meditation for programming

Fortuitously, a friend who is a meditation instructor wanted to learn to program, and is happy to exchange knowledge for knowledge. He is the person who originally framed meditation as mental exercise, and suggested "focus" and "decomposition" exercises. However, I misinterpreted both of them, it turns out.


I originally interpreted focus as.. well.. paying attention to an object. However, there are many types of focus:
  • sortof rubbing my mental hands around the object
  • thinking "yep, there's that object there.. still"
  • searching on the object for properties, like "oh, there's a bump I didn't see before!"
  • sortof imagining being the object
And all of these are not what he meant.

He wanted me to literally focus my eyes on a single spot on the surface of an object — the object didn't matter at all, what mattered was getting my eyes to stay still, not moving around, and not refocusing. The object was just there as a thing for my eyes to focus on, since it's harder to get eyes to remain fixed at a point in the air.

I expressed concern that if I did this, the object would sortof fade in and out of view, since my cones would get saturated. And he said this was fine, and desirable — it's a good sign that the eyes are stationary when the object fades from view. (note: he said blinking is ok.)

So.. why? Well, he said my brain would enter a strange, interesting and pleasurable state if I did, which he called "jhana" (pronounced jon-ah). And.. it did.

The state is comparable to looking at a magic-eye, where you focus your eyes a certain way, and suddenly an image appears, except no image will appear. But two things are similar to a magic-eye:
  • Although it is difficult at first to coax the eyes into focussing correctly to see the magic eye, once they do, it's easy to keep them there; in fact, it requires a little effort to stop them. Similarly, once the eyes enter jhana, they are willing to stay there, and the tedium of trying to keep putting them there stops.
  • In addition to presenting an image, magic-eyes are also strangely pleasurable to see, at least for me. In fact, I'll sometimes do the magic-eye thing on my keyboard, refocussing so my keys exactly overlap each other, which doesn't present an image — except my keys at a different depth — but it's still nice. Similarly, the state of "jhana" is nice.
In fact, it turns out there are multiple jhana states; my friend identified 13. I've been in the first 4. In general, getting to each jhana requires being in the previous one and jumping up somehow:
  1. focussing on a point — my eyes remain fixed, and the surrounding object fades in and out and swims around, presumably since my cones are getting saturated and confused.
  2. focussing on an object as a whole — my eyes see the whole object, strangely clearly. Also, I can't seem to move while maintaining this state. (I can move while retaining the first jhana.)
  3. taking in my whole visual field — my eyes aren't focussed on anything. Still can't move.
  4. taking in my whole sensory array — I can feel my body and hear stuff (which I generally don't do in the first three, since I'm focussed on vision). Still can't move.
  5. I'm not sure I've been here, but he says getting here requires being in state 4, and contemplating "infinite space". Also, he suggests that it doesn't involve sensory input at all, so I suspect that it's good to close the eyes too.
  6. I'm pretty sure I haven't been here, but he says it requires being in state 5 and contemplating "infinite consciousness".
  7. Getting here requires being in state 6, and contemplating "no-thing-ness".. whatever that means..
  8. Getting here requires being in state 7, and contemplating "neither perception nor non-perception"....
  9. Whereas the previous four jhanas don't involve sensory input, this one does again.. I'm pretty sure I haven't been here, and he suggests that I probably can't — he hasn't known anyone who's entered this state who hasn't done a certain amount of a different sort of meditation (decomposition, discussed below).
  10. I don't know anything about this
  11. or this
  12. or this
  13. or this
Also, it's worth nothing that it seems possible to enter the first four jhanas even if the eyes are closed, though the eyes are (I presume) still focussing the same way as if they were open. Also, he says he can now access all the jhanas directly, without first being in the previous jhana, so that's possible with practice, apparently.


He originally described decomposition with the example of looking at a stop sign, and seeing it's parts. I interpreted this to mean structural parts, like it has a metal bar holding it up, and paint on it, and an octagonal shape.. and when I would do "decomposition" meditations, I would go on to think of looking at the stop sign from different perspectives, like where it was in history, and perhaps the history of stop signs in general, and the design of the letters, and the thinking behind making it red, and so forth.

Wrong again.

He meant, I should decompose how I see the stop sign. Usually when I look at a stop sign, I think I see a stop sign, but in fact, "stop sign" is a pretty high level concept that my brain has formed — what I actually see are splotches and lines of various colors. If someone had never seen a stop sign before, or even any sort of street sign, or any sort of sign, or any English, or any words, or any geometric shapes.. perhaps a cave person who speaks english (but doesn't read it, of course).. what would they see?

And I think it's also part of the decomposition to note the higher level concepts invoked when seeing a stop sign, and to decompose them as well. In general, the idea seems to be trying to see all the things going on in the brain as it goes about the business of doing what brains do. So my meditation practice involves trying to decompose everything; what I see, what I hear, all sensations, and even how I think — decomposing thoughts into the thoughts that made them up, and so forth.

And if I force my brain to do this enough, he says eventually it will be able to do it automatically..

However, he did warn me that there will be a brief period (perhaps days, weeks or months) where I will see building blocks of stuff — splotches of color, low-level bodily sensations and such — but not actual stuff, like stop signs, which will make me somewhat non-functional during that time. But he says not to worry, I'll be normal again thereafter. I asked if I'd be able to find my house, and he seemed to think I would.. so that's nice at least. He also noted that I should be ok so long as I do some non-meditation things to ground me, like talking to people.

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