Intention lost, intention regained?
Daniel and I have been talking about meditation since roughly forever—or more accurately, I’ve been talking to him about it, and he’s been a good listener and a good asker of questions.
Last night he asked in a chat (typos are all his :) )
Here is a different way to answer the “why meditate,” you’ve been doing it solidly for a while, what are the benefits in practical terms that you can offer as evidence that the hours invested have been worthwhile.
Here’s my answer to the question:
Have the hours I’ve invested been worthwhile?
The first answer, immediately: I don’t know.
The second answer, maybe a minute later: Maybe not.
The third answer, 12 hours and a lot of research and thinking later: yes, beneficial but not if I keep doing it the way I’ve been doing it lately.
What’s wrong with lately?
It’s all about intention.
I wrote about my intention deficit disorder in 2016. I wrote about how intention produced a blog post recently.
I really ought to read what I write. Then I wouldn’t have to spend so much time figuring out shit that I’ve already figured out.
The short form: if I meditate with the right intention, it’s worthwhile. If I meditate without the right intention, then it’s every bit as worthwhile as watching a movie on Netflix or watching an NFL game. If I meditate with the wrong intention it could be—I don’t want to go there.
So, mainly for my future selves, who I hope reads this (Hi, guys!) and also for any of the rest of you who discover this, let me lay it out in detail.
I was wrong to try to answer that question until I’ve first gotten an answer to this one: “What’s your purpose in life?”
Wrong for him. Wrong for you. Wrong for me.
So I’m wrong trying to convince anyone that meditation is a good thing unless they have articulated their purpose in life.
Purpose comes first.
If meditation helps you achieve your purpose, it’s good; if it stands in the way, it’s bad; if it neither helps nor harms, it’s neither good nor bad.
And it only helps if you align the intention that you have when meditating with your purpose.
If you don’t know your purpose, don’t meditate. Don’t watch Netflix or the NFL. Don’t do anything beyond maybe cleaning up your room.
Find your purpose in life.
If you don’t know your purpose in life, then I’ll tell you your purpose in life.
It’s to figure out your purpose.
If you don’t have a purpose of your own, then you have two choices. Either you will serve the purposes of others, or you will be useless.
Neither is a good thing. You probably have your own purposes even if you haven’t articulated them.
You need to articulate them and make sure you feel they are yours.
Meditation might help you with that. But if you have not determined your own purpose, it’s likely you’ll need more than meditation—and this blog post—to figure it out.
My purpose in life
In December 2016 I wrote a post about the purpose of life, the universe, and everything. In July 2017 I wrote a longer post on the same subject.. I know my purpose: it’s gaining knowledge, organizing it, and communicating it.
I’ve reread those posts. Future selves: they’re worth my reading from time to time.
If you don’t know your destination, any road will get you there. If you do know your destination, travel only roads that get you closer.
My purpose comes down to learning, thinking, and communicating.
Learning of the kind that gives me access to useful knowledge gained by others; thinking of the kind that improves existing knowledge and produces new knowledge; communicating of the kind that makes knowledge available to others.
If I look at my life through the lens of “The Goal” [Holy shit! I’ve never written about The Goal,] I’ve got learning and thinking backlogs. Communication is the bottleneck.
Right now my preferred communication medium is writing. But I’m going to dive into audio soon.
So if meditation makes me happier, healthier, smarter, stronger, faster, sexier, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound, and all that, but doesn’t help me write more, then meditation is a waste of time.
A while ago my writing production was up. Now it’s way down. Did the up have something to do with meditation? Did the down? Can meditation turn the present down into a future up?
Let’s consult the data.
Making meditation worthwhile
Blogger keeps my posting stats, month by month. Here’s what things have looked like since October 27, when I started meditating:
Mth#CommentOct8Started meditation Oct 27Nov21personal best. In 6 yearsDec15despite Christmas madnessJan19January tends to be a good monthFeb3Only 3 by 2/22!!!
My projected production is four posts for February. Four! If I get this done, I will meet my projection.
And be sad.
My memory tells me that my increase in production had started in October. The Stoic Challenge got me going. But my memory is wrong. The Challenge produced early wake-ups and cold showers—which may have helped with writing—and not many actual posts.
Let’s hear it for facts rather than memory.
Meditating helped with writing by giving me material for writing these seven posts about meditation.
Did it help me write other things? If it did why did my production collapse, despite continuing to meditate?
And what explains the unraveling of much of the morning routine that I’d been working on since the Stoic Challenge.
I think the answer is intention. I started meditating with clear intention tied to writing.
Recently I’ve been meditating without those clear intentions. And so, no writing.
I knew about intention
On December 13 last year, kind of at the peak of my production, I wrote the essay I referred to above about intention and meditation.
It was the usual self-referential shit that I am so fond of: a blog post about writing the blog post that I was writing. But it went beyond that. I was applying something that I had learned in meditation to the act of writing.
And through it, the act of writing became a kind of mediation.
That’s important, future selves. Any act can become a kind of meditation.
What I wrote:
…I intended to write a post, and the mind/body/computer acted and produced a post. I did not write that first sentence. I intended to write, and the sentence appeared. I can assure you that I am not writing this sentence. (Or this parenthetical remark while editing.) I am not writing and did not write any of it. Trust me. I’m watching myself very carefully right now. I know what I am doing and not doing. Not writing.
And here’s a key quotation from “The Mind Illuminated” that I included on the importance of intention:
…while it may not be obvious, all our achievements originate from intentions.
I’m going to say that again.
…while it may not be obvious, all our achievements originate from intentions.
Consider learning to play catch. As a child, you may have wanted to play catch, but at first, your arm and hand just didn’t move in quite the right way. However, by sustaining the intention to catch the ball, after much practice, your arm and hand eventually performed the task whenever you wanted. “You” don’t play catch. Instead, you just intend to catch the ball, and the rest follows. “You” intend, and the body acts.
It may be that there is a self that decides and intends. We can come back to that later. But all the work was done by no-self.
Intention produces the outcome.
If I have a clear intention and hold fast to it, then I get the result that you want—at least within the scope of what I am capable of doing.
Meditation to strengthen intention and control attention and awareness—the systems that turn mere intentions into intended outcomes—that’s worth doing.
So I’ve been writing this post a bit more intentionally than some things I’ve failed to write recently.
I intend and predict that I will post it, soon.
Written with the help of StackEdit, Grammarly, Markdown Here,Blogger, and Google voice typing on Android and Chromebook, plus other stuff.