There was a good comment on Reddit recently that offered the least confusing explanation of (insight?) meditation I’ve ever heard. It sort of made a few things click for me. I’m quoting it in part, but you might also want to read the whole thing:
Meditation is basically a training method for your mind. When certain things happen to you, your mind generates a certain response whether it be happiness, frustration, anger ect. The way your mind has been inculcated is the path of least resistance and the path it wants to take, and will take unless you know how to mitigate it. Meditation teaches you how and makes it easier to override the process. Who is doing the overriding of this process? Well, that’s the million dollar question. But I digress.
So here’s what I’m getting at: if meditation is too easy, you’re doing something wrong. You might be getting yourself really relaxed, but is it possible that’s all you’re doing? Not saying it is. I don’t know, just throwing some ideas out there and it’s up to you to see if any seem to fit your situation.
But as you meditate, your mind wants to grab onto the thoughts and not your breath. The course of least resistance is away from your breath and back into whatever thoughts are vying for your attention. Every time you go back to the breath, you train or teach yourself even, to take the opposite of the path of least resistance. This is coupled with the fact that half the time when you meditate, your mind says, “I’m tired. Stop concentrating on the breath and just kick back and let a guided meditation do most of the work.” But every time this comes up you learn to drop it by returning to the breath and not listening to the thought no matter how loud and powerful it can get.
When you first start meditating you have this thought and then come back to the breath. But there’s still a trace of this thought floating around in your mind and eventually it pulls you in again. As soon as you realize your back in that thought again, you turn your awareness back to the breath and away from the thought. But then it pulls you in again. And then you drop it again. You do this over and over and over. But as you practice you get better and better and faster and faster at recognizing it. You start to figure out how to do it most efficiently and quickly, seeing and dropping thoughts before they even become thoughts at all.
After doing this hour after hour, you gain a skill. One day you realize that you don’t have to be sitting on a cushion to use this skill. I can’t really explain how it’s done, but it’s just something you learn from continually focusing, coming back to, and holding your attention on the breath. It’s like if you ever do a lot of push-ups, eventually you will realize, “I can flex my pecs.” You couldn’t flex them before, and you don’t really know how you learned to do it, but now you can just do it.
I wish I knew more about exactly what was going on. One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is subjective temporal granularity.
I first started wondering about this when I realized I could test my subjective temporal granularity through experiment. The partiuclar method was to tap my finger up and down very quickly at different rates, and notice at what rates it was possible to think something like “Yes, my finger is in the up position at this exact moment” versus those rates at which I only had an undifferentiated awareness of rhythmic tapping.
(give me some credit, I also did it with blinking eyes to ensure it had nothing to do with nerve lag, and I used more of a nonverbal “now” rather than that whole long quoted sentence which would probably take me forever to think.)
My consistent finding is that I seem to have subjective temporal granularity on the scale of about a quarter-second.
There’s a slightly different form of granularity in that if I try to tap my finger as quickly as possible I get about ten per second, and furthermore I can count these ten and feel pretty sure I got it right. I think what I’m doing here is counting ten intentions to move, rather than the movements, which I can’t actually perceive. But this seems more motor and less related to consciousness.
Experienced meditators claim that when they’re meditating the world occurs in “vibrations”, individual pulses of sensation that occur a couple of times a second. Some meditation practices involve “raising your vibrations” – a phrase which along with its counterpart “good vibes” has long since passed into a byword for New Age gobbledygook – but which originally just meant “increasing the speed at which sensory input seems to pulse.”
I myself have never been very good at detecting these vibrations. Every so often I think I have them, but then I start worrying that I’m actually noting my eye saccades, or the flow of blood through my head, and then I lose them anyway.
But it seems like vibrations might be related to subjective temporal granularity? And maybe meditation is a way of making your subjective temporal granularity finer, so that it can pick up the process of constructing thoughts instead of just the finished thought itself? And that this allows you to intervene in the construction of thoughts, rather than having them just be brute objects which shove their way into your head?