Calm Technique

^z 12th September 2023 at 8:32am

Paul Wilson's 2009 book Finding the Quiet is a discussion of mindfulness, in various flavors, that is mostly hardheaded but runs aground in places. Wilson's little 1985 volume, The Calm Technique, is a similarly mixed bag. It's only partly successful in delivering on its subtitle "Meditation without Magic or Mysticism", but nonetheless does well in most aspects. After some plodding chapters of build-up Wilson introduces what he calls "The Breathing Meditation":

It is a simplified, old Zen breathing meditation. In this book its purpose is to provide a comfortable first step into meditation. In practice, this breathing meditation could be an end in itself. You could perform this every day and night for the rest of your life and in the long run it would probably be as beneficial as any other meditation. But it has been simplified and many people find difficulty in sticking with it for any length of time. (Probably because it seems too simple.)

(But as Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests "... you might want to stay with the breath, or use it as an anchor to bring you back when you are carried away. Try it for a few years and see what happens." See also Being with Your Breath and Breath and Awareness.)

Wilson then moves on to the core of his book, a practice which he labels, a bit pretentiously, "The Calm Technique". It's a straightforward mantra-based method. Wilson spends several pages talking about choosing a mantra and concludes, "... the meaning of the mantra has about as much inherent significance to the meditator as the colour of the barbell does to the weightlifter." After a rather unnecessary digression into brain physiology he then describes how to do the meditation, with emphasis on consistent practice. He observes:

There are no prizes for cleverness or originality in the Calm Technique. The only prize comes with being able to charm your consciousness into being totally involved with your Calm Expression. Please remember this is not an exercise in self-discipline. You don't have to force yourself to concentrate, nor do you have to go to great lengths to 'hear' this meaningless phrase. Be passive. Go with the flow. If your mind begins to wander, calmly redirect it to its task. When distractions come, ignore them and go back to 'hearing' your Calm Expression.

The Calm Technique relentlessly underscores the dangers of multitasking. (cf. Mediocre Multitaskers) It proceeds in its later chapters to offer tai chi style "Calm Exercises", some slightly mystical advice on diet, and reasonable thoughts on the value of an optimistic attitude. The book concludes with a question-and-answer section. It's far from a great book—the prose rarely sparkles and the commentary often drifts—but overall Wilson has written a straightforward, useful little handbook. Among the bits of levelheaded advice is the amusing aside:

There is no call for heroics in the Calm Technique. If you're really troubled by something (and not just being impatient), stop what you're doing and take a break. If you've only just begun the session, try performing the Calm Exercises until you are more relaxed. If, on the other hand, your problem is tiredness, the Calm Exercises should wake you a little. If not, try sleeping. Should you really have something serious on your mind that you find impossible to ignore, don't worry, resume your meditation the following morning or evening. There is no advantage in forcing yourself to do anything; that does little more than add to your overall level of anxiety. You should condition yourself to have the right frame of mind, to reject distractions, to keep your attention focused on the task. It is this gradual and persistent conditioning (and your willpower) that perfects the Calm Technique. Acts of great intensity and personal sacrifice can be reserved for more deserving occasions like running marathons and saving civilizations.

(cf. Wherever You Go, There You Are, Finding the Quiet, Lunchtime Enlightenment, Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, What Is Meditation, Meditation by Eknath Easwaran, Fully Present, Waking Up to What You Do, Meditation for Dummies, ...) - ^z - 2011-05-07