Saturday, 17 June 2017

Daily meditation: what works and what doesn't -- my practical recommendations

 
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In 1422, Bernardino of Sienna was facing a disastrous situation. The plague had wiped out half of the monks in his monastery. To make things worse, the crop had been lost, partly because of insufficient cultivation, partly because of an unusually harsh winter. The monks that had survived had no resources, no energies, and no motivation to go further.

Those still alive were looking at Bernardino, hoping that he would be able to figure out a solution. He was the spiritual magnet that had attracted them to the Franciscan Order, prompting them to abandon parents, friends, and possessions. He was the fountain-head from which they had always been able to draw strength in times of trouble.

To everyone's surprise, Bernardino did not convoke a chapter to discuss the situation. He also didn't provide any instructions, explanations, or words of encouragement. Instead, he just announced that he needed to be alone for a while in order to meditate. "I will be back in two weeks," he said, before walking out of the monastery, headed for the nearby woods.

Bernardino spent the next weeks in solitude, thinking about the challenges he was facing. During that period, he drew nourishment from wild fruits, drank water from the Arno river, and slept in an improvised shed.

When Bernardino returned to the monastery, he was saluted sombrely by John Capistrano, the monk who had taken up Bernardino's functions during those two weeks. "Did you find an answer?" asked John Capistrano. Bernardino nodded. "When I meditate, I always find answers," he replied, "and these are answers I could not find by reading a hundred books."

In fact, what Bernardino had accomplished through meditation was not so much finding the answers to his problems, but letting the answers find him. He had made himself ready to see the invisible, ready to let solutions take shape before his eyes, ready to overcome obstacles that seemed insurmountable. He had allowed nature to speak to him, and point him in the right direction.

"Letting the answers find you" constitutes the perfect definition of meditation. Instead of exerting pressure, you create conditions that render pressure unnecessary. Instead of pushing for decisions, you let them emerge naturally. Instead of agonising about the future, you trust that the right process will always deliver the right results, given enough time.

Through the years, my attitude towards meditation has evolved from total scepticism to daily practice. This evolution however is not the result of a philosophical revelation, but of trial and error. It is the result of acknowledging what works and discarding what doesn't.

"In order to learn, you need to accumulate, but in order to understand, you need to simplify," observed Lao-Tzu. His words provide us an accurate description of the meditation process. The whole point of meditation is to grasp the principles, patterns, and structures that shape our lives; to draw practical conclusions from a multiplicity of facts, intuitions, and emotions; to become better, more effective human beings.

Yet, my daily practice of meditation has only served to increase my suspicions towards grandiose pronouncements about "becoming one with the universe" and "understanding that we are all one."

My approach to meditation may be viewed by many as unorthodox, but that's too bad for them: I find proven success more convincing than grandstanding. I prefer a solid track record in problem-solving to the possession of arcane knowledge.

If you are practising meditation in the traditional Eastern style and it's not working for you, you may want to take a look at my unorthodox methods:
  • instead of meditating in a yoga position, put on some comfortable shoes, and take a one-hour walk.
  • instead of emptying your mind and controlling your breathing, carry with you a brief list of the main issues you are facing, and focus your thoughts on those.
  • instead of looking for solutions to problems, seek only to formulate the questions accurately, and then let the answers find you.
  • instead of meditating only at certain times during the week, take breaks every day at irregular intervals, enjoy a cup of herbal tea, and meditate for ten minutes.
  • instead of demanding immediate results from your meditation sessions, accept the fact that the benefits will be non-linear, benefits such as gaining deep insights at unexpected moments, and coming up with creative solutions to problems while you are performing unrelated tasks.
  • instead of meditating about little things, focus your reflections on big principles, big patterns, and big structures; ignore irrelevant details, and concentrate on essential traits and large commonalities.
  • instead of following a meditation routine, explore different set-ups and sequences to see which one works best for you; do not pay attention to people who claim that their meditation method is the best for everybody.
Anyone who has read my books won't be surprised to hear that I regard beneficial meditation and a consistent philosophy as indissolubly linked. I don't think that you can have one without the other.

Meditation -if understood and practised as intense, quiet thinking- will render you happier and more successful, if only because it will improve the quality of your decisions and actions. As Longfellow put it so beautifully in his Psalm of Life: "Not enjoyment and not sorrow is our destined way, but to act so that tomorrow finds us further than today."

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of classical painting; photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
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Thursday, 1 June 2017

Five massive advantages of rational living

 
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These days, when irrationality is frequently predicated as the only way to go, it is important to remind yourself of the massive benefits you can draw from rational living. 

How often do you hear that you should trust your emotions blindly? Or that you only need to believe something on order to make it true? Or that you cannot be sure of anything because the veracity of facts depends on the viewer's standpoint?

The problem with relativism and subjectivism is that, in addition to rendering you hesitant and ineffective, they can also make you poor, sick, and conflict-prone. Let me illustrate these risks while I present the advantages of rational living.


Speed is the first difference you will remark if you compare rational and irrational individuals. And by “irrational,” I don't mean stupid. What I mean is wildly emotional, confused, and erratic. People who trust their emotions more than they trust facts can only maintain their course of action for a while, that is, until their emotions change, something that might happen next week, the next day, or the next hour.  

Without the consistency provided by rationality, you will only be able to advance towards your goals slowly, if at all, because, with every change of mood, your direction will also change.

Rationality enables speed because it helps individuals keep going on their chosen direction day after day. Over time, such constancy will allow them to cover long distances so fast that it seems inconceivable. Conversely, slowness is the way of life for wildly emotional persons because their erratic behaviour prevents them from going far in any direction.

2. Self-confidence

Self-confidence is also something that you will immediately perceive when you deal with rational individuals. In contrast to the endless hesitations of emotionally-driven people, rational persons can establish their goals on the basis of facts, and make their plans on the basis of logic. An orderly thinking process provides rational men and women a strong determination to succeed.

If confronted with opposition, rational people don't fall apart. If faced with obstacles, they don't give up. If hit by misfortune, they don't despair.  Their self-confidence is based on a realistic assessment of their possibilities, an assessment that entails the acceptance of occasional errors, adversity, and setbacks.

In contrast to emotionally-driven people, rational individuals can confidently keep advancing towards their goals because they know that steady, focused work will lead to beneficial results, if given enough time. 


The ability to create wealth is quintessential to rational individuals. Wildly emotional people may occasionally come up with brilliant ideas, but their erratic personality will prevent them to bringing those ideas to fruition.

Irrational people may conceive grandiose plans, but their inconsistent behaviour will prevent them from implementing them. They may now and then propose compelling projects, but their irregular efforts will not suffice to turn those projects into reality.

Only rational men and women can exert the sort of sustained, consistent efforts that create wealth, and enable wise investments.


A good health (or at least, better that it would have been otherwise) goes hand in hand with rational living because only rational individuals possess the self-discipline to eat sensibly, exercise regularly, and get sufficient rest each night.  

Rational men and women commit themselves to a sensible lifestyle, and strive to stay healthy. They follow a sensible diet because they understand the dangers of overindulgence. They go to bed on time because they grasp the risks of overexerting themselves.

In contrast, wildly emotional people tend to be addicted to low-quality food, risky activities, and burning the candle on both sides. Such habits can cause tremendous harm to one's health in the long term.


Last but not least, I want to mention an aspect that you will rarely hear anyone mention: Irrational people tend to be conflict-prone, that is, vociferous, hurtful, and self-centred. By putting their emotions on the driving seat, they often fail to pay attention to what other people say and feel.

Contrary to what many movies portray, emotionally-driven persons tend to lack empathy because empathy requires the willingness to analyse the context of problems. While rational individuals go to great lengths to have harmonious relationships, irrational people, due to their lack of perspective, will often provoke unnecessary clashes.

In  conclusion, your commitment to rational living (starting with the adoption of a rational philosophy) can deliver you large advantages. The efforts you exert to develop your prudence, self-reliance and thoughtfulness can enable you to make faster and better decisions, and help you implement them effectively.  Rationality is an invaluable asset, which especially in times of adversity, can make the difference between a glorious victory and a painful defeat. 

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of classical building; photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter


 Here is the link to a media interview, just published: