This article will mostly be about the mental state, but I will start with a physical example. I consider myself to be a fairly decent singer. When I was learning how to sing, I discovered that one of the hardest parts of good singing technique, as well as one of the most important ones, was to only use the muscles necessary to produce a good sound, while keeping the rest of the body as relaxed as possible. This not only prevents getting tired quickly, but actually results in better sound quality since other people can feel the extra muscular tension and it makes them less comfortable. The same idea holds true for many other skills, such as playing the piano or martial arts, to give a few. Learning how to stay relaxed and only exert as much effort as necessary to achieve the desired goal is one of the foundations of the proper technique in many areas of life.
While I understood this principle a while ago in relation to physical activities, until recently I had never thought about it in terms of the brain. Part of the reason for this is that I have always been a very logical person and have learned, especially through my chess training as a teenager, how to concentrate on one important task and stay relatively unemotional, no matter the circumstances.
However, there’s also the subconscious. As I mentioned in my post about poker, I have recently experienced a significant deterioration in my overall mood and ability to stay calm. I would get these completely unreasonable flashes of anger and unhappiness about things that either weren’t important at all or that I couldn’t influence in any way, such as politics. Even after I stopped playing poker completely, for a few weeks I was not able to pull myself out of this state, even though I tried. I was only able to do it once I discovered the essence of meditation.
Before this, I had always thought of meditation as a rather odd activity. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t really see the point. I’d been to a few meditation classes, where we would assume a very uncomfortable position (such as cross-legged) and then try to eliminate all thoughts and concentrate on breathing and all that. Well, this didn’t really do much for me, but I didn’t know that. I just assumed this was how it was supposed to be.
I’ve completely changed my mind about it after what I experienced while walking by the ocean a few weeks ago and listening to a guided meditation that my wife recommended for me. I guess I was really ready for it, because from the first seconds of the recording I felt so much better! It suddenly dawned on me that the problem I was having was not due to my conscious, but rather unconscious mind, and I just needed to learn how to relax it. When the unconscious is overstressed by all of the disappointments, fears and demands of life, it becomes really hard for the brain to function normally. Correcting this, to me, is the point of meditation.
Maybe some people can achieve the same result by sitting and staring into space, I don’t know. For me it is much easier to meditate when I am walking while listening to either a guided meditation or relaxing music. I don’t find it necessary to rid my mind of thoughts either, as long as I am actively concentrating on relaxing every part of my brain. I feel that the effort to try to eliminate thoughts actually leads to unnecessary tension.
This is how it works for me. I just thought I would share this so that maybe it would help some of the people who read this. I might write more about it in the future. If you have any comments/ideas/suggestions, please feel free to use the comment box below.