I got fairly into meditation in 2018. Not in a way where you do a huge amount of meditation, or seek guidance on how to do meditation well, or on whether what you are doing is meditation at all. I don’t think I even graduated from doing meditation largely in five minute bouts. I just really dug a set of mental things which seemed related to meditation. I was riding an ethos. I suppose meditation was a particularly namable point in the space, but not obviously the most exciting part of it, so I ended up being pretty excited about ‘meditation…?’ while not actually meditating that much.

I also remained so ignorant about meditation traditions and previous human meditation experience that you might doubt that I’m talking about the same thing. (I did talk to other people a little, and did about five guided meditations, which seemed like a different kind of thing anyway, but also very awesome.)

With that said, here’s a kind of meditation I made up. I call it, ‘meditative thinking’. In it, you do all the stuff you would usually do while meditating: be in a meditation-conducive position (I do lying on my back, which I hear is a bad idea, but it is very comfy); set a meditation timer with bells at the start and end (mine also makes water sounds between them, but this probably isn’t crucial); close your eyes; be aware of your breathing; then just go on being aware of stuff in a conspicuously conscious way. But before all this, choose a question to think about. And then, once meditating, think about the question. Maintain the same mental stance as you normally would meditating, insofar as that makes sense. Be aware of your breathing, and your awareness, and your thinking. If you stop thinking about the question, gently bring your awareness back to it.

I still find this good. Though it’s possible that it gets much of its benefit from being a ritualistic way to actually think about a question for five or ten minutes without reflexively opening Facebook because thinking doesn’t correspond to a tab or occupy one’s hands.

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Reminds me of Logan Strohl's use of meditation for brainstorming, orienting, etc.:

For some reason nobody I talk to does the kind of meditation I do. In case that's because nobody knows about it, I thought I'd explain it.

When I was about nineteen or twenty, I spent a summer practicing Soto Zen at a residential temple in North Carolina. The Soto style of meditation is called "shikantaza", and it's sometimes referred to as a "methodless method". I wasn't really given any instructions for how to meditate because, well, for shikantaza, no instruction is appropriate. "Sit down, don't talk, don't fall asleep." That is how you meditate in Soto Zen. (For real, in the founder's "Instructions for Meditation", pretty much all of the concrete instructions are about stuff like how to arrange your limbs. ( https://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/practice/zazen/advice/fukanzanzeng.html ))

I've tried a variety of meditations over the years. I got a degree in religious studies. I've gone to a few kinds of temples, I've learned yogic breathing and chakra meditations, I've invented a lot of my own attentional kata and cognitive techniques. But what have I actually ended up doing on a regular basis ten years later?

What I've actually ended up doing is a little more formalized and strategic than shikantaza, but it's basically the same: Sit down, don't talk, don't fall asleep. What does my mind do? Whatever it wants. Really? Yes. Like when you're in a boring lecture and haven't heard a word the teacher's said for the past twenty minutes because you were daydreaming about your crush? Yes, exactly like that.

I mostly do it in the morning, to decide what kind of day I'm going to have. I stare at a wall and let my mind wander, and as I do, I take some notes (often on paper) about what sorts of thoughts and experiences I'm having. I note things like "imaginary argument with Kevin", "buzzing in my right arm", and "tangled up". Afterward, I make a little summary: "I seem to be attempting a lot of problem-solving this morning", or "That sure looks like the mind of a person who is overwhelmed by their responsibilities." Then as I plan my day, I cater to a version of me with those particular things going on for them, which usually means adding a couple opportunities and re-ordering things, but sometimes means throwing out my plans entirely so I can eat ice cream and binge Netflix.

When I ask someone whether they meditate and they say yes, sometimes I ask them what sort of meditation they do. Usually they describe a form of mindfulness like Vipassana, or breath meditation, or emotional processing, or metta, or a tantric thing. And when I ask them, "Do you ever just, like, let your mind wander and see what happens?", every person I've so far asked has said "no".

So, I dunno, maybe give that a try. I think it's pretty good.

Funnily enough, what you have invented is much closer to real meditation, than most of the guided stuff.

What you do can be actually split into three stages:

  1. Dharana. That's when you're thinking about the question, but your mind still wanders and you need to bring it back.

  2. Dhiana. That's when after stage 1 all of a sudden the chosen question becomes so interesting to you, that you no longer need to force yourself to think about it. Your mind wants to think about it now. Doesn't really happen after 5 minutes, but should definitely happen after 30-40.

  3. Samaddhi. Doesn't happen every time, but with practice should happen regularly. It's a strong feeling of insight, when you understand the answer to the question.

I hope that helps a little. If you have more questions drop me a message on telegram @thefaun

On reflection I do this too on occasions. If it helps you then it's great, right?

Also there is a whole literature about the meditation posture. If you are prone to falling asleep while lying down you should consider sitting. But if you are a high energy individual then a reclining posture can actually help. Don't feel bad about what works well for you after experimentation.