Meditation in the Era of Chaos
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
Meditation is important. Let's look at a binaural meditation patch for the modular that you can experiment with.
Today I decided to combine two of my favorite things for this post: meditation and the modular synthesizer.
To describe our current times as "strange" is almost not doing justice to the extremity of the situation. We very much seem to be careening around like a pinball with chaotic events as our paddles, mostly responding reactively (as a global whole) without much effort in reflection. Then again, as far as I can tell, as humans, we have always worked a bit like this, it's just that the rate of events seems to be on an exponential rise.
With this as the background for everyday life, the challenge to stay grounded and (therefore) stable, is higher than ever. The distractions seem to fire at us with unprecedented speed and accuracy. And for me, quite literally, the only thing I have found to counteract this is meditation.*
*(well, that, and devoting the majority of my time to doing things I love doing)
As such, I have recently begun to work back to my ultimate meditation regimen which prioritizes the activity to the tune of two hours a day. You might think "Two hours?!? You're nuts!" but I've managed that routine long enough in the past to know what it provides, and two hours a day is where the magic really starts to happen. (Coincidentally, while I don't follow his work, I did notice once in an interview on The President Show that this also appears to be the chosen routine of Deepak Chopra).
I will say that 2 hours of meditation a day is no small feat. I have a demanding job, a family, and all my personal projects that I am working to keep on track at any given time. But it's the sort of thing where the payoff is so great, the effort seems minimal in comparison.
So that is where this post started. I wanted to begin to share some things that I have learned in my near 22 years of practice (yeesh, yes, it has apparently been that long) and provide the material that I am currently using for my meditations on a daily basis.
As a bit of background, I've always had an interest in things that some may call "the occult", for the simple reason that I've always been interested to understand what the boundaries and limits of our reality actually are. I started meditating at the age of eighteen after reading a book on astral projection and attempting some of the exercises within it (no, really). It was an odd book, more of an autobiographical account than a how-to on the subject, but it nonetheless contained some suggested practices to try. Looking back, these were perhaps a bit advanced for me to fully understand at the time, but they did achieve results and got me hooked.
What followed in the coming years was essentially a constant experimentation with meditation to find the things that worked best for me. I tried everything I came across; mirror work, various yogic practices, guided audio, breathing exercises. You name it. While I did not exhaust the list of potential options, I did hone in pretty quickly on the things I liked the most.
My conclusions thus far are as follows (this is an ever-evolving notion, so these are completely subject to change in the future):
Guided audio with a set duration and good noise-cancelling headphones can make all the difference in maintaining a practice. Distractions are rampant in modern life. If you live in a city, have a big or busy family, have a lot of responsibilities, etc., distractions can inject themselves at any time (as I write this sentence, my daughter is literally laying on the floor in the next room happily yelling just about as loud as she can --totally harmless, but certainly distracting!). The ideal meditation occurs in silence, in a quiet place with no interruptions, but because this is not always feasible, good headphones, some guidance and "time-boxing" can be a huge help. The less you need to think about and manage the elements of your practice, the easier it will be to achieve.
Binaural beats are a beautiful thing. This is true for the same reasons above, and a few others. If you are new to meditation, or even just struggle to achieve a still and observant state of mind, learning to work with binaural beats (and they DO require practice!) can make all the difference. For me, in a busy or distracting situation, after years of practice, a binaural beat can provide a pathway directly to a certain state of mind in a matter of seconds, where attempting to simply sit in silence and observe would likely lead to a diversion into something else due to the intrusive nature of the distractions at hand. They are essentially my secret weapon in my meditation arsenal.
There is no substitute for determination and persistence. This really doesn't need any explanation. There are no shortcuts. If you want the benefits of meditation, you have to "show up" every day and put in the time. Any art and any technique require practice, and while some people have inherent skill, even they need to hone it.
The cumulative duration of meditation throughout the day is the thing that matters most, with a minimum threshold for results. Sessions less than 15 minutes do not seem to garner much benefit, and the longer the session, the longer the resounding impact through the day. I've been doing some experiments to challenge this assertion, though, after noticing I felt completely refreshed and ready to move on after just eight minutes in meditation the other day, but I think this comes with a lot of practice, so if you're just starting out, best to be safe and keep to a minimum of 15 minutes. That said, eight fifteen-minute sessions through the day may be just as successful as one two-hour session. It's not possible to say definitively without specific research (and I'm not aware of any) but given that a benefit can be perceived after one fifteen-minute session, it becomes difficult to quantify what the difference in cumulative effect may be, and is possibly completely subjective and/or the same as a single two hour continuous block. I've personally never done less than 20 minutes unless interrupted, but when you meditate as much as I do every day, you get interrupted a lot. So I know that a 15 minute session can still have benefits, while any less than that is usually not long enough to lend significant results unless you are very practiced at entering these states. You should feel free to construct a schedule that works for you. I would recommend no less than 30-40 minutes a day, total, however (two 15-20 minute sessions).
Depending on your mindset and proclivities, it can be useful to vary elements of your meditation routine. For instance, I am always experimenting, and that ebb and flow is part of what keeps me coming back every time. If the routine were exactly identical every single day, I have found I eventually lose interest and will fall off a routine. This, I believe, is particular to my personality, and I actually don't view it as ideal. I think the more consistency you can apply the greater your results will be. However, in the absence of this ability (such as I seem to be working with at times) whatever will get the meditation happening is the important part. If that means trying something different, then try something different. Just do it knowingly, and understand that a learning curve will always reduce the efficacy of a practice. Try not to introduce new material so often that you never achieve any real footing.
Finally, and most importantly, in silence of mind and in a state of pure presence/being is where our deepest creative potential lies. If you don't know what I mean when I say that, then it's pretty much guaranteed you have never experienced the state knowingly, because you will know it when you do, even if only for a few moments at a time. However, anyone who has ever experienced being "in the zone" has encountered this, possibly without realizing it. You'll notice when you are operating in this mode, internal dialogue drops to zero, and actions happen automatically, without the need for consideration. Another term for it is "in the flow" because instinct and intuition take over and the reasoning about actions drops to a minimum. I believe this state is critical to our purest self-expression. If you want a life that works the way you picture it and flows effortlessly regardless of circumstances, do everything in your power to live in or as close to this state as possible at all times. It is an infinite store of ideas and energy, and amazing things can arise from tapping into it. For anyone who knows me in some sense and has ever wondered how I do all the things I do in a day, this is the key.
Tying it Together
"So what the heck does all this have to do with a modular synthesizer??" you ask. Well, what a perfect segue you've given me! As it turns out, my favorite thing to meditate to these days is a binaural beat and some white noise.
To properly explain this, I need to touch on what a binaural beat actually is. As the name suggests, a (bi)naural beat needs to be experienced with both ears, so headphones are generally required. The beat consists of two tones, panned hard left and hard right, typically a straight sine wave. However, the "beat" portion of the audio is not actually directly contained in the audio at all. It is a mental effect that occurs in response to a difference in the period of the waves occurring at each ear. The "beat" will be "audible" at whatever frequency is the difference between the two tones. And because the effect is essentially an interplay between the two hemispheres of the brain, it can actually be used (with practice!) to entrain certain frequencies of mental activity and thus meditative and other mental states. So, for instance, if we play a steady tone of 100Hz in your left ear, and a steady tone of 130Hz in your right ear, you will "hear" a beating between the two tones at the rate of their difference, or 30Hz. In the case of meditation, the brainwaves associated with it are generally characterized in the theta state, which normally exists between five and eight cycles per second. With this in mind, if we were to play a tone of 100Hz in your left ear, and a tone of 106Hz in your right ear, you would hear a "beating" around 6Hz. This would be aligned with theta activity in the brain, and it has been found that focusing on audio containing this type of material can rather easily encourage the related state in brainwave activity.
So, you might be able to guess how this starts to relate back to the modular synthesizer. The short version is that I was about to meditate one day at the studio and thought "I bet I can set up a binaural beat." The patch that follows is very similar to what I came up with that day.
In case you're not here for the modular portion of this article, and even if you are, I'll start by giving you the audio I created to go with this post.
Below is a 1-hour audio file that consists of a binaural beat and slowly panning white noise.
The tones are tuned to center on a note three octaves above the fundamental tone of the Schumann resonances, which, if you aren't familiar, are the ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) portion of the Earth's electro-magnetic field. (out of scope for this post) In other words, the fundamental Schumann frequency, at 7.83Hz, is related to the oscillators in this patch which have been tuned up two octaves at 31.32Hz. The spread between the tones (the "beat") starts at 40Hz and slowly works its way down to 1Hz, which, while I have not yet discussed (again, out of scope for this post) is the realm of delta brain activity, and is where I like to rest in meditation, though it's technically the realm of deep sleep, as well.
Speaking of, if you've never used binaural beats before, or never one that progresses this low in frequency, do not be alarmed if it puts you to sleep! This is actually common and should be treated as a side-effect that must be practiced with to overcome.
So let's start with what you'll need if you want to recreate this patch yourself:
Two separately tunable sine wave oscillators (some modules like the Klavis Twin Waves can provide this in a single module)
An oscilloscope with a tuning function or a tuner capable of displaying the frequency in Hz. I'm using the Intellijel Zeroscope, but did find myself wishing I had a Mordax Data for this purpose so I could also see my LFO output at the same time.
A noise source. I'm using pink noise from the Intellijel Noise Tools.
A stereo mixer with CV controllable panning per channel. I'm using the WMD Performance Mixer, but an X-Pan or similar would also work just fine.
A through-zero LFO, or two unipolar LFO's in sequence run through attenuverters (which is what I'm using here).
(Optional) An attenuverter like the Intellijel Quadratt with voltage normalized to a channel to control oscillator pitch in unison.
(Optional) A buffered mult for the above pitch voltage.
Generally speaking, while you technically can just "jump into" a binaural beat and have it work, they tend to work the best when the frequency is arrived at gradually, especially for lower, deeper frequencies and states.
Because of this, the audio starts with just the white noise fading in while slowly panning. Shortly thereafter, the two tones come up, but are initially tuned around 100Hz and 140Hz respectively. This is achieved via the continuous voltage from Quadratt, multed to each oscillator's pitch input. The oscillators are tuned to their final pitches initially, then the voltage from Quadratt is introduced, until they reach 100Hz. At this point one of the oscillators is manually tuned up 40Hz.
This is where we start when the oscillators first fade in. When the pitch is lowered back to the home frequencies, both the Quadratt voltage and the introduced pitch offset are slowly, manually lowered back to their starting points.
So, the main components of the patch can be thought of as:
A noise source
A stereo mixer
A modulation source for panning noise
Optional voltage source for pitch control
And the configuration of these is as follows:
This image was created with the Patch & Tweak patch editor.
In the above diagram, the blank audio modifier is the oscilloscope/tuner. It sits between the oscillators and the mixer to analyze their output during adjustments.
The best thing about this patch is its relative simplicity, yet it is incredibly flexible for all sorts of meditation-oriented output. Patch in a sampler and add relaxing atmospheric field recordings or other sounds. Adjust the oscillator pitches and offsets to induce different states and effects. You could even experiment with different wave shapes, though it may negatively impact efficacy.
While this is just one of a myriad of possible techniques for auditory-induced states, in my experience it is simple to configure and offers a wide variety of uses.
Meditation is a critically important tool, especially in these extremely chaotic times. The more time you find to practice, the more consistent your results will be. You'll have to take my word for it that the results are profound if you have not experienced it yourself yet. If you try out this patch, I would love to hear your experiences. And if you are new to any of these concepts, here is a list of resources that may help explain:
Binaural beats https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binaural https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat video example (these are fairly common techniques employed in this audio and patch, as evidenced by this video which I found after writing the article).
I hope you experiment with this, and I look forward to hearing (about) your creations!