The pain is over there… the pain is not me

For managing pain (or pleasure or boredom), here is a mindfulness technique that has worked well for me. Hold whatever part of the body or mind is in pain at a distance, look at it, and calmly/dispassionately repeat the following to yourself: “the pain is over there… the pain is not me.”

This seems to work for a few reasons:

  1. Calm, clear-headed, detached, dispassionate, etc. mental observation discourages the mind from creating things. It is like placing a buffer of empty space between the constructive part of the mind and the problematic construct.
  2. Pain is a more unconscious, automatic sensation, whereas suffering is a more conscious, habituated perception or psychological labeling of experience. Perceptions (like suffering and joy) can be more easily consciously managed than can unconscious sensations (like pain and pleasure). For example, when babies get injured, they often look to their parents to see how they should respond to, or feel about, the pain from the injury — is it no big deal, or should they cry? Similarly, adults can learn to separate their reactions to pain from their experience of pain.
  3. The body and brain are not a stable, eternal self. Like probably all phenomena in this world, the body and brain’s states are always changing, and seem to follow a predictable, bell-curve-type pattern: they arise, they may stay awhile (or maybe this apparent abiding itself subtly changes from moment to moment), then they decay and condition/become something else. If one can just disassociate oneself from the problematic thing or person for long enough, that thing and/or oneself are guaranteed to change on their own eventually, and they might change enough that the current problem is no longer a problem. Alternatively, if action is better than inaction for some reason (e.g., if the pain is being caused by a poisoned knife stuck in one’s arm, which one should quickly remove), the mental clarity and detachment of this technique should help one to make a good decision and take immediate action.

Like most meditation techniques, the benefits of this technique include that it doesn’t involve taking any expensive, possibly dangerous drugs, or losing one’s mental clarity or self-control; the cons include that it takes persistent, conscious effort and practice.

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9 disgusting things about sex

Mainstream media find any excuse to make sex seem appealing, so here are 9 ways in which sex is disgusting.

  1. It’s a chemical addiction, and it’s built into most people’s bodies, so it’s very hard to stop taking the drug. If you think you’re not a sexual drug addict, just try not doing or thinking about sexual things for a few days, weeks, or months (depending on how often you usually do it). The withdrawal symptoms are similar to cocaine (anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, nightmares, obsessive thoughts, etc.). Sex is often associated with other drug use.
  2. There are few/no natural safeguards. Sexual cravings often lead people to create unwanted children, too many children, or to have abortions. There are also a wide variety of sexually transmitted diseases, some life-threatening. It’s very easy for people to be physically compatible but mentally incompatible, with short, lustful actions causing many difficult, life-long consequences for multiple people.
  3. Sex involves close, including oral, contact between parts of the body that are otherwise only associated with using the toilet.
  4. Sex-related organs of the body (e.g., women’s enlarged hips and breasts, men’s prostate and external sex organs, etc.) are quite fragile, and are prone to cancers, injuries, pain, and infections.
  5. Sex involves the body automatically creating things that are technically alive (sperm and eggs), and then destroying most of them.
  6. People’s bodies are just different configurations of skin, fat, muscles, glands, nerves, bones, etc., but sexuality causes people to get attached to certain configurations, putting pressure on people to modify their bodies, often unhealthfully.
  7. People often associate sexual thoughts with racist thoughts, preferring the physical features of their own ethnic group. Humanity probably began as a single species in Africa 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, and we keep moving farther and farther away from that genetic unity.
  8. Sex, and sexualized media, encourages people to revel/wallow in very self-indulgent, fickle, exploitive, greedy, jealous, aggressive, objectifying, shallow/mindless, etc. states of mind. Much like food advertising, sexualized media is very charged and harsh, showing exaggerated things in extreme situations. Often apparently/mostly because they are pretty, people often receive ridiculously large amounts of money and power as actors, models, or politicians.
  9. Sex has led to a variety of dangerous, exploitive, or criminal social activities: harassment, discrimination, segregation, strip clubs, sex clubs, porn, prostitution, sex slave trafficking, forced marriage, rape, genital mutilation, castration, etc. About 50% of people who have been raped develop PTSD (source).

Changing (how) the world (works)

People don’t really want the world to change; the world changes on its own incessantly, which is the cause of most/all suffering in the world (i.e., whatever one builds or gets attached-to in this world is inevitably destroyed). People want to change *how* the natural, psychological, and social worlds work. For example, the human body and mind are frail, susceptible to disease, and short-lived, so people want to find ways of overcoming those problems. Walking, running, or using carts are too slow/weak and painful, so people invent transportation technologies. Crop yields are too low, so people do genetic and other agricultural engineering. Certain social structures/regimes that are currently in power are destroying the natural environment, causing wars, or allowing prejudiced or unequal treatment of people, so people want to change those regimes. And so forth. Humans rarely want to live in their natural state.

Is life “good”?

Perhaps the biggest difference I see between Buddhism and the world’s other largest religions (i.e., Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam) is whether or not they consider worldly life to be “good”.

The other big religions usually say that worldly life (i.e., mass production and consumption, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, cultivating attachments to people and things, developing a sense of self, etc.) is good, is connected to an eternal creator God and is itself spiritually meaningful, is worth spending all of one’s time and energy exploring and pursuing, etc.

However, Buddhism says that we are in an unfortunate state of existence (involving constant struggle and inevitable loss), that the physical details of this life are ultimately meaningless because they are very fleeting, that the only God-like beings one can see from here are trapped in impermanent lives like we are (they only live longer than we do), and that one should spend as much time as possible trying to permanently (i.e., without rebirth) escape from this prison. From a Buddhist perspective, perhaps the only things in life that are really good are people’s capacities to help themselves and others understand and undo their predicament.

My love, let’s go eat some dressed-up corpses, then get drug-addicted together

Food and sex are much less interesting, if you remove the dressed-up, very charged/evocative, taboo, and drug/addiction-like popular cultures that surround them. They are just bodily functions than can be pleasurable, painful, or neutral. The idea of “making love” through something that is addictive seems rather twisted to me, as is decorating or heavily seasoning food, which involves dressing up dead plants or animals.

Pain is not the same as suffering

Pain is not the same as suffering; pleasure is not the same as joy; neither-pleasure-nor-pain is not the same as boredom. Pain and pleasure are physical sensations, which arise automatically from the body’s physical circumstances. But suffering, joy, boredom, and similar things are higher-cognitive states, which often are used to evaluate sensations — whether they are good, bad, neutral, desirable, aversive, etc. Higher-cognitive states like suffering, joy, boredom, etc. can exist in the mind without physical referents. For example, in the first level of jhana meditation, one sees the mind directly and usually feels overwhelming joy; in subsequent levels, the joy becomes more refined/subtle types of happiness and eventually equanimity — all while sitting in sensory deprivation-type environment. People become so accustomed to seeking pleasurable experiences and avoiding painful ones that the evaluative process is mostly unconscious habit. But one can unlearn that habit, and can live experiencing only a “subtle flow of sensations” (Pali: bhaṅgānupassanā ñāṇa), where one feels sensations but is not mentally/emotionally burdened by them.

Mental states usually have multiple opposing states

Mental states usually have multiple opposing states that can counteract them if cultivated/focused-upon. Below are examples.

Like with any medicine, one must be careful not to indulge in any mental state too extremely, or it can become a kind of poison, blindness, or delusion. For example, taking a positive attitude to everything can cause one to miss, or be taken advantage of by, the negative aspects of life (e.g., scammers, thieves, things falling apart, etc.), but taking a negative attitude to everything can lead to anxiety and depression. The Buddha once taught people to meditate on death and decay, and that led several monks to become so disgusted with their bodies that they “sought an assassin” (see Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s footnote on SN 35.88). Therefore, he switched to recommending meditation on the breath (anapanasati), which is more mentally neutral.

Siddhartha heard the musician say, “If the string is too tight, it will snap. If it is too loose, it will not play” (from the traditional Buddhist enlightenment story). A Middle Way is best.

  • For anger: thinking about (or asking) how the object of your anger might have come to be the way it is (e.g., social or natural forces, history, chance, etc.), forgiveness, generosity, patience, tolerance, etc.
  • Anxiety/fear: internal and external detachment/watchfulness/listening, letting go of attachment to outcomes, remembering that the self is just an impermanent construct, etc.
  • Arrogance/ego/narcissism: remembering your impermanence and fragile humanity, acknowledging things you’ve lost/forgotten or that you can’t know/see, having experiences where either nature or people don’t care who you are (riding the bus in plain clothes or a disguise if you are famous, doing a manual labor job, going far away from civilization with minimal supplies, etc.)
  • Depression (an umbrella term for many states): identifying and counteracting the specific state(s) involved (e.g., grief, hopelessness, fatigue, physical discomfort or weakness, etc.)
  • Greed: slowing down and doing less, generosity, remembering the impermanence of all things, remembering that one can’t ever fully own/control either oneself or external things, etc.
  • Laziness: aspiration, belief/trust/faith, effort, flexibility (see also the “eight antidotes“)
  • Lust: asking the attractive person to cover themselves, looking closely at the attractive person until you can see past their facade of makeup/jewelry/clothing, seeing people as just variations on a theme (a little bigger or smaller here or there), reducing people’s bodies to their components (skin, muscles, bones, organs, glands, etc.), disgust at the dirty or infected things inside everyone’s bodies (rotting plants/animals, feces, urine, bile, mucus, viruses/bacteria, small cancers, etc.), imagining the person as the rotting corpse they will inevitably become or looking at images/videos of rotting or burning corpses on the Internet, etc.

Many of these things involve remembering impermanence or that the self is a construct of many components. If there is no stable self, there is no one who can always feel anything. If you can change for the worse, you can change for the better.