without layers of thought. This is meditating. This is being aware. This cultivates the proper environment for focusing my attention.
Step Two : Focus Attention – The second step is to actively focus awareness on specific things to the exclusion of those things that do not serve me in everyday life. For example, today while walking my dog I noticed myself becoming annoyed. There were lines of thought that took me to places of dissatisfaction. It was at this point that I decided to focus my attention on other more positive things (like the blueness of the sky, the coolness of the breeze, my daughters, my dogs etc.) rather than focusing my attention on my negative thought process. This is a choice that I can make and like meditation choosing to focus my attention can be improved with practice. Choosing where I focus my attention makes me think more positively and creates more energy. This energy is then stored up to be focused on my intention.
Step Three : Create an Intention and Focus Attention Thereon – The third step is to create an intention and then focus my attention on that intention. The more I am able to do this, the closer I will be to achieving the goal of that intention.
Step Four : Take Action – The fourth step is to take action. When sufficient positive energy has been banked, taking action to achieve that my intention requires less effort. With enough energy taking action is effortless. If I do not proceed through the previous steps then taking action becomes very difficult. I become distracted, I procrastinate, I give up. When I build up enough positive energy and focus on my intention my goals are achieved naturally.
Like all skills, this one must be practiced and cultivated. Once properly cultivated this skill can be the foundation for cultivating all other skills.
There are two feelings I don’t want to feel, the feeling of missing out and the feeling of humiliation. I have come to understand that both of these feelings are two sides to the same coin which is shame. The explanation is a bit circular. Humiliation is a terrible mental and physical feeling. It is the feeling of being judged negatively by others and agreeing with them. It is the feeling of knowing I have no worth and do not deserve respect. Further, it is the feeling that I deserve to be disrespected because I have no worth. Because I fear feeling humiliation I am reluctant to try new things, take risks and otherwise “put myself out there.” So I make safe choices and stay within my comfort zone. But within this comfort zone I feel like I am missing out. So I stay within my comfort zone until it becomes stifling and intolerable. At that point I reach out for any sort of change. Because the change is new and different and not very well thought out I often fail and when I do I feel humiliated. When I am humiliated I seek safety which then repeats the cycle. This cycle is shame.
Generally, shame is the painful feeling that I am not worthy of respect. This is not merely a mental conclusion but also a physical, bodily sensation. There are two typical ways I deal with shame: hiding my shame from others and distracting myself from my own shame. I hide it from others by pretending or acting to be something other than myself. Implicit in this action is the belief that I am contemptible and if others knew the truth about me they would reject and abandon me. I distract myself from shame through addiction. I drink alcohol, I have taken drugs, I bite my fingernails, I masturbate to pornography, I gossip, and I try to make other people feel shame. All these distractions are a very short-term fix that produces an immediate form of pleasure. This is the nature of addiction. The desire for distraction comes from the primitive brain called the limbic system. The aim of the limbic system is survival via the avoidance of pain and the seeking of pleasure. This aim creates the addictive desire. Unfortunately, the modern brain called the prefrontal cortex, kicks in once the limbic system is satiated and goes to sleep. The prefrontal cortex then makes me feel shame for giving in to my addiction. The prefrontal cortex, whose aim is to plan for the future and preserve the society that protects me, knows that a society of addicts is no society and will fall apart. My prefrontal cortex tells me that by giving into addiction I am responsible for the impending downfall of civilization. I believe this and then I feel ashamed and unworthy of respect. This feeling is painful and will eventually wake up my limbic system who will then recreate the addictive desire to distract myself from them.
This describes the cycle. I do not want to feel humiliated so I seek safety. I then feel stifled and reach out of my comfort zone. When I do this I feel humiliated. This cycle of shame is painful. I hide it from others and I distract myself from it through various addictions. The solution is difficult but achievable. It starts with becoming aware of the process and that is the aim of this blogpost.