Meditation and Metacognition

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Riggerjack
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Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Riggerjack »

I was on page 13 of BRUTE'S journal, and the subject of meditation came up. This seems to be a fairly common thing around here. In the past, I just dismissed it as I always have, but I would really like to understand this.

I'm not new to meditation, nor neutral. I grew up with broken new age hippie dippie types droning on and on about it. They were all convinced it would lead to Enlightenment. Enlightenment, when I started really digging into it seemed like the magical place where all my problems stop being problems without any effort on my part. Just stop fixing things, and let the solutions apply themselves...

Now, when you consider that most of these people's problems were self created, just not making new problems for a few hours a week is a significant improvement. But that hardly qualifies as worthwhile. Video games would do that.

But, we have lots of smart folks here who practice, they must get something out of it. But what? Why?

I was directed to the Wikipedia page on Metacognition. Which is literally thinking about thinking. It looked pretty basic, but it's just a Wikipedia page. Honestly, it seemed slow and clunky like showing my work in HS math. Yeah, I can slow down and show every step, handy if I want to obsess over process, rather than focus on a solution. There must be a reason so many people put so much effort into this, but I am completely missing it.

So for the practitioners, why do you meditate? What traditions do you follow? And really, what is your thinking like, when not meditating, that you would want to change it?

Smashter
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Smashter »

To start, since I know you enjoy SSC, you should check out his book review of "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha." http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/18/bo ... he-buddha/

I read that book after reading the SSC review, and it really spoke to me. I'd been an on again off again meditator for years, but never had a real goal in mind other than to feel a bit more calmness while I sat. Now, I am approaching things differently. I have specific goals and I understand the stages of the process better.

Why do you meditate?
Because I think I have been conditioned to think in a negative, self-defeating way. My default is stuck on negative. I want to change that.

What traditions do you follow?
I like the Buddhist tradition, minus the religious dogma.

What is your thinking like, when not meditating, that you would want to change it?
Same answer as the first question, for the most part. When my mind starts wandering, it can get quite dark, quite fast. I know that not everything is always sunshine and rainbows, nor should it be. Feeling pressure is important and motivating. For whatever reason, I have a tendency to let the pressures and worries dominate my thoughts, no matter what level of proficiency I attain pursuing my goals.

I was a professional basketball player, but felt like a failure for not being in the NBA. I won contests with my screenplays and had a legit agent, but felt like I'd never be anything since I wasn't with the elite agencies. I now have a good job, an amazing wife, decent savings, great health, and wonderful friends, but yet find things to complain about constantly.

I think that a deep, focused meditation practice could eventually re-wire me so that I can suffer less and be better at appreciating how awesome my life is.

Riggerjack
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Riggerjack »

Thank you.

Yeah, that negative spiral of thoughts. I remember that BS. It sucks. Maybe in a bit I'll find the time to talk about how I changed that back in my younger days. Hopefully it will help someone.

But, since I am short on time (posting at work), why did you choose meditation to fix this, and what are you basing your hopes for improvement on?

Rereading that I sound overly skeptical. What I'm trying to say is that your reasons sound very similar to those of many people who have tried to convince me to get into meditation. But when I thought about it, none of these people seemed like a success story. What is your idea of success, and have you seen such a thing?

Campitor
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Campitor »

I meditate for two reasons: stress/cortisol reduction and improving my ability to use focused attention. I focus either on my breathing or a word and keep guiding my mind back to it when the mind-chatter begins. I find that consistent meditation makes me calmer and clearer of mind. I also listen better and I can work longer on projects without distraction. I find meditation very valuable.

Riggerjack
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Riggerjack »

Cool. I've heard this term before, too. Mind chatter. What does this mean to you?

When I am thinking, whether it is as I am at a task or letting my mind wander, it is like I am talking, subvocally. It's almost always there, unless I am concentrating hard, (where it goes quiet, and is also concentrating) or listening in conversation. Is this the chatter you are talking about? What's the big deal?

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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by jacob »

There are many different kinds of meditation, so it might be helpful to point out which kind, when talking about it. Most of them fall with the following matrix in a way that can be thought of as a radar control system for the brain... essentially the steering control that underlies more complex cognitive abilities.

Target: None, bodily sensations (breathing is popular), a word (Om) or symbol or more complex (like a prayer), or a concept (God, the universe, ..)

Targeting: Tracking (sticky focus), scanning(non-sticky attention), track while scanning (sticky on one thing, attention to others), off.

Meditation is a way of practicing the mind's ability to focus by picking any combination above. Almost all combinations have some name. For example, zen (tracking + breathing), vissapana (TWS+bodily sensations), mindfulness (scanning+bodily sensations), Mantra (tracking + word), and so on.

I see meditation as working out for the brain by doing things like pushups, squats, ... And in a similar fashion, there's nothing inherently productive in doing push-ups and if you already get the particular part worked by incorporating it in your lifestyle (gardening or running and gunning or whatever), you don't actually have to do the workout.

IOW ... if the mind already is tuned into functional patterns and it's worked regularly by thinking about things ... meditation is superfluous seeing that all the combos do ask some rather simple/atomistic abilities compared to dealing with regular "thinking". But of course if those abilities are weak (like having weak arms) ... it makes sense to train the weaker parts. People who struggle with distractions have problems "tracking". They can either pursue a meditation form that involves tracking or TWS. People who are stressed should pursue meditations that focus on "off"-mode.

Meta-cognition then comes on top of that---layers above this. Of those I prefer latticework. That's probably an INTJ thing ... but as we develop we quickly notice that everything has patterns; and if we keep at it, we can abstract that and see that the patterns have patterns (that's the lattice work). Once that is realized, it becomes a lot faster to learn new things (due to the limited number of meta-patterns).

Campitor
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Campitor »

Riggerjack wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 9:00 pm
Cool. I've heard this term before, too. Mind chatter. What does this mean to you?

When I am thinking, whether it is as I am at a task or letting my mind wander, it is like I am talking, subvocally. It's almost always there, unless I am concentrating hard, (where it goes quiet, and is also concentrating) or listening in conversation. Is this the chatter you are talking about? What's the big deal?
This is what I experience as mind chatter: I'm working on something, debugging some code or analyzing server logs, and suddenly I start thinking about another project I need to work on or what I'm going to eat for dinner. Thinking about dinner or something other than what I'm working on is mind chatter. It's a distraction which makes the task at hand take longer or its completion less than polished.

I need to keep meditating because unfortunately life in the big city and in the technology office is designed to be highly distracting and filled with interruptions. The constant interruptions and distractions are trying to rewire my brain into focusing in short non-productive bursts. If I'm using Jacob's exercise analogy, meditating is cross-fit for my brain and distractions/interruptions are the junk food and 2nd hand smoking trying to negatively impact it.

When my mind is "tuned" I can focus for hours, notice more details and start to see the latticework as Jacob describes, and I don't feel mentally drained by the end of the day. Meditating does that for me.

I don't need to meditate if I'm doing a home improvement project or woodworking - both activities are like meditation to me. But in the middle of the work day if I'm getting a bit stressed or unfocused, it's a lot easier to meditate in place than whipping out my chisels, saws, and hand plane to start building a cherry/spanish cedar humidor.

BRUTE
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by BRUTE »

brute did mindfulness meditation for a while, which must be up there in the pantheon of incredibly eye-roll-inducing named concepts.

he found it definitely did something, but he got the same thing from other things as well - working out hard, getting hit (boxing), motorcycling. anything that forces the mind into the present.

brute hasn't meditated in a few years, and doesn't feel the need to. maybe once the skill of "dissociating" is learned, the practice becomes unnecessary. or maybe brute gets enough "in the moment" from other activities now.

DSKla
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by DSKla »

I've realized there are three types of people, with regards to meditation.

1) those who don't meditate
2) those who do meditate
3) those who make sure you know they meditate

Like most things other than eating, sleeping, and sh***ing, it probably isn't for everybody. I completely respect anyone who finds themselves in either category one or two. Allow me to temporarily cross into the third, with the caveat that most people in my life have no clue I do it, and I intend to keep it that way.

Like Jacob said, there are lots of different types. I mean LOTS.

I tried one particular kind of Buudhist style (again, there are lots, even within Buddhism), which was "noting" things and being aware of sensations, a kind of no-self meditation. It was cool for a bit but the longer I did it the less I liked it, and kept hearing terrible horror stories that some people had with it, which didn't add up to me.

I ended up settling on a style called discursive meditation, which could be described as mind-filling rather than mind-emptying. You can read about it elsewhere, but it's basically the kind that would have been practiced by philosophers and theologians in the West before such things fell out of fashion. You pick a topic, which is usually something very simple, deceptively simple, like a phrase, even a word, or just a symbol. Then you allow your mind to run with it. Explore a thread until It ends or you wander too much, then return to the center, and restart, letting it run another direction. This sounds a lot like "thinking." I assure you it is very different. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten way deeper into something I thought was obvious--much more so than even concentrated thinking. A lot of times it just takes over and seems more like a dream than a brainstorming session. Some topics end up being dead ends, but others occupy me for session after session.

It also has the exact same, if not better (to my personal taste), relaxing/centering effects as the other style of meditation I tried. Without a doubt, there is some kind of dialoguing with the unconscious. Things happen as in a dream, they seem weird or random at first, but as you take them apart further your ealize some critical insight that you had a hard time arriving at directly through conscious thought.

Why do I do it? Makes me feel amazing when I practice regularly. Makes me think more clearly even when I'm not meditating. Helps me understand things better, especially myself, which makes me a better person. A number of people who've known me a while, but don't know I do that stuff, have commented on how (insert comparative compliment here) I've gotten lately.

Do I recommend it? No. Not if you are doing just fine without meditation, or already have a style you like. But it is one way to go about things that is a nice contrast to most of the other styles out there. You can make it completely secular, as a philosopher might (and many have), or even pair it with a religion (as many early Christian theologians did). That allows those of us who didn't love the Buddhist element to shed that aspect and still get something out of it.

Dave
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Dave »

One of the main reasons people practice vipassana (insight) meditation is to achieve various stages of awakening, enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it.

Fair disclosure, I have not achieved the following, I am simply relaying what I read about and discussed with others.

One way to frame what you are doing with vipassana meditation is to consider the mechanics of what you are practicing, from a phenomenological perspective. In vipassana meditation, you "note", or observe with a label, the sensations (thoughts, physical feelings, emotions, anything) that make up your conscious experience. For example: "seeing, feeling touch, warmth, jealous, sound, sore, bored, desiring, abstracting, planning, seeing" and so on. As you do this, you tear down your experience so that instead of the smooth video-like quality you normally have, you are seeing discrete pieces of experience. At some point you reach a speed of perception where you can see gaps in experience. At some further point, you achieve "shifts" in consciousness whereby the mechanics of your perception themselves shift. Up until that moment, there was a duality experienced where there is you and there is everything else.

After that moment, the duality has disappeared. You are aware your body is a discrete object, but you no longer have any special identification as "you". In fact, you see "you" as merely a collection of experiences naturally occurring on their own. You watch thoughts and feelings and sensations arise and pass in you mind, and you see all of this happening on its own. It's all an inevitable flow. And as you see this, stress, fear, jealousy, excitement, yearning, and other emotions lose power, as they arise and pass on their own, and as they are no longer relevant as "you" are not a separate entity, but merely one set of phenomena occurring in the universe.

This is what nondual experience is. This is why you hear people say they are "one with everything" or "we are all connected" and such because they no longer experience phenomena through a dual experience (this is happening to me), but simply that things are happening on their own, and there is no reason to get worked up about any of it.

As with many things, there are many stages of awakening as discussed in the above model, not simply one. And many experienced meditators discuss how there are many different axes of development, not simply one. But it is interesting that a lot of various mystical traditions have overlap in describing nondual experiences.

And to be clear, a lot of people philosophically understand what I said above regarding nonduality. What I am referring to above is a permanent shift in your consciousness that is experienced, not intellectually understood. Those who make claims to such awakenings do not claim to be in this blissful state of joy all the time, but they do claim to be much more mentally resilient to the stresses of life, as they are not so caught up in the narrative of "their" life. They generally claim it substantially improves the quality of their life.

Anyways, that is my understanding of one narrow sect of meditation practice. I'm sure I'm not describing it perfectly, but I thought it worth sharing in the context of why some people meditate. For more information, see the book mentioned above (Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha).

Riggerjack
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Riggerjack »

This is what I experience as mind chatter: I'm working on something, debugging some code or analyzing server logs, and suddenly I start thinking about another project I need to work on or what I'm going to eat for dinner. Thinking about dinner or something other than what I'm working on is mind chatter. It's a distraction which makes the task at hand take longer or its completion less than polished.
Wait. So, your chatter is going along, narrating your programming, or whatever you are doing, and then you let your thoughts wander, and this happens against your will? There aren't enough confused emoticons to even begin to cover that! How many people are in your head!?!

If you are interested in what you are doing, why not just go back to it? If not, where's the problem with letting your mind wander?

I know I'm confused, because what you describe as meditation, translates to me as concentration. But that can't it, or you would just concentrate.

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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by finity »

Wait. So, your chatter is going along, narrating your programming, or whatever you are doing, and then you let your thoughts wander, and this happens against your will? There aren't enough confused emoticons to even begin to cover that! How many people are in your head!?!
Try to sit down and focus on your breath for 5 minutes. You will notice, that your brain sprinkles up thought after thought without you having any control. Experienced meditators will notice their thoughts quickly; someone who has never meditated may sit for minutes before noticing all the thoughts distracting him from what he wanted to accomplish.
If you are interested in what you are doing, why not just go back to it? If not, where's the problem with letting your mind wander?
That's exactly the thing meditation tries you to improve upon; the act of noticing that your mind wanders. Only after noticing the wandering you can go back to what you are interested in.
I know I'm confused, because what you describe as meditation, translates to me as concentration. But that can't it, or you would just concentrate.
Meditation is more like doing curls for your brain. Focus on breath. Thoughts will wander (!). Notice (don't judge). Repeat. Over time your brain will develop introspective insight abilities and you will become better in distinguishing between your intentions and all the stuff your brain comes up with. The very act of thoughts forming is not under your control!
Last edited by finity on Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

finity
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by finity »

DSKla wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:16 pm
I ended up settling on a style called discursive meditation, which could be described as mind-filling rather than mind-emptying.
Mind-emptying is not a goal of (most forms of) meditation. This is a very common misconception.

daylen
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by daylen »

I like to meditate at certain critical moments or high stress situations. Meditating immediately after an injury is a good example as it teaches you to detach from your pain. I don't follow any traditions, instead I occasionally find myself in altered states of consciousness and strive towards control of mind using some newly conceived technique. A common theme includes limiting my perspective, projecting it onto some in-human form, then simulating this reduced perspective in some environment. By limiting perspective I mean filtering of sensory information or thoughts/feelings.

Metacognition is a lot of fun. I have experimented with a variety of metamemory techniques to find efficient ways to store information. One such technique is to store information onto or around a symbol that can then become an object through shaping. There is no need for me to remember structural information as I can just see it, but when I am reading about a topic I can visualize an object somewhere in my field of view and add things to it as I go along. Conceptual connection is what leads to new ideas.

What I meant by reprogramming in the other thread has to due with altering the way my mind responds to certain triggers. One example is color; I have trained my mind to quickly enter into different modes of thought just by seeing/thinking of a color. Essentially it allows me quickly return to a particular set of thoughts and stay there. I have also created a virtual reality that augments my perception when I imagine it. Here I can store conceptual ideas through beings that I can conversate with.

All I have to do is create several ways to access the information, then I won't forget it. It is more interesting to live in your mind when you know things as opposed to when your tools know things for you.

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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Farm_or »

My goal: objective reality
My obstacles: "the filter"; pre-concieved idea

My relation: trouble shooting. Problem solving. I was trained in classical methodology. But unique and difficult problems can stump classical thinkers. People get lost by following old roads. If you start before there's any fork in the road, you can find the right path directly.

FYI: I think the word of dwelling is often misunderstood as "ohmmmm." It is actually "aum". The A is the beginning, think of the "ow!" of emerging wet and cold into a cruel world. The U is the middle like the cruise control before your mid-life crisis. The M is the ending.

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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by jennypenny »

For me, it's not like 'mind emptying' ... more like erasing my mental blackboard. I look at what's there and then let it go. I've also discovered the voices in my head are mostly just crying out for attention, so if I acknowledge them during meditation with a pat on the head as it were, they go away for a while.

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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by frihet »

Why do I meditate?

Because it is one of the few things I've found that holds any promise of liberation from the suffering of this world. It also brings a meaning to my life. Being on the search for an unknown mystical goal, be it in part hearsay of sages past thus far, brings a direction and a purpose.

None of the other things I've tried, nor worldly pleasures (sex, food, drugs, ) Or worldly wisdom, not even ERE , although it might be a perfect means to a meditators end, have held up to bring this meaning.

For me what I long for is best felt through quotes or sacred poetry like.

“Love says 'I am everything.' Wisdom says 'I am nothing.' Between the two, my life flows.”
Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That

Or the longing of Rumi

What in your life is calling you,
When all the noise is silenced,
The meetings adjourned...
The lists laid aside,
And the wild Iris blooms
By itself
In the dark forest...
What still pulls on your soul?

Do I believe others should meditate?

No I don't , the way I see it this is something you are pulled to or not. But when you have been bitten by the bug after going through the "Arising and Passing away" event described in the Blog post above and Ingrams book. There is no turning back. You might be able to shut the door for a while, but life's unsatisfactoriness will eventually bring you back.

Do I want to change my thoughts?

I have some patterns, more moods than thoughts, that I would be happy to leave behind. For example the mildly depressing "feeling sorry for myself, being a failure mood" that comes sometimes. But I don't believe that it is accomplished by replacing that state with other thoughts. For me what seems to help is to hold myself and my mood in acceptance and forgiveness. But it takes time and surely is not a quick fix. Maybe the mood will never stop coming but only my relationship towards it will change?
Last edited by frihet on Thu Jan 11, 2018 8:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

ThisDinosaur
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by ThisDinosaur »

Riggerjack wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:10 am
I know I'm confused, because what you describe as meditation, translates to me as concentration. But that can't it, or you would just concentrate.
Concentrating doesn't come easy to some of us. That's why we need meditation. Truth be told, I don't have the patience to do mindful breathing for more than a few minutes at a time. But it does seem to help. If I acknowledge and dismiss thoughts while meditating, I find I can do the same thing more often during the day.

Like, I can turn the distracting "mind chatter" into disembodied thoughts that drift away and don't distract me.

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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by jacob »

finity wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:21 am
Try to sit down and focus on your breath for 5 minutes. You will notice, that your brain sprinkles up thought after thought without you having any control.
Well, mine doesn't. This is not a universal experience. Unfortunately we can't peer into other people's brains and see what's going on. We only have their word for it that we interpret according to our own experience.

Disclaimer: It's possible that I may or may not have incorporated meditation practices in a semi-irregular fashion. For example, my mind did indeed use to wander and carry on internal conversations when I was walk-commuting. After spending some time stopping the voice or the sprinkler [while walking] ... it's quite easy to keep it off for much longer than 5 minutes.

Campitor
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Re: Meditation and Metacognition

Post by Campitor »

Riggerjack wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:10 am
I know I'm confused, because what you describe as meditation, translates to me as concentration. But that can't [be] it, or you would just concentrate.
Meditation is concentration but it's goal is to make concentrating more focused in order to enter into a flow state. Our mind is constantly wandering. It will try to pull us in different directions and distract us with random thoughts; a hindrance while working on tasks that require precision and sensitivity to nuance. Meditation will not eliminate the random thoughts but it will train you to acknowledge them and dismiss them. The more you meditate, the quicker the acknowledgement and dismissal becomes.

Imagine a ski slalom. The task is to get to the bottom of the hill quickly and efficiently. The random thoughts in your head are the obstacles on the ski slope. A beginner will need to use a lot of physical and mental energy to negotiate the slalom successfully on his first attempt. But after his 250th attempt down the same slope, his body will have developed the required strength, and the mental acuity, to negotiate the slope with ease. The obstacles are still there but the skier has diminished their influence via practice. This is meditation. Comprende mi amigo? ;)

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