Monday, September 7, 2020

Neutral Meditation

UPDATE: I have written a newer article which I recommend instead of this one. There is a lot more information in the newer article. It's okay to read this article too, but I am concerned that this article could encourage readers to suppress emotions including the pleasant feelings that relaxing meditation can produce and that was never my intention in writing this article.

In this article, I describe a form of meditation I call "neutral meditation" that may be best for people who want to try meditation but don't want to experience the intense effects produced by the method of meditation described in the main article on meditation on my web site. Neutral meditation is good for relieving stress and producing a tranquil mind and spiritual well-being. It also helps you learn to avoid bad moods by teaching you to let go of unpleasant emotions before they become entrenched.

Most forms of meditation are intended to quiet or slow down the mind so it produces fewer thoughts and impulses. Focusing the mind on the object of meditation and returning to the object of meditation when the mind wanders quiets thoughts. Sitting still quiets impulses. Neutral meditation additionally reduces the arising of various attitudes (which can lead to emotions) within the mind, so it produces a even quieter mind. Quieting the mind is beneficial because a quiet mind produces fewer unpleasant thoughts and emotions, and when the mind is quiet you are better able to see what is happening within it which make understanding the nature of your own consciousness easier.

To do neutral meditation, meditate by noticing your breath. Try to be as neutral in your attitude and emotions and expectations as possible, while not pushing anything away or forcing anything anything into your mind. Do try to notice if you have an "attitude" that is extra that you don't really need to to have and let go of it. If you can have a neutral attitude without suppressing anything that is good. There are forms of meditation that produce intense bliss, but sometimes people unknowingly stumble on to a similar method that produces unpleasant emotions. The point of this meditation is avoid pushing any kind of mood, good or bad, on yourself when you meditate. During your meditation session, try to notice if any attitudes sneak back into your mind. This could happen because of distracting thoughts, events going on around you, or for other reasons. Asking yourself, "What emotion am I feeling?" can help you recognize if your attitude changes. If you notice any attitudes arising, try to return to a neutral frame of mind.

When you meditate this way you can sit in a chair they way you normally sit. It's good to relax, but don't try so hard to relax that you cause yourself stress. One of the differences between letting go of emotions and suppressing emotions is that letting go tends to involve relaxing and suppressing tends to involve tensing. When you take a neutral attitude and when you let go of emotions try to do it in a relaxing way not "resisting" or "fighting against" but relaxing.

Don't try to concentrate intensely just gently notice your breath in and out. If you notice you have become distracted and your mind is wandering, just go back to noticing your breath. Don't be upset if your mind wanders it is normal and to be expected. It can be useful to notice what topics you are thinking about when your mind wanders. At first the topics are likely to be things that are giving you the most stress, after a time those issues may settle down and the distracting thoughts will be about various of events of the day, and after that more random issues about your past or future may arise. Noticing this can help you recognize the progress you are making in calming your mind and help you recognize how much meditation you need to do.

If you have a lot of trouble concentrating, there are a couple of things you can try. Doing relaxation exercises before you meditate can help quiet your mind. It can also help you to stay focused when you meditate if you count your breaths to yourself up to ten and then start over at one. You can count inhalations, or exhalations, or both. The number doesn't have to be ten. It can be whatever feels right at the moment. Two, four, or five sometimes work well. Or you can say "in" and "out" as you inhale and exhale.

If your natural mode of breathing is relaxed, you can breath that way if you want to, or you can choose whatever depth and rate of breathing feels most comfortable. If your're not sure where to focus your attention, focusing on the air going in and out through your nose is okay, also focusing on your whole body or on a point slightly below the navel are also okay. Sometimes focusing on the diaphragm or the chest may be confusing and produce discomfort when breathing. If you like to focus on those areas it's okay to do so, just be aware if you have problems, try focusing on a different location. And if you feel short of breath while meditating, try exhaling slowly through pursed lips.

If you find meditating this way produces a pleasant mood, don't try to produce that mood, stick with neutral meditation and let the pleasant mood come by itself.

A beginner will need some guidance on how much meditation to do. My suggestion is 20 to 30 minutes once or twice a day. However, eventually I believe each person should decide for themselves how much meditation to do. I don't believe you should need willpower to mediate. You should meditate because you want to. There are a few reasons I believe it is worthwhile to meditate: 1) It helps relieve stress and produces tranquility. 2) It produces spiritual feelings that help you live according to your spiritual values. 3) It feels good - it produce a pleasant relaxed mood. Other people might have other reasons. I don't meditate because I expect to get some benefit in the future. I meditate each day for the benefits I get that day. After someone has been meditating for some time, I believe they should meditate as much as they feel is worthwhile in order to to relieve stress and or to produce the pleasant and spiritual feelings that they want to experience. And the amount they meditate could vary from day to day depending on the circumstances.

If you try to bring the mental habit of attitude neutrality into daily life, it may help you to recognize that many unpleasant emotions that arise during the day are easy to avoid if you notice them forming early but can seem to be "involuntary" if you don't pay attention and let them accumulate. For example, if you are reading the news and you read a disturbing article, you might be able to let go of the emotion easily if you notice it and make the effort. But if you read one news story, and another, and another and don't realize until later you are in a bad mood, at that point it can be hard to let go. I suspect part of the problem involves stress hormones. Once levels of stress hormones start going up, I believe, you need to physically relax before you can let go - either through natural relaxation (which can be infrequent in modern life), a moderate amount of meditation, or a shorter period of relaxation exercises. Neutral meditation develops a mental habit that can prevent "grumps" before they start. However it should be understood I am referring to emotions that have a cognitive basis (a basis in thinking), other types of emotions that might be due to genetic or developmental effects on brain chemistry might be a different matter. And you also have to be sensitive to emotions and avoid suppressing them which is not the same as letting go.

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