I spent this past weekend in Vermont on a small island in the middle of Lake Champlain.  Accessible only by boat, the island is about five miles around and completely off the grid.  There is no indoor plumbing and the only electricity comes from solar panels and portable generators.  It’s pretty close to an island paradise – as long as you can stay away from the mosquitos.

Apropos of my entry last week, I took Meditation for Dummies with me to the island.  I had originally purchased the book to read on a camping trip to Lake George two years ago (the campsite was, coincidentally, also on an island).  It rained the entire weekend, leaving me reading about meditation in a soggy tent.  This weekend was quite different.  The weather was perfect with clear skies and beautiful sunsets: a much more appropriate backdrop to learning the ins and outs of meditation.

So, I must admit, I didn’t actually do much meditating this weekend, but I did a good deal of reading.  The book itself is about what you’d expect: 350 pages of simple words, bulleted lists and gratuitous repetition.  Most of the book can be summed up with the simple instruction of “sit and breathe.”

Although I found the text a bit anticlimactic, there were two concepts that really appealed to me.

The first concept was differentiation between thinking and feeling.  Feeling is all about the sensations of the body.  The tension in your shoulders and your jaw that comes with anger and the sinking feeling in your chest that comes from sadness.  Thinking is the activity of your mind.  We draw on memories, experiences, and our imaginations to conjure new ideas and inventions.

Thinking can cause feeling – and feeling can certainly cause thinking – but recognizing the difference ensures that your mind controls your body and not the other way around.

The second concept that appealed to me was the notion of “just being.”  Ordinarily, I spend quite a bit of time analyzing each and every decision.  How best to pack my bag in the morning, how much sleep I need in order to function optimally, how best to plan each weekend to ensure we have time to grocery shop and do laundry, and so on.  I’m also big into planning ahead.  At any given time, I’m usually planning out something that is going to happen in the future.  Whether it’s an email I have to write for work or a blog post I have to do over the weekend, I’m almost always thinking one or two steps ahead.

Meditation urges you to throw all of that out of the window.  Just sit there and be.  Don’t worry about the work you have to do next week, don’t worry about a trip you’re planning next month.  Just relax, disconnect and experience the present.

I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about these concepts and how they apply to my life.  As we packed up camp on Sunday afternoon and headed back to the mainland I felt relaxed and refreshed.  I had learned new things about meditation, but in a small way I feel like I learned some new things about myself.  Looking backwards past the wake of the motorboat I watched island get smaller in the distance.  My mind was perfectly clear.  I wasn’t thinking about work, or travel, I wasn’t planning ahead.

I was just being.

Unfortunately, I was also not thinking about my second bag, which I absent-mindedly left on the island.  Oh well, they said this meditation thing takes a while to get the hang of.

Meditation for Dummies
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  • Oops!

    The whole point of meditation, in my mind, is a singular focus on something. You devote every component of yourself – your attention, your body, whatever – to concentrating on one thing. Breathing, or an emotion (love, peace, etc).

    That can be a change from “normal” life, where you might switch between thinking of 3-5 things at once.

  • Absolutely. I find that when I’m not focused I’m much less intelligent than when i can focus deeply on one subject or topic. Intelligence is such a funny thing. For those who are unintelligent – i wonder how much of it really is lack of smarts vs. how much of it is just lack of focus. hmm.

  • Lack of focus, or lack of completeness. Some “really smart” people just spend a lot of time thinking about something.

    I’m of the opinion that intelligence is some low number – like 20% – of actually getting something significant done (like an original insight) so even if you’re 40% smarter (IQ 100 –> 140, genius level / measure starts to get unreliable after that) than you may be 8% faster to the answer, or more likely to get the job done, etc.

    Significant, but not groundbreaking.

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