Dr. Charles T. Tart on August 2nd, 2009

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 2, Part 13 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: Anyway, the attitude cultivated in Vipassana meditation is equanimity. We are very conditioned for a resistance factor to come up real strongly, right away, because that’s the way we go through life. Maximize my pleasure! Minimize my pain! Fidget. Fidget. Fidget. Cope. Cope. Cope. All the time! And, as I said, that’s all right a good deal of the time, but there are a lot of situations where we can’t do anything about the situation. The pain’s going to be there. We better learn something about working on the R factor, on our attitude toward it. This works for psychological pain also, and not just physical pain, but it’s easier to illustrate for physical pain. Yes?

Student: During my experience in the last several minutes I didn’t concern myself with not moving because the practice itself was supposed to be able to be present all the time.

CTT: Yeah. If you really have to move, move mindfully.

Student: So I just paid attention to how I was moving, and how it felt, and how my body felt in response to it.

CTT: Yes. That’s the idea. Just don’t turn that into an excuse to automatically fidget. We’re trying to get past the robot stage where we unconsciously fidget because we’re trained to do that automatically all the time. If you really have to move, move slowly and mindfully and then sit still again.

Student: There’s a guy named Hanna who did some research that says every thought is accompanied by a motor response.

CTT: Tom Hanna?

Student: I think possibly so.

CTT: It may be. You know, there used to be a prominent theory – I think it’s the James-Lange theory of thought and emotion – that says that thinking actually involves subtle movements of your vocal chords, even though you don’t make any obvious sounds. And I used to scoff at that theory, because I believed that the power of independent minds could transcend mere physical bodies. But once I finally got moderately good at meditation, I began to notice that when I was troubled by what I called thoughts, there was this funny little subtle activity down around my vocal chords. And if I could really relax that activity, the thoughts stopped….

An awful lot of what I called thought, I could more accurately call talking to myself. Shinzen Young has found that for other people too. I don’t know if it’s universally true, but it may be something you’ll eventually notice in your thoughts.

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16 Responses to “Mind moves body – no, really!”

  1. anonymous says:

    “But once I finally got moderately good at meditation, I began to notice that when I was troubled by what I called thoughts, there was this funny little subtle activity down around my vocal chords.”

    I think there are different levels of consciousness. Verbal thought is one level but there is also a pre-verbal level. If you engage your verbal mind with a mantra or by chanting, you will find the interal self talk is quieted and this can make a huge difference towards calming the mind. This is espeically useful if one is in a mood with a lot of negative self talk.

    However, even if the verbal thinking is displaced with a mantra or chant, there can still be other, non verbal thoughts of a more subtle type. These seem to me to be memories or pure ideas.

    Before we put something into words we have some idea of what we want to say but but it can be ephemeral. I think putting something into words clarifies it and makes it easier to remember. It’s almost like a different type of consciousness. It’s as if words give us a different mode of thinking because we have symbols (words) that are easier to work with (recall to mind) than the just the pure concept. A word can represent a complex idea or, through association, help bring that complex idea into mind.

    “And if I could really relax that activity, the thoughts stopped….”

    Any time I try focusing my attention on something new, it is easy to concentrate during meditation. However, once the new technique becomes familiar and automatic, it loses that extra effectiveness.

  2. Sandy says:

    Does meditation become less effective as it becomes more familiar?

    Sometimes it seems like maybe I’m just going through the motions. Meditating because I think I should. I guess it is better than not meditating at all, because when I don’t meditate I don’t feel as good about myself. I know it isn’t about feeling good, it is about learning. But I didn’t start doing this to learn, even though it turns out that I have learned an awful lot about myself. I started doing this to be OK with having experiences that I couldn’t understand, and to hopefully gain some control over such experiences.

    I think I’m better about having the anomalous experiences than I was before, possibly because I’m starting to understand them at least a little bit. That gives me some hope that I will continue to gain insights about what I’m experiencing. Things seem less scary- and sometimes even interesting – that way. And I do have some control now over when and where these experiences occur. I just wonder if I set my sights too low? I feel better when I meditate, and that was all I really wanted… now I’m getting bored. Or complacent. Possibly lazy. Or maybe I just had a bad day, and I’ll do a better job of meditating tomorrow.

    I’m just wondering if I need to do something differently now?

  3. anonymous says:

    “Does meditation become less effective as it becomes more familiar?”

    I don’t think meditation becomes less effective, but it becomes harder to concentrate when you become familiar with any particular technique. At first when you try a new kind of meditation you have to pay attention to what you are doing because it is something new. Once you becomes familiar with that technique and you can do it “automatically” without paying too much attention, then your mind will wander more easily.

    If you are losing enthusiasm for meditating you could try a different type of meditation or try relaxation exercieses. You might find something you like better. Relaxation exercises require you pay attention to the technique as you do them so in that sense they are forms of meditation too. Also, if you stop practicing for a few days and notice that you feel differently, that might motivate you to start up again. Understanding and remembering what meditation does for you, can help motivate you to meditate.

    “I know it isn’t about feeling good, it is about learning.”

    That is just an opinion some people have. It isn’t true in an absolute sense. If you want to meditate to keep your mind calm because you prefer to go through life with a calm mind, that is just as valid a reason to meditate as any other.

    If you go to a particular school for meditation or study with a particular teacher they will tell you their philosophy. But no one “owns” meditation.

    • Sandy says:

      When I stop practising for a few days, I really don’t feel all that well. You would think that would be a good incentive to keep practising, but I also know that eating junk food makes me feel really sick and I still eat chips every so often. Knowing that somehing makes me feel good or bad doesn’t seem to do the trick.

      My Grandmother suggested that I have to get past the point where I feel like I need to meditate to be “OK” and move on to the point where I really want to do this. I think that means being able to be more than just OK in regards to having anomalous experiences. I need to be able to embrace such events and accept them as part of the human experience. At least as a part of my human experience. I’m just not there yet.

  4. anonymous says:

    “Sometimes it seems like maybe I’m just going through the motions. Meditating because I think I should. I guess it is better than not meditating at all, because when I don’t meditate I don’t feel as good about myself. I know it isn’t about feeling good, it is about learning.”

    Just like we say “don’t be attached to feeling good” we can also say, “don’t be attached to doing it perfectly”. If you just sit in a chair for 20 minutes without doing anything, not trying to solve anything, not trying to intentionally think about anything, but still letting your mind rant as it will, you will be better off.

    Think of the mind like a wild horse put in a pen. At first the horse will run around and around. After a time it will get tired and slow down. What stirs up the mind is all the things we do that remind us of other things or cause us to react in certain ways. If you just do nothing, then your mind will calm down naturally.

    My philosophy about daily practices is to not push myself too hard because if I develop an aversion and quit I am then worse off than if I do it half-heartedly. There are certain things in life that we may choose to put in 110% effort but we don’t have to do that for everything we are interested in.

  5. anonymous says:

    “I’m just wondering if I need to do something differently now?”

    Try reading books about meditation or Buddhism. Reading interesting books about a subject is a good way to maintain motivation.

    Also, joining (or starting) a group that meets to meditate can also help maintain enthusiasm.

  6. anonymous says:

    “When I stop practising for a few days, I really don’t feel all that well. You would think that would be a good incentive to keep practising, but I also know that eating junk food makes me feel really sick and I still eat chips every so often.”

    I know what you mean. Life is such a muddle sometimes. We want to do something theoretically but when it comes to doing it there are reasons don’t. Or, we have a problem but none of the “solutions” really seems to be better than the status quo. They may work for others but in “my case” for what ever reason they aren’t apt.

    Sometimes things have to deteriorate to the point where a situation is so bad that a previously inadequate solution starts to look good. You seem to be getting better about your experiences so I don’t think this applies to you.

    One of the things that reinforced my meditation practice was doing it a lot. The first time I meditated for several hours at a time, my mind was so calm and reality so clear that I never wanted to go back to the old way of being deulded all the time. Something similar happened to me with junk food. When I cut out all junk food, all sugar, corn syrup all alcohol, processes foods etc and just ate a balanced diet of protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates I felt so much better than before that I really have no interest in junk food any more. (Part of the problem is that refined carbohydrates and sugar create food cravings which makes it hard to give them up. For biochemical reasons, junk food provides stress relief so stress can create cravings for junk food too.)

    Meditating is a commitment and it requires scheduling time to do it every day. There are so many things competing for our attention and time that it can be really hard to develop a consistent meditation practice. I think most people who meditate regularly do it because they a very strong interest meditation for the sake of meditation not as a solution to some other problem. It isn’t really a very good solution to anything (except maybe stress) for most people.

    The average person doesn’t meditate because they have no interest in it. If you tell them that meditation will help with “x” that doesn’t change the fact that they have no interest in meditation. Meditation isn’t like a pill that takes two seconds to swallow. Meditation takes commitment and effort. If the pay off isn’t equal to the cost rational people won’t do it.

    Personally, I do Buddhist type meditation because I prefer to go through life with a calm mind, I also need a calm mind to do spiritual healing meditation and spirit communication meditation because I can concentrate during them better with a calm mind. I find that Buddhist meditation also incrases the frequency of spontaneous psychic experiences I have and I like that too.

    “My Grandmother suggested that I have to get past the point where I feel like I need to meditate to be “OK” and move on to the point where I really want to do this.”

    Can you ask her how to get that point?

    How much of your resistance to being psychic is due to the fact that you just don’t like being “different” from other people? Could that be the real problem? Was there some experience in your life in particular where being psychic caused you problems? I don’t mean to psychoanalyze you but maybe that approach would help you understand you attitude better which might make it possible to change it.

  7. Sandy says:

    Anonymous,

    I don’t like being different. I’ll admit that. Actually that’s not exactly true. I don’t mind being different, but I don’t want to get in trouble for it. Being different is OK as long as no one finds out about it and treats me badly because of it.

    I have had some really bad experiences that have to do with being different. And even though being different has actually saved my life, I still associate the bad experience of being in danger with being different in the first place. I’m afraid of being punished for being different, because that’s happened to me. I’m also afraid of losing the love and affection of those closest to me if I get caught being different because that’s happened before too.

    I sometimes play with those Boundary Institute online esp tests. I try very hard to get scores that even out over the long term, so if I get 20 to 1 odds one day, the next day I need to get 20 to –1. That way I’m normal. So even though I often get either high or low daily scores, over the long run nothing bad is happening. I somehow screwed up in July and got 3 cumulative monthly scores (I did five of the tests) that were much higher than I’m comfortable with. That really upset me, which is silly. But I feel like I messed up.

  8. @Sandy:

    I’m afraid of being punished for being different, because that’s happened to me. I’m also afraid of losing the love and affection of those closest to me if I get caught being different because that’s happened before too.
    This is a realistic fear, unfortunately, we humans tend to be afraid of people who are different, turn our fear into anger – it feels better to be angry than be afraid – and then lash out at those who are different.
    Since there are a zillion ways to be “different,” not just by being psychic, life is a continuous dance between being true to ourselves, being adaptive and not showing our differences inappropriately, and, at the difficult end of the continuum, worrying too much about being different. Caution and discretion, yes. But we – and I’m talking about all of us here, not just Sandy – should be careful to not be too hard on ourselves. Punishing ourselves for being different, or trying to totally squash our lives down into “normalcy” won’t change the fundamental human trait of worrying too much about those who are different in any way.
    I heard a great new word on the radio the other day relating to this – neophobia, a fear of anything new. I know I have a tendency to be neophobic at times….

  9. anonymous says:

    I think it is pretty normal to be afraid of new or unknown things. When I was working part time in a lab as an undergraduate I had to use a centrifuge. When I was shown how to operate it, I was taught to make sure the tubes were inserted into the rotor so that they were balanced. If they weren’t balanced the washing machine sized centrifuge would start rocking from side to side and “walking” across the lab. One time I didn’t balance the rotor and this happened. I almost fainted. Seeing the centrifuge walking across the room was so different from my perconceived expectations of “reality” that, even though I had been warned, my brain couldn’t really comprehend what was happening.

    The mind relies heavily on finding what it expects in the environment in order to functing efficeintly. When something happens that contradicts all experience and expectation, the mind has a difficult time functioning.

    Once I was walking near my house at night and I saw something which I couldn’t explain. It looked like some kind of floating creature and I had a fright. My first thoughts were that it was chupacabra, that I was dreaming, etc… After a second I could tell it was a skunk. In the dim light, the black fur was invisible and all I could see was the fluffy fur of white stripe several inches above the ground and its eeriely glowing eyes.

  10. Sandy says:

    Dr Tart,

    In my case the fear of psi has a lot to do with self-preservation. My first husband wanted to kill me because as far as he was concerned his real wife died in the car accident that resulted in my adult NDE. He was very religious and thought the changes in me were somehow evil. He let me go because our house came to life when he tried to hurt me. He thought he saw angels protecting me. I saw weird lights and maybe some of them sort of looked like people. And the TV, radios, alarm clocks and lights were behaving in ways that didn’t make sense. But I don’t believe in angels, and I really don’t know what happened that night. All I know is that a very depressed and delusional man tried to hurt me, and then ran out of the house instead.

    I’ve gone through counseling about that situation. I blamed myself for what happened and didn’t even tell my parents why I wouldn’t take him back. Logically I know that he was ill (PTSD) and that he might have behaved the way he did no matter who I was. He got help and was sorry for what happened. I forgave him, but refused to resume any sort of relationship. He isn’t even alive at this point in time, so he isn’t any sort of a threat. But I still have this strong feeling like I have to hide being different now or something bad will happen to me.

  11. Sandy says:

    I was really feeling stuck about what to about meditating in a way that felt like I was doing more than just going through the motions. It was sort of like meditation was right up there with flossing. I’m good about flossing, not because I particularly like it (I don’t like doing it at all!), but because I know it is good for me. But you can get away with just going through the motions when it comes to flossing, and it works just fine.

    I went for a walk while trying to be mindful and attentive to what I’m feeling. That was much better than meditating while sitting still. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better. I actually would have been happy with that. Grandma thought I could do better. She had me doing what I do to create light. The sort of light created as a form of protection. I’m sure anyone can do it, even if they can’t see it. The trick is to relax and know that it takes no effort. Effortless. I just relaxed with the light for a few minutes and then tried to meditate. I won’t say it was all good, because there were insights that made me cry. But at least there were insights.

  12. anonymous says:

    “It was sort of like meditation was right up there with flossing.”

    What type of meditation does the person who suggested you try it do?

    Maybe you should try a different type of meditation that is more realxing and less like work, like counting the breath. Sit comfortably, breathe naturally. Count exhalations. After you count ten of them, start again with one. If you get distracted by stray thoughts and lose count, it’s okay, it is expected and an important part of the process, just resume counting starting with one. Consider this type of meditation not a way to develop concentration but as a technique that allows the mind to calm down. You should do it in a relaxing manner. If you find yourself doing it in a way that is tense, try to be more relaxed.

    Sometimes I do a type of walking meditation where I count to three as I take three steps while inhaling and then coutinue counting to six as I take three more steps while I exhaling. Then I start over. I walk at a normal walking pace. (It’s not good idea to do this where there is a lot of automobile traffic if you will be crossing streets.)

  13. @anonymous:

    (It’s not good idea to do this where there is a lot of automobile traffic if you will be crossing streets.)
    Good reminder! Ordinary consciousness is generally the best available for ordinary tasks, like crossing streets!
    Playing off this and returning to our fear of being thought different theme…..in most situations where you are exposed to ordinary people, looking like you’re meditating — funny posture, eyes closed, or something like that — may get you unfavorable attention. One solution I’ve used if I want to meditate in a park, waiting room, or the like. Have an open book in your lap. That way it just looks like you’re thinking about something you’ve read, which is “normal.” ;-)

  14. Sandy says:

    Dr Tart, I actually do carry either a sketchbook or small journal with me most of the time, so that probably would work quite well as a way to camouflage meditation. The journal would probably be best, because when I draw people are more inclined to want to come over and visit.

    Anonymous, I think the reason meditation was becoming a matter of just going through the motions had a lot to do with needing to deal with difficult insights and not so much to do with meditation being hard. It amazes me how good I am at avoiding difficulties. My body had to fidget and my mind had to wander… It was just self-defense really. I was trying to distract myself from pain. Once I saw what I was trying so hard to avoid, I had a good cry. And then meditation was OK to do again. I haven’t solved my problems by any stretch of the imagination. But I know that they are there. I couldn’t acknowledge them before.

    I think that maybe I’m going to go have another cry now…

  15. anonymous says:

    ” I think the reason meditation was becoming a matter of just going through the motions had a lot to do with needing to deal with difficult insights and not so much to do with meditation being hard.”

    This is not uncommon. It often manifests as a person cutting short the meditation session. They sit down to meditate and somehow they unconsciously sense something unpleasant is rising up from the unconscious. They start getting fidgety part way throgh the session and then decide they’ve done enough for now.

    This is one reason being in a meditation group can be beneficial. The “peer pressure” of having other people around helps one to fidget less and to practice consistently.

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