Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Meditation is boring

There, I said it. A friend and I were chatting earlier today about ways of revamping the brain. I wanted to suggest meditation -- as I have a thousand times in the past -- but I hesitated, and not only because I hate sounding like a preachy bastard all the time. It's also because I've been lousy at keeping up my practice myself, and I suppose it's not hard to understand why.

The thing is, meditation isn't supposed to be fun. I know that as well as anyone. But if I feel it's so boring that I don't do it, maybe it's time to be more practical and less idealistic. So here's an alternative I suggested to him. It's one I do myself when I'm not too lazy.

Pick up a challenging magazine that's only marginally interesting to you. I use The Economist. Spend five or ten minutes reading articles, being careful not to let your mind wander from the topic at hand, or even far from the details of the passages. Every paragraph or so, give yourself a very brief quiz ("What was this paragraph about? The PM of Japan. What's his name? Naoto Kan. Check."). Try to be as engaged as possible, allowing those details to seep into longer-term memory, even as you read on.

It's similar to attention meditation in that you're expected to carefully monitor your attention and detect when it's going off course. It's easier in that the subject is generally more engaging (than your breath, for example), and that you're able to wander further from the exact subject before you must accuse yourself of being off course (the sensation of the breath at your nostrils is a rather precise percept).

But even this simple exercise is not trivial to do well for most of us, and I believe that practicing it is a step in exactly the right direction if you're looking to strengthen the circuits in your brain that allow you to live your life in a directed and conscious manner (more on that soon).

So if you're not ready to give full-blown meditation a try, or are just feeling lazy, reach for a nearby magazine or book and give your brain a more manageable workout.

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