Tag Archives: meditation

Silence

Today I picked up a copy of the free magazine published by Penguin Books, underline, which had a feature on a book called Silence: In the Age of Noise by the Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge. I had never heard of Mr Kagge before today, but according to the magazine, he is the first person to walk to the South Pole alone and has also climbed Mt Everest and travelled to the North Pole.

20171126 SilenceI was most fascinated to read that he had explored the underground sewers of New York and he had walked from one end of Los Angeles to the other in four days – slowly, staying in hotels along the way – attracting the attention of the police as he went. In another article I read, he said that the police thought it was really suspicious for someone to be walking around because the only people they saw walking were “crackheads, prostitutes, and crazy people”.

That really blew me away. I cannot imagine a place where walking around was so unusual that the cops would think you were up to something. I love walking and exploring on foot. It’s what I do. It’s part of my identity. A journey like that would have been fascinating. To have taken four days to explore 35 kilometres.

The magazine had an extract from Mr Kagge’s book, which had me captivated from the first word. I need to read this book. I will be going to the bookshop on Monday to see if they have it. The whole extract spoke to me, but two passages really stood out.

“The secret to walking to the South Pole is to put one foot in front of the other, and to do this enough times. On a purely technical scale this is quite simple. Even a mouse can eat an elephant if it takes small enough bites. The challenge lies in the desire.”

As I was reading, I thought that this summed up exactly the struggle I have every day to try and ingrain the good habits I want to have in my life. Technically, it’s simple. Do the thing enough times, day after day, consistently and you build a habit that sticks. But until you’ve done it enough times to make it stick (and the 21-days theory is complete bullshit in my experience) you have to have the desire. And when the desire for another whisky outweighs the desire for a 10pm bedtime, you’re (I’m) in trouble, and the bad habit, rather than the good one, is reinforced.

“On the 27th day I wrote: ‘Antarctica is still distance and unknown for most people. As I walk along I hope it will remain so. Not because I begrudge many people experiencing it, but because Antartica has a mission as an unknown land.’ I believe that we need places that have not been fully explored and normalised. There is still a continent that is mysterious and practically untouched, ‘that can be a state within one’s fantasy’. This may be the greatest value of Antarctica for my three daughters and generations to come.”

This made me think of the desire within Tasmania to “unlock” more of this precious state to commercial ventures that would allow more people to experience our wild places but at the cost of the pristineness of those places. It’s a practical example of the observer principle. Observing something changes its nature. To open up these places to more people changes the fundamental thing that makes them worth seeing in the first place.

(You know I gave in to the desire for another whisky, right?)

I can’t wait to read the book. Silence is something that I crave, and learning to find it as Mr Kagge did “beneath the cacophony of traffic noise and thoughts, music and machinery, iPhones and snowploughs” (maybe not snowploughs) is something I would love to explore more.

Book 12/24: 8 Minute Meditation

8 Minute Meditation, by Victor Davish appealed to me because of its cover, which claims that I could “develop mindfulness for greater clarity, lower stress, increased productivity and a happier life in just 8 minutes a day”. That seems like a pretty big claim.

Book 11 - 8 Minute Meditation

When I bought it I’d been trying to learn to meditate, but wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, or what it should feel like or how I should be doing it. It’s something I’ve tried to do on and off (like yoga) over the past 20+ years, but only recently incorporated it into a more structured morning routine.

I felt like I needed some help, and this book seemed like it might be the help I was looking for. I didn’t see the statement on the top of the book that it was the most American form of meditation yet, because if I had I suspect that might have put me off buying it.

I didn’t read the book all the way through to start with. I decided to go with the eight-week program and stick with it week by week, so I began by reading the introductory sections over a few days and then the instructions for week 1, and once I’d done that I started the 8-week program the next day.

In a nutshell, the book gives a basic overview of what meditation is and isn’t, and explains that it’s “the ‘portal’ to mindfulness”. It describes mindfulness as “. . . the action of allowing. Allowing what is to be just as it is. Moment by moment. Experience by experience. Breath by breath . . . Mindfulness is allowing what is.”

It then goes on to explain the practice of meditation, what the benefits are and how to follow the eight-week program. It specifically refers to “the roving mind”, which is what happens when you sit down and try to meditate, follow your breath, be in the moment, whatever you call it, and your mind just keeps on thinking, thinking thinking. I’ve found the maximum time I can concentrate on my breath before I start to follow a train of thought is three breaths, and without realising it I’ve gone away from the breath and I’m thinking. The idea in mindfulness meditation is that you notice you’re thinking, acknowledge it and take your awareness back to your breath. As often as it happens. Which in my case is all the time.

The bulk of the book sets out the eight-week program. Basically all you do is sit down and meditate for eight minutes a day, and each week there’s a new set of instructions to follow about what to focus your attention on. Each week talks about some of the things you might be feeling at that time, and answers some common questions. It’s not difficult, but the key is to do it every day.

As I went through the program I found some techniques easier than others. Some my mind completely resisted and others I was drawn to a lot more. The one where you have to bring up pictures in your mind was a complete blank to me because I just can’t draw a picture in my mind no matter how hard I try. The one where you focus on sounds was really interesting, but I think I was most drawn to the one where you just focus on your breath. This is what I’m familiar with and what I would see myself as doing moving forward.

Once you’ve finished the eight weeks you can move onto the “Upgrade” section, which gives you some ideas on how to “deepen your meditation practice and apply it to daily life”. This includes ideas on increasing your daily meditation time; a technique called Meditation In Action, where you do an everyday activity but focus on that activity and only that activity 100 per cent; and some ways to practise the Lovingkindness Meditation, which is introduced during the eight-week program. There are also some additional resources if you’re interested in exploring further.

I found this book to be a nice basic introduction to several different meditation practises, some of which worked for me and some of which didn’t. Mr Davich writes in a very conversational tone that is very gentle and reassuring. The key message is that there’s no “right way” to meditate, and that it’s something that anyone can do.

I still struggle with not engaging with my thoughts, but the key is to be aware of them and to let them go. Apparently my struggle is normal, and so I persist.

So does the book live up to its claim? I certainly think I’m benefiting from having incorporated a meditation practice into my day. I feel calmer most of the time, but I don’t know if I’m specifically happier or more productive, and if I was, whether it would be possible to attribute it to one thing I was doing differently. Let’s just say that this something I intend to continue doing.