Category: Series (Books): Chasing Unicorns

Serial posts of my book.

Chasing Unicorns: Chapter 7, On the Path of Unicorns, Part 4

Tap cover, to read.

This is the latest installation of a 27-part series, featuring my book, Chasing Unicorns. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. To read the entire book at once, tap the book cover. Thanks for reading!

RECAP: Yesterday’s topic was about formal mindfulness, and how to practice it. It’s a singular task, where all you do is sit or lie down, while meditating. You watch your breath. You watch your thoughts. You see how your thoughts disappear when you try to observe them. You try to maintain self-awareness, but this is the hardest part of meditating, and is why so many people give up on the practice. It can also require a lot of time, which many people don’t have. But informal mindfulness can be practiced at any time, and any place.

On the Path of Unicorns, Part 4

Informal Mindfulness

Have you ever kept your eyes open during a prayer? What?! You sinner, you! That’ll be ten thousand Hail Mary’s and a donation of your paycheck into the church coffers.

But at least now you have an idea of what informal mindfulness is about. I call it this, but it goes by many labels. Some call it every-minute meditation. Other labels include: working meditation, ongoing meditation, and perpetual meditation. Some simply call it mindfulness, as if it were a different animal from formal, sitting meditation.

But it isn’t that different. It’s all mindfulness, whether formal or informal, so don’t get too hung up on the labels.

Informal mindfulness involves watching your mind while going about the everyday activities of life. It’s not formal, like sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed or half-closed, or like kneeling in prayer with your eyes fully closed. Why do religious leaders insist that you pray with your eyes closed, anyway? Is it so they can pick your pocket more easily?

Rest assured, you’re less likely to have your pocket picked if you practice informal mindfulness. No, you’re eyes are generally wide-open, and you’re very aware of everything going on around you. And behind you.

You’re very aware because you’ve pulled out a piece of your brain, and it’s sitting outside your skull with a big eyeball, watching everything you’re thinking, saying, and doing.

Ick.

No actually, this is a metaphor again. You’ve set aside part of your mind, and that part is watching all that you do.

Now, when you do this, your thoughts tend to disappear, the same as I’ve noted above with formal mindfulness. And when your thoughts disappear it becomes nearly impossible to get anything done. After all, you have to think about what you’re doing before you can do it. At least if you want to do it with any intelligence.

And so it would seem impossible for you to function, while being informally mindful. But not so. Go ahead and try it, and you’ll see that it can actually be done quite proficiently. This is because your mind is very good at switching back and forth between metacognition and conventional, unself-aware cognition. It can switch back and forth instantaneously, many times per second.

But only if you’re loosely mindful. If you try to be tightly mindful, so that you’re perfectly mindful all the time, then you’ll become as helpless as a corpse. Your mind simply won’t be able to do two things at the exact same time.

Loose mindfulness is why I call it informal mindfulness. You’re not trying to prove anything to anybody, as you might feel tempted to do while formally meditating. No, you’re simply trying to function in the real world, while paying some attention to the goings-on within your mind.

You have the power to adjust your level of self-awareness. You can be strongly self-aware, while helpless to do much of anything, or you can be weakly self-aware, and capable of doing much.

Different things we do in our everyday lives, require different levels of attention and concentration. If we’re just picking our nose, we can be more mindful than if we’re performing brain surgery, or defusing a pipe bomb.

The more you must devote your mind to concentrating on the task at hand, the less mindful you must be, if you want to be successful at it. So I’m not asking you to be very mindful while engaging in a critical operation, such as fusing a patient’s left and right brain hemispheres together. But you can be a little tiny bit mindful, if you want to. Just make sure your malpractice insurance is paid up.

The more engrossed your mind becomes in something, such as a good book or television show, the less mindful you will likely be. But in less critical situations, you can be more mindful if you want to be, and still successfully accomplish the task. You might find yourself reading a little more slowly, or missing a few good lines from the TV show. But since there’s nothing highly critical at stake, no disaster is likely to result.

This is a good thing, because as we go about our daily routine we usually find ourselves engrossed in things that are not critical. Hell, most of life is filled with trivial details and distractions. This is fertile ground for practicing informal mindfulness. And yet it’s very challenging ground, because the mind is always at play, daydreaming and getting deeply involved in unimportant ponderings. And so, it’s easy to forget to be mindful.

Every-minute meditation is never easy. It requires much persistence. And it requires much patience with yourself, and much self-forgiveness. Many times, you’ll catch yourself after having gone for hours, or maybe the entire day, without being an ounce mindful. And then you’ll kick yourself and, hopefully, return to the self-observation of mindfulness.

It’s the returning that’s important. It’s much more important than maintaining. It builds a self-discipline and devotion to this practice, that will make the returning more and more habitual over time, until you’re so damned hooked, you can’t quit.

After decades of practice, I still forget to be mindful, many times a day. But I also remember many times a day, and then return to the practice. It’s all about the returning. One must habitually keep returning, as soon as one remembers to be mindful.

[Tomorrow you’ll have a substitute teacher. Because tomorrow some gurus will be visiting, and giving you meditation instructions.]

###

Chasing Unicorns: Chapter 7, On the Path of Unicorns, Part 3

Tap cover, to read.

This is the latest installation of a 27-part series, featuring my book, Chasing Unicorns. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. For the next post in this series, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. To read the entire book at once, tap the book cover. Thanks for reading!

RECAP: Yesterday I introduced mindfulness to you. Mindfulness is the way to go straight to the mind. But it can’t be explained adequately with mere words. You have to practice it, to truly understand it.

On the Path of Unicorns, Part 3

The Practice

Or should this subheading say, “The Practices” (plural)? I believe there are as many different ways to practice mindfulness as there are meditation books and gurus. No, there are more. Much more.

But I won’t get into all that, or I’d have to write a library filled with very dull tomes, frequented by bespectacled wonks whose job would be to write more books to fill additional libraries. So I’ll just narrow it down to two basic practices, to keep this short and simple. This will be all you’ll need to know, anyway. Just stick with the basics and you’ll be alright.

I identify two basic practices of mindfulness, which I label “formal,” and “informal.”

Formal Mindfulness

Formal mindfulness has been bastardized and co-opted by those who practice purity, for thousands of years. It’s for spiritual athletes. It’s for those who want to storm the gates of heaven. And it’s a powerful virtue signal that can win exaltation to positions of high status and authority within many religious organizations.

Formal mindfulness can make you rich and famous, and help you to acquire many millions of followers, worldwide. But it also has its uses.

Formal mindfulness is useful for introducing you to the basic essentials of informal mindfulness. And it can help you to develop and maintain concentration, making informal mindfulness an easier practice.

It isn’t necessary, though. Informal mindfulness is absolutely essential, but formal mindfulness isn’t. It can augment informal mindfulness, but it can never replace it.

Formal mindfulness is sort of like cummerbunds, tuxedos, and evening gowns. It’s like the partaking in solemn rituals, or sitting upright and keeping your elbows off the table, while dining. In short, it’s the trappings of snobs. Religious snobs.

It’s nothing very practical, and something informal hillbillies like me have fun scoffing at. But even so, I’m willing to grudgingly admit, it does have its uses.

Formal mindfulness is also commonly known as meditation. It’s the kind of meditation where all you are doing is meditating. It’s a singular task. There’s no multitasking involved.

The most basic form of meditation, in my opinion, is to sit or lie still, and watch your thoughts rise and fall. This is debatable, and I’m sure some zealot would love to lop off my head for teaching such heresy, but I’m going to stand my ground and call this the most basic form of formal meditation.

So now my body is over here, standing its ground. Meanwhile, my head is over there, thinking about all of this.

Some people prefer to sit, as they practice formal mindfulness. That’s fine. Go ahead, find a comfortable chair, and sit and meditate.

But when some people sit, they prefer it to be atop a zafu, with legs crossed in the lotus position, before an altar of incense and Buddha statues.

Okay, that’s fine, too. But be warned that over the years, the lotus position, and even the half-lotus, can wear out your knees terribly. There are many seasoned meditators that walk with a limp, due to all the damage done to the ligaments of their patellas. So approach the lotus with fear and caution.

Some like to chant a short mantra before meditating. Sure, go ahead. That’s beautiful, baby! Let’s hear your, “Om Mani Padme Hum!” or your “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” or your “Buddham Saranam Gacchami, etc.”

Such chants can be pleasing to the ear and soothing to the soul, putting you in a receptive spirit for meditation. But they’re not necessary, and neither are all the other trappings of formal mindfulness.

To keep things as simple as possible, here are the bare essentials for how to meditate, without the trappings. In my opinion. Please, put down that machete, this is just my opinion!

Sit in a chair. Or, as I prefer, lie flat on your back in bed, for beditation. Get it? Beditation. Okay, let’s move on.

But first, let me warn you that if you lie in bed while meditating, there’s a good chance you’ll fall asleep. But this can also happen while you’re sitting. It’s just less likely, which is why many meditation masters insist that you sit. Who the hell wants their students to fall asleep on them?

But I don’t care. Fall asleep all you want. Sleep is good for you. And when you wake up, just resume meditating. And in this way your meditation, or beditation, will leave you feeling refreshed and energized.

Now that you’re sitting or lying down, let’s continue this instruction:

Breathe in slowly, and while inhaling, watch your breath. Observe the sensation of your rising abdomen, or the feel of air rushing into your lungs, or the breeze against the nares of your nostrils.

Then slowly exhale, and observe again, the falling of your abdomen, or the feel of air leaving your lungs, or the breeze against the nares of your nostrils.

It matters not where you put the point of your focus, whether it be your abdomen, lungs, or nose. Leave it to the whim of the moment. Or go with that which feels most prominent.

After a few of these breaths, your concentration will strengthen. Now, turn your attention to your mind. Observe your thoughts as they rise and fall.

Some meditators are under the impression that the purpose of meditation is to rid your mind of runaway, distracting thoughts. And so, they try to let go of their thoughts, then keep them pushed away so they never return.

This is awful goddamned hard work, and can give you a big headache. Also, it’s not necessary. Try it if you want, but don’t worry if you decide to give up. It’s exhausting.

A less tiring approach is to simply watch your thoughts as they rise and fall, and keep letting them rise and fall naturally. Now in order to do this, you must pull a piece of your brain out of your skull. Sounds icky, I know, but it’s the only way.

But thankfully, I’m speaking metaphorically. By pulling a piece of your brain out of your skull, I mean you must set aside a part of your mind, and give it the task of observing. And what it observes is what your mind is doing. It observes your thinking.

In other words, you turn your mind upon itself, to make a self-observation. This is what is called, “self awareness,” by meditators, or “metacognition” by those with a more scientific orientation. It’s being in the present moment. It’s seeing things exactly as they are, without comment or opinion.

It is a passionless, detached, objective observation of your own mind, by a piece of your own mind.

However, it isn’t easy to pull off. You’ll find that when you do this, your thoughts start playing hide-and-go-seek and it becomes very difficult to observe them. It’s ironic. Watching your thoughts makes your thoughts disappear.

Thus, when your thoughts arise, you focus your attention on them, and that makes them fall. This is what is often referred to by meditation masters as the rise and fall of thoughts.

This rise and fall happens because your mind can only do one thing at a time. It can think, and it can observe itself think. But the catch is, it can’t do both at the same time. This is an ironic thing about meditation. Just when you remember to observe your thoughts, they disappear like darkness under a spotlight.

That’s because it’s impossible to think, and observe yourself think, at the same time. Yet that’s what meditators are trying to do.

And yet a common complaint from meditators is that they can’t stop their minds from thinking. Well, that’s obviously because they can’t maintain self-awareness for any great length of time.

Self-awareness is the fucking hard part about mindfulness and meditation. It’s hard to sustain it over long periods of time. And so you have to keep reminding yourself to be self-aware. But it’s very hard to remember to remind yourself.

This I believe, is why few people persist at the practice of mindfulness. It’s why so many give up quickly. It’s frustrating. They don’t like the constant failure, and arduous mental toil that is so much a part of mindfulness. So they say, “to hell with unicorns, I quit!”

Also, setting aside the time required for formal mindfulness can be prohibitive. Imagine meditating for an hour in the morning, then arriving to work an hour late. Try telling your boss, “Sorry I’m late, but I was very busy watching thoughts rise and fall in my mind. It was important.”

That’s a good way to become a full-time meditator, while checking the help wanted ads.

I can’t do much about the frustrating and mentally difficult aspect to mindfulness. I can only encourage you to keep at it. Be assured that it gets easier with practice.

But as for the time requirement, there’s a viable solution. And no, it does not require time travel, or making all the clocks on Earth stand still.

No, you can skip formal mindfulness, and just practice informal mindfulness. Informal mindfulness involves multitasking. So it can be practiced at any time, and any place. Even at night in your sleep.

So get up and cook dinner, take a shower, and vacuum the floors. And while you’re at it, I’ll tell you all about informal mindfulness.

###

Chasing Unicorns: Chapter 7, On the Path of Unicorns, Part 2

Tap cover, to read.

This is the latest installation of a 27-part series, featuring my book, Chasing Unicorns. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. For the next post in this series, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. To read the entire book at once, tap the book cover. Thanks for reading!

RECAP: Yesterday you learned that the path of unicorns involves meditation. There are two aspects to this path, which I have named Unikonics and Unicorniks. Unikonics was covered in Chapters 2 through 5, and is the theory behind the path. Unicorniks is the practice of actually catching unicorns (unique experiences), and has been mainly covered in these final two chapters. The most effective way to catch unicorns is through meditation, which leads you on a path that goes straight to their source. Which is the mind.

On the Path of Unicorns, Part 2

Mindfulness

The way to go straight to the mind is through something called “mindfulness.” You’ve probably already heard of this, as it’s become quite popular in our New Age world. Everyone seems to have hopped on the bandwagon, when it comes to mindfulness.

They parrot hackneyed slogans that we’ve become boringly familiar with, such as: “Wake up! Pay attention! Find yourself! Look within! Live in the moment! Be mindful! Be present! Just be!”

And yet, the world remains as nutty as ever. You’d think with all the mindfulness going on, everyone would have conquered their crazy minds by now, and we’d all be living in a utopia. But so far, mindfulness has not cured the world of very many ills.

The problem is that the practice of mindfulness is much easier said than done. Mindfulness is fucking hard! And most people, including me, are fucking lazy. So few people stick with mindfulness long enough to enjoy most of its benefits.

But it works, for those who do stick with it. Lazy as I am, I have persisted and persisted with the practice of mindfulness, for decades, and have reaped its harvests over and over again.

It hasn’t transfigured me into a virtuous citizen, nor a saint, nor a perfectly enlightened Buddha. No, mindfulness doesn’t do that. That’s the job of purity. Those who want to be virtuous should forget about mindfulness and practice purity, instead.

Purity is practiced by putting on a fake smile, and claiming to be mindful all the time. Then you do good works in full view of everyone, and always have a smarmy comment on hand for anyone who doubts your pure intentions.

Purity is for winning social status within your workplace, community, church, temple, or wherever the hell you’re trying to be elevated to sainthood.

Those who are truly mindful tend to keep quiet about it. This is because as difficult as it is to practice, it’s ten times more difficult to describe. Just what the hell is mindfulness? For those who’ve experienced it over protracted periods of time, it’s something mystical and magical that defies explanation.

All things come from the mind. So when you direct your mind onto the mind, you’re pointing it at the raw material of the universe. This material can only be sensed. It cannot be properly described with words. Words can never come close.

Perhaps I’m slow-witted, but it seems from my experience, that you become aware of this raw material slowly. It dawns upon you gradually, over time, and never right away, all at once. And maybe this is why the world hasn’t been helped much by mindfulness. I think most people don’t stick with it long enough to develop such awareness.

It’s a profound awareness. It’s so profound, that once it occurs to you, you’re hooked. It’s too late. You can never be unmindful again. Now you are chained like a slave to the arduous task of inward-looking, self-awareness.

It’s worse than being a heroin addict. You can quit heroin, with some effort, but you can never quit mindfulness, once you reach the point of no return. But unlike heroin, you’re not hooked right from the start. No, the addiction develops gradually, until finally it has gained so much steam, trying to stop it would be like trying to push back a runaway Union Pacific freight train.

You might wonder how long it takes to become so addicted. I don’t know. Perhaps it differs from person to person. For me, I’d say it was at least one year, and perhaps as many as five or ten. I can’t pinpoint the exact date the addiction took me over.

If you practice mindfulness long term, I believe you’ll become addicted, just like me. I just can’t guarantee the time frame. But one day you’ll wake up and realize that you’re stuck with this habit. And your life will never be the same. Sometime between the time you begin the practice, and the time you realize you’re hooked to it, your life will transform permanently.

So just what is mindfulness? As I’ve averred to before, I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I can’t describe it. It goes well beyond words. Words don’t do it justice.

But I can describe the practice. I can tell you what to do, to be mindful and catch lots of unicorns, and then it will be up to you to try it, and keep doing it. And if you keep doing it, you will learn, in due time, just exactly what mindfulness really is.

[Tomorrow I’ll introduce the practice of mindfulness to you. And then if you’re of a mind, you can mindfully practice mindfulness.]

###

suyts space

Just another WordPress.com site

barsetshirediaries

A site for the Barsetshire Diaries Books and others

Chasing Unicorns

Where smartasses chase unicorns

The Trefoil Muse

Words are art on paper, and for me they are the seeds of my soul.

Marta Frant

Humor and Lifestyle

Life is a rusty rollercoaster

A bit of this...A bit of that...bit of everything...come on in...

Jessica reads&write

I read to live, I write to share their life

Jessica E. Larsen

Writer. Reader. A mom and a romantic dreamer 🥰 💕

Z107.7 FM

Community Radio for the California Hi Desert

Borden's Blather

A 60-something guy trying to figure out the world, and his place in it.

...i choose this...

joy, happiness, travel, adventure, gratitude

A Pierman Sister

Paris, Travel and Family

Luminous Aether

Light is a state-of-mind.

Nuggets of Gold

Helping you to find the gold nuggets amidst the dirt, sand and pebbles of life!

THE WIDOW BADASS BLOG

"This blog is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." - F.G.

Kieran's Humor

Not suitable for children, the sensitive or those hoping to get into heaven.

History Present

History Understood In Its Present

Jason Frels

Mostly the photography of Jason Frels

A Dog's Life ... and mine ... and yours!

Life with Ray ... and the world in general!

AngelineM's Blog

A little BIT OF THE EVERY DAY............A good writer is basically a story teller, not a scholar or a redeemer of mankind. - Isaac Bashevis Singer