Everything's Not About Hacking: Life Hacks, Especially When It Comes To Meditation
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The best things in life come without hacks, and meditation is one of them. Here’s why.
It seems like part of the tech world, and probably overly generalised, but most of the Bay Area is obsessed with life hacking. Recently, I’ve started hearing this construct of ‘brain hacking’, only to realise it was code for meditation — at this point I can only imagine that Buddha himself would be rolling in his grave if he heard some of the constructs of modern day ‘mindfulness’.
A search with a result, but maybe not a question…
At a recent dinner, I found myself holding court to a fine selection of entrepreneurs and young professionals in one of the most dynamic, pacy, and potentially spirited cities in the world – San Francisco – only to find that the conversation wasn’t about new technology, a new start-up, or about a recent funding announcement, but overtly focused on a deeper search. Fortunately, no one thought they were hacking themselves (thank heaven).
The theme, ever since the start of the year, has become more and more prevalent and I found my experience of doing the Vipassana seemed to have hit home for a lot of people who were looking for answers, without necessarily defining the question they had in their minds. The intensity of the curiosity has definitely shaped a lot of my non start-up tech discussions with people of late, and I found myself repeating key themes. Hence, I thought, why not write it down for others, to maybe have a non-hacker’s overview of meditation?
Two things we MUST realise
These 2 points are potentially counter-intuitive, but understanding these is the basis for understanding the ‘question’, and how meditation fits so well into the ‘answer’.
- We are the cause of our own misery – Buddha said it best when he clearly said that no one can make us miserable, sad, elated, or upset; we have that right and that control. Yet, in everyday life, we have this notion that causality is defined by something outside of our control. This premise is what really starts our discussion and discovery of mindfulness & meditation.
- We have holes – As human beings, one of the things we must realise is that we have ‘holes’ — call them impurities, insecurities, or needs/wants/desires. In all conditions, we have holes that we spend most of our life plugging — through relationships, material acquisitions etc. Even our relationships, at a subconscious level, are largely motivated by everything other than love.
But, for a second, let’s step back and see the issues this causes. As we plug our holes by relationships and the like, we increase the dependence on the plug, and thereby the fear of it being dislodged; we move from a state of wanting the plug to not wanting to lose the plug, and our behaviour changes to protective rather than additive – the opposite end of the spectrum. If we simply realised that we have holes and that they are part of our dynamic, then we’d step into relationships with a still mind, and not with a racing one.
The same could be applied to money — when hungry for it, we focus on earning; and when we have it — we are nervous of losing it.
The trouble starts in the subconscious
Here are some high level things that Buddha’s wisdom has developed — a key insight into any mindful meditation.
- Wisdom is in the body, not in the intellect – Our wisdom doesn’t exist in the intellect – it exists only in the body. The intellect is post-facto rationalisation, at best.
- Our first 3 stages of a reaction – We have 6 senses (yes, thought is a sense) and when one gets activated, we decide whether we like it or not; and then the body reacts by either a strong or a feeble reaction somewhere. It is key to note that every sense does create a reaction, without fail. We just don’t feel them all. A good analogy to explain why we don’t feel it, is the sense you get when you listen to a fine violin player after having listened to a rock band, compared to if you had been in silence for the last 1 hour before the violinist played their finest concerto. Everything in our body works on the concept of relativity. The subconscious then reacts in one of the three ways it knows best – craving, clinging, or averting. This plants the seed for the conscious reaction that may come minutes, hours, or maybe days later.
- Our fourth stage of the reaction – Meditation is designed to bring out the fourth state, so that you act (not react) with a still mind.
- Breaking the subconscious behavior – It’s great to have this realisation without an apt ability to manage this, and that is where the old tradition of ‘anapana’ kicks in. As breathing is the only thing we do both consciously and subconsciously, it is the only thing that lets us take control of our true mind (today, it controls us). Observation of your breathing is the highest form of meditation, as it requires the mind to be absolutely still – staying in the present, and not in the past or in the future.
- From the observation of breathing, to the observation of sensation – After you get comfortable observing your breathing, whether it’s cold or hot, and which nostril is taking more in, you move to sensation – this is where in Vipassana my mind was blown away, as we started to touch on wisdom beyond our notions of the intellect. Bringing in some physics into this – the second law of physics says that every force has an equal and opposite reaction – so one person is sending energy in some format, to someone who is sending it back to them. Energy creates micro-vibrations, and Vipassana will eventually let you feel this – an overwhelming science of internal understanding.
- Everything is impermanent – Stay with me. When you get through understanding how you react, how your breathing connects you, and how everything you feel is actually linked to a physical reaction/vibration, you connect to the most profound thought – everything is ‘annicca’ – impermanent (literally meaning, this too shall pass).
And don’t just read this and intellectualise it. Sit cross-legged for 1 hour, and see what it feels like. You will get white pain in your thighs but don’t open them. Just observe the sensation and breathe, and watch the pain disappear and eventually pulsate, becoming lighter every time, till it eventually fades away.
Not about hacking
Hopefully, you see why this is not hacking – it’s so much grander and bigger. It questions the notion of the self and ego. Even Einstein said that the notion of self doesn’t exist as we are, it’s only borrowed material from the earth that has a set half-life.
I’m not a preacher. I have many of my own issues, but this technique helps me get sanity after 10 years of almost pure insanity. More importantly, it’s given me control over my reactions, so that life is a little more peaceful :)
And that’s a wrap. If you want to learn more about my 10 days of Vipassana, check this out.
*life hacking – a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one's time and daily activities in a more efficient way.