Metanoia

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My name is Scott Brown. I am the Creative Director at one of New Zealands premiere web development companies and produce music under the name Fake Empire.

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Going Modular 2: The Plan

By | Modular | No Comments

In Part 1 I talked about my reasons for entering the modular world and also where I’ve been gathering my information to get started. In this article I’ll talk a little about the basic things I’ve learnt as a complete novice and my first steps towards assembling a case. There is no doubt that on the surface Modular Synthesis can look too hard to delve into, but the more you talk to experienced users and research the clearer things become. I’ll try to impart some of the basics to help get you started. I am still learning about modular synthesis so please keep that in mind if you are a more experienced user reading this article, this is entirely my perspective as someone new to the modular world.

My modular is going to be Eurorack format, I touched on why I selected this format in the previous article – the small size, affordability and large selection of modules were the primary reasons for choosing this format.

Eurorack Module Specifications

Eurorack format calls for modules of 128.5mm height. The height is referred to as “U” and one module is 3U high (3U = 128.5mm).

Horizontal width is measured in “horizontal pitch”, where 1 HP = 5mm.

3.5mm phone jacks are used for interconnection or “patching”.

Eurorack requires ±12V power, in addition to +5V required by some modules. The format uses ribbon cables for power and a two-row ribbon cable connector containing either 10, 12, or 16 pins. The 16-pin connector uses some of the extra pins to distribute control voltage and gate signals from a keyboard to the modules via a common case connection.

Eurorack Modules

If you visit some forums like the Muff Wiggler forum you will come across plenty of people asking the question “what do I need to get first?” or “what is the best basic setup to start with?” – there will no doubt be pages of debate between seasoned modular users about how you should begin. The truth is it really depends on what you want to achieve, you need a plan.

Because you are assembling your unit from scratch you can take it in any direction you want, maybe you want to replicate your favourite vintage synth or explore drones or drum machines, or perhaps you are interested in creating an effects unit for processing audio. Your goal will decide how you begin. I want to add another synthesiser to my setup as I feel my noise sources are currently a little limited. So this is the direction I’ll explore in this series of articles.

To start off, I had a look at my current hardware synthesisers and the various sections that help generate and shape the sound, this provides a direction for the type of modules you will need when assembling a modular synthesiser, things like Oscillators, Filters, Envelopes, LFO and some controls to help shape or sequence the sound. Here are some common terms you will come across as you start to shop around for modules, I’ve included the Wikipedia definitions but don’t worry if they don’t make a lot of sense at this stage! I’ve put some notes under each one about what it does in simple terms.

  • VCO – Voltage Controlled Oscillator, a continuous voltage source, which will output a signal whose frequency is a function of the settings. In its basic form these maybe simple waveforms (most usually a square wave or a sawtooth wave, but also includes pulse, triangle and sine waves), however these can be dynamically changed through such controls as sync, frequency modulation, and self-modulation.
    Translation: It is a sound source, it produces sound.
  • LFO – A Low Frequency Oscillator may or may not be voltage-controlled. It may be operated with a period anywhere from a fortieth of a second to several minutes. It is generally used as a control voltage for another module. For example, modulating a VCO will produce frequency modulation, and may create vibrato, while modulating a VCA will produce amplitude modulation, and may create tremolo, depending on the control frequency. The rectangular wave can be used as a logic / timing / trigger function.
    Translation: It makes the sound move or turn on and off.
  • VCF – Voltage Controlled Filter, which attenuates frequencies below (high-pass), above (low-pass) or both below and above (band-pass) a certain frequency. VCFs can also be configured to provide band-reject (notch), whereby the high and low frequencies remain while the middle frequencies are removed. Most VCFs have variable resonance, sometimes voltage-controlled.
    Translation: It shapes the sound by cutting or accentuating highs and lows.
  • VCA – Voltage Controlled Amplifier, is usually a unity-gain amplifier which varies the amplitude of a signal in response to an applied control voltage. The response curve may be linear or exponential. Also called a two-quadrant multiplier.
    Translation: Modular Synthesisers don\’t have a volume knob, so this is what controls how loud a signal is.
  • Mixer – a module that adds voltages.
    Translation: It takes a bunch of different signals (sounds) and mixes them together.
  • ADSREnvelope – Sound synthesis techniques often employ an envelope generator that controls a sound’s parameters at any point in its duration. Most often this is an “ADSR” (Attack Decay Sustain Release) envelope, which may be applied to overall amplitude control, filter frequency, etc.
    Translation: A VCO outputs a constant sound, so an envelope is used to shape the sound and decide how long it plays etc.

Essentially what you need to get started is a  VCO (something that makes noise) or multiple VCO\’s depending on your budget, and some modules to help shape and contour the sound into something musical. An entry level setup might look something like this:

  • Minimal setup: VCO + 1 VCF + 1 VCA + 1 ADSR + 1 LFO + MIXER
  • Better minimum setup: VCO + 1 VCF + 1 VCA + 2 ADSR + 2 LFO + MIXER
  • More advanced setup: VCO + 2 VCF + 1 VCA + 2 ADSR + 2 LFO + NOISE + RING MOD + 2 MIXER + SAMPLE AND HOLD

This will give you enough to start making sounds, from there you can add some of the wonderfully insane modules that developers are dreaming up to bend and twist the sound in seemingly unlimited ways.

Case and Power Supply

Another component you will need to consider is the kind of case/box you are going to mount your modules in, and how they will be powered. Cases can range from a simple wooden box (sometimes called a skiff or boat – a boat is slightly deeper) right through to more expensive flight cases that have built in power supplies. If you are starting out with a limited budget you will probably want an entry level kit like the TipTop Audio Happy Ending kit or you will take a DIY approach and build your own. I decided to take a DIY approach and build a wooden case to fit my specifications.

The main things you will need to build your own box are some modular rack rails (also known as Z Rails – TipTop Audio also manufacture these) and a power supply. There are some great module based power supplies available to power small cases and make setup easy for us newbies. The important thing is to ensure that it is +12V with +5V available as a lot of new modules (particularly digital) require this. Power Modules simply mount onto the front rails like a standard module and have a “bus board” that runs through the back of your case allowing around 10 modules to be connected.

I opted for the TipTop Audio uZeus as a lot of people seem to use them with very few complaints. Because the uZeus is designed to power smaller modular’s I decided to use 104HP rails (528.3mm) and make it a single row of modules (3U) – this info allows you to work out the internal measurements you will need to mount the rails correctly (where 3U = 128.5mm). How the case  looks outside of that is entirely up to you. I was fortunate enough to have some solid Rimu wood available so my case is built entirely from this.

Module Brands

There are some amazing modules out there and some really innovative companies producing them, so what modules should you get? I took some time to check out the main companies making Eurorack modules  (You can check out a short list in Part 1) and watch the demo videos and/or audio demos that are available on most of their websites. YouTube is also a great resource, if you find a module that peaks your interest then search for it on YouTube so you can see some examples of it in use.

I stumbled across Mutable Instruments when I was doing my initial research and their modules really stood out as being innovative and creative, something that would help me achieve a great sound. They also tend to be multi-functional and contain hidden features so you can do a little more with them. I took the plunge and ordered a few of their modules to get started, my first case will be primarily filled with Mutable Instruments modules but I’d like to expand it with some TipTop Audio, Harvestman and Make Noise modules in the future – when you go modular it seems to become a life long obsession/sickness so so I have no doubt I’ll be building another box sometime soon.

Control

Modular synthesisers use control voltage to trigger sound – you may also see this referred to as CV/Gate. You can use devices like the Arturia Minibrute, Microbrute or BeatStep or some of the Elektron range to send CV/gate signals or you can get a MIDI to CV converter and use your preferred Midi controller to play/sequence your modular. Hopefully my case will be ready in the next few days and I can start putting my modular together, this will be the focus of Part 3 in this series. Please feel free to ask questions or discuss anything I’ve talked about in the comments.

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Going Modular 1: The Idea

By | Modular | No Comments

I’ve been wanting to add another sound source to my studio setup for a while, I’m really enjoying the Microbrute and how it has changed my creative process so getting another analog synth seemed like a good idea. The more I looked around at affordable mono synth’s the more I found myself questioning if I really needed another one… the only other obvious way I could improve my setup would be to add a larger polyphonic analog synth like a DSI prophet 12 or a Moog but they are at the more expensive end of the scale and I can’t afford to buy one. As I looked around I started to wonder what I could do… how could I get a monster synth without having to sell my car to finance it.

I’ve long admired Modular synthesisers but never really thought about putting one together… it always seemed like it would be far too complicated and yet another huge learning curve to tackle. If you aren’t familiar with Modular synthesisers they are basically a synthesiser that is assembled from individual modules, each module has a specific purpose, some modules generate noise while others help you craft that nose into something musical. They look like a cross between a 1940’s telecommunications patch board and a mad scientists laboratory  – A giant machine covered in cables and blinking lights that generates weird squeaking and fart noises. It appealed to me for a few reasons – for a start you can assemble something entirely custom with modules that will all work together even though they are made by different manufacturers. Secondly, you can spread the cost out and make smaller purchases more frequently rather than having to outlay a lot of cash initially (of course if you can afford this then by all means spend away!) and you can also assemble it in a way that best fits the space you have available. You aren’t restricted by the box the manufacturer gives you like a standard synthesiser – you create it and add to it over time to build the sound you want. Obviously if you are like me and working to a budget it is going to take some time to create your dream setup but if you get a few key pieces at the beginning you will be able to start making some noise.

There are a few different formats available but the Eurorack format appealed to me the most. The modules are small, widely available and for someone working to a budget this format works well. There also seems to be a lot of innovation happening in the Eurorack format at the moment with some really inspiring modules coming onto the market so it is a great time to go modular. I have a basic understanding of synthesis and how the various sections on a synthesiser fit together to shape a sound, but I felt like I needed to learn a lot more before I got serious about all this modular stuff. There is a great series of articles at Sound on Sound that I would recommend, I am still working through them at the moment (it’s split into about 30 parts) and for the majority it confuses more than enlightens me but that seems to come with the territory.

I also found a great community of modular heads at muffwiggler.com who are really friendly and helpful. I posted about what I wanted to achieve (it is important to set some goals right away) with a modular and how I was thinking of going about it and received a lot of advice about what I should focus on to get the basic building blocks in place. Another great resource is Modular Grid – This site gives you the ability to sketch out your potential setup and create a virtual modular, it features different formats and modules from most of the major manufacturers. A few minutes on this site and you will start to see how your modular can get out of control really quickly! 17 Modules later I realised it might be time to cut back.

If videos are more your thing then there are some introductory series on youtube, Flux has just started an intro to Eurorack series that seems like a good place to start. You are going to have to spend a lot of time reading and learning and asking stupid newbie questions but the modular community is cool with that so don’t be afraid – everyone needs to start somewhere. It’s also a good idea to look at some manufacturers websites so you can get a feel for the different flavours that are out there, here are a few that I have found so far:

Pittsburgh Modular
Mutable Instruments
Harvestman
Doepfer
Analogue Solutions
Tip Top Audio
Intellijel
Make Noise

So after a fairly intensive round of research and advice from some Modular masters I feel like I am starting to get my head around the world of modular synths, some things are still a complete mystery to me but hopefully I’ll be able to write more in-depth about this stuff soon and use a language that anyone can understand when talking about Oscillators, VCA’s, VCFs and all the crazy terminology you need to become fluent in. Here is a taste of the creative potential that these instruments have…

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Future Sound

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I have had a long romance with music, one that goes back far as I can remember. My parents have embarrassing photos of me as a toddler dancing to Rod Stewart records and in one way or another I can recall music always having an amazing impact on me. I hit my formative years in the 90’s so Grunge was the dominant scene at that time – I had the long hair, faded cardigan, and electric guitar and I was ready to change the world, just like everyone else.

Garage bands were in abundance, and I’m not talking about the kind made by Apple. We filled our parents basements with terrible renditions of Nirvana and Black Sabbath songs and our ears pulsed with the distorted tones of rebellion. I have wonderful memories of this era and it was during this time that I discovered the drums, something that would become a huge passion for me.

I played drums for about 10 years in and out of bands but nothing really serious, mostly bad cover bands with big ambitions of writing original material. After having a couple of Kids I didn’t have a lot of time (or space!) to pursue drumming so I sold my kit and vowed that one day I would try to write and record my own material and learn how to produce it all myself, and that is what I have been delving into for the last 6 months.

I’ve always enjoyed listening to electronic music, especially artists that can fuse live instruments and electronic sounds together to create something highly emotive. I remember hearing Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” for the first time back in 1998 and being totally floored by it’s brilliance – the dark vibe and heavy beats instantly connected with me, I knew that this was the type of music that I wanted to make someday.

It was around that time that a friend introduced me to Nine Inch Nails and the genius that is Trent Reznor. Over a decade later I am still an obsessive NIN fan and the man is still making fantastic (although much mellower) music.

I knew going into this adventure that I wanted to bring that dark vibe that artists like Massive Attack and Nine Inch Nails capture so well, sometimes it’s aggressive, sometimes it’s melodic and ambient… there is no real definitive genre that their music fits into and that is what makes it so interesting.

Conceptually everything sounded wonderful, I knew what I wanted to do – then came the learning process, something that I have discovered becomes more and more difficult with age!

To say that learning how to write and record your own music is a steep learning curve is a giant understatement. There is a lot to learn and it can certainly seem like an overwhelming task. I have definitely hit the point where I have considered throwing this pursuit into the “too hard” basket after reading in-depth articles on mastering and understanding compressors.

Sometimes it is good to just dive in and have a play around with your recording setup, try out different things and see what works and what inevitably doesn’t but don;t get too bogged down in technical stuff.

Luckily there are some great resources and forums online where people are happy to share what they have learnt and also explain things in a way that a newbie can understand.

In the spirit of sharing knowledge I wanted to start writing about what I have learnt so far. I am hoping to write a few articles to cover the many divergent subjects that a beginner needs to think about – everything from technical stuff, writing process, equipment, getting your music out to the world and whatever else I work out along the way, I am still learning myself so it is also good for me to get all this down in writing.

So once you decide you want to write and record your own music, what comes next? Equipment. Let’s take a look at where you should begin and what you need to keep in mind.

Equipment

There is an abundance of equipment out there to add to your home recording setup. A lot of gear looks cool and seems like a wonderful idea, but as a beginner do you really need it?

If you are like me and working to a fairly tight budget you need to purchase wisely. I would recommend not buying the cheapest equipment as inevitably you will grow out of it and need to upgrade, the last thing you want is technical limitations and frustrations turning you off writing your own material. So you might not start out with everything you need, but that’s OK, just work with what you have and add equipment to your setup as you can, if you work out a good process you can work around limitations.

For example, I am currently saving for a microphone, so for now my focus is getting the tracks I am working on into a good structure so that when I do get a microphone I can basically go straight into laying vocal tracks.

First of all you will need a fairly kick ass computer. Recording software (Also known as a DAW or Digital Audio Work Station ) is processor intensive and you will no doubt spend a lot of time working to the sound of your computer fan blasting. I am working on a Macbook Pro with 4GB memory – So far this setup runs smoothly with minimal overload.

If you are reading this site then congratulations! You have the first piece of equipment you need. From here it gets slightly more confusing. The diagram below shows a fairly standard home recording setup and how each item works together.

DAW

When I first started thinking about recording I naively thought that I would be able to plug my guitar into my computer, fire up Garageband and create an epic CD quality recording, this is of course not going to happen.To get the editing capabilities required to record/mix/master high quality music you are going to need professional level recording software – Pro Tools is a widely used DAW and one that most people have heard of, there are a few other great options out there such as LogicAbleton LiveCubase and Reason.

Finding the DAW that best suits you is really a matter of doing some research and checking out the features that make each one different. I chose Logic as I am a fan of Apple products and I was impressed with the instrument library that it came with. The general specs and operational functions across all DAWs are fairly similar but I liked Logic’s interface and capabilities.I have heard some really good things about Ableton Live and have a “lite” version that I’ll definitely check out sometime soon, but for now I am making Logic the core of my musical world (bad Apple joke not intended).Logic, like all DAWs, is a complicated beast. It is jam packed full of features and you are really going to need to take the time to read some documentation and/or watch some video tutorials about it, youtube is full of helpful videos to get you going. Start simple and build your way up to more complex editing procedures, sometimes it’s a matter of hitting a wall with what you are working on and having to learn your way out of it!

Midi Controller

A midi-controller is essentially a keyboard that allows you to control instruments within your software, this can be done using your computer keyboard and mouse but for a more hands on “real” feel you need a good controller.

There are a lot of midi-controllers around and they range from a simple 25 key to the more complicated 61 key with additional features like faders, knobs, drum pads etc… a great start is the Alesis Q25, it has a 25 note keyboard, modulation/pitch wheels, and one fader that controls the track volume, you simply plug it in and play. Most controllers are USB powered.

I recently upgraded to a Novation Impulse 61 – this has a 61 note keyboard, drum pads, knobs and faders to control various DAW and instrument settings, The extended features of this controller mean less time using your mouse to click tiny controls on screen, there is definitely something nice about getting more “hand’s on” and it has definitely helped my writing process.

Again, it is really a matter of doing your research and also checking out some controllers in-store so that you can get a feel for how they work, many of them have semi-weighted keys to give them a more natural feel so find one that suits you.

Read some online forums and see if people are having any issues with certain brands of controller and also try and find people that are using the same DAW as you. Sometimes there can be controller/software issues that may create problems while you are trying to record.

Also check out the company that makes the controller and see if they regularly release bug fixes for their software – more complicated controllers come with “mapping” software that will map the controls on your midi-controller to functions within your software, the easier it is to setup the better!If you are lucky enough to own an iPad there are controller apps available that will provide you with some really experiemental methods of working in your DAW. Lemur and TouchOSC are two great options.

Audio Interface

This little box will be the main go-between from your live instruments/monitors to your computer. You can think of this device as an external sound card made for studio quality recording and playback, rather than for home users.

The Audio Interface plugs into your computer via USB and has all the plugs on it that you will need to track guitars, vocals, keyboards and output the audio from your DAW to your studio monitors.

With home recording you probably won’t be tracking more than one or two instruments at a time so you only need a couple of inputs to get the job done. As long as it has good quality pre-amps, low-latency (a short amount of time to get the data from your instrument to the computer) and 24-bit or higher resolution you should get a good result.

A little research will show you that there are loads of options out there, so just compare the specs and see what comes out on top. One that has grabbed my attention is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 – they have packed a lot of high quality features into this interface and I intend to get one as soon as the next shipment arrives in New Zealand!

Monitors

Studio monitors or reference monitors are speakers designed for audio production, they produce a flat signal so that you get an accurate representation of how your music will sound when you create your final mix.

Hearing an accurate version of your music is absolutely crucial to getting a good consistent sound. Your music will be listened to on a huge array of devices so you what to ensure that it sounds good in all possible situations.

Different brands of monitors will give you slight variations in sound, some have a tendency towards a more low end reproduction and others have a higher peak. You will often see a wall of monitors in a studio so that they can test songs on the most popular options.

It is always a good rule that if a company specialises in only one type of product, then they are going to know what they are doing – KRK Systems have a great reputation and have everything from entry level to high end options. Go to your local music store and check out some different monitors, see what your ears can pick up and what you feel gives you the best playback.

A new and really price friendly option is the Focusrite VRM Box – it is a virtual monitor system that allows you to mix your tracks through headphones, It uses mathematical formulas to reproduce the sound of some of the top brands of monitor. It should give you hints as to where your mix might be off. You also need a really good set of headphones to get the full benefit from it.

Microphones

Microphones are complex little devices and you can easily spend a lot of money on them. For home recording you want a decent quality condenser mic, this will let you record vocals and achieve relatively good results recording live instruments such as acoustic guitar.

A condenser microphone has a greater frequency response which means it is better at reproducing the speed of an instrument or voice. Condenser mic’s are typically used in studio setups and dynamic mic’s are more geared towards live performance.

Initially I really underestimated the importance of a good microphone (and admittedly, vocals in general) – the way your vocals sound within a song will make it something special or a complete failure, it is not something that you can go back and fix within your software, if your microphone isn’t up to the job your music will never reach a professional level.

There is also a great deal you can do with layering vocals within a song, and also manipulating vocal tracks with effects to create interesting soundscapes – essentially your vocal tracks can really shape the sound and flow of your song.

Companies like Shure and Rode make great microphones that are generally considered “industry standard”. The Rode NT1-Acomes highly recommended and it is packaged with a shock mount and pop filter – basically everything you need in one box.

Conclusion

So there you have it, a breakdown of the basic equipment that you will need to start thinking about if you want to put together a home recording studio.

Depending on the style of music you are creating there are probably certain items you can skip over but generally speaking these are the basic things you need to record and mix effectively. For me, it’s about fusing electronic and live instrumentation so things like microphones are required.

The best thing you can do is hit some online forums and start reading up and comparing the specs of the products you are considering purchasing. Familiarize yourself with the terminology and basic functions of recording equipment so that you have some idea of what achieves a good result.

There are some great resources out there where real people (non-endorsed) are talking and comparing products and aren’t afraid to tell you what sounds like shit. Always try and find people that are using your DAW with the equipment you are thinking of purchasing to ensure that there are no driver or compatibility issues.

The market these days is quite competitive so companies are fairly quick to release bug fixes if you do happen to encounter issues.

Get down to your local music store and try everything out, most places will have monitors and equipment setup so that you can listen and compare brands and talk to the staff about what they recommend.

A big thanks to Joshua EllisAmanda Schneider and Sean Rigerfor the technical advice and inspiration to produce music. Also to Nick Slogget for hassling me to write more and to my wife Shereefor supporting this endeavour.

All the equioment I have talked about is available at your local Rockshop, I have been dealing with the Tauranga branch and the guys there have been great, very knowledgeable bunch of people!

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The Fatal Loop

By | Philosophy | No Comments

I have recently been blogging about re-establishing a Zazen meditation practice in my life, I would love to be able to say it was a daily practice (this is probably the minimum requirement for effective Zazen) but the reality of family life and work make that a little difficult, for now I am calling it an “almost” daily practice as there are a few gaps here and there, you can read all about it at 100 Days of Zazen.

A few years ago I had a fairly good daily practice established, I definitely started to feel the benefits and positive side effects that meditation can bring to your life. Since becoming a parent time has become a rare and treasured thing which makes a regular practice all the more difficult, however I have made some good progress so far and managed to sit 8 sessions, generally lasting around 30 minutes.

A couple of days ago i managed to sit for an hour, I also attempted to sit in a Half Lotus position (I usually sit in the Burmese position, or as I like to call it the – I’m-in-my-thirties-and-really-unflexible position) which I found beneficial to maintaing a good posture. It definitely created some pain and discomfort as time progressed but good posture and breathing enable you to overcome this and with regular practice it will definitely get easier, at least I hope it will.

During this session I felt much more at ease with simply observing my thoughts, this gave me some insight into how my own mind works and allowed me to see how thoughts and emotions interact to direct my focus. By the end of the hour I was left with a lot to think about, I feel that there are certain habitual patterns that exist in our thoughts that obstruct us from moving into a clearer more mindful space.

One of these thought patterns that has been accelerated by modern culture is the emotional loop of dissatisfaction and desire, two opposing emotions that are sides of the same coin, a “Coincidentia oppositorum” or unity of opposites.

We are dissatisfied with our situation, we desire something to improve our situation – which can be an array of things including status, objects, money, change of circumstances, love, sex… the list is endless. Once we obtain the object of our desire we gradually become dissatisfied again and need to replace it with something new, and the process repeats in and endless loop.

Thought patterns like this are even more difficult to escape from when the media is constantly slamming us with things that we “need” to fit in to society or be accepted by our peers –  we are told what to think, how to think and what it is acceptable to think about – “If you don’t have object X then you are a failure”. The true failure is that we lose ourselves in this desire, we let it control us.

This is not a new idea, it has been explored philosophically and spiritually for centuries. Monks, Mystics and Thinkers alike have realized that a constant vigilance is required to keep the mind in check. It is all to easy to fall back into old patterns as we begin to examine the self and change our perception. The process of changing your awareness can be very challenging as it brings you face to face with your own false perceptions. These perceptions can become so embedded in our reality that we fail to question them.

I guess this is one of the things that can make Zazen a difficult practice, It definitely challenges the paradigm you have created for yourself, it isn’t just a nice way to relax and wind down at the end of the day (although relaxation is definitely a nice side effect of meditation over time), there is actually some work required.

So how do we get rid of desire? We can’t. At least I don’t believe we can, and even if we could is that really healthy? Becoming completely detached from emotion brings you no benefit. Emotions are a great alarm system, when we feel an emotion like anger it is our minds way of telling us that something is wrong, we don’t need to react to the anger, we can just use it to examine and resolve the current situation. The problem with our “Default” settings is that we attach emotions to every thought that arises even if it drags us down into a negative space.

Thoughts will rise and fall regardless of whether you actively participate in them or not. Zazen is intended to help us rest on a thought and examine it without reacting instantly, if a thought brings no benefit then it can be left to pass.

I think that examining the nature of desire might help. I read a great quote recently that said “all things have built within them the seeds of their own demise.” This quote is referring to the idea of Impermanence, that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux. When we consider that all the things we desire will naturally pass (whether it be objects, feelings or even people) we can start to experience it in a more integrated way, it loses it’s control over us.

We also need to acknowledge our own Impermanence. Your existence like everything else has it’s rise and fall. In this sense we can see that clinging to things is ultimately pointless. Unfortunately our natural inclination is to deny this and distract ourselves until we’re completely disengaged from our own lives and the true nature of things.

Heres a great quote from Buddhist author Noah Levine on the subject of Impermanence:

“The would-be revolutionary should strive to understand the awakened, enlightened view of existence, and the importance of having the correct aims and thoughts about what will bring about the spiritual revolution of freedom and happiness. The awakened view is the understanding that all things are impermanent, ultimately impersonal, and on some level unsatisfactory. I experience this in my relationship with my material possessions, like my car or motorcycle. I know that my vehicles are temporary, that they don’t bring lasting happiness, and that eventually I will be separated from them. Because I understand this, I can enjoy my toys without clinging to them or suffering when they break down.”

After thinking about it all for a while I came to this conclusion – it all comes down to “letting go” which is one of the hardest things to do. I know that I have some negative thought processes that I need to deal with, everyone does, but sometimes our minds are so clouded we can’t see the true cause. Sometimes we simply don’t want to see the cause because it presents to much of a challenge to confront it. Perhaps desire can be processed in a more mindful way by acknowledging the impermanence of all things, by letting go of attachment and deepening your understanding of yourself.

It is great to tackle these ideas philosophically, but we also need some practical solutions. What can we do in our everyday lives to help us avoid the fatal loop of desire and dissatisfaction? Simplify, become more mindful in our approach to each moment and remember to just stop and breathe every now and then. Stop looking for joy in external things, it is only temporary.

The following quote is from Neil Kramer, these words have become a constant mantra in my life.

Stop consuming. Reject hype. Stop watching mainstream news. Educate yourself. Read. Talk. Relax. Connect with and support like-minded souls. Go into nature. Have a big heart and be impeccable in your truth and your integrity. Bring deeper and clearer consciousness into every part of your life.

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