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natiF. | Functional Wellness
natiF. | Functional Wellness

Episode 1 · 1 year ago

Meditation Q&A with Consciousness Professor Dr. Nancy Salay

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Nancy Salay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Computing at Queen’s University, Canada. In this episode, we discuss some of the benefits of meditation, where people go wrong in their practice, tips for beginners and advice for staying consistent with your own practice.

Hey, so I'm here with Nancy. So she was my professor this past year in a class called consciousness, and part of the class was to start a meditation practice where we meditate every single day, and that's how my meditation practice, God, started. But I was interested a little bit of meditation before and that's kind of what got me to take this class and I still meditate even after the class, and I found it really helpful for me personally. So I just wanted to sit here with you and ask you a few questions about meditation, Meditation and some tips for someone that's interesting insert interested in starting to meditate. It sounds great. So much for being here. No problem, my pleasure, and I'm still pleased to hear that you're still meditating. I think that's wonderful. Yeah, especially it's difficult and I think that, especially in these hard times, there were many people, and fact I've heard from a number of students who, you know, meditated for a while but then found it overwhelming and had to stop. And Anyway, so it's great that you sticking with it. No, I definitely found it really helpful, especially during all this covid craziness. So that's really why I wanted to do this interview because I just think that so many other people would benefit if they started, but a lot of people don't know how to start. So my first question to you would be kind of to learn a little bit more about you. How long ago did you start your meditation practice and what was it I really caught you into meditation? Well, so for me it's been and I think for many people it's a lifelong going in and out kind of thing. So I think I'd probably started when I was in my teens. I was introduced to the concept of it and some of the readings, Buddhist readings on meditation, by my brother, my older brother, who was also...

...interested and exploring, and I certainly explored it in those days and since then, you know, I mean there would be periods of in my life in which I was more serious about it and tried, tried, but I would say that really about eight years ago is when I started to have a real meditation practice, and maybe about two years ago that that practice developed into something really deep and something that I'm just committed to. So I don't go in and out of it anymore and I'm confident that I won't. It's reached a new level. Yeah, that's awesome. So I kind of going off her talking about getting into like a real practice, really a deeper practice. So what really is meditating like? What does it mean to meditate? Well, you know, that's actually a tough question, partly because there are so many different traditions that use meditation and so different traditions will speak about it differently. Okay, so just keep that in mind. In the tradition that I'm into, I use Buddhist tradition and sort of just the psychology tradition of it, which isn't theistic in any way, the meditation is seen nearly as a tool. That's all it is. It's a practice. It's like training ground to develop certain key mental skills that are really critical to helping you deal with life. Okay. So the three skills that in Buddhism they they sort of focus...

...on and they develop very specific meditation practices to hone, okay, are we might categorize them as insight, where you develop a capacity to really notice what is going on at any given mind moment. And what we mean by insight is insight into not just sort of really detailed levels of mind, but also into life situations like what's going on here and now, a kind of clarity. Then there is so that's one. Then there is the practice of equanimity, which comes along with the meditation practice. It is a habit of mind to develop this sort of stance where we notice all of this stuff but we don't have to run along with it. And when you start developing the skill of noticing but not having to run along, that really helps you develop a kind of sense of equanimity in daily life where all sorts of things are happening and then you can just sort of notice them and not be pushed around by them. And the third one is focus, and this is something particularly in today's Day and age, when we have so much technology and so many distractions that I think people have really lost a capacity to just focus. And Focus is actually critical for a lot of different tasks, not just this isn't just for developing equanimity and insight, but you know, writing a paper or thinking deeply about a subject or whatever. You need to be able to focus. so meditation is a tool for develop thing the mind skill to focus, to have a kind of one pointed. I hate to use the word concentration, but we can use that word, even though it's a little bit more holistic,...

...but an ability to just not get distractive. So I guess the answer is meditation is a tool for developing really valuable skills. That's basically what I would say. Yeah, that's great. Like, on the note of Focus, I noticed personally when I really got into meditating, when I would run at the gym, I would usually get kind of bored and distracted and I want to stop, but I found that it was actually easier for me to run longer because I could just focus on running and they didn't care like think about other things. You develop this sense of this is what I'm doing, yeah, and do it, just do it, you know. So a lot of other things, yeah, come along with it. It's true. I feel like it really ties in with the discipline aspect to it gives you more discipline. It really does. You learned that it's by exerting discipline you develop discipline, basically. So I noticed that in the benefits you didn't mention relaxation. So I know, and I I talked to you my perios about meditation. Their first thing that they usually says, oh, yeah, like I want to relax more. So why do you think that this kind of purpose of relaxation is a misconception? Well, okay, so I think that's actually a really interesting question and a deep one, because you do develop a capacity for deep relaxation once you've developed this skill of meditation, but it's not a kind of consequence of the meditation. What it is is it's the thing you have to bring to it. So people have this misconception that, Oh,...

...if I meditate, I'll relax. Actually, you have to relax in order to meditate. You cannot meditate when you're not relaxed. That's something you discover very quickly, and so people get really frustrated by the whole process. Beginners get really frustrated because they sit down and actually the experience of sitting down and paying attention, possibly for the first time in their lives, to the crazy stuff that's going on in their own minds and bodies. They find it to be the very opposite of a relaxing experience, like it's a frustrating, bad experience. Right, it's not pleasant, it's not pleasant, and one of the things you have to learn is I need to relax. I need to relax, you know, and you have to find it. It's a struggle. You have to practice, practice, practice, and want you know, you will eventually learn how to relax your whole body in mind so that you can sit and not keep, you know, running after every thought that comes into your head. So so relaxation ends up happening, but it's because you've developed the skill of relaxation, which is maybe I should have added that as a skill, but it doesn't. It's not like a consequence. Yeah, yeah, I definitely agree with that. I know my first few times meditating it was very unrelaxing. And even for advanced practitioners, you know, there can be a day. Every day is different, right. Yeah, so you know, you might have been meditating for ten years and one day stuff is going on and one day you wake up and it's really hard. You know, I mean, it happens. Yeah, I find it kind of like working out when you get off it, yeah, you heard,...

...at the beginning, and then when you keep up with it, it kind of but even even if you even if you are just keeping up, they are good days and bad days, oh for sure. Yeah, HMM. So could you walk me through kind of how I guess meditation would work in the sense of like how should I be sitting? What should I be thinking about? Do our kind of just let myself think my random thoughts should be thinking. It was something specific. How should my breathing me? Yeah, well, okay. So there's a lot of an instruction that one could give here, as you know, and I encourage people to go out and look and read and so on and go on Internet sites and whatnot. And there are also many different ways to structure and meditation practice. Okay, and people should try all sorts. But to get started, I mean really it's very simple. You don't need anything fancy. You need to sit in a comfortable position that you know that you can maintain for a fairly long period of time, like ideally, as you know, I recommended to people in the class that they at least try for forty five minutes to an hour, because things really transform after thirty minutes. So anyway, however long you decide to commit, you want to be able to sit in that position without fidgeting for that amount of time. So pick a comfortable position, ideally a straight spine, because when you're hunched over it really does affect your breathing and all sortain. You know, just your posture and so on. So you want a straight spine, you want to soften your days. Some people meditate with their eyes closed. In the Buddhist tradition that I'm not all Buddhist traditions, but many of them, they recommend your eyes open because, after all, your it's a skill that you're trying to develop and it's the skill of being mindful in...

...your life and you don't usually walk around in your day with your eyes closed. So you should really keep your eyes open. But you know you can soften your days. So you're staring down somewhere and really the idea is to just become aware of your breath. You don't concentrate on your breath, you don't get really up tight so that you've been you've gone off on as sort of thought train. You just sort of note thinking. You can use a label if you want, and then you gently bring your mind back to your breath, and that's really what a mean. So so there are a lot of other details and a lot of things you could focus on, but just to get started, that's a fabulous way to get started. So how do you differentiate between being aware and constant treating and controlling that's really hard. Okay, so one way you have to keep checking in. Basically, one way to check in is to go think, oh, am I clenching and I am I like sitting like this, and then just try to sort of go okay, relax, check in with your mental state, like are you really what are the words that you're using in your mind to talk to yourself every time you go off on a thought train? Is it angry? Is it frustrated? You know, is it like that kind of like, Oh what, can I just stay here right? Well, if that's your mental environment, you are very unrelaxed right and there's no way you're going to be able to become aware of your breath in this unconcentrated sort of way while that's going...

...on. So you just have to kind of go, okay, I just need to relax and then, you know, I like to focus on the breath, the chest expanding and the breath coming out at my nostril. I just find those things are kind of grounding and that when I become aware of them, there's a sort of slipping into your body, not my looking at but just like slipping into your body and just being with the breath you know it's really hard to tell people how to do right. Yeah, we're just have to experiment. Yeah, I wanted to talk a bit more about self talk. I know you mentioned in cost that how we talked to herself during meditation really matters, and I guess I wanted to touch a little bit on the importance of positive self talk through the process. Very important. That's all part of the relaxation. So if you are I mean if you think about this, okay, I really love there. This is an image that's often used in the Buddhist literature. Think of your mind like a baby, or an unruly baby, or a puppy that you are trying to train. It is constantly running off and wanting to do its own thing. Okay, but usually, I mean that's a good image because usually most people look kindly on a puppy or a kitten or, right, or a baby, and you don't get angry when that puppy is run off to play with the ball, because that's just what puppies do, right. It's like natural. You're not going to get mad and in fact, if you started barking orders, and...

...some people do this, you know, you might create a kind of compliance through fear, but you will never get the sort of training that you would by using love carrots, basically treats, you know, the positive stuff. Well, we are the same, like it's no different. And what we're doing in meditation is literally training ourselves to stay focused right, stay here, stay aware. You cannot do that with negativity and anger and force and whatever. It just won't work. It'll backfire. So try to have a sense of humor, just try and be let yourself fail a bazillion times and be okay with that, and then that then things transform, you know, because that's how you teach yourself how to relax to I feel like also just dedicating a time to talking positively to yourself. It like if that's in meditation, just like you build that Scipe for other areas of your life and through your different yeah, it's amazing how little we do that. It's really important. Yeah, I'm tight. We're so uptight, but our society has made us so coiled, and so I really think meditation is valuable to let people see how coiled they are and go whoa, wow, I'm walking around like this all the time, you know. Yeah, for sure. Um. So, in terms of beginners, just starting out. What do you think are the most common, I guess, mistakes that beginners make? Um? Well,...

...actually, I think the most common mistake is this, the one we've just talked about, which is the being too harsh and and expecting too much and being really frustrated with themselves. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say to me, Oh, I don't have the kind of mind for meditation, like I have a crazy mind, my mind won't do that kind of go no, actually, we're all like that. Everybody is like that, and it's okay, right. I think that's the part. It's there's a lot of I can't do or negativity or something like that, and really all it takes is just practice. It's kind of like, I guess I would say, try to view it like you were learning an instrument. I like to use that as an example. Okay, because I think most people have tried that at one time in their lives. It would be really ridiculous for you to expect that the minute you picked it up you'd be a virtuoso, right. That would be a stupid expectation. And then the fact that you were a virtuoso, would you beat yourself up about that? No, like that's ridiculous. So it's the same thing when people sit down to meditate, somehow they think, oh, I should just be able to do it. Well, it's no different than learning that instrument. It really will take time, it will take practice and it will take a lot of failure, you know. So I know from class you said that we should start with the forty five minutes to an hour and that's what you recommend for people just starting out, usually in this choice and cost. But could you kind of re explain why it's important to do it for that long, because I know a lot of people are like, Fu, I'll start out with five...

...minutes a day. Yeah, well, okay. So let me start by saying I think any minutes a day is better than no minutes a day. So it was just my recommendation because through my experience, this is just my experience I discovered because I went for a long, long, long time doing fifteen minute to thirty minute meditations regularly. HMM, and that's great, but you never get past a certain point when you do that because honestly, it takes you some days thirty minutes just to settle down. Okay, it takes time, and so it just takes time. You know, you go from La to sitting down and you need to sort of relax. You have to keep relaxing, keep relaxing, and this takes time. And after knowing that you're not going to get up until an hour has passed also gives you permission to really relax. It's not like, Oh okay, times almost up. You know. An hour is one of those time periods that kind of go, okay, that's pretty long. Half an hour, fifteen minutes is not long enough because you're always waiting, always it up yet is so now you're distracted by the time. Right. There's something about an hour the just okay, we can really get into it and just let ourselves be here and not worry about the world for a bit and just, you know, work on it. So I do think if people can, they should try at least sometimes to have an hour, you know, and if it means waking up early, like I have a busy life to we all have busy lives, right, and one of the things I started doing is I just woke up...

...earlier. You know, it's important to me, so I do that. But you know, it has to become important enough for people to sacrifice certain things. Yeah, I find that if you care enough, you'll always find the time, my time right, exactly, exactly for sure. So what are your top tips for someone that's looking to start their own practice, and also some tips grew steak consistent with your practice? Well, I guess I'd say, first of all, make friends with your practice. I think that's really important actually to view it. So make a real commitment to it, make it explicit. Say to yourself, I am actually going to do this and I'm going to sit down and figure out the times and so on and how I'm going to make time for it, and try to be positive about that. So it kind of make it something that's like special for you, that you are committed to, but that you want to do. So you shouldn't have like this chore, You know, and also important, important, do not have any expectations. Let them all go. So I know I've just we've talked about Oh, benefits and what are you going to get out of it? Let it all go. HMM. Because actually, really this sounds this is a cliche, but it's true. The Path is the goal. So there is no goal, it's it's the doing of it. That is the important part, and you just do it. It just becomes it has to become part of your life. Like I thought of an example of reading. For me, reading before bed. I love reading before bed because it's relaxing and I just I really look forward to that. I love it.

I expect nothing out of that and I am sad when I miss it, you know. So it should become something like that. I think we're also just in a time where we want results right away and we do things for a purpose. But I found that this was just such a good practice to have to just let go of the idea of doing something for a purpose just it's no purpose. Yeah, yeah, and and so problems are are it. It's boring. It actually is very boring. When you're doing it right, it's boring, and that's okay. That's what it is. So it's kind of like you got to be okay with that being bored, and that will translate into your life actually, but anyway, again, but you're not supposed to do it for that reason. So you know, yeah, for sure. I know. I just feel like everyone these days has a very hard time being bored. Well, because it's so easy to not be bored. Yeah, exactly, and it's so tempting. You're sitting there in a line going Oh, I can look at my phone or I can just stand here. Well, next time. So one of the let me say this about meditation. You have your sitting practice, which is what you do, you know, in a contained space and so on, but then it's important to take that and bring it into your life. So that time when you're standing in the line waiting for something, catch yourself, notice the impulse, notice your hand moving to get your phone, notice what just went through. And you thought, Oh, I'm just going to just notice all of that and then go, you know what, why don't I just stop and...

...notice all of that instead of doing it? I'm just going to notice it and stuff like that. That's meditation right there, and you can do that throughout your day. And so then you're just deepening your practice, you know, and then you're not. You know, you become a more conscious individual, right. You what you do, you do by choice. You don't just you're not just pushed around by these unconscious urges and so on. That's really what ends up happening. Yeah, you become more of an agent in your own yeah, yeah, yeah, so I've one last question. Okay, what are some resources that you recommend for someone that wants to learn more, and can you talk more about the cost that you host? Well, okay, I'm glad you asked that, because one of the things I would say to people who are thinking of practicing, which we haven't touched on, is I actually do not recommend anybody meditate without doing some reading. HMM. I actually think you could actually do bad things if you're not guided in some way. It's big stuff happens, right, you need some some stuff, to some information about what's going on, right, and I don't just mean brain stuff, I don't. I don't mean that. I mean you need to read the different the different states you might experience, the different points along your progress you might experience, the different feelings that might go out well up, and what you might do with that and what it might mean. I think there's so much and you shouldn't do it alone. Right. So,...

...there is so much good. First of all, online, I have a course as well. I have an online course and in that online course I do I give a little bit of philosophical stuff. I have like some audios. They're just they're not videos, but they're audios that people can take where I try to connect some of what they might be experiencing with philosophical ideas about mind and self and free will and all sorts of things like that. But there's obviously step by step, you know, instruction on beginners, intermediate and so on. Practice. There are really good resources out there. People who I love are Pema children. I love listening to Pemma Children's audiobooks. There's so much out there that you can get audio, so you could be going for a jog or wherever, going for a walk and listening to it. She has a fabulous podcast or audiobook called how to meditate for record. Yeah, I recommend that. I also recommend her I think it's called awakening compassion. I really recommend that. And her teacher is Chung Giam Rimpische and I think and there are a number of audiobooks that he's written, and I really recommend the myth of freedom, which is a fabulous introduction to Buddhism, the Buddhist ideas, meditation, just the whole Shebang. Okay, and finally I would recommend Jack Cornfield's book called a path with heart. It's a wonderful book and also gives you real good examples of what to expect along the way and...

...so on. So, yeah, do not do it without reading. It's definitely yeah, let me say this too, because we didn't talk about this. Maybe some people who are in the care of a practitioner for anxiety, depression or whatever. Okay, I think those people should certainly first ask their practitioner if this is something they should do it this moment in time, because it's not for everybody always like it. There can be some really as I mentioned, it's overwhelming, it can be and not everybody's always at that point in their lives, you know, where that's a good thing for them. So I would say that too. Yeah, perfect, that's a good point. I'll get those resources so I can link them down below, and then you also were kind of of to offer a discount code for your course, so I will also link that code down below. And I just want to say thank you so much for doing this as me and talking with me. I think this was really constructive and I was really excited to have this meeting just because I really love kind of what you have to say about meditation and there's so much out there in like COSMO articles and on random blogs and wellness accounts kind of about meditation, but I feel like it's not really giving the whole story in the whole purpose behind it. It's kind of like the like media version. So yeah, well, I'm so pleased and actually it's great seeing you again and I hope I get to see you in the fall.

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