29 November 2010

Theory and practice of meditation II

This post is the second of three parts on meditation, theory and practice, which I began with Part I on Nov. 9. Part III is to follow; this post will be a description of the shorter one of my two regular meditation routines. It is adapted from a self-hypnosis relaxation script I obtained from the book Mind-Body Therapy: Methods of Ideodynamic Healing in Hypnosis, by Ernest Rossi and David Cheek. I call my variation the homunculus meditation. The name is taken from a neuroscience figure, a homunculus, which is made by inflating anatomical parts in proportion to the amount of the somatic sensory cortex which are involved in our sense of touch for the particular anatomical part.

The script is very simple. You sit quietly in a relaxing posture and invite yourself to sequentially relax different portions of your body. There are thousands and thousands of terms which pertain to various anatomical structures, so you cannot name them all in one single meditation (or self-hypnosis) session. The ones I routinely use are (in order): eyes, optic nerves, visual cortex, cerebral cortex, limbic lobes, hindbrain, throat, spine, median nerves, fingertips, (back up to) limbic lobes, hindbrain, throat, spine, sciatic nerves, toe tips, foot soles, ankles, calves, ankles, shins, ankles, fibulas, knees, hamstrings, knees, quadriceps, knees, femurs, glans, testicles, anus, lumbars, navel, seventh thoracic vertebrae, nipples, seventh cervical vertebrae, shoulders, elbows, thumbs, index fingers, middle fingers, ring fingers, little fingers, elbows, wrists, thumbs, index fingers, middle fingers, ring fingers, little fingers, wrists, fingertips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, seventh cervical vertebrae, nipples, seventh thoracic vertebrae, navel, lumbars, anus, testicles, glans, testicles, anus, lumbars, navel, seventh thoracic vertebrae, nipples, seventh cervical vertebrae, spine, throat, tongue, palate, gums, lips, nostrils, nasal cavities, sinuses, eyes, temples, ears, eustachian tubes, ears, temples, eyes, forehead.

On average this takes about twenty minutes to work all the way down and back up through these features of my anatomy. There are three additional important details:

1.) In the Rossi-Cheek recipe they instruct us to instruct ourselves "Relax eyes, &c." There is an old philosophical conundrum here regarding who is talking to who when we are talking to ourselves. When you sink a long basket and you say to yourself "Good shot!", who is talking to who there? There is some implicit dissociative model like perhaps Freud's--and perhaps it is your superego talking to your ego, or something similar to that. Anyway, what I do instead of commanding myself to relax, is to invite myself to relax. I substitute "I may relax my eyes, &c." for the literal instruction provided in the Rossi-Cheek recipe.

2.) A few of these invitations are repeated, sometimes over and over. Roughly, I devote the proportion of the session along the proportions in the homunculus diagram, hence my name of homunculus meditation. I invite my fingers and my lips and my tongue to relax far more than I invite any other portion of my anatomy to do so.

3.) The other weighting is toward the eyes and ears; a large fraction of our brain is allocated to the processing of visual and audio sense information. By concentrating on the parts of the body that involve the largest brain fractions, the given twenty minutes (or whatever) of meditation can have the largest total brain footprint! That is one theory.

I have been using this meditation (or one close to it) on a nearly daily basis since 1997, since I first read Rossi and Cheek's book. I will be using it for the foreseeable future.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.