Another Guide to Meditation

by Justine Manley aka The Shy Shaman

You are sitting on the floor with your legs crossed. The sound of running water streams out of the laptop behind you. You eagerly await your spiritual connection. Completely ready to learn the secrets of the universe through quiet introspection…but your mind has other plans.

Your brain is a pot of squirming worms, each one screaming out a different interesting fact or inappropriate comment. When one finally stops another takes its place and you find yourself desperately trying to silence the worms when you should be focusing on gardening.

This happens to everyone at first. Like nearly everything in life, the only remedy is practice. The “monkey mind” will lessen with each attempt but you must be diligent and take the time to do it regularly. There are several other things you can try to make the process easier.

 

1. Incense

Using the same fragrance each time you meditate is helpful in conditioning your mind to associate the smell with a calm state of mind. Each time you successfully make a breakthrough you will smell that lavender, ylang ylang or what ever scent pleases your nose most. It will make it easier to reach the same state again if you begin with your incense lighting ritual.

2. Observing the silent breath

Begin by breathing silently. Simply allow your breathing to flow in and out as it wishes. I breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth but you do whatever feels the most natural to you. The only thing you need to focus on is making the breaths completely silent. 

Now pay close attention to each breath as it moves in and out and notice that you are watching and listening to something that cannot be seen and that has no sound. Keep doing this for as long as you like.

3. Allow your thoughts

Trying to force the thoughts out of focus is futile. You will reach a point when you can switch them off easily but even then, the occasional straggler still pops up. 

A very handy trick I learned was listening to the thoughts as though they’re just random noises, beep bop boop! Ghsjshs jajsjal djdmmoo. Don’t translate them, these thoughts don’t mean anything. Just allow them to pass by the same way you hear bird calls or a kettle boiling. The insight you are waiting for is nothing like these thoughts. It is a deep knowing that you will feel in your core. 

4. Use sound as a distraction

If you are still struggling with the mind frenzy, there is another trick you may find helpful. Making a rhythmic sound during meditation is a perfect way to redirect your focus. You can chant “AUM”, “AHH”, “Boogadidy woogadidy”, anything you like at a regular interval. 

The words are irrelevant just make them resonate in your chest. When you speak you project sound outward but when you make this sound, imagine the sound waves coming back into your centre instead of out into the world. 

Drumming is another great way to do this. Turn a cardboard box upside down, use a tin or just thump the carpet, whatever works. There is no right or wrong rhythm either and you can switch it up during. Drumming is a very powerful tool and concentrating on that sound and the energy behind it is very helpful for thought silencing.

5. Realise that there is no goal in meditation other than meditation

If you go into a meditative state with the intention of achieving anything you will fail. You are learning how to listen and that happens once the inner-voice falls silent. 

Enjoy the serene feeling you get from the practice. Enjoy the few moments peace from your talkative ego but know that answers will only come when you are ready and cannot be forced. Don’t let this deter your determination though because when they do come it is one of the best feelings in existence. 

You could always ask a specific question and see if you get an answer but asking is pointless because you already know what you what to know. You as the asker already know what your question is and you already know the answer.  Just be and if something comes out of it, great! If it doesn’t it’s still great because you are getting better at listening each time you try.

 

There are many other techniques to achieve inner knowing and stillness. Listen to the world outside of yourself without defining each sound with a name, trace an interesting texture with your fingertips while you follow breath, chant mantras, count beads, it doesn’t matter. The important things are consistency and enjoyment. May the path back to yourself be winding and blindingly beautiful.

 

theshyshaman.com

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How To Get Screwed By The System

Holy hell friends, have I got a how-to for you. Angry Ian is driving, so buckle up as tight as you possibly can. All strapped in? Good, ‘cause we’re about to get violent up in here.

But first, some soothing backstory. I’m a college student. I’m a college student who’s about to graduate. I’m a college student who’s about to graduate with a B.F.A. (Bachelor’s of Fine Arts) in Acting. This is the part where established adults ask, “So what do you want to do with that?” When I say that I want to go into film acting (or really, if I say anything at all) they follow with, “Oh, okay. So what’s your backup?” Then I tell them that backups are for chumps, punch them in the face, and ride into the sunset on my hover board, flipping the bird to all and sundry.

Or at least, that’s what happens in my head.

So to begin with, I’m looking at little to no support for my prospective career path from most adults in this world. Totally fine, I can handle that shit. I know that I’ll be making damn near no money when I get out of school, even if I do wrangle a money job or two.

But then, this college thing; it costs money, y’know? Like, an ungodly amount of money. So much money that I can’t even conceive of how some people pay for college upfront. I’ve got a hefty amount of scholarships because I put just enough work in in high school, but I’ve still got (four year total here) tens of thousands in loans both to the government (hey, Big Brother!) and to private assholes like Sallie Mae.

Let’s add that all up then: I’m planning on going into a very competitive, low-paying field (that I have a passion and training for, mind you) when I graduate, after which I’ll need to pay for housing and basic needs (food, mostly) by acquiring one (or two) money jobs, while at the same time paying off my megatons worth of student loans and trying to maintain some semblance of happiness and sanity in my life. Have I mentioned that jobs are hella-difficult to come by when all you’ve done for six years is work as a lifeguard at various pools?

I’ve gotta tell you, friends; it’s kind of a bleak outlook. Living at home is out of the question, my parents are public school teachers, and I’ve got no rich aunts or grandparents, so I’m about as on my own as it gets. Even with a paying job, I’m in the hole ‘til the loans are paid off (and stop accruing a daily interest of almost two dollars), which is unlikely to be anytime prior to my death. AND I actually plan on having a family at some point in my life; how the fuck am I gonna support that?

Guys, gals—people have told us all our lives that to do what you want, to get a good job, you HAVE to go to college. Although that’s painfully untrue, I’ve had a great four years here; I’ve been in shows, I went to New Zealand, and I met my significant other of almost two years (whom I love the most) here.

Now, money against experience, was it worth it?ecard I honestly can’t tell you, because I don’t know how I’m gonna fend out there. On darker nights like this one I find myself cursing the system that tells us we can do anything and then severs all lifelines the moment we reach for them. I find myself despairing that I’ll be homeless and broke in a couple years, unable to support myself, much less anyone else. The shackles of loans weigh heavily, friends, and I haven’t even started paying them off yet.

Older generations speak of us as being greedy; they call Millennials self-centered and the “Me” generation. But I find that, if one simply asks us what we want, the responses are remarkably simple. “I want my own apartment.” “I want to pay off my loans.” “I want a job that I can enjoy.”

On nights like this I can get lost in the fears and the woes and the worries that plague our generation more than any other in our nation’s history. Collective student debt is in the trillions, and unemployment rates and depression among young adults are higher than they’ve ever been.

But there’s something that I tend to overlook on nights like this. I forget that it’s not just me, that we’re all having these struggles to stay afloat. We know who we are. And we have to know that we’re together. So when you find yourself getting angry about all the injustices that we face when we’re literally just trying to survive in corporate capitalist America, call up a friend or two, or twelve. Get angry together.

We’ve all seen the power of people tired of being screwed over who rally to a cause. The system is big and the system is scary, but we can be scary too. And here’s the thing: we’re the ones in the right.

Don’t let the nights like this eat you up, because then they win.

Start something. Who knows what you’ll do.

How (Not) to Study Abroad

by Ian Agnew

happy rainbow

Warning #1: Slightly less humor, slightly more advice. Buckle up, friends.

Warning #2: A lot of what I say here runs counter to many firmly-held opinions and beliefs, and maybe even those in other articles here. This is just my take on things.

I mean, obviously.

Now, I don’t know about you folks, but if I had a dollar for every article, handout, pamphlet, guidebook, bathroom stall poster, and travel/”young people” blog that I’ve come across espousing the magical wonders of studying abroad in a different country, I’d have enough money to purchase my own fleet of yachts (of course, I would only buy the first one; the rest I’d commandeer). Your college, your parents, your friends—everyone tells you what a good idea it is and how much fun you’ll have. After all, college is the best time of your life, right? What better way to spend that time than having all sorts of adventures and life-altering experiences in another culture far away from everything and everyone you know and love?

Look, I’m not going to lie to you; it’s a pretty damn good time.

BUT, there are right and wrong reasons to do it, like with most things. If you want to learn about a new country or culture and be exposed to it (and all that entails) for a semester or two, go for it. If you want to take some time away from your life back home to figure some things out about you, awesome. But if you’re primarily looking to go crazy on the sauce and bang every attractive foreign person you come across, I might suggest you go back to freshman year and rethink your choices a bit.

Still with me? Here, have a bit of a break: “A priest opens up a gym for Christians; he calls it ‘Jehovah’s Fitness.’” Nicely re-humored? Excellent; carry on.

If you’re thinking about studying abroad, you’re going to have a lot of people telling you a lot of things. My advice (since you’re clearly here to hear it) would be this:

DO NOT SIMPLY TAKE OTHERS’ ADVICE.

I realize that seems a tad (completely) contradictory, but hear me out; too often I see people telling others to, when they go abroad, “Do everything, go everywhere, never say no, go crazy at bars, do things you would never do, live dangerously, never be content with sitting around doing nothing, you must always be doing things.” Honestly, for some people that works (clearly; I’ve seen them at it), but it is by no means the ONLY way to live while abroad.

I don’t think you should actively go out of our way to “do something crazy;” if you feel like doing something crazy, then by all means, you should. But there is nothing wrong with spending a weekend in your flat, writing a story or just laying on your bed with absolutely no outside stimulation at all and just letting your mind wander and have thoughts on its own. I believe that studying abroad should not be treated as a second take on people’s freshman year at college (unless you were a completely rational human being at that point; if you were, I applaud your parents); it should be you, living your life, but in a new place and context where you get to do different and fun things. Seriously, how much fun are you having if you’re doing things just because you feel you should, as opposed to things you want to do, regardless of where you are?

I had the opportunity to go bungee jumping in Queenstown (not really; I had nowhere near enough money) but I didn’t, because I really did not want to and it is something that is way too far out of my comfort zone (also the money thing). We should be comfortable from time to time, even when studying abroad. Content and happy is a perfectly valid way to live, and don’t you let anyone try to tell you you’re wrong for living that way. If they do, I’ll Cage them so hard, they won’t pee for a year (feel free to ask me if you want to know what Caging is).

Lastly, you should not expect studying abroad to change your life/worldview forever. Sure, some people come back changed for the better (or weirder), but having some massive revelation about life or your “grand purpose” is nowhere near the norm. I think that’s a very American thing to believe; we (especially college students) believe the world outside to be so much more informed and culturally superior to our closed-minded America when, in reality, most of the world’s people behave pretty much the same way, barring language and some more efficient governmental practices. There’s no need to feel bad if, upon return home, someone asks, “Did studying in [COUNTRY NAME], y’know, change you?” and you can’t honestly answer “Yes.” You look them in the eyes (eye, if they’re that kind of pirate) and say, “No, bugger off.”

Everyone studies abroad in his or her own way; advice can hurt as much as it can help. At the end of the day, it’s got to come down to who you are as a person and what you want and need to get out of your experience. Don’t let anyone else shape how you spend your time abroad for you, not even me.

But if you do let me, be sure to cite your sources.

How to Climb a Mountain

by Ian Agnew

1. Rethink your decision to climb a mountain.

2. After rethinking your decision to climb a mountain, decide to do it anyway, despite the fact that the most exercise you get on a regular basis is carrying groceries up the massive hills of wherever you live (which may or may not be Wellington, New Zealand). If you actually are fit enough to climb a mountain, do not climb a mountain; you could probably impress people just as easily by showing off your muscles or something.

3. Assure yourself that you’re more than capable of climbing a mountain; after all, you once completed a half marathon without training for it at all (note: it is key that you disregard the fact that you wanted to die at the end of said half marathon and were in pain for days afterward; also, your 15-year-old brother finished before you).

4. DO NOT PACK UNTIL THE DAY YOU LEAVE FOR SAID MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING. This step is essential, as packing any time before this date could render you too prepared, and will detract from the necessary experiences of dehydration, sunburn, delirium, etc. If a friend asks you to bring something for them, simply laugh, put on sunglasses, and pee on them (effective for/on both genders).

5. Arrive at the mountain early in the morning wearing too many layers of clothes, because your friends told you to. Do not worry about overheating; within the first hour of the climb, you’ll step off the trail a bit, strip down to your underwear, and only put back on the lightest pair of pants/shorts you have with you. It is important that you believe there will be no need to keep warm later on in the day.

6. Now you must actually climb the mountain. Keys to this step are: stopping every 5 to 10 minutes because one of your friends is somehow more out of shape than you are, not wearing enough sunscreen (even spf 50 didn’t cut it), and regretting your decision to climb said mountain immensely.

7. If you make it to the top, congratulations! It’s freezing cold, despite it having been sweltering 20 minutes ago; by no means should you attempt to warm yourself. Simply sit there, sore and in pain, while you wait for the rest of your friends to make it up because you ran ahead and just wanted to be done with the thing (of course, that’s if you have friends).

8. Once you’ve been sitting there, in the frozen crater of what you’ve now been told is a dormant volcano, begin to think about the trip down and pray for a gondola or helicopter or flying bison to come and make your life easier. None of these will appear, but it is important that you create false hope for yourself.

9. Begin the climb down while attempting to wingman for your friend, as the girl he likes has come on this trip with you. Don’t worry about his constant slipping and falling ungracefully; these only add to his desirability in her eyes. After you’ve made it down a ways, it is important that you feel as though you’re going to die, mostly because you ran out of water two-thirds of the way up, but also because your limbs are telling you that you’re going to die.

10. Somehow, miraculously, make it to the bottom first, hobble into the visitor’s center, and spend five minutes at the water fountain before everyone else; this solidifies your status as “Biggest Asshole” of the day. Take off your socks and hobble everywhere like an old man/woman while complaining endlessly about all of the pain you’re in.

 

Congratulations! You’ve climbed a mountain! Now forget all your pain and suffering and go climb another one next weekend.