Book Review: “Meditation Without Bullshit” by Aaron S. Elias
Meditation Without Bullshit: A Guide for Rational Men is the new book by Aaron Sleazy, who is currently writing under the new pseudonym Aaron S. Elias. As a full disclosure, Sleazy is a personal friend of mine and I contributed editing suggestions for this book.
The purpose of Meditation Without Bullshit is to set out a meditation plan able to be undertaken by the average guy, while stripping out anything Sleazy deems mystical, fraudulent, or just plain nonsense. The goal of the book is to teach the meditator how to clear his mind through progressive training, so that he is able to live life more on his own terms through better control of his thoughts and emotions. Sleazy is a rational materialist and sees no point in attempting “spiritual progress”; his meditation plan is therefore designed to maximize quality of experience in this life, in this body, in this world. Those with inclinations beyond the mundane will likely find this aspect a turn-off.
Meditation Without Bullshit is fairly short at 117 pages and can be read comfortably in a single sitting. The book is split roughly into five sections. The first outlines the case for learning meditation in the first place, supported by examples from Sleazy’s life where meditation has been beneficial for him. This is a good section with a lot of common-sense reminders as to why most of us started meditating in the first place. A few sexist rants are thrown in here, which will appeal to Sleazy’s regular readers and other members of the “manosphere”.
The next section is a list of things you don’t need for meditation practice. Here is where Sleazy throws on the bonfire everything from the last five thousand years of meditation which does not fit into his own method or worldview. I agree with many of his points here. For example, his descriptions of nightmarish group meditation sessions closely match my own post about my Bizarre Sahaja Yoga Class. I also agree that the commercial tat many New Agers indulge in buying such as gongs and incense sticks are more about cultivating the image of a meditator than actually practising. I find Sleazy’s allusion that all meditation teachers are simply trying to rip off their students and get laid to be rather caricatured, however, for obvious reasons (though some certainly are doing just that).
Chakras, mudras, mantras and other aspects of the yogic energy model also get savaged in this section. It appears however that Sleazy is dismissing these ideas out of hand because he doesn’t like the sound of them, rather than from having seriously tried them. For example, while I am not particularly invested in the chakra model, I can discern a qualitative difference between meditating at, say, the heart chakra, and the third eye chakra. Additionally, giving a hand pose such as dhyana mudra to a student can provide an immediate calming effect, probably due to the strong neural connections between the hands and the brain. A mudra can also help ritualize practice by anchoring the calm meditative state to a hand shape for quicker access to that state. Hand shapes have direct two-way effects on perception, which is why they are key components of body language. That yogis have discovered they can be utilized to aid meditation is not a leap, nor is it “bullshit”, in my experience.
Similarly, mantra practice (such as the excellent one written up by Arpan here) can induce strong bliss relatively rapidly compared to less directive meditations. Contrary to what Sleazy seems to think, a mantra need not make sense in the meditator’s native language – in fact, it is a strength that it does not mean anything, as we are not looking to trigger verbal conceptual thought. Mantras work on a number of levels in my experience, and an easy one to understand is that the regular tones are somewhat self-soothing like a baby’s cry. This makes them particularly useful for smoothing out anxious and other discordant mind-states.
These concepts are all easily translatable to the materialist paradigm if they are considered as nerve current flows, mental modes and endocrine events, and such practices can help some students progress faster than they otherwise would, particularly if they have severe runaway thoughts and need to be given something to “do”. So, in my opinion, Sleazy throws the baby out with the bathwater in a few respects in this section – consistent with the “My way or the highway” attitude prevalent in this book and his previous works. However, this section is humorously written and fans of Sleazy’s acerbic wit will have several laugh-out-loud moments.
The actual meditation practice makes quite a late appearance in this book, at page 61. Sleazy’s meditation style is of the “let thoughts go” variety, making it a nondirective meditation more similar to Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Inquiry (a.k.a. Awareness Watching Awareness) than object-based Buddhist or yogic practice. However, as a rational materialist, Sleazy’s investigations do not proceed beyond the mind; presumably, he equates “awareness” with “the mind” as one and the same, and being nothing more than the workings of the brain. However, his practice can take one beyond the mind, and later in the book Sleazy writes off some of his more profound meditative experiences as simple hallucinations. In my opinion this is a waste of an advanced state of practice which could potentially take Sleazy all the way to full awakening with the right philosophical foundation, but evidently he and I have irreconcilable worldviews in this regard. Placing mind at the limit of practice will appeal to other rational materialists, but limits the book philosophically for those seeking something more profound belying everyday experience.
Being in the nondirective meditation camp, Sleazy does not use a meditation object such as the breath, and even rails against breath awareness at one point, calling it “worse than a crutch”. My opinion here is that the choice of directive vs. nondirective practice depends upon the student’s initial needs and inclinations, and what his goals are. “One size fits all” works no better in meditation than it does in seduction, Sleazy’s other main writing subject. If directive meditation is chosen however, the object must be dropped eventually in order to discover awareness itself. The question then becomes: “When?” My current opinion on this is: the sooner the better.
The section on actual meditation practice is the shortest in the book, which is understandable since it does not utilize meditation objects. The method mainly instructs on the letting go of visual and verbal thoughts. This is not surprising since rationalists like Sleazy tend to be very identified with the left-brain mode known as conceptual thought. This section could therefore have benefited from guidance on the letting go of what we might call “pre-thought forms” such as feelings of abandonment or other existential anxieties of which conceptual thoughts are only a surface reflection. Readers might therefore find the following link to be a useful addendum for this purpose: Abandon Release Method. Alternatively, the soft mantra mentioned earlier can also be extremely calming for these discordant states.
The fourth part of the book talks about various meditative states Sleazy has experienced, for which he has invented his own labels. I quickly noticed that these stages somewhat lined up with existing maps in the following way:
- “Chaos” is the chaotic mind-state before meditation.
- “Clarity” is, loosely, access concentration.
- “Warmth” is the first jhana, expanding to fourth jhana by the time we reach “Unbinding”.
- “Disconnect” is the formless realms (fifth through eighth jhana), with much of the experience described appearing to take place in the sixth jhana, Infinite Consciousness (and Sleazy is right in his conjecture that this is also the jhana activated by LSD, although he has never taken the drug).
It is both interesting and reassuring to me that, whatever meditative path is chosen, one’s progress tends to unfold in familiar patterns – if one practices enough. This however brings me to my first major issue with this book – namely that the session times Sleazy recommends in his core method are a) unlikely to grant these more exalted states and b) not the schedule Sleazy actually used in his own development, as he states in the Appendix he practised far longer sits when first starting out.
In his core method, Sleazy advises that the beginner starts with two-minute meditations, advancing to five then 15, and then 30 minutes per session many months in. He cites “diminishing returns” after 15 minutes. I do in fact agree with him here in a certain respect. We might divide meditation up into two levels: The first is where you meditate for 15 or 30 minutes per day to “blow away the cobwebs”. There are many gains to be had here in terms of reducing mental noise. It is akin to throwing ballast overboard so that your hot air balloon flies higher – i.e. you can make better use of your existing mental setup for everyday life. Everyone should do this level of meditation every day, and it should be thought of in the same way as brushing your teeth. In my experience, though, pretty much any meditation technique will work for this first level. Sitting down to meditate in any fashion introduces a level of mental equanimity, simply by virtue that you are forcing yourself to sit through and tolerate your restless mind.
The second level of meditation however is where true personality change can occur. This typically involves sitting far longer and cultivating states of deep calm (“Warmth” and so forth in Sleazy’s map) in order that the calm state “bakes in” and causes permanent neurochemical and psychological change for the better. I personally feel that this kind of change is one of the true purposes of meditation, rather than just learning to be a slightly better Average Joe through some basic daily mind-clearing. The issue however is that, to cultivate these profound states – which really “do the damage” regarding removing anxiety and depression, in my experience – the typical meditator will need to sit for far longer than 15 minutes a day, and be more diligent in his practice than the book implies. This is not addressed until the final section, “Appendix”, under the heading “Serious Meditation”. Here, Sleazy states that when starting out he actually meditated two hours per day on weekdays and up to six hours per day on weekends. So, there is a rather large discrepancy between the meditation plan presented in the book, and what Sleazy actually did to gain the permanent mental changes he enjoys every day. Obviously this book is aimed at absolute beginners who might be scared off by the suggestion of longer practice times, but my advice to them is that if they wish to attain all the benefits Sleazy describes in the book then they should follow his core method but aim to be sitting the lengths of time discussed in the Appendix by the end of the first year.
With these criticisms out of the way, I will now discuss what I really liked about this book. Sleazy is an advanced meditator who has been cultivating the higher jhanas for 20 years. We did not know this about him until he wrote this book. He achieved this by himself with apparently little or no training, just working with his own natural meditative faculties which I believe we all have. This is an inspiring story for those asking themselves whether they should start meditating, especially if they are put off by the religious or spiritual connotations of most meditation systems.
Furthermore, if you enjoy reading about the “Sleazy” character, this is an important part of his story, and puts his previous writings on seduction in a new light. Could he possibly have pulled off such wanton acts of sexual debauchery in front of a baying crowd (some of which I witnessed) – while sober – had he not cultivated such an imperturbable mental state through meditation? I doubt it. Back when I occasionally attempted such things I would need to be loaded with MDMA to pull it off. MDMA raises serotonin and other feel-good neurochemicals. Interestingly, in this book Sleazy relays the story of how he was once misdiagnosed with a brain tumour as a result of abnormally high serotonin levels. I remember this story as it took place around the time he came to visit me, and it was in fact I who suggested that his long-term meditation practice may have been the cause. I can also confirm that Sleazy is one of the most eerily calm people I have ever met, showing that meditation can work.
In summary, while Sleazy takes his current meditation level for granted at times in this book, and is overzealous when dismissing certain things as “bullshit”, this is nevertheless a funny and entertaining biographical read, and the meditation practice provided should help most people develop some control over their restless minds. While some readers may well “luck” their way into the more exalted states Sleazy describes in the book (via a natural inclination or some other prior conditioning), most readers are likely to require more thorough guidance and a stricter regimen to attain those states. It is unclear why some people fall into jhana relatively easily while others struggle for years, but when learning meditation you should always seek to learn from those who have attained the states you seek – and Sleazy evidently has.