The Dark Side of Concentration

Insight emerging today about the way concentration works: It feels like concentration is more-or-less the ability to keep running the neural circuit that’s running.

That circuit might be an intense meditative process, or your work on a term-paper. But it could just as easily be an unwanted pattern of thinking, self-loathing, judgement, or an unskillful coping strategy like overeating or substance use. We can potentially whip ourselves into very high concentration doing or thinking things we don’t actually want to do/think!
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Spiritual Bypass & Somatic Emotion

Fragile_EmotionAs humans, we are evolutionarily wired to avoid what is uncomfortable or unknown. Mindfulness is counterintuitive in that it trains us to turn toward discomfort, allowing it to be just as it is (more on that here).

As you may know, this is not a simple training, and it’s relatively common to slide off the path into various forms of avoidance along the way. This phenomenon is called “spiritual bypass,” and no particular technique or practice is immune. In Psychology Today, Ingrid Mathieu put it brilliantly: “spiritual bypass is an equal opportunity defense mechanism. It is more related to what we as human beings do with spiritual practice than it is related to the practice itself.”
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Nature vs. Nurture

On Nature vs. Nurture, the author makes a great point. Not only is the case for nurture growing stronger, the BELIEF that ability is not fixed is a strong predictor of improvement over time. In other words, when we FOCUS ON the nurture side of things and decide that we can better our circumstances, cognitive abilities, performance, etc., we can.

As a society, this points our attention toward the aspects of our inheritance that we can actually affect. It points us toward the way we take care of our children, how we love and root for those in our lives, and how we hold ourselves. It points toward the disempowerment that can come from labeling and pathologizing.

Of course, in the nature vs. nurture argument, there are two sides. The question here is, which side can we do something about?


Many people struggle to cultivate positive emotions in meditation, because the task feels forced or insincere. How can I practice lovingkindness when I don’t feel it in my body? How can I cultivate happiness if there’s also fear, anger, or sadness present?

For me, it is very often the case that pleasant and unpleasant feelings arise together. Rather than waiting for a moment when things are only pleasant to deem it “sincere” to practice lovingkindness, I have changed my definition of what sincerity means.
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The Harsh Critic

People often seek out mindfulness because they don’t like how they are treating themselves. But then the harsh critic part of them shows up to learn the practice.

We can’t whip ourselves into kindness. We can’t whip ourselves into love. We have to be willing to take a leap of faith, and stand in some unknown ground outside of the harsh critic. Some unfamiliar vantage point that sees even that harsh part increasingly unflinchingly, increasingly with kindness and acceptance.

Photo credit Flickr TRF_Mr_Hyde