The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Secret #6: Heartbeat Meditation

Some of you have heard the story about my meeting and falling in love with Tananarive. She fills my heart so completely that it is hard to think back on
my reaction prior. Now, if she got her legs cut off by a train, or her face blown off by a grenade, it would only make me love her more. But get real...
is anyone surprised that if I'd met her and those legs had been gone, or that beautiful face had been scar tissue, that I would have married her? The
chances are almost zero. And if her thyroid went whacko and she gained 100 pounds, I would be right there with her in the doctor's office, on any diet or exercise
program suggested right there with her, and if none of that would make any difference, I'd simply suck it up and love her.

But if you think I'm shallow because I probably wouldn't have been interested if she'd had that problem initially, go right ahead. People have the right
to judge me, and decide that I'm not to their liking on whatever grounds they desire, including (I hope) physical attractiveness. Hell, who doesn't want to
feel that the person they love finds them desirable not just "spiritually" or "emotionally" but also physically? When I am attracted to a woman emotionally or spiritually,
she becomes a friend or confidant. For her to become a lover, there had to be a physical component. I want to have a relationship with someone who can keep up with me
in every way. I HAVE THAT RIGHT. I want someone who has enough energy, intelligence and self-confidence that I'm not continually frightened of dominating her. I
get tired of being told I'm obsessive about working out, even if I spend 1/5th as much time doing it as they spend watching TV. I don't like to justify myself,
my actions, and my world-view every time I turn around. So if her face had been burned away? Man, unless we lived next door to each other for YEARS, the chances that
I would have developed a hind-brain reflex saying "Yowsa!" when I look at her wouldn't be great. I mean, I love guys too, but just don't get that reflexive sexual
reaction from them. No real control there. Wow, what a concept: I like to be attracted. What about if she'd been overweight? Depends on how much. If it was a health
issue, I might have admired her courage, but I have the same right to have someone in life who can share my interests as anyone else. I'm afraid I'd love her from a distance.
But again, if she gained it AFTER we fell in love, through no fault of her own physically, I would react to her almost exactly the same. If she changed as a result of
BEHAVIORAL changes, I'm afraid it would have an effect on my respect for her...which could well affect my emotions.

Ladies, to put this in perspective, how often does ardor cool if a man stops working and decides to lay on the couch?
So we have a real difference: what is attractive on the surface, what is attractive down deep, and what keeps a relationship together once the bond is made. They are three
different things, but I think that in the healthiest relationships, two people are displaying through their actions and dress values which actually reflect their
true natures. From across the room they broadcast their physical and intellectual and emotional nature. As you approach them, and get to know them, their deeper
structure echoes their original impression. Go deeper, and you find humanity in all its myriad positive and negative aspects, but no cruel surprises.

The trouble is when people feel that their outer shells or lives are tremendously different from their inner essence. While they are right: our inner selves ARE different
from our outer presentations--the more the inner and outer match, the better off you are.
Which leads us to #6 of the Seven Secrets: HEARTBEAT MEDITATION.

Not all meditations that are safe are effective. Not all effective meditations are safe. Heartbeat Meditation, learned as a student of Sri Chinmoy, is both. It is simplicity
itself: you sit quietly and listen to your heartbeat. This goes incredibly deep, if you follow it down, but here are some basic thoughts.
1) For the first 15 minutes or so, your mind will throw up every bit of garbage it can manage to try to get you to stop.
2) Think of it as peering into a pan of water with a mirror at the bottom. If the surface is roiled, you can't see your true reflection. As the surface calms, the true
reflection becomes clear.
3) Do this first thing in the morning. As you learn to pierce the outer levels of illusion, seek to bring this calmness and centeredness into your day.
4) Seek moments of flow in your life: driving, sex, painting, gardening, yoga, whatever. As you identify them, learn to bring that quality into your meditation.
5) Sit upright when you perform Heartbeat Meditation, to help keep yourself from falling asleep. Falling asleep is a perfectly normal ego defense mechanism--your
false self doesn't want you to contact your true self.
5) Touch the pulse point on your wrist or your throat to find your pulse if necessary. As you learn to relax and center, you will be able to hear/feel the pulse
anywhere in your body you choose.
6) Notice how your breathing deepens and slows as you connect with your heartbeat. Use this centered breathing when you have a need for calm.
7) Once you have done this for several months, you will reach a calm qualitatively and quantitatively different from what has come before. Seek to
enter into this place before you make important decisions.
8) Ask yourself which of your decisions in life is made from such a calm place, and which ones arise from the roiling above.
9) If you have a religious or spiritual tradition, seek within it to find techniques that will bring you to a similar place. This place is beyond
religion, philosophy or language. Beyond race and gender. Beyond nationality or time. Beyond life and death.
10) Expect to get few results for the first six weeks or so. The ego fights dirty...and one of its cruelest tricks is to make you afraid or
uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the precise actions and methods that would lead you to freedom.

Any thoughts? What would you need to know to make this more accessible?


Anonymous said...

Steve -

You mentioned "safe" meditation. What you would you consider "unsafe" meditation and why?


Pagan Topologist said...

I was wondering the same thing as Scott. If one experiments with meditation, as I do, what sorts of things are dangerous?

I have heard that heartbeat meditations are potentially dangerous, in fact, since it is possible thereby to learn to consciously control your pulse and maybe not get enough oxygen to your brain. So your statement that they are safe got my attention.

Steven Barnes said...

Heartbeat control comes after PROFOUND levels of breath control. Slowing your breathing down below about 3 a minute is a serious matter, one that probably shouldn't be approached without a teacher.
There are meditations that tap deep wells of negative emotion, and can trigger breakdowns. Others done in combination with fasting that can create eating disorders. I won't go into it too first.

Steve Perry said...

Being unprepared for the Kundalini when it rises ...

Mike Ralls said...

I have tried Heartbeat Meditation a bunch of times, and only once (and that was literally two years ago) did I feel I successfully did it.

I have a decent level of self control: I have successfully done intermittent fasting every day with no exceptions for a month for instance and that takes a good deal of control, as well as the standards being able to keep a good paying 9-5 job, keep a good loving woman happy in a stable relationship, and most other signs of self control and discipline I'm decent at if not great (with the exceptions of procrastination, which I have a real serious problem with), yet even though I've tried it a bunch of times, I haven't been able to do heartbeat meditation.

I think I recall you saying you've walked people through the exercise in person. My question would be, what did you do for them in person that really helped them do it?

Mike Ralls said...

On a side note: I found this article that says humans may have a limited amount of will power very interesting;

"The brain’s store of willpower is depleted when people control their thoughts, feelings or impulses, or when they modify their behavior in pursuit of goals. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have found that people who successfully accomplish one task requiring self-control are less persistent on a second, seemingly unrelated task."

The good news is;

"Focusing on success is important because willpower can grow in the long term. Like a muscle, willpower seems to become stronger with use. The idea of exercising willpower is seen in military boot camp, where recruits are trained to overcome one challenge after another.

In psychological studies, even something as simple as using your nondominant hand to brush your teeth for two weeks can increase willpower capacity. People who stick to an exercise program for two months report reducing their impulsive spending, junk food intake, alcohol use and smoking. They also study more, watch less television and do more housework. Other forms of willpower training, like money-management classes, work as well."

Anonymous said...

That study on willpower sounds interesting, but was their any discussion of motivation in the study. It seems to me my willpower with respect to any task would be related to how much I was motivated with respect to that task.

Marty S

Steven Barnes said...

In person, I adjust posture, get them to relax, sometimes get them to move to increase rate and intensity of heartbeat. Guide them to pulse points. Use meditative music or a metronome to slow their breathing.
I've noticed that it can seem like you have (for instance) 100 units of discipline, and when you try to do something new, you can find old bad habits creeping back in. But eventually, your efforts will expand you to "120" units, and you'll have more discipline to go around.

mjholt said...

Steve, you are so right. Meditations can be very unsafe if you tap into a negative emotion. I do believe that an individual who focuses on a non-achieving meditation will do better. I have practiced the emptying meditation. I have also meditated using the "Jesus prayer," which is repeatedly admitting to being a sinner and seeking salvation. Both were positive for me.

Any focus that you do not believe in can be "unsafe". This includes success and happiness. If you don't believe you deserve them you could cause yourself problems. If I am feeling unsure, I focus on how I can come to deserve something. Mediation unveils one to oneself. Not always a pretty thing, but you and God are the only witnesses.

At a time when I was very angry, I tried to meditate on revenge. It was bad for me, in one way, yet it got me out of that mental place, and back on the better path.

However, I have seen the negative. Some years ago I worked with a rather unenlightened man who lived a life of continuous self-deception that bled over into some active deceptions to others. Bluntly, he presented himself as one type of person with certain skills, and he was not that, and he knew it, and worked very hard to keep up the mask. He told me that all people lived this way.

He took up meditation to a series of tapes that talked about being a good person. Now this is all well and fine if you think you are a good person, but if you think you are a bad person this creates an internal conflict that can rip a person apart. He was trying to keep up the masks and the appearance of being what he claimed while an increasing distress took hold from the internal conflict. I watched him start slipping in a business meeting. I thought he was going to physically attack me for asking a reasonable business question. In practice, I was one of his business allies. All the while he was babbling about keeping up appearances didn't make him a bad person. I do not know the end of the story, because I quit working with him, and did so in a definite way that angered him. He would walk the farthest way around a room to avoid me. I was just as happy.

mjholt said...


Question about heartbeat meditation: Is there a way to do bio-feedback to ease someone along the path to accomplishment. As indicated in point 7, this is a practice that takes months or years to perfect, if one can get there.

Dan Moran said...

OK, so going back a few posts -- apologies for not addressing it at the time, but I was occupied elsewhere for a bit ...

Maybe I don't say often enough on this blog how thoroughly I agree with you on most subjects (sometimes on sheer faith, which is an unusual experience) ... but the race-blind casting stuff is bothering me. If I get your basic position, and correct me if I don't, whites playing non-white roles is a kind of lying, but non-whites playing white roles isn't. Is that it, put bluntly?

I get the percentages argument; there are more whites than blacks or latinos or what have you in the U.S., and that's not changing any time soon. Somewhere around 2050 the country tips over to less than half white ... but even then whites will still be the largest group overall. I'll even meet you halfway (at least, it seems halfway to me) on, "I understand the argument today" ... because of the history of bias in entertainment, too lengthy to go into and, agreed, continuing today.

But under what conditions do we hit balance? After we've all bred together so thoroughly that we're all related? That'll be a great day, but it's many, many generations down the road.

When, if ever, is it going to be OK for a white actor to play the guy who was Asian in real life, or black in real life? I get that Danny Glover playing Marlowe is OK with you, while Angelina Jolie playing Marianne Pearl isn't -- but what preconditions would need to exist before you wouldn't object? Because I think that day needs to come, and the % of the population argument really isn't working for me. Maybe that's my problem, and if so, fair enough -- but if there's another metric in there somewhere, I'd much prefer it.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

and if none of that would make any difference, I'd simply suck it up and love her.

Well, that would be me, sucking it up and loving the husband who is now chronically ill because he started with a worse genetic hand than I realized. And it does sometimes trouble me when I think of this balance between three areas of life thing of your (which I otherwise in some ways like for the balance of it). So I'm glad you said this, about Tananarive.

When we met, Joel and I were both in our twenties, both comparably employed at starter jobs that we didn't plan to stay at, both apparently with similar health. He was a Pomona graduate, and I'm a Stanford graduate. He had a dedication to his writing that I admired, a set of Thomas Merton books that neatly complimented my own set, and a willingness to understand my grief for my previous boy friend who had died in a car accident. And he was, to me, the most romantic man who ever pursued me.

Now, we've been married twenty years this April, and he has bipolar disorder, diabetes, a heart condition, asthma, and occasional gout. He's unable to work, and I'm the sole breadwinner. We have no children. He's still a talented writer, and I hold out some hope that he may become well enough again to publish more than he has. But whether he does or not, he's still my best friend, who lost his health through no fault of his own. So, though I'll encourage him to keep doing everything he can to recover, I can't see holding it against him that he's less healthy and less gainfully employed than I am.

On the heartbeat meditation: I usually do breathing meditation. What's the difference between using a heartbeat focus and using a breath focus?

On the willpower study, I went and found the researcher's web page. It doesn't directly have any more detail on the study, but it does tell you about his research interests and have a list of publications:

His other research topics look kind of interesting, too.

Steve Perry said...

Statements that start out, "All things being equal ... " are, at best, theoretical, because all things are seldom, if ever, equal.

The racial playing field has been tilted so long in favor of Us White Guys that we tend to see it as valid and the norm and how it should be.

One of the reasons I never objected to Affirmative Action, which, in theory, was only only to level the playing field. A hand up is not the same as a handout.
Give folks who never had a real hope in the rotation to come to bat; if they strike out, at least they had their shot.

But Dan makes a good point. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If it's not okay to send in the white guy to sub for the black guy 'cause it's historically inaccurate, then that blade cuts both ways.

If a writer comes up with a character who could be black, white, brown, or some shade other, then blind casting ought to apply, even though we know it probably won't. (I'd love to see an all-black production of Star Wars, with one token white guy, and Darth Vader all in white, with Luke in black.)

If somebody casts Easy Rawlins or Tennyson Hardwick as a white guy, I won't go see it.

But wrong is wrong, is it not?