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weishanxia

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  1. FYI - This article was published by the Meditation Magazine and you can find it here, https://www.meditationmag.com/meditation-science/awake-asleep
  2. FYI - If you haven't read my first article, Awake Sleep, yet, you can find it here,
  3. “Do Nothing”, or “Effortless” is a concept originated from Taoism more than two thousand years ago in China. Inspired by this concept, many Chinese people have found the true meaning of their day-to-day life, and many ancient emperors have used it as a secret weapon of ruling their countries. But what exactly is “Do Nothing”? Everyone’s interpretation might be different, but one thing in common is that very few people will literally interpret it as doing nothing. The reason for this is that, first, such an interpretation seems too superficial, and second, it is not aligned with the real life experience at all. From a very young age, we worked hard to study at schools, to find a decent job, to start a family, and to be promoted at work. All these “achievements” need a lot of effort instead of doing nothing. Thus, a well-accepted interpretation is that human behavior should obey the laws of nature, or Tao, as Laozi mentioned in his book. But is it true that nothing in this world can be done without doing anything? The answer is false, because at least one thing can be done by doing nothing, and that is meditation. On the other hand, it is most likely that the ancient sages got this counterintuitive idea from meditation and applied it to other fields like the politics and the everyday life. Before we jump into the meditation topic, let’s look at how human body works. Human body activities can be divided into two big categories. Some activities are controlled by consciousness, such as the movement of the limbs, brain thinking, and so on. The other activities do not require the control of the consciousness, such as heartbeat, breathing, and the automatic function of all the internal organs. In fact, the so-called automatic function is also controlled by the brain, but only by a different part of the brain. We might as well call these two parts of the brain the “conscious brain” and the “nonconscious brain” respectively. When people are awake, the body is controlled by both the conscious brain and the nonconscious brain, but because of the domination of the conscious brain, we seem unable to perceive the existence of the nonconscious brain. This state, dominated by the conscious brain, can be called the “effort world”. After falling asleep, we lose consciousness and the body is completely taken over by the nonconscious brain. This state, dominated by the nonconscious brain, can be called the “effortless world”. Note that the “effortless” here refers to the inaction of the conscious brain, but at the same time, the nonconscious brain starts working in full capacity – dropping heart rate, lowering blood pressure, slowing down breathing, making limbs “paralyzed”, relaxing muscles, generating growth hormone, renewing skin cells, repairing immune cells, consolidating memory, etc. However, because people lose consciousness after falling asleep, we are not able to experience any of these changes during sleep. As we pointed out in the previous article, Awake Sleep, the essence of meditation is to put the body into sleep while keeping the mind awake. That is to say, the only difference between meditation and sleep is that we lose consciousness during sleep but we remain conscious in meditation. And because of this, meditation gives us the opportunity to experience the magical world of effortlessness. However, while we remain conscious, we must exclude any control of the conscious brain over the human body, because once consciousness is involved in any body activity, even a little bit, it will take us back to the world of effort immediately. One special body activity which can be controlled by both the conscious brain and the nonconscious brain is breathing. In other words, you can control how fast and how slow you are breathing. But when you don’t pay attention to it, the breathing won’t stop either. In fact, it will adjust by itself without any problem. Because of this, the ancient people treated breathing as a bridge from the “effort world” to the “effortless world” and came up with a meditation technique called “observe the breathing”. This technique works great, but for beginners, a common mistake is often made when using this technique without knowing how to observe correctly. When we are not observing our breathing, everything is going well; but once we start observing the breathing, the conscious brain will try to take over the control. It may adjust the length of breathing, it may even adjust the interval between the inhale and the exhale. This will cause more and more chaos until it reaches a point where we can’t breathe at all and have to start all over again. So what is the right way to observe? Very simple, we just need to observe our breathing from the perspective of a bystander. In other words, regardless of whether the current breathing is fast or slow, long or short, do not make any intervention with our conscious brain. We have to trust our nonconscious brain that it can take care of the breathing by itself, just like it takes care of the automatic function of other internal organs in our body. As a matter of fact, as long as the conscious brain does not interfere, everything will run perfectly under the control of the nonconscious brain alone. Another common misconception for most beginners is that meditation is to empty our mind so we should not be thinking at all during meditation. In fact, either thinking or forcing yourself not to think, is an attempt to use the conscious brain to control the mind. And the purpose of meditation is to let the conscious brain give up all the control over our body and the mind. As a result, either thinking or not thinking is the opposite way to that goal. So, should we think or not during meditation? The answer is yes and no. It sounds contradictory, but actually it is very simple to achieve. Just like observing the breathing, we need to observe our own thinking from the perspective of a bystander, so that the thoughts in our mind can come and go freely. Never try to stop any thought from coming out, and at the same time, don’t let your mind go with any of the thoughts either, just observe. In fact, as the body falls asleep more and more deeply, there will be fewer and fewer thoughts, and it will eventually reach a state where there is no thought at all. But this is the result of meditation, not the premise of meditation, so don’t get them reversed. So far we have seen at least 3 different meditation techniques. We just talked about 2 of them, “observe the breathing” and “observe the thoughts”. We also talked about “observe the body sensations” in the previous article. Beside these 3, there are many other meditation techniques as well. But if you look at them carefully, you will find out that most of them, if not all, have one thing in common which is to “observe” something. This is not a coincidence. As the matter of fact, observing is the first step of giving up control. Let’s look at an interesting real life example and you will understand why. When parents take their young kid to the playground for the first a couple of times, they tend to follow the kid everywhere no matter the kid is on the slide or in the swing. They don’t want their kid to have any accident and this is the only way they feel everything is under their control although it is really a tiring job after some time. But when the kid becomes older and more independent, the parents will not follow the kid anymore. Instead, they will sit on the benches outside of the playground and watch the kid remotely and attentively. As you can see, this is the first step for the parents to give up the control of their kid. When the kid grows even bigger and can take care some of the matters by herself or himself, the parents will stop watching their kid constantly. Instead, they will start swiping the phone or even leaving the bench to the coffee shop nearby to get a cup of drink for themselves. At the moment, they totally give up the control of their kid and let the kid play freely and independently. And only at this time, it is the best time for both the kid and the parents because the former gets out of the bondage and the latter finds the peace. Most importantly, from the parents’ perspective, it seems like they don’t really need to do anything or make any effort to get into this win-win situation, all they need to do is to trust their kid, trust her or him that she or he can take care of herself or himself. Similarly, during meditation, we don’t need to make any effort. To be exact, we can’t make any effort because any “effort” will make us fail to cross the bridge between the “effort world” and the “effortless world”. If there’s anything we need to do during meditation, it is to keep our body still, which is also doing nothing at the end of the day. As for the observation of breathing, thinking, and even body sensations during meditation, they are just some handy tools we can utilize on the way to the “effortless world”. As we saw from the example above, they are the first steps of giving up control of our conscious brain. As we are getting closer and closer to the “effortless world”, even the “observations” themselves need to be abandoned, as they have become the last obstacles to enter the “effortless world”. Only when we put aside everything, abandon all “efforts”, and really “do nothing”, can we go beyond our familiar “effort world”, and enter the unknown “effortless world”. And only at this point, we will transcend the limitations of the body and the mind to experience the ultimate truth. Meditation is a long journey, no hurry, no expectation, the only thing we should do and the only thing we can do is to sit still, surrender everything else to the Tao, the Dharma, the God, … whatever you call it.
  4. FYI - This article is to let people look at meditation from a different angle, scientifically, instead of philosophically and religiously. It has been submitted to the Meditation magazine and it has been accepted. Will post a link once it is published officially. Thanks! Weishan
  5. Today I want to talk about meditation. This is an interesting topic and at the same time, it is also a mysterious topic. This is because human beings have been meditating for at least thousands of years. And during these thousands of years, there were countless people and organizations have given meditation so many different definitions, explanations, and meanings. But most of these observations and understandings were from philosophical and/or religious views which added mysteries, here and there, more or less. Now, let’s try to look at meditation from a different view, the scientific view. Let’s find out what mediation is really about. Or what is the essence of meditation? This is the fundamental question, because only after we answer this question, we can answer other questions related to meditation easily. For example, why are there so many different meditation techniques? Do they have anything in common? What meditation technique is the best? What is the benefit of meditation? And why is that? Before we explore these questions, let’s answer the first question first – “What is meditation?”. Most people have two states in their daily life, either awake or asleep. In fact, there is a third state between the two, that is to keep the mind awake but let the body fall asleep. And this is exactly what meditation achieves. This is also the essence of meditation. In other words, mediation is sleep; it is awake sleep; it is sleep with consciousness. With this in mind, it is not difficult to understand that all those fantastical sensations that arise during meditation are just due to the changes in our body after falling asleep. Although those physical changes in our body occur every night, we never notice them because we lose consciousness during sleep, and thus miss one wonderful moment after another. Now let’s try to prove this special relationship between sleep and meditation. We know that our heart rate and respiration rate will drop significantly during sleep. Although this is exactly what happens during meditation as well, it is not good enough to prove that meditation is same as sleep. So, let’s look at what else happens to our body after we fall asleep. First, our body activates a protective mechanism that gives paralysis commands to the skeletal muscles of the joints, stopping the muscles of the limbs from functioning. This prevents us from harming ourselves and others while we are dreaming. And that is why in our dreams we always feel weak and cannot run fast when chased by enemies. In addition, some people suffer from a condition called sleep paralysis. This occurs when the body is still in an “off” state after the mind wakes up. This is also known as the “the ghost pushes you down” in some cultures. From this we can see, in normal situation, our mind and body fall asleep at the same time and wake up at the same time. But in some special situations, they can be asynchronized. And when this happens, if we cannot get out of that asynchronized state and get back into that synchronized state quickly, it is considered as a disease. On the other hand, through some practice, we train ourselves to not only get into the asynchronized state easily, but also get back to the synchronized state at any time we wish, and that is called meditation. After months of meditation practice, you may gradually feel the limbs become heavier and stiffer, as if “paralyzed”. This indicates that you have succeeded in keeping the mind awake and letting the body fall asleep. However, many people do not know how they have done this even if they are able to do so. It will be easy to understand if you ever used a smartwatch to monitor your sleep. Smartwatches can tell exactly when we fall asleep and when we wake up. This is because they are equipped with a motion sensor that can detect if there is any wrist movement. If they do not detect any wrist movement for a certain period of time, they know we are sleeping. Similarly, our body has built-in ‘motion sensors’ as well. When we sit and meditate, we keep our body still. If we practice long enough, it will eventually trick the body to fall asleep when no muscle movement is detected by those ‘motion sensors’. And consequently, the protection mechanism mentioned earlier will be triggered and the paralysis commands will be sent to the skeletal muscles even when our mind is still awake. From here we can see clearly why keeping the body still is the first important thing in meditation practice. This is also why the lotus sitting position is better than the half lotus position, and the half lotus position is better than the easy pose; It is because the full lotus is the most stable, and the easy pose is the least stable. However, for those who can only sit in easy pose, you can insert 2 small sponge blocks between the feet and the legs to improve the stability of the legs significantly. As sleep deepens, all the muscles in our body become more and more relaxed, until they finally reach a state of complete relaxation. The feeling of this full-body relaxation is way better than any masseuse can give you, but the bad news is that we lose consciousness in our sleep and cannot experience what it really feels like. Fortunately, Dr. Edmund Jacobson, an American physician, has developed a method that allows us to experience muscle relaxation even when we are awake. This method is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR. For example, hold your fists tightly for 7 to 10 seconds, then release them quickly; You will feel a numb, vibrating sensation in your hands. This is the sensation of hand muscle relaxation. In addition to hand muscles, Dr. Jacobson has also invented a series of muscle movements of tensing and relaxing that make people experience muscle relaxation on each part of our body. Although this method is awesome, it only allows us to experience the relaxation of one or two muscle groups at a time. If you want to experience full body relaxation, you have to use meditation. Also, by using this method, we can only experience muscle relaxation for a very short period of time, usually less than 30 seconds. But meditation can let us experience muscle relaxation for a much longer time. In fact, with enough practice, eventually you may be able to stay in that relaxation state as long as you like. Another disadvantage of this method is that it can only let you experience relaxation of skeletal muscles. But beside skeletal muscles, human beings also have smooth muscles and heart muscles. If you want to experience the relaxation of all these muscles spontaneously, the only way we can accomplish that is through meditation. After more and more meditation practice, you may occasionally experience numbness and vibration in your body here and there, just like a current flowing through. If you continue practicing, one day you will feel the amazing full body vibration from head to toe; This indicates that you have achieved the full body relaxation with all the muscles relaxed completely. This feeling is really good, but even better, while your body relaxes, your mind is also relaxed and temporarily freed from all kinds of anxiety, big and small. In Dr. Jacobson’s own words, it is “an anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body”. And this is why he invented this PMR method in the first place. This way of relieving anxiety by relaxing the body sounds interesting and works really well, but scientists aren’t stopping there. Some valid questions are – do body tension and mind anxiety happen at the same time? Or does one cause the other? Recent research has shown that anxiety is not directly generated in the brain, it is actually caused by physical stress in our body. In other words, when something outside happens, it is our body that reacts to it first, and the emotions that follow are caused by the physical changes in our body. For example, when resolving anxiety, the mainstream approach is talk therapy, rational thinking, and deep breathing. Dr. Elizabeth Stanley, author of Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma, disagrees. Dr. Stanley states in her book that “people’s anxiety comes from the body, not the brain. Those practices don’t work until you get your body back to normal”. To understand why our body react to the outside world first, we need to bring up a new concept called neuroception. It is a neural process that enables humans and other mammals to engage in social behaviors by distinguishing safe from dangerous contexts. It is an unconscious process, and it happens much faster than any conscious process can do. When danger is spotted, it sends an instantaneous stress arousal message to our body by turning on the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in the release of specific hormones that lead to certain physical sensations related to our heart, breathing, and digestion. In fact, as early as two thousand years ago in India, people recognized this and utilized it to practice “wisdom” in meditation. Specifically, it is to observe the physical sensations of the body with equanimity. And the so-called equanimity is that all sensations should be treated equally regardless of good or bad, hot or cold, pain or itch, etc. In other words, people should not produce a distinction between likes and dislikes in their mind for any sensations in the body. Through such practice, the mind will always remain in a state of calm and harmony, and eventually one may attain liberation from all misery. Obviously, the “wisdom” here is not intelligence and knowledge. Modern people have much higher IQ and much more knowledge than ever before, but our anxiety and misery has not decreased a bit. In contrast, it may have increased a lot due to the increased complexity of human society. Scientists and physicians have found many ways to address this issue, but the simplest and the most natural way is just to sit still, to let the body fall asleep while keeping the mind awake. It will not only relax your body, but most importantly, relax your mind at the same time. May each of us have the wisdom of the ancient sages, cultivate ourselves in awake sleep, be free from anxiety and misery, live peacefully and happily forever.
  6. Got it. Thank you Gillian! Weishan
  7. Thank you Gillian! Should I post my thoughts under "Introduce Yourself" forum? I didn't find any forum for general topics. Let me know, thanks again! Weishan
  8. Hello everyone, I have been practicing meditation for >1000 hours. I'd like to share some of my own thoughts about meditation based on my experience and research. Hope this is a right place to do this. Thanks, Weishan
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