16 Comments

Wildly fascinating post, thank you. I look forward to reading Natural Pain Relief. I have practiced a very similar format for dealing with ultramarathons, and look forward to learning more. I also recently got a Shakti mat and have been using breathwork to manage the initial pain.

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Dec 13, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

Thank you so much for writing this great essay!

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Dec 15, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

So, after reading this, I tried to examine my own emotions using the technique you describe, and I found something that actually made me very concerned.

> I’ve heard one advanced meditator claim that every feeling and emotion has a tactile correlate, and that you can dissolve it using Shinzen’s techniques.

It has to do with this. I turned to a few of the emotions that were bothering me, and when I really examined them, I found a tactical correlate... and nothing else. All I could think of to identify these emotions were physical sensations. I thought, wait, that can't be right? I have always been on the very low end of emotional sensitivity, so maybe the fundamental qualia of these emotions, the ones that define the experience beyond just a package of bodily sensations, just eluded me. But that's not the case.

I remember from my neuroscience textbooks that one theory of emotion is that they begin and end with bodily sensations, some scientists going so far as to say that emotions are just a reasonable deduction to make from your bodily state. You glimpse a stalking tiger out of the corner of your eye, you run for your life, your heart rate and breathing spikes as a result, and from the sensations of suddenly being wired up you conclude that you feel afraid. I've always dismissed that as a stupid argument because I thought, surely there's a unique sensation called 'fear' that you can point to! But I can't. So I have to give that theory at least some credence.

I don't think emotions are entirely downstream from bodily sensations, but I do believe that emotions play a role in involuntary signaling, probably having evolved to quickly communicate important information between people about danger and social interactions. If that is the case, then it makes sense that emotions are lacking entirely in unique qualia, because those are useless for signaling purposes. Instead, there is a very specific set of behaviors that is involuntarily displayed when we describe someone as e.g. sad (frowning, tightness in the throat, tearing up) and we learn to identify the pattern of bodily sensations this causes as representing this specific emotion. In this way, the involuntary behavior is a signal not just to other people but also to ourselves.

So, assuming it works like this, how can I productively examine my own emotions? I have feelings of shame that I'm struggling with, so I sat down and thought, okay, let's get to the bottom of this. And I look inside, finding... bodily sensations. Those shame-causing thoughts and memories don't actually make me feel anything if I call them up in the absence of the physical sensations. The cause of the physical sensations is something I can't access consciously. So... now what?

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I love my Shakti mat! I’ve been using it regularly for a year now, and it’s amazing how my body craves it when I’m using it a lot--it seems to know it needs something I’m less conscious of.

Also interesting is breaking down the dichotomy of “pleasure, good; pain, bad”. I’ve had moments of intense emotion, for example, where I wasn’t sure whether it was painful or pleasurable. It just was.

This topic reminds me of, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” Especially with emotional pain, it’s so obvious how thoughts about it easily turn pain to suffering.

Great essay, thank you.

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I don't know enough about calculus to know if this is really possible, but I have long held a secret belief that calculus (i.e. "approaching" math, cause you're always in relation to a moving target...I think) *will* actually work with/on sufficiently well defined phenomena. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE for someone to figure that out.

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Dec 13, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

Meditation enthusiast here.

The single most important thing that you can tell us about meditation is an easy technique. Something that any fool can do that delivers quick results. Something we can do in a weekend.

Then we have something better than words to refer to. We have a real experience.

A real experience is more impressive than any words. A real experience guides you better than a mountain of words.

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This thing has been advocated a lot around childbirth. My impression is that the failure rate is high: People intend to give birth naturally without suffering, but suffer nonetheless.

I think what you are talking about works for lesser states of pain. Also without special techniques - just seeing the situation constructively gives the same result, in my experience. Pain from pregnancy is one example. Although I find the ideal of natural childbirth without suffering laughably overambitious, I think the usually considerably weaker pain from pregnancy can often be endured without suffering.

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A super interesting piece, Max!

As a skateboarder I’ve had many opportunities to get well aquatinted with pain. So much so that after enough I was kinda forced by the pain to realise that the suffering part is optional. And it is only recently that I have started incorporating this idea into my mediation. But Shinzen’s ideas are on a whole other level — so thank you so much for shining a light on them :)

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Can someone explain the Equanimity = 1/wilfulness^2 part? The math doesn't make sense to me. 🤔

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