Friday, May 9, 2014

100 Days of Meditation - Part II, Results & Observations

Buddha statueThe Good
After 30-40 minutes, meditation completely eliminated all, even trace feelings of stress and anxiety. This was one of the most significant observations of the challenge period, and it made an incredible measure of difference; one that I didn't anticipate being as effective as it turned out to be. Knowing that I have the ability to reliably remove all stress from my mind made me glad I invested the time into learning to meditate.

Happy faceThe Meditation triggered spontaneous feelings of happiness, bliss (no, seriously — bliss), and tranquility for a period of 2-3 hours following a sit in what I called  The Deep. Every time I entered The Deep, I would get up and walk around after sitting in what I ended up calling the “force field.” Even when walking out onto the busy city streets, it felt vividly like I had a protective bubble around me. Nothing could touch me. I can’t emphasize how profound this feeling was; it was not just regular happiness or contentment, it put me in touch with a deeper strata of emotional experience, the kind of which is only typically encountered perhaps in fleeting instants while watching a picturesque sunset, or the view from an airplane. This state persisted for hours at a time.

Happiness, an Emergent Property of the Still Mind?
I was surprised that in addition to the calming aspect of the practice, what emerged spontaneously was happiness. This result was interesting because it raised the question of how being calm and being happy are related — i.e., whether this kind of happiness can simply emerge from being calm for a long enough period of time. In any case, it was a wonderful experience and, although it took me several weeks to get there, every sit was a joy.

The scream
The Unexpected
Meditation did not help me control my stress much outside of the time of sitting.

Aside from affording me a few hours inside the profoundly serene “force field” of the stilled mind, after I got up the next morning and arrived at the office, the stresses and tumult were still there, and I was still just as affected by them — someone would say something aggravating, or a hobo on the bus would be yelling and screaming and my mental and emotional reactions were just as upsetting as they've always been living in the city.

Serenity Now?
It reminded me a bit of the of this Seinfeld clip. If I were living or working in a more peaceful environment, or even if I’d been meditating in the morning, perhaps I would have been able to keep the good feelings going, but as it was, the bliss only lasted so long. Still, knowing that I have the ability to get to The Deep makes me feel like I have some defense against the stresses of everyday life — the city was less oppressive because now know I can escape.

Meditation made the external world seem a bit less important. This is a subtle effect, but also worth mentioning, and can be either good or bad, depending on your responsibilities and goals in life. The process of stilling your mind has the effect of returning you to a sort of “zero point,” which can actually be bad if, for example, there are pressing decisions you need to make, or if there is something you should be genuinely worried, upset, or frantic about. Putting my mind into neutral this way meant that I occasionally had to remind myself that there really was a world outside of my meditative “force field” that demanded my attention. Occasionally, I found myself letting little things slip here and there, not working as actively with the team as I felt I should have.

This was not a major effect, but it was noticeable. I should note that you can probably “tweak” the meditative practice to focus your thoughts on a particular thing rather than stilling them to the zero point. This would likely have the opposite effect, giving you more mental cycles to devote to your work or creative pursuits, however, to me that wouldn’t qualify as meditation so much as it would concentration.

The third eyeThe Really Unexpected
My forehead caught on “fire.” No — really. This was the single most remarkable event of the entire challenge, and I have no explanation for it, but what took place was that after about 30 days, the center of my forehead felt like it was emitting or radiating what I can only describe a kind of heatless, lightless flame. I call it a flame because it produced — I sh*t you not — the distinct, tactile sensation of flickering, like a candle over the surface of my forehead, to the point where when it first began, I actually got up and looked for a window I thought I must have left open. I thought it was a fluke until it never went away (!), so after days, weeks, and then months of increasing intensity and range of motion, I had to concede that it was:
  • not a headache or side-effect of, for example, withdrawing from caffeine;
  • related to the practice of meditation, as it got stronger the more I meditated over the weeks.
Beyond that, I can't speculate. It had zero other apparent effects, positive or negative, but persisted as a kind of weird “meditation exhaust pipe.” After day 60, I felt it constantly, every second of the day, exactly in the middle of my forehead, pulsing in and out in an unobjectionable, but utterly mystifying way.

It actually persists to this day, however, as I eased off on meditating after the challenge period was over, it is now not as strong and occurs of its own volition. It’s easy to ignore and does not impair my focus or affect me in any way; it just sort of “is.” Still, it is remarkable to me that it has persisted for nine months after I stopped meditating on a daily basis. The Secret of the Golden Flower (SGF) book talks about it in metaphorical terms (the circulation of the light), and the fact that Buddhist and Hindu iconography, both of which have centuries-old histories of meditative practice, show a dot or flame in that particular region makes me think it is a common, benign artifact of practice. I’d certainly like to investigate it further to discover if any kind of measurements could be taken of it, whether topical or via EEG. (Does anyone with equipment want to measure my forehead? I’m serious! Let me know!) Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was simply psychosomatic.

Celibacy was practically impossible
I probably shouldn’t have been shocked by this finding, considering that libido is an evolutionary imperative, but it was humbling to find that it wasn’t possible for me to give it up completely. Instead, my repeated attempts to remain celibate for longer than two weeks were actually a rather frightening experience, which certainly gave me some insight into, for example, the difficulties the Catholic Church has had with improper conduct by some of its priests.

It simply did not seem healthy to resist this process 100%... and putting guilt on top of it can’t be good for one’s mental health, either. On the occasions when I did break celibacy, it was because the resistance was actually causing my entire mood and personality to morph me into an ill-tempered beast of a man, distracted, irritable, and unable to focus, which prevented me from entering into a meditative state. Because of this, I can’t recommend complete celibacy unless you find that it has no noticeable side effects. Instead I found that a weekly schedule seemed balanced. (Yes, TMI, but it’s for science.)

Don't miss: Part I


  1. Excellent post. Two thing come to mind...

    1) Given the results you describe, why wouldn't you continue to meditate on a regular basis? The sensations and activities you describe jibe with my own experience and with the descriptions in the SGF. You are quite fortunate. So many people never detect anything. You are close to "circulating the light." I understand the celibacy conflict, but in the future, when that's no longer an issue, you can, I believe, easily take up where you left off.

    2) As for your statement that "Aside from affording me a few hours inside the profoundly serene 'force field' of the stilled mind, after I got up the next morning and arrived at the office, the stresses and tumult were still there, and I was still just as affected by them — someone would say something aggravating, or a hobo on the bus would be yelling and screaming and my mental and emotional reactions were just as upsetting as they've always been living in the city," you could use the words "The Deep" as a mnemonic recall device for self-remembering when you get into one of the situations you describe. It's like bio-feedback. You can teach yourself that by uttering those two words, you immediately "come back to yourself" when you "lose yourself." That's what happens in those types of situations: for instance, I'm at the bank, standing in line. I have an urgent appointment. A customer starts arguing with the teller. I start to get irritated. I'm no longer "in myself;" I'm at the head of the line absorbed in the argument, prey to all sorts of negative emotions. I need to "remember myself."

    So, you could, just by uttering the words, "The Deep. I'm here now, in this place, at work. There's an argument ensuing. I'm observing, but not reacting. I'm Duncan Carroll. I'm responding, but not reacting. The Deep." You could comeback to yourself, not in a trance or a reverie, but actually be in two places at the same time, aware of the situation that your colleagues are arguing and at the same time you are "in yourself," in the "force field" state you describe. This type of unified awareness — self and other at the same — is usually only accessible to people who meditate as successfully as you have. Uttering those two words "The Deep" should be enough for you to extract yourself from the emotional distractions caused by any incident and become a self-observer at the same time you are actually "taking care of business."

  2. Very interesting and thought provoking post, thank you for your honesty. I agree with JJ when he speaks about the process of 'self-remembering'. Meditation practice isn't like a magic wand where you sit down for 30-40 mins and afterwards you're in some blissed out state where nothing can touch you or irriate you. The purpose of meditation is to realize that you are not that which annoys/irritates so that when that which irritates you comes up you can remember 'ah, I'm not that' and it is in that moment of remembering and choosing to respond rather than react that the real value of your meditation shows up. It doesn't show up in lofty spiritual experiences but in the dirt and grime of everyday life. This is why it's not the spiritual experiences which are important but how you use what you got from them to walk the razors edge path of the spiritual in the ordinary everyday activities of life and relationship. To end with a quote I heard recently 'don't mistake experiences for realization; don't mistake realization for liberation, and don't mistake liberation for enlightenment...I also agree wtih JJ when he says that the signs both in your ability to witness and also your commitment to practice are two auspicious signs that say to me that you should definitely continue with your practice. All the best

  3. Hello,really formidable and informative post.I want to share some word with you.Meditation is likewise totally FREE! It obliges no unique gear, and is not muddled to learn. It might be practiced anyplace, at any given moment, and it is not time intensive (15-20 min. for every day is great). Best of all, meditation has NO negative side effects. Main concern, there is only positive to be picked up from it! With such an immense rundown of profits, the inquiry you ought to ask yourself is, "why am I not meditating yet?"
    Kirpal Singh

  4. Hi there! I'm quite sure that I have something that I can connect and interject, my book is about relevant lessons from my journey towards self-realization. Tried and tested by my activism during my grassroots movement to uphold democracy, I realized that the vigor of my convictions and capacity to uphold freedom was driven by my belief in my inner being. My strong sense of my personal responsibility to protect individual freedom led me to explore and test my inner capacity to sustain the spirit of freedom. I daresay, I launched a democracy movement in order to test my inner capacity to realize my ability to protect what is owed and natural to me in my body, mind, spirit and soul. The desire to be free is a soul searching self-realization.

    Our advocacy is to promote change for the better through self-realization we express the natural genius and open our minds to feel the flow of life energy as it courses through us. By experiencing the life form in its true creative genius we connect to our body, mind and spirit as it was meant to be. The learning from our inner experience in meditation allows us to know who we are. In meditation, we reevaluate life and are inspire ourselves to experience more fully our best selves.
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  5. I found your journey fascinating. Having struggled with meditation for years, I turned to Qigong.(oft referred to as moving meditation)
    I find peace and stillness in the movement. The body remembers everything, the mind shuts down. Its great to stretch and exercise, whilst being in the deep. I have found that this keeps me truly balanced in daily life.
    Qigong, taught well, engenders a deep ability to observe one self. Exactly as JJ states, I remind myself as I walk through life, catch myself as my inner critic starts to talk, and stop the thoughts dead. It just takes practice. Through qigong I have always had a 100 day practice structure so now it's time to try GFM for 100 days as Duncan did! Watch this space!

  6. A great example of finding your own path, whatever it maybe. Sometimes you don’t know where the process comes from, but if you stick to it it probably will manifest itself.