Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mel learns to meditate (or tries)

I'm sitting cross-legged with a cushion under the posterior part of my posterior, hands on my knees, back hypothetically straight. It's just half an hour of meditation. I can clear my mind for that long, right? Or I could count to 1800. 1800 is a small number.

Mind clear. Breathing steady. Bliss! Boredom. Are we done yet? I open my eyes and realize three minutes have passed. Crap. My neck starts tilting from side to side of its own accord. I stop it. Then I realize my hands are tracing small circles over my knees. I stop that. A minute later I start rocking back and forth, hungry for some kinetic sensation. Stop.

Stop; breathe. Breathe, count, breathe. I count 1, 2, 3, 4, and visualize the numbers in my head. Wait, what typeface was that? Bitstream vera sans mono doesn't have serifs! Delete that serif... that looks much better- damn, what am I thinking about? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 - that 6 is from Arial, and why does the ascender- argh. New tactic.

Eyes open. Look around the room slowly. Everyone else is sitting still, breathing blissfully. I sit still. A screaming starts in the back of my mind. When I feel antsy and force myself to sit still, there's always screaming in the back of my mind; at least one part of me is still shouting as loud as possible. (Apparently, this is not normal. I did not know until last week this was not normal.) I want to move. It felt good this morning when I danced and leapt across the floor, and good last night when I drummed until my palms were red and sore. I want to do that again. But I'm sitting still now, breathing.

...and picking out the individual voice-lines for an a capella arrangement of "Smooth Criminal." WHAT THE HELL. I try to drown the Michael Jackson out by concentrating on my breathing, and I count again. 1 - ah, I'm distracted. 1, 2, 3. 5, 8, 13. I'm digging my fingers into my knee to keep track, but I'm out of fingers now - but I can do it in binary, so I do that, drumming the Fibonacci sequence in binary onto my knee with my fingers. Not entirely sure how this happened.

To make matters worse, I've slid forward off my cushion onto the floor and I'm rocking back and forth again. Gotta focus! Gotta stop. I breathe. I still my fingers. I open my eyes. I watch the clock hand go around. And again. I want to see the mechanism inside. (We're lasercutting clocks in the Wellesley class I'm TAing.) I need to get trained on the laser cutter. (Could you lasercut OLPC peripherals in a Fab Lab?) How do you organize an open source community? (My head drops downwards in thought.) Hey, my socks don't match! (I... am really bad at this concentration thing.)

This goes on for about another 15 minutes until the instructor chants the final "Om," which is like a merciful beacon to me because now I can move and look around without feeling guilty. The thing is, this happens whenever I try to concentrate on something for an extended period of time (note the word "try" - sometimes I slip into something and get lost in it and don't have to try, but good luck breaking me out of that work-reverie. Apparently this is also not normal. I also did not know until last week this was not normal.) I feel like my brain is generally trying to implement spread-spectrum frequency hopping and failing gloriously - that all this thought is radiating off, getting lost, because it has to spew somewhere.

Someone once described me as an "outdoor cat." I'll wander in and out when I'm hungry, but you generally can't find me. My brain's like that too. An outdoor cat. It'll cuddle in your cranium once in a while, but when it gets in a feral mood, then - I have to run around the building, or pace the hallway, or play piano, or something, in order to even be able to work. I wonder if learning to meditate would help me, if I can find a way to do it that won't frustrate me.

Or maybe I can just give up on meditation and learn how to dance and drum instead.


Nikki said...

You have so much going on in your head... what doesn't fascinate you?

Grant Hutchins said...

Slid off the cushion?! You should get a Salubrion seat!

I meditate better if I lay face down on my bed with some sort of loud repetitive ambient sort of music on. Sensory deprivation is key.

Also, the other day I realized that my restless leg movements are tied to the curse of perpetual music looping in my head. I was able to get it to be silent and I sat still. It was blissful.

Katie Rivard said...

What do you mean that's not normal? I'll bet it's hard for you to be hypnotized, too. Having an active mind is a blessing and a curse :)

What happens if you concentrate on the screaming? or the fidgeting?
It's easier for me if I can find something to focus on. When I was in practice, the focus on one particular thing would spontaneously turn backwards and inside out into nothing. Some people use geometric shapes -- visualize C60 or something. Spin it. Truncate it. Count the vertices. The important part is to forgive yourself when you break concentration, so you can get back to what you were doing without delay and risking wandering off.

Boris said...

I have this one book that must be a few decades old but is pretty awesome. It talks about self-hypnosis. As near as I can tell, this is pretty mcuh meditation except more active; due to the order I read things in and stuff, I do a weird hybrid mix.

Whatever; it makes me relax and/or go to sleep real fast-like. Nice.

Katherine Elliott said...

I've know of many people who find it hard to "clear" their minds when they are trying to meditate, so I don't think this is "abnormal." What would define abnormal at any rate--not present in 5% of the population? 1%?

As for me, I feel like my mind is in a constant state of blankness. There is very little inner dialogue or invasive thoght. My mind is usually focused on my immediate surroundings, and if my eyes are closed, it is focused on nothing at all. The downside to this is it makes me a horrible brainstormer--I am clueless when it comes to generating new ideas on the spot. My mind also has the tendency to put the brakes on my train of thought--if I'm working on a math problem I'll accelerate towards a solution but then my brain will involuntarily decelerate back down into a state of blankness. The upside to this state of nothingness is that I don't think that I worry or stress as much as my classmates do. I take happiness from simple things and devote less energy to worry.

The only deviation from this rule is for when I'm deprived of sleep: then my brain comes up with (and believes) audacious statements like "You should serve your guest a glass of natural log milk before he comes to the third floor. It is the best kind." My exhausted brain also came up with the "integral of an orange is an orange tree" idea, I'm not sure if you've seen those t-shirts foating around campus.

Katherine Elliott said...

Oh, silly me, what I meant to say is that sometimes Ambient music is good for relaxing. I have an album by a group called Aphex Twin that you can listen to if you'd like.