Meditation is not for me; this is what I do instead

Of late, the practice of meditation has acquired more significance with the discovery of mindfulness.

We are offered a range of guidelines in pursuit of this illusion: Christian meditation, Catholic counting of the beads, Quaker meetings, Zen sitting meditation, Yoga meditation, Dervish dancing meditation, Tai-Chi slow-moving meditation, Mantra meditation, Transcendental meditation… and mindfulness.

Man meditating on mountain
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Both mindfulness and meditation try the impossible: to still the natural workings of the brain through different “techniques”, such as focusing on an object, an idea, while waving aside, as much as possible, idle thoughts, and the stream of consciousness.

With closed, or half-closed, eyes, sitting cross-legged in a “quiet” place, the time spent “meditating” is employed in trying to get rid of the alien thoughts, ideas, feelings, remembrances and any other bizarre images that creep up all along. 

To me, trying to still the natural workings of the brain is like trying to stop the working of the heart, or the movement of the planets.

I understand that we all would like to be able to unplug the brain and have a respite, a breather, from all those nagging thoughts our brain has about everything, and all the time: one thought after the other, in a never-ending sequence. We might exclaim: “Brain, have a heart, let me breathe!” 

In their quest, meditators have devised all kinds of “techniques” to harness the brain and make it a slave of itself.

Zen stones
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We wish to center down, to control all, and so we clutch at a straw… the straw of meditation. We close the door to our private ashram, sit, shut our eyes, hold hands with ourselves, breathe in and out (there’s no other way of doing it) and MEDITATE or practice MINDFULNESS.

We focus on our breathing, but one thought leads to another, which unfolds to another, and then we stop and go back to breathing, but another thought creeps up, which flows to another… and after a while our legs hurt and the phone rings. Peace and quiet go out the window… and meditation stops.

I surrendered a long time ago. Meditation is not for me. I hear it does wonders for those who practice it successfully, and I bow to them in deep respect and admiration. However, I still need to quiet my brain, to subdue it, to control it, to harness it. I found the answer through Antonio Damasio´s book Looking for Spinoza, Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. The feeling brain was the key concept. Feelings, emotions, keep the brain going. 

Emotions wax and wane, as we all know. So, I practice my own discovery in order to quiet the mind: mixing mindfulness and music. The history of music is, after all, the history of human emotions.

Middle aged man listening to music
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My humble discovery, which works wonders for me, is that if you wish to control your thoughts you should listen to classical music; plunge into that sea of emotions, delve into it, lose your mind in it giving your attention to whatever piece of music you are listening to.

The capacity of man to complicate his life is limitless, infinite even, but his capacity for getting into a whirlpool of emotion is also boundless. Let us say that we are feeling listless, sad and pensive and we wish to meditate, so we turn to Eric Satie (1866-1925), composer and pianist, and lose ourselves in Paris, on a rainy day, by clicking here and concentrate, “meditate” on what the musician has to tell us, the feelings and emotions he conveys. Concentrate on the music. Forget everything.

When we wish to feel spirited, to uplift our emotions and look at fate in the face, we might turn to Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) and his Heroic Polonaise and let the flow of emotions raise our thoughts to unexpected heights.

At times, we are dreamy, romantic, and longing for something that was and is no more… a time to go to Franz Liszt (1811-1868) and his Hungarian Rhapsody, at the piano, and you will connect to the emotions emanating from the sounds, the sounds of music, that will harness any other thoughts your brain might be wont to offer you. And you will emerge a victor over your chatty brain.

Concept of music
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When we long for our Hispanic roots and need to bridle the emotions of tradition and culture, the culture of our forebears, we might go to Francesc Tàrrega (1852-1909) and meditate on who we really are, deep down, with his Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

I often feel ill at ease in Europe, do not ask me why, and I long for times that are no more, for the America of my youth, for the culture that bewitched me forever, and gave me my educational and spiritual foundations, and then I turn to George Gershwin (1898-1937) and his Rhapsody in Blue, and I meditate in tranquility.

Music is the artful arrangement of sound and emotions. Let us put them to work for us in meditation. I am certain you will be surprised as you concentrate and discover so much music to meditate with, and the power it has to tame and soothe your brain.

Music is my meditation. 

Man meditating PIN
Delfín Carbonell Basset

Delfín Carbonell is a graduate of Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Ph.D. in Philology from Madrid and has authored 35 books in both English and Spanish, published by McGraw-Hill, Barron’s, Larousse, Anaya and Serbal. He has taught at Pitt, F&M, Scranton and Murray St. University.

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