in Meditation

Techniques for quieting the mind can be valuable. But valuing silence or stilling thought as superior devalues thought, thinking, and acting. Here are some other ways to find similar benefits to meditation techniques.

Commenter: I’m interested in hearing of other ways to find similar benefits to yoga and meditation techniques. What other ways can you think of?

SkepticMeditations: Techniques for quieting thought can be valuable: being quiet with yourself, being out in nature, hearing music or bird song, sitting or lying comfortably can help us relax and be more centered, to counter the busyness and distractions of a modern life.

But valuing silence and stilling thought as superior or more valuable than thinking or acting is the problem. It devalues thought, thinking, and acting in the world.

“Who” says certain techniques for stilling or quieting thought are superior? “Who” says withdrawing from the world is superior?

Eastern spiritual authorities promise superior techniques, concepts, and worldviews. The irony is that the thought withdrawing into thoughtlessness (stilling or silencing thought) is a thought, or web of thoughts, embedded in a certain ideology or worldview that claims to be superior.

Techniques for quieting and relaxing can be valuable. Select whatever works best for you. Unicuique suum (Latin: to each their own). Approval from others does not validate your ideas or your technique. Some ways, especially those purportedly superior, could be harmful. What are some other ways to find similar benefits of meditation techniques?

Other ways to find similar benefits of meditation techniques

There are many ways to still thought, to relax, to counter the busyness of modern life. Be quiet with yourself, be out in nature, listen to music or bird song, sit or lay comfortably to relax and be centered. Or, engross yourself in some activity so much that you forget yourself, your thoughts and your distractions. Who says meditation techniques are superior?

Meditation techniques can be helpful. They also can be harmful, especially when embedded in a worldview that values stilling thought (meditation techniques) as superior. This devalues thought, thinking, acting. There are countless other ways to quiet thought, to relax, and to be engrossed in meaningful activities. What benefits you will not be withdrawing from thought, thinking, or acting that is embedded in second-hand testimony from Buddha or any other Eastern or Western spiritual authority.

If you have any thoughts on other ways to “still thought” while valuing thought, please write in the Comments link or in the box “Leave a Reply” at the bottom of this post.

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  1. “withdrawing into thoughtlessness is . . . embedded in a certain ideology or worldview”
    Indeed.

    “Approval from others does not validate your technique or your existence.”
    Hmm. That sounds like you could have an individual word view. Personally, I disagree. An ideology or world view is something collective. You need a collective body of knowledge and body of experience for that. OK, it is not approval that validates one’s existence, but one does not exist all alone.
    So, the second-hand testimony from a spiritual authority can help you understand where you are in terms of ideology or world view. It can help to understand the breadth and depth of the worldview that you are living with. Especially when you think that it is your individual thing.

  2. “being quiet with yourself, being out in nature, hearing music or bird song. . .”
    I think this is excellent, Scott. Meditation often implies there is a “better reality” (or super-natural), so we are distracted from the natural world–the greatest chapel, zendo, ashram, church, temple. . .

    Thanks for your reasonable thoughts!

  3. @Otto: Your defense of your worldview or ideology is weak. I don’t understand how quieting thought or meditation techniques are superior to thought, thinking, and acting. “Who” says so? You are apparently embedded in the web of thoughts of a purported Buddha, guru, or enlightenment master.

  4. Thanks, Chris, for sharing. I like how you said: “Meditation often implies there is a “better reality” (or super-natural), so we are distracted from the natural world–the greatest chapel, zendo, ashram, church, temple. . .”

  5. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a newer form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, sometimes recommends mindfulness meditation to help with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. In the book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven Hayes they also suggest “cognitive diffusion” techniques such as viewing your thoughts as physical objects with physical qualities such as size/texture/weight, labeling your thoughts, describing your thoughts from a third person perspective, telling yourself that you are not your thoughts, etc.

    I don’t think they ever suggest stopping or stilling thoughts but this article reminded me of that.

    Jeff

  6. @Jeff: I’d not heard of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), though I’d heard of CBT, which ACT seems to be an offshoot or derivative therapy of CBT. If you have had or given ACT, either as a patient or therapist, let us know what was/is your opinion or results.

    Meditation and mindfulness can have benefits. Same with CBT, MBST, ACT and sleep, relaxation, and lifestyle changes.

    “In fact, the benefits of quiet, relaxation, and stress management are so powerful it is often difficult to demonstrate that meditation contributes much beyond potentiating and enhancing the non-specific mechanisms at play in deep relaxation”.

    Some advocates of mindfulness-based therapies recommend practice more as a lifestyle or stress reduction (relaxation) technique, which raises the question: What is the mechanism or active ingredient in mindfulness?

    The quote above is from What’s Wrong with Mindfulness? (And What Isn’t) book and quoted in my post Mindfulness Myths: Fantasies and Facts.

    Thanks for your comments.

  7. Scott,

    I’m not a therapist but I enjoy learning about psychology. The behavioral parts of CBT and ACT seem very similar, but they suggest different ways of dealing with thoughts. In CBT people are encouraged to critically examine thoughts and identify cognitive distortions. In ACT people are encouraged to view thoughts as passing clouds in the sky and to allow yourself to think whatever it is you are thinking.

    I think the behavioral parts of CBT and ACT can be helpful. For example not being avoidant of feared situations that are not harmful seems like good advice. Because avoidance can fuel phobias and anxiety disorders. Also, it seems like good advice to not avoid healthy behaviors because of feelings of guilt, shame, apathy or depression. Because avoiding those behaviors because of those feelings can fuel depression. And critically examining thoughts can be helpful to expose beliefs that are not well supported by the evidence or beliefs that are inconsistent.

    In ACT I find it helpful to recognize that distressing thoughts are temporary. I might be thinking or feeling something distressing at this moment but I probably won’t be thinking about that same thing an hour from now. I also find the idea helpful that I do not need to behave in a manner that is in accordance with my thoughts. For instance I might think and feel that I do not want to exercise. But I can exercise while simultaneously thinking and feeling that I don’t want to exercise.

    In ACT they seem to suggest it is the distancing of your observing self from the thought/feeling that provides the benefits of mindfulness.

    Mindfulness and “cognitive defusion” are only a part of ACT. In my opinion a person could still find value in ACT without mindfulness or cognitive defusion. But what I find interesting is if you do not personally find mindfulness helpful in dealing with distressing thoughts or feelings. If after all your years of practice you do not find mindfulness useful in dealing with distressing thoughts and feelings then that seems to run contrary to what ACT authors and practitioners are suggesting.

    Thank you for writing. I enjoy reading your website and posts.

    Regards,
    Jeff

  8. Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your experiences and opinions of ACT. Hopefully they also will help others understand some variants of “mindfulness”.

    What you described: “I find it helpful to recognize that distressing thoughts are temporary.” Yes, I find that helpful too. This is kind of like positive thinking. Noticing my thoughts, evaluating their benefits/potential harms, and then replacing “bad” thoughts with other thoughts. The thought of no thought is still a thought. It the underlying process of attention and thought that I’m talking about.

    And you asked if I find mindfulness or meditation helpful. Short answer is: Yes and no.

    For myself, I don’t “practice” meditation and mindfulness, don’t use them as techniques, tools, or as part of a system, but use more like a term of distinction of a momentary act, thought, or awareness. You might agree here. However, I follow no rules, techniques, or systems of practice. To me, “techniques” of meditation or mindfulness–religious, secular, whatever–are embedded within certain value systems, ideologies, or worldviews. They are not superior to other activities or non-activities, like sleep, relaxation, or just being.

    The harms are not necessarily the systems, ideologies, or worldviews in themselves. But in not acknowledging they are there, being unwilling or unable to critically examine them and to update or change them.

    Thanks for your comments.

  9. Rational thinking is essential in this life, as are our ego and individuality. Both can be supplemented and enhanced, but how?
    .
    Be objective, not subjective. To control sentiments of “I,” weigh ‘reactions’ to your words, others’ ‘sensitivity’ to your thoughts and probable ‘consequences’ of your actions. To heighten thinking beyond “me,” be cognizant of the ‘reasons’ for your reasoning, ‘goals’ of your learning, ‘relevance’ of your memories, and real ‘possibilities’ in your imagining. To enhance your senses beyond “my,” ‘look’ not just see, ‘listen’ not only hear, ‘feel’ not solely touch, identify the ‘scent’ not merely smell, and ‘savor’ not taste alone. The inherent significance of what is presently here is external.
    .
    A complementary method is to concentrate on the moment, not ruminate about the past. When you repeatedly recall anything, it is usually in relation to you. While concentrating, “you” is overlooked in considering “it.” Art is appreciated for its beauty and technique, not merely in its value to you. Music is enjoyed for its melody and performance, not solely as a reminder of your past. Food is relished for its flavor and preparation, not simply in appeasing hunger. Each object is admired for itself, not in regard to its usefulness to you. The intrinsic importance of what is present now is transpersonal.

  10. @Ron: Agree. These sound like complementary ways of approaching or thinking about the value of meditation, thinking, thought, and activity. Easier things said than done, for many of us, when in the thick of busy “modern” world. Thanks.