Dogma-free meditation for calming your mind

How to stay present and stop your mind from fixating.

Damien Echols: You don't have to believe in it. There's no dogma. Even like I said it uses iconography and symbolism from things like gnostic Christianity and esoteric Judaism, things like that. But it doesn't require you to believe in these things. The reason it uses this symbolism is, for example, in the part of the country that I grew up in there are literally places where you come to a four way stop and there are churches on all four corners. So even if you're completely atheist, even if you're repelled by these things, they are still part of your psyche, still part of our culture. So we on some level respond to those things in some way. That doesn't mean we necessarily have to believe in them for magick to work.

Like I said the people who devise these techniques wanted to know what works, why it works, how it works, and how we can make it work better. You don't have to believe in any of this any more than you have to believe that your muscles are going to get bigger by going to the gym.

The way that I guess one of the things that was so hard about Eastern traditions like Zen was you focus almost entirely on staying in the present moment all the time. That is really, really hard. Once you actually start trying to do that you realize how out of control your thoughts are. Our thoughts chase themselves around like a dog chasing its own tail all the time from the time we get up until the time we go to sleep. And a lot of the Eastern traditions deal with almost wrestling against that. Every time you realize you're doing it, bringing yourself back to the present moment, back to the present moment over and over and over. For me I didn't get a lot of results out of that. I never found myself in the present moment m ore than I was whenever I started the practices. Ceremonial magick on the other hand what it does is it doesn't really address that at all. Instead you're dealing like, for example, on energy circulation practices where you're circulating chi through different parts of your body, you're trying to energize different energy centers. It runs down through your spine. Doing that as a side effect you become more and more present. And I didn't even realize a lot of these practices say, for example, the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, when you would learn these things traditionally the organization, the Order, would give you these exercises and they would not tell you what they're going to do. They would not tell you what they're for. They would say "go practice this for a year, come back and talk to us then. And if you're interested in learning more and going forward we'll talk about it then." Whenever you came back they would say "okay, well what did you experience?" That's how they would know if you had actually been practicing them or not. So I would practice these techniques, the middle pillar, the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, and one day while I was in prison I bent over to tie my shoes and I realized, without even trying to do so, I was in the present moment. And it was almost like an atomic bomb going off because it was for the very first time in my life I realized "oh my god, I'm completely in the present moment!" Of course the second you think that it's shattered, and you're back to thinking or whatever. But it was even after years of Zen practice it was the first time that I had truly experienced that, and it was due to ceremonial magick.

One of the techniques that I use, you know, the analogy I used earlier about flushing yourself out like a cup of water, this is a technique that flushes our thoughts out. If you have a song going through your head over and over or if you're reliving an argument you had with someone a year ago, if you're obsessed over something that you can't get out of your head, this technique is good for that as well as just general meditation purposes. It doesn't have a name. I usually just refer to it as the prison cell meditation. But if you're interested I'll do that. Is that okay? All right. You start by closing your eyes and then you envision yourself in a prison cell. Standing in the center of a cell, everything is white. The walls are white. The ceiling is white. The floors are white. The only thing there is in the cell other than you on the back wall is a slit of a window. And it's up so high that the only way that you can reach it, the only way you can see out of it is by gripping the window ledge high above your head and hoisting yourself up by sheer, brute, physical upper body strength. Almost like you're doing a pull up or a chin up. So you want to bring as much tactile sensation to the visualization as you possibly can. You want to feel it as much as you can. So picture yourself walking to the back of this wall, pressing yourself against it, reaching up with your hands and gripping the edge of that windowsill with your fingertips. Try to feel what the back wall of that prison cell would feel like pressed against the side of your face, pressed against your torso. Feel the coldness of it, the grittiness of it. And as you start to lift yourself up off the floor using just your arms try to feel what that would actually feel like. Feel the muscles in your shoulders. Feel the muscles in your chest, in your abdomen firing, tensing as you're pulling yourself up.

Try to feel what the wall would feel like as you scrape against it lifting yourself slowly by sheer strength. As your eyes crest over the rim of the window white light bursts through the window, floods through the window, and obliterates everything: The cell, you, everything, until there's only white light remaining.

Do it again. Press yourself against the back of the wall, reach up with both hands, and grip the edge of the windowsill. Feel the muscles in your chest, in your abdomen, in your shoulders tensing as you start to lift yourself up. Feel the wall scrape against the front of your thighs, against the side of your face as you hoist yourself until your eyes come over the edge of the window frame, and then white light comes flooding in through the window obliterating everything – you, the cell, until there's only white light.

Once more. Feel yourself pressed against the wall, raise your arms, hook your fingertips over the window ledge. Begin to raise yourself slowly up by sheer strength, feeling the muscles in your shoulders, your chest, your torso straining as you lift your body weight. Feel the wall of the prison cell as you scrub against it; and as your eyes go over the edge of the window frame, white light comes flooding in, obliterating everything.

And this is one of those things you can do for as long as you have time. You can do it five times, you can do it ten times. The longer you do it the more effective it is. And it gives you something to work with in your visualization instead of just trying to stay in the present moment, which is really, really hard.

Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

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