Mindfulness for the unmindful

Angry birds.
Dog shaming.
50 shades of grey.
Paleo diet.

What do all of these things have in common?


Move switfly as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and fuck shit up.

They are all fads, specifically, fads from the 2010s. Do you know another big fad? Sun Tzu’s Art of War. This book is probably the most read and most referred-to book of all time in the entrepreneurial section of society. Every manager, director, corporate executive, EVERYONE – seems to have read the Art of War and found wisdom therein.

And just like Crossfit and Paleo diets are new fads in the world of sports and exercise, the world of entrepreneurs has seen the emergence of a new fad too: mindfulness meditation.

Just google “mindfulness meditation entrepreneur” or “meditation business” and you’ll get scores upon scores of results where people claim that meditation will make you a better businessman, a better CEO, a better leader, a better everything.

And it’s not only the entrepreneurs, even though I personally find it amusing to see such fads emerge in the entrepreneurial sector. There are many studies that are trying to research meditation and try to quantify the results, measure correlations and do all the work needed to draw evidence-based conclusions. This fad is actually so strong now that we have even seen anti-meditation articles, criticising some aspects or even the whole of meditation.


1. a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group. 

1825-35; noun use of dial. fad to look after things, busy oneself with trifles,back formation from obsolete faddle to play with, fondle.

Well, I don’t know about Angry Birds or dubstep or twerking, but I kind of like dog shaming memes. They’re funny. And I like to eat not completely Paleo, but Paleo-ish. Makes me feel good. And even though I haven’t read it yet, I have a hunch that the Art of War is a good book. And I know for a fact that meditation is probably the most impactful of methods for living a better life.
So the problem with fads is not that they are trifles, as the origin of the noun implies. Very often, fads are very good ideas, useful things, stuff that people actually should do in their lives. The problem with fads is that a fad will fade. It just gets pushed over by another one. Why? I don’t know. But I do know that we should try to stick to certain fads, such as mindfulness and meditation.


How to explain mindfulness to someone that’s not already mindful?

Explaining mindfulness to someone that isn’t mindful is like explaining the beauty of Japanese poetry to someone that doesn’t speak Japanese. They understand that if they had a skillset that allowed them to understand Japanese poetry, they would be able to appreciate it. They also understand that there is something there, but it’s not relevant for them – they just can’t get it, so they don’t try.

Or explaining to someone how exciting it is to skydive. A person will certainly have an image of what it must be, but this idea is nowhere near the real thing, the real experience of jumping out of a plane and diving towards the ground at 200 km/h. There is simply a limit to how vividly you can image something that you’ve never experienced.

To fully appreciate Japanese poetry, you kind of have to read it and experience it yourself.

To fully appreciate skydiving, you also kind of need to do it.

And meditation is similar in this respect, with a difference that it doesn’t demand a skillset (like Japanese) or it isn’t sudden, life-changing, extreme intensity (like skydiving). It’s very boring and it takes a lot of time to come to a state where you can appreciate it. You need to try it, and keep doing it for a long time, and you need to do it right – just unfocused thinking and semi-sleeping don’t really count as meditation.

And oftentimes people don’t want to bother with it because they don’t feel they need it. I’m not a “meditation evangelist” so I don’t go around convincing people to start meditating, but I really do think that meditation is good. Notice I said “good”, not “useful”. It can be useful too, but it’s more than just useful.

Useful implies that you’re going to live your life normally, as you would do without meditation, and that meditation has its use, its purpose. For some people it’s stress relief, for others it’s to calm their thoughts. If you see meditation as only useful, you think you are a certain person, let’s call you Bobby, that has an identity composed of many different things. Bobby is a man, he drives a car, he likes to drink coffee with cinnamon, he works at an IT company, he plays drums, he is under stress sometimes and he meditates to relieve his stress. Meditation is a technique Bobby uses within his identity. This is Bobby:


Some Bobby

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with Bobby. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Bobby is a much better Bobby because of his meditation. He is probably doing better at his job, he doesn’t get so nervous when his deadlines are approaching, he’s not angry when he’s sitting in his car on a crowded highway. He’s, like, cool with things he can’t influence. Good for Bobby.

But many meditation practitioners see meditation as something else rather than a technique to aid you in your life, or, ONLY a technique to aid you in your life. This is where we first start seeing the word spiritual and where an instinctive allergic reaction appears on the skin of every skeptic, atheist or advocate of the scientific method. Let’s say that Bobby, after many years of meditation practice, has come to a certain realization. He still has his job, loves cinnamon in his coffee, drives a car, works at the same company – his life is mostly the same. But let’s say that he has been meditating more and more, and that he isn’t meditating because of meditation’s usefulness. Let’s say, without defining it yet, that Bobby attained enlightenment. This is Bobby now:

no bobby

No Bobby

If you don’t see him, that’s good, because Bobby went from some-Bobby to no-Bobby.

I assume that with this, I pissed off even the most forgiving of skeptics and rationalists.

What the hell is this cryptic, woo-woo nonsense? What you’re saying is undefined, it can’t be understood! 

Well, I shall endeavor to explain.

Some-Bobby is a person that has an identity. He has a story. Car-driving, IT-working, cinnamon coffee-drinking, drum-playing – these things make up who some-Bobby is. They are the building blocks of his identity. Then also the fact that he is male, and that his name is Bobby, and that he was born in America. All these things make some-Bobby who he is. They are what he is known for. If you were to list out these things to his acquaintances and ask them if they know a person that fits the description, people would point at Bobby. Even practicing meditation is a part of his identity. And Bobby, he thinks of himself in terms of his identity. In his mind, his name is Bobby, he drives a car, works at an IT company etc, etc. and that makes up who he is.

The second Bobby (the no-Bobby) doesn’t think of himself that way, though. He doesn’t think of himself, in fact. Actually he doesn’t think at all. No-Bobby just is. Or isn’t, depending on how you see it.

Wha… you…whaaaat?

In order to understand how Bobby came to be no-Bobby from some-Bobby, we have to meet his transition form: the maybe-Bobby  (also known as “I dunno-Bobby”, “not sure-Bobby”, “potentially-Bobby”, “probably not-Bobby”). We shall picture maybe-Bobby like this:

maybe bobby


This is what maybe-Bobby is thinking for the brief second he exists in between some-Bobby and no-Bobby:

“Dude. Like, my name is Bobby, but would I be me if I were called John? And if I didn’t play the drums? Yeah, I guess so. I don’t even have to have the same address or birthplace or car or job to be me. So what does make me – me? Is it my gender? Like, if everything else was the same and I was a chick, would I be me? Like, the same friends, same family, same life experiences – but just me being a girl. Yeah… Well sure, then it’s still me. But wait… If all of my identity is negotiable like that: my gender, race, possessions, activities in life, NAME – then do I even exist?

[at this point a break happens in Bobby’s line of thought and some-bobby and no-Bobby arrive at the scene]

Some-Bobby: ‘Yeah well, I guess that each individual element of my identity IS negotiable, but the relations between them aren’t, and my complete identity is also not negotiable. So you can change maybe one or two things, but not all of them, and you can’t switch the relations between them.
No-Bobby: [listens to some-Bobby talk]
Maybe-Bobby: ‘Who is this person listening to me talk, that is, think?’
No-Bobby: [listens to maybe-Bobby ask the preceding question]
Maybe-Bobby: ‘Wait, did I just say that there is someone else in my head except me?’
No-Bobby: [listens to maybe-Bobby ask the preceding question]
Maybe-Bobby: ‘Duuuude, this is sick. So I can listen to myself think. Lol wtf. I can see my thoughts as they form and listen to them as if I were a different person. But what kind of person is this?’
No-Bobby: [listens to maybe-Bobby ask the preceding question]
Maybe-Bobby: ‘Aha, I get it. This person that listens to the thoughts in my head is capable of only listening, but can’t produce anything. It can only perceive things. It’s just conscious. It just… is.’
Some-Bobby: ‘Dude, you remember those woo-woo bullshitters that talk shit like You are not you. You are a walking field of consciousness?? This must be it man!’ ”

We said that Bobby attained enligthenment – and enlightenment is understanding that you’re not some-Bobby but that you’re no-Bobby. You’re just a group of atoms capable of perceiving itself, no less, no more. All of your identity – your house, your friends, the language you speak, your name, the very thoughts you think – all of this belongs to some-Bobby, and it is only an upgrade to the walking consciousness that no-Bobby is. In other words, the story about Bobby is not Bobby. Bobby is a group of atoms that can perceive the story of Bobby.

Let’s say that one more time. There is:

A. Bobby’s story. This is what we would call his identity. All the thoughts he thinks go here, ranging from work related problem solving to him remembering a prank he pulled in high school. His name goes here. His familial relations. Basically, everything goes here, and we call this Bobby’s story (or some-Bobby).

B. Awareness or consciousness. This is what the part of Bobby that can’t think, but can register thoughts, the same way it can see, hear, smell and touch. The best way to understand what no-Bobby is, is this: the next time you think of something, try to ask yourself “Who is it that is thinking this?” And when you ask yourself that question, try to simply perceive it, just as if you were looking at a bird flying by, or heard a noise. Just try to register your thought, but don’t think it.

And as long as this whole meditation business stays within the confines of A, many skeptics and rationalists will be okay with it. But as soon as it hits B and we start seeing words like awareness, consciousness, spirituality (this word is the closest word that comes to describe the state of being no-Bobby) – as soon as we get there, disagreements arise.

Skeptics and advocates of the scientific method often regard themselves as superior to those that are “spiritual”. You need only see the Facebook comments on The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and similar places. They often mock spirituality and advocate that we should accept and live by rules of logic, science and empiric evidence. Of course, they are right. There are a lot of quacks and there is a lot of pure bullshit in the world of the “spiritual”. However, skeptics and rationalists – among which I count myself too, by the way – often don’t understand that they don’t understand.

When you try to explain the importance of mindfulness or meditation, the reaction is sometimes sheer lack of understanding, undertones of sarcasm, accusations of “woo woo” and so on. Naturally, there are woo doctors and quacks, using scientific terminology to create “sciencey” words that in their essence, mean nothing. By the way, here is a Deepak Chopra quote generator. However, there is importance in mindfulness, and there is a materialist, rationalist, skeptic way of explaining why it is so important.

According to this research, our actions are not really initiated by the conscious part of our minds. Our subconsciousness dictates our actions, the words we speak, the friendships we make, the jobs we take – and our consciousness simply observes what is going on. To quote:

“From this perspective, it is concluded that in both phylogeny and ontogeny, actions of an unconscious mind precede the arrival of a conscious mind—that action precedes reflection.”

Here’s an article explaining this a bit more. Here’s a study.

It is like we are a passenger in a driverless car. We think we’re the driver. It’s very intuitive to think so because we’re in the front, we see when the road is bumpy, or curved, or straight, or full of other cars. So we must be the driver.

But let me ask you this: have you ever been in a situation where you just did something, and afterwards thought “Jesus Christ, why did I do that”?

Of course you have. We all have.

You didn’t understand the reasons you did something, but you maybe rationalized it, or simply forgot about it. But what happened exactly?

Let’s say you’re being pulled over by a police officer. There’s nothing wrong, you haven’t been speeding or drinking, your car is in perfect order – there is absolutely no reason the cop needs to pull you over. You have absolutely no reason to be upset about it.

Then why are you nervous?
Why do you fumble while searching for your licence?
Why have your hands gone cold?
Why have you said that stupid awkward joke that was meant to ease the tension?

Well, the answer is obvious. You are not being controlled by the conscious part of you. You are being controlled by your subconsciousness, and your subconsciousness is a dumb animal that knows how to fight, run, eat, laugh, have sex – but it doesn’t understand that 2 + 2 equals 4. And your consciousness is all like “I’m just gonna watch this stupid motherfucker and tell him how stupid he was.” It kind of looks like this:


Did you cheat in a relationship despite thinking that you wouldn’t and that it was against your principles? Bam, subconsciousness.

Did you play computer games for 3 hours instead of doing what you needed to do? Bam again, and yes, subconsciousness again.

So no, you’re not the driver. Your body is the car and you’re a passenger. At least that’s how it is most of the time.

It seems highly counter-intuitive, because we have been conditioned to see ourselves as the creators of our own destinies, but it goes hand in hand with – laws of physics!

We are made of atoms.
Atoms obey physical laws.
That means that our brains obey physical laws.
Furthermore, that means that our decisions are chemical reactions in the brain.
And seeing that chemical reactions follow physical laws, our decisions follow physical laws.

You could say that we’re predetermined. Which might go hand in hand with M-theory in which time would be a “flat circle”, and all events exist at once, while we simply cycle through them.

One chemical reactions means raising your left hand, another means raising your right hand, yet it was impossible that one came instead of the other, precisely because it didn’t. It is like saying that water spilling out of a cup could have not spilled – of course it couldn’t have. Gravity has precisely the same effect on matter – it pulls it. The water had no choice in the matter – it was simply pulled down. Much the same with our actions. We are simply governed by the very rules that govern the rest of the universe, and our brains are no exception. It is the illusion of choice we have, not true choice.

However, this is not fatalism. I argue that even if it is true that we have no choice, it absolves absolutely no responsibility. It simply means that, if we do something, we were, so to speak, destined by the factors of the universe to do just that, but it doesn’t tell us anything of the future. Even if it is predetermined (which we don’t know), the future is always unclear to us, and we should regard our illusion of choice as true choice.

How does mindfulness play into all of this? The answer is quite simple. When you practice mindfulness, you stop having the feeling you’re the driver. You’re simply a passenger, looking out through a window and observing what your car does. You observe what it thinks when it does certain things, and how its thoughts change upon changing environments. This is the true value of meditation and mindfulness – the genuine understanding that you’re not driving the car – the car is driving you.

Horrible, isn’t it?

When you’re deep in meditation, you might even come to worse realizations than not being a passenger. Maybe you also realize that you’re not even a car. Or that numbers are a human invention and don’t exist in nature. All sorts of weird, feeling-based realizations can come up when you’re meditating really deeply. Some of it can be explained, some of it has to be felt.

And yet it is not all that horrible. It is what it is. AND it also might be useful. Because imagine this:

You practice meditation a lot so you’re a lot more mindful of what your thoughts are doing, real-time, during interaction with people. You are about to make a dumb decision.


You are aware of what you are about to do.

You start thinking of it. 

You think some more.

You don’t do it.



It could have been you cheating on your girlfriend, or drinking too much alcohol, or using drugs, or buying a new car or any sort of decisions you would later be sorry for. Because you were much more aware of your thoughts and of yourself thinking these thoughts, conscious of your own urges and wants, this awareness translated itself into action – that is, non-action, not doing a stupid thing.

Isn’t it funny that we end with this Zen-like, logic-defying paradox, where the illusion of choice actually gives you a choice?

Well, Zen. Can’t get enough of it:

A monk asked Zhao Zhou to teach him.
Zhao Zhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl,” said Zhao Zhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.


Qigong and some updates

It’s been a while. I’ve discovered this great thing: Qigong (also Chigong, Chi Kung, Chikung, Chi Gong…) It’s a type of ancient chinese medicine/workout/meditation. Yeah, I know, in the West, you usually separate all three, but in Chinese culture it’s nothing unusual to have it all under one category, probably something like “well-being”. Anyway, as opposed to classical sit-down-relax-concentrate-on-your-breath meditation, this one is done standing up and isn’t quite as passive as the forementioned. I’m still a beginner (I’ve only been doing it for a month or so) and I know only a little part of it but I already can feel the results.

It’s actually pretty hard to describe because it’s all about feeling the energy, the tightness, the relaxation, the subtle differences in muscular position in your body. It’s really something that needs to be tried in order to be comprehended fully. I recommend reading a book called “The Way of Energy” by master Lam Kam Chuen (I found it on Kickass torrents 😛 ) Eventhough it’s really mystical and doesn’t have that scientific edge to it which I like, it’s still a good book to read. After all, there has to be something in all that “energy” talk, the thing is probably they haven’t explained it properly for today’s standards because they rely too much on the traditional way of explaining, the way when you couldn’t explain things “scientifically” because of  lack or inexistence of science as conceived today.

Anyway, I don’t feel any greater changes in my body (yet!) but I do feel a nice, soothing change in my mind. I’m just much more relaxed and carefree. It’s like I have control over being stressed and not being stressed. It’s still not perfect: I do get angry or sad sometimes because of things I can’t change, but that feeling lets go very soon. This is not to say that I don’t think people should get angry or sad. They should. It’s only natural. But I just want to have control over that. The ability to say to myself: “Not now, you’ll get angry afterwards, there are more important things to do now.” Or: “You won’t get sad because of this because it’s nothing you can influence.” Still haven’t mastered the first one, kind of mastering the second one. As said, I still have a lot of work to do.

But still, I wouldn’t say it is all Qigong. If you want to be more relaxed and more carefree, more focused, you kind of have to accept this philosophy. I think meditation and Qigong helped a LOT! But there is one more thing: accepting the philosophy of being carefree. It’s like this: if you can do anything about it, you should engage the problem, fight it, try to solve it, put your best into it. If there is no possibility of you influencing the outcome then just don’t worry about it. Wait for the moment when there will be something for you to do. Otherwise, shoga nai! Shoga nai, in Japanese, means something like “can’t be influenced” or “nothing to be done”. It’s a cultural concept as well as a lingustic one. (nice article about it all: click me!)

If we’re talking about Japanese, then I would like to mention the influence of anime on my life. Actually, not just anime but anything that’s an input: book, song, movie, series, play, videogame, other people… I have one criterion about it all: what I put in has to change me as a person. I have to get inspired. I have to get motivated. I have to change my opinions. In some way, a change in myself has to be induced. I don’t really watch or read or listen to anything that’s just fun, but not quite change-inspiring. Of course, you can never know in advance about anything so it’s good to be open-minded and try, but keeping this criterion is important to me.


Dragon Ball & Dragon Ball Z

What I learned, how I changed? Well, I got inspired to live a more humble and simple lifestyle. I started worrying less and being more positive to everyone. I started training much more. I started spending time in nature more. A great thirst for travel has been awakened in me. I adopted the philosophy of training hard and surpassing my own limits.
The series has brought much more to me: I laughed and I lived with the characters. Still one of my favorite ones.

Death Note

What I learned, how I changed? I started thinking. A lot. I started perceiving other people and analysing things around me. The same way I started experiencing subtle changes in my body when I trained Qigong, I started perceiving subtle changes in my thoughts. I can say with certainty I became smarter.

One Piece

What I learned, how I changed? I learned the importance of living by your dreams and not by what others ask you to. I started worrying less and being even more carefree. I understood the value of true friendship, of being “nakama” to someone, and the fact that such a thing hasn’t existed in my life since high school. I started training more because of Zoro and started cooking more because of Sanji. It’s not like I wanted to be like them, it’s more that they inspired me to do something I already wanted to. I learned how society can be wrong, while you can be right.

There are many, many more. I can’t even begin to speak how all the books and movies and shows on Sherlock Holmes shaped me as a person.

Anyway, updates from my life:
– going on a 500km walking trip in a month or so (told you that Dragon Ball influenced me!) which I’ll try to do barefoot
– started working much more on my Parkour technique, doing new things, things that frighten me 😀
– started doing a bit of calisthenics and applying Ido Portal’s methods to my trainings

That’s it 😀