Cognitive Meditation

Since starting to think seriously about keeping my brain healthy I’ve looked at meditation techniques. My first idea of meditation was of some eastern mystic sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, trying to empty their mind.

Mindfulness mimics this method to avoid taxing people who live modern lives too much. Framing itself as a more accessible version of the mind-emptying eastern mysticism. Mindfulness calls for focus on the immediate: breathing, water running over skin in the shower, distant heard in a ‘silent’ room. As its broad adoption attests, mindfulness is easier and practically more useful, than spending hours trying to still the world and imagine oneself info nothingness.

The wide adoption of mindfulness, with its claim to pedigree based on a link with mind-emptying meditation, overlooks and neglects a form of mediation far more familiar to people living modern lives. Cognitive meditation is not about finding peace in our heads, or trying to still the noise. It’s an active meditation that calls for hard mental work. Spending time in our minds analysing the issues we face is a tried and tested method for creating solutions to our problems, and its in those solutions we can find tranquility. For some reason, advice on everyday mental health appears to disregard this approach.

Stoics advocate meditating cognitively on the future to prepare for outcomes that might affect tranquillity. Meditation can focus positively – what would be the response to a good event: do you take credit, laud it over others, or acknowledge the help, and treat it like any other event, as it might be taken away soon enough? Focusing negatively, meditation might focus on responding to a boss’s criticism, the end of a relationship or bereavement? Examining how you would feel, and how you would move forward.

Using a cognitive approach to meditation, as the Stoics suggested, brings simple Stoic principles to mind, like recognising what is and isn’t in your control. As a result, when the events you meditate on do occur you’ll be in a better position to consider your feelings, avoid being overwhelmed and maintain your tranquillity.

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