The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Place We Belong

Tananarive is out of town, in Dallas visiting her sister Lydia. It's a yearly ritual, where Jason gets to play with his cousins. T wants him to have the same sense of family that she grew up with. I think that when it's healthy, there is probably nothing better than the sense of family. That's something I never had much of, and I honestly grieve about it. I wish...I wish so many things, sometimes. Sigh. But it makes me treasure my friends.

Going to SF conventions used to be about connecting with friends and colleagues. Oh, there's still some of that, but not as much as there used to be. I feel more like an outsider now than I did twenty years ago...but there are moments when I encounter people I've known for years or decades, and they're doing well..and I feel like all is right with the world.


I contrast that with the Silat gathering in Vegas. Wonderful. Lots of old friends, and not one of them seemed to have stepped backwards in their lives. I loved seeing that. Sigh. I never wanted to feel more comfortable in that world, but that's where I am right now.


An old friend came to visit on Monday, helping me with some research. He doesn't live around here, and feels like L.A. is a strange land to him at this point in his life. He feels a bit like a stranger in his own life. Considering the life that this good man has lived, I hope that he has a place, somewhere, where he DOES feel totally at home. If not in the outer world, in the inner.

We all deserve that. Somewhere that belongs to us, that no one can take away, ever. It can be hard to find, but it's worthwhile.


For most people, the first 10-15 minutes of meditation are a cavalcade of negative internal monologues, twitches, and itching. Only after this does the mind begin to settle down, the waters calm, and a sense of peace emerge.

Those of you who have attempted meditation AND found your way through the noise to a peaceful place:

1) what noise did your head throw at you

2) How did you work your way through it?


AlanL said...

Those of you who have attempted meditation AND found your way through the noise to a peaceful place:

1) what noise did your head throw at you

2) How did you work your way through it?

My first very clear experience of the cavalcade of negative internal monologues was when I first started going to ashtanga yoga classes, about twelve years ago now. That was in other ways a dark time in my life - the breakup of my first marriage - and I quickly got used to the crescendo of noise in my head in the first quarter hour of practice. I learned that it always stopped after a while if I just kept going through it, and I visualised it as mental toxins boiling away.

So here I was developing the ability to have some dispassionate witness awareness of the activity of my own mind in my first few months of practice - way before I had developed any real level of physical proficiency in the asana/vinyasa stuff. So much for people who say vigorous asana-oriented yoga practice is just gymnastics and not real yoga.

Later I learned some techniques for sitting meditation - basic pranayama techniques, mantras, chakra breathing ladders - that seemed to work pretty well in terms of giving my mind a focus and suppressing random mental noise. But after I played with those for a while I came to regard them as just tricks and kind of cheating. (For me just now. I'm not suggesting other people's mileage may not vary) For the moment I prefer just sitting and watching what happens.

Dan Moran said...

One of my favorite songs -- "Don't Give Up," by Peter Gabriel, ends:

don't give up
'cause you have friends
don't give up
you're not the only one
don't give up
no reason to be ashamed
don't give up
you still have us
don't give up now
we're proud of who you are
don't give up
you know it's never been easy
don't give up
'cause I believe there's the a place
there's a place where we belong

One of the few pieces of fiction I'm sure I'll get done before I die is a long story called "A Place Where We Belong."


I managed to meditate for an entire hour the other day -- I'm really bad at this, have never been good, but did used to be better. What changed that got me to an hour? Well, I went back to vegetarianism recently -- planning on being vegetarian for the next year and see how it goes. I've got minor arthritis in my hands, and eating meat is part of what causes the immune reaction that causes arthritis -- I need my hands.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, I suddenly managed to meditate an entire hour without getting jittery and restless ... and the last time I could do that regularly, I was a vegetarian as well.

Could be pure coincidence, but it's interesting.

Josh Jasper said...

LA is a strange place, period :-)

Steve Perry said...

1) Every noise you can possibly think of -- the monkey brain does like to caper and it doesn't want to give up control.

2) Just keep pushing it away and keep on keeping on.
You never get it if you give up and quick.

I found that sitting zazen is sometimes not in the card, so moving mediation -- walking, martial arts forms, even swimming, can occupy the body enough so the monkey brain thinks it is doing something and leaves an opening.

Once you can feel what you are looking for, you can learn to get there in myriad ways, and one is as good as another.

Bennett said...

When meditating, I find that my mind immediately gets the most annoying song I've heard recently stuck on a loop. Then tries to think about whatever I'm going to do next in the day. Then whatever I just did. Then whomever or whatever has annoyed me most recently. Then what's for dinner?

It keeps up like a little kid nagging and prattling at his father. I'm still practicing the art of not trying to completely suppress it, but rather acknowledge it then let it pass. Works for distracting thoughts and children, once they tire themselves out.

Oh, and then my body starts chiming in about how it really doesn't very much like how my ankles are sticking into my thighs--which, by the way, are where the blood flow has stopped so good luck standing up, sucker.

Honestly when I meditate it feels like being the captain of a ship. The ship is in need of constant maintenance, lists to one side, is very prone to spontaneously dropping anchor, and is crewed by a bunch of malcontents prepared to mutiny at any moment. If I could just find the Buddhist analogs to applying rum, sodomy, and the lash to those distractions, I'd be keen. Or perhaps the analogy's overstretched...

(Speaking of overstretching on my part, apologies for misinterpreting the One Step Down theory. I see what you mean now, and wholly agree with the underlying principle--Garbage In, Garbage Out)

Kami said...

I got a lot of negative, self-recriminating, self-critical stuff when I started meditating in college. I stopped for a long time so I expect when I start again I'll be back to the same ol' same ol'. I learned that although it may be a good thing to hold myself to a high standard and to be critical of my work, when the criticism starts interfering it's more than useless, it's destructive.
I worked my way through it by just shutting the voice up. I focused on counting and then later on breath and learned to let go of the chattering monkey. Persistence is key, as is a sense of humor. I made a real breakthrough when, instead of mentally thinking "d'oh, I'm thinking again, and now I'm thinking about thinking" I just smiled and went back to counting. That felt good, and the quiet when I finally had just breaths to follow was worth all the work.

Pagan Topologist said...

Somehow, I posted this to the wrong entry. I am pasting it here:

I confess that I have never gotten negative experiences as described here when meditating. Does this mean I am not doing it correctly?

Like exercise, meditation is something I tend to put off, but once I get into it the experience is very good.

shantari said...

Hi, I have practiced Meditation for many years and taech a technique here in Australia that very quicky slows dowm then stops the head 'noise and incessant chatting monkey mind. It took much discipline , commitment and vigalence to master the technique or should I say 'work through' the noise until I rested in the ever present witness. Stillness is now obtained VERY quickly. I would recommend such techniques as TM or The SoulCode Meditation Technique in which I teach here in Australia and which is also in the process of being able to be purchased online for worldwide viewing soon in the future.

Happy Meditating :)