Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Who Do You Give the House Keys of Your Soul To?

I am increasingly intrigued with my metaphor of concentration as like building a shelter. It's interesting what thoughts can occur to us in a microsecond and nonetheless leave us thinking for hours. The whole building analogy may be an unintentionally accurate way to display the way the mind works.
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While I've still got a long ways to go in practicing Immersive Concentration my hopes for it are going up. It shows more and more promise, and in thinking about its potential logic it makes more and more sense. Let's back up a bit and examine why.

Basically, there are two sections of your mind: Your conscious mind and your subconscious. Your conscious mind is your immediate awareness, the thoughts you're having right now and what you're current observing, and your subconscious consists of your internal programming. The subconscious gets programmed by the kind of thoughts you have, and that in response generate your emotions and habitual responses to certain things in immeasurable speed.

For example, let's say that someone gets spurned in romantic relationships by the opposite gender, and instead of recognizing that they've gotten hurt by a specific individual they overgeneralize their views to encapsulate the entire gender. “I hate [gender]!” they say over and over again in their head. As they get into more romantic frustrations, whether through their own fault or not, they repeat this estimate in their head continually.

Eventually these repeated thoughts become a habit, thus a part of the subconscious programming. This programming in return makes them feel emotions about certain things: They might experience intense hate and anger towards witnessing that particular gender out on the street, even tough they may not know the individuals, or they may react with disproportionate intensity to a certain situation involving that individual. They may even allow their emotions to drive them to become asexual, to run political campaigns against the other gender, to articulate views on how that gender is inherently, by nature, immoral, and so on. The more they allow themselves to do this irrational thinking the more their internal programming, their subconscious, is going to emotionally encourage them in this pattern and urge their behavior.

Now, of course it's not necessarily true that someone will program in irrational thoughts. They can, of course, go the objective route and recognize they're being hurt by specific individual, or to, in other areas, integrate very healthy premises that will emotionally encourage them to do good things, such as speak out effectively against injustice, be intellectually independent, and so forth, but the point here is to point out that emotions and other internal responses don't just come from nowhere; we program them with our thinking, and our subconscious reacts accordingly, and even installs a feedback loop which may cause us to continually reinforce the premise, strengthening it and encouraging us to hold it.

To summon up previous knowledge on concentration, I've asserted that one's ability to concentrate may very well be one's very core ability to exercise freewill. The stronger your concentration the stronger your ability to choose which thoughts to have and not have, and all the results that follow, such as being able to shut out uncomfortable distractions (such as repeating painful memories) or emphasize healthy thinking (such as acknowledging all the opportunity out there after getting fired). The stronger your concentration means the lesser likelihood, perhaps eventually elimination, of being prone to emotions or reflexes that “feel” out of your control, but have really just been programmed so well it feels like your not making a choice when it just feels effortless; you can't feel yourself making the choice. An excellent point in concentration to reach is what I call the “Still Water Mind,” in which there are utterly no intellectual reflexes, a complete silence of the mind, and a total, unfettered ability as to where to direct attention.

In our building metaphor, concentration is represented by the structure used to filter what comes in and out of our lot (the mind), and the strength of it is represented by the thoroughness and strength of the structure, whether it be a wooden picket fence or a steel multi-storied building. Most, if not all of us start out with a bare lot, especially with all the distractions encouraged today, and concentration is strengthened in stages, moving from wooden fence to chain fence, to house to brick building, and so forth.

Upon having a house or anything beyond that, you are then in the position where the exercise of discipline is entirely up to you. You choose which thoughts to let in and out, and who to evict and who to allow to stay as a permanent resident. The habits are those you give house keys to, so they may enter and roam the property however they please. You've got to use muscle at any negative distraction trying to force the gate or door, and exert effort to oust those in the house who have gotten in and are stubborn at leaving.

Ultimately, we are our habits. We are what we voluntarily program our subconscious to be. We are which thoughts we give the house keys to.

The way Immersive Concentration works, I predict, is that it alters on a broader scale what our habits are, since the practice requires focalizing attention on certain activities much, much longer than normal. By staying attentive upon few, yet very important things for three, six, ten hours straight in a row, we are, for a long period, heavily paying attention to the traffic going in and out the door. This very much stretched period of concentration vastly decreases the number of moments we have to let down our guard and leave the door open and unlocked, thus leaving us vulnerable to whims or daydreams.

Practicing Immersive Concentration day after day, we form new habits and suffocate others; house keys are given to those we want to be permanent guests, we have lots of strength to shift which particular thought we pay attention to at a time, and most unwelcome distractions give up for being denied and thrown out of the gate so often. Thus, you are a new person!

That is probably, if not certainly, how I managed to become so emotionally inclined to study during my most fierce autodidact days. The hours upon hours of directed attention led to heavily restricted thought traffic, and due to lack of attention things like daydreams and repeating memories perish, leaving me a man who wanted nothing more than to open his books in the morning til night.

There are some tricky areas to consider, however. Focalizing on a particular activity, such as writing or sports practice, without external or internal disruption for hours, may do a supreme good to one's general character, but it's not necessarily going to overhaul every essential habit. If you're focusing hardcore on becoming a scholar, for instance, you're still going to need to adapt some new practices and ways of thinking for dealing with people and marketing yourself, which eight hours of studying straight-through isn't going to do for you, but that practice will at least clean your plate so you're not so tied up in habits and less malleable.

Although I have a lot of areas I want to change in, such as being a better socializer, right now I want to use Immersive Concentration to shift my inclinations back towards intellectual matters, so that once again I will be drawn to study, reading, writing, creating content, pressing myself in developing new skills, and so forth, instead of falling into the trap of staying on social networking websites, taking a walk, and so forth. Again, the key is that I want my emotions to be drawing me towards the intellectually beneficial. As such, I'm going to spend a lot of time reading and writing, mixed in with things like meditation.

For the rest of you, consider these tips on Immersive Concentration:

1.) Choose activities that contribute to very important goals – intellectual, body fitness, cooking – and try to keep your attention on them for as long a stretch as possible to you, until you're tired, need a break, or have to do something else. I mean this absolutely literally.

2.) Protect against as many internal and external distractions as possible. Turn off the phone. Meditate before you hunker down. Seclude yourself from people who may interrupt. Etc.

3.) If your mind wanders, instantly redirect your attention. It'll take some practice for fidgeting to uproot itself, but struggling is a part of the process.

4.) For worthwhile thoughts, have something nearby to record them, such as paper or an audio recorder, so that your mind doesn't bug you to remember it the whole time. It'll also damper your creativity is you're aware that you're constantly discarding or forgetting worthwhile thoughts. (I myself am a religious user of an audio recorder.)

5.) Consider various techniques that work on your concentration in isolation, but remember that while individual practices such as meditation are potent, the true rewards of concentration, such as increased cognition, are reaped by making it a lifestyle choice, such as refusing to constantly check the phone or sporadically log onto Facebook.

As time passes, habits change, and so do you at your core. From here, I shall be addressing my own core in this fashion, and hope to present to you a self-master soon enough.

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