In the winter of 1999 I found myself among a group of almost 800 people at a ten-day Silent Mindfulness Meditation course on a serene hillock in Igatpuri, a three hours drive from Mumbai.
These people had gathered to learn the ancient technique of Vipassana, as taught by the Buddha three-thousand years ago.
After a four-year grueling journey as an outwardly brilliant academic success but internally full of conflict for not having the guts to chose the career path I really wanted to go down, and almost on the verge of giving up my top laureates by willful self-sabotage, someone recommended Vipassana which means seeing things like they really are. Little did I know how invaluable this technique would be in my trading.
Understanding the technique was simple and seemed superficial in application. This was a technique of expanding breath awareness and body awareness, and needed a dedicated ten days at a center. You needed to be in complete silence for all of the period - the days were completely filled with mindful practice. Each day starts at 4 AM and the only activity you do is sitting still in observation of breath and sensations - this goes on for full ten hours broken only by breakfast and lunch, followed by a video sermon that puts the day's practice in context. The student was expected to go without dinner for ten days, but that paled in comparison to maintaining the silence, apart from no luxuries of life - no books, no music, no contact with the outer world.
However, an account of those ten days can be reserved for another time - this is about the continuing practice and its application to trading - by posting this here I wish to share and reinforce my commitment to this technique before I go into the combine, and essentially stay accountable so that I end up doing the exercise every day to improve my trading.
Here I am posting the basics of this simple technique that has helped me - I will add in details as I go along for the next 30 days.
The technique can be summarized in a few words - the goal is to restore the mind's focus to the breath. Every time the mind wanders away from breath, which means it has enveloped the stray, random, important thoughts that remove its attention from breath, gently guide it back to breath.
This is called the technique of Anapana and is the first step. It sounds simple, but recognizing that the mind is actually wandering is the key. By the time you realize that you have strayed away, the mind is wide off the mark of the breath, and refocusing is done - this happens over and over.
This is where the realm of successful trading lies, and not conquering this realization of wandering is why a trader stays mediocre, never achieving the goals he had started of with. These are the 'voices' that a trader identifies as 'me' and these are the voices, on the fringes of awareness, that blow up our trading. Becoming mindful of these hidden conversations that keep playing inside is the 'holy grail' - becoming first aware of the structure inside you - the deeper fears, the internal self-talk that trading really exposes.
This leads to the technique of Vipassana which is simply observing the sensations created by the breath as it travels in and out of the nostrils. These bodily sensations are, in simple terms, the patterns of the mind that we condition, and which precede the thought processes.
The sensations are of two types: 'Desire' type of sensations and 'avoidance' type of sensations - and as we observe them we realize that thse sensations themselves are impermanent and dissolve quickly, but they leave behind a layer that keeps adding up over life as a residual repository leading to a life of addiction, compulsion, obsession etc. all of which directly affect trading.
The real effectiveness for a trader then is to actually come to terms with the impermanence of each of these feelings - trading can then be tackled effectively by letting go of the past, breaking free of the self-imposed limitations and keep the consciousness on a positive workable level - eventually a trader has to realize that loss and change are a part of trading and life but more than impulsive behavior and self-destruction don't have to be! Looking mindfully we come to terms with our emotional beings that cling to our insecurities and allow us to propel ourselves to balance and peace while trading.
This then is the exercise in short.
I will post here my exercise details each day and will highlight the sensations, negativity and losses that I was able to overcome - always remembering that trading is a process and by setting myself free I can tackle the real issues without habits and negativity interfering at an unconscious level.
The true benefits I have found have been self-evident in scalping where a moment of hesitation becomes the hurdle between red and green, however trading is an activity where timeframe, once aligned with personality, is secondary to trading success - but only once the irrational fears and negativity comes out of hiding and is managed to a mere ripple where it no longer affects our trading. The same challenges are faced by scalpers and long term investors alike.
Continued practice heightens my trading where I can truly separate myself from the market and observe its waves without my inner hurdles limiting me from the infinite opportunities presented to me.
Once I realize that though all of us have internal dialog due to daily challenges life presents as a unavoidable side-effect, uncovering the netherworld instead of avoiding it became a powerful tool in my trading.
Last edited by iqgod; March 2nd, 2013 at 10:11 AM.
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Suggesting a Holy Grail for trading, or any other pursuit, is usually a lead into a scam. However, mindfulness certainly gets us as close as we can get to the real thing in my experience.
Those impulsive and sabotaging 'voices' that keep us from improving trading are the door to true understanding of our self, so do not worry about talking to yourselves! Negotiate with your 'voices' and keep moving forward. It works.
Thanks for starting a valuable thread. Look forward to following your experiences.
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A big thank you to iqgod for starting this thread. I have the following questions for iqgod or whoever is experienced with this meditation technique:
1. How long do you meditate for on a daily basis?
2. Do you meditate for one long session ( for example, 1 hour) or several short sessions (for example 15 minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening)?
I've always wanted to start meditating regularly but keep procrastinating. Unless you go for a 'meditation retreat' it's not possible to meditate 10 hours daily (like in the Silent Mindfulness Meditation that iqgod mentioned) due to trading and other activities. Some inputs would be helpful for beginners like me. Cheers.
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It can be 5-10 min/day but its important to be consistent in your practice so you can recognize the different states of mind, AND the messages your subconscious is trying to tell you.. Once you've reached the desired state, you will no longer want to ignore the thoughts but to begin to pay attention to them because those are coming from the subconscious and during a clear state of mind.
The goal is to quiet the chattering in the mind to achieve a state of peace and tranquility so your inner voices, the voice from your subconscious can be clearly heard. If you find it hard to achieve that state of peace and after reaching a state where your wondering mind has been calmed, and you get a repeating and gnawing sense that remains, its often important that you pay attention to it and address it, and not ignore it because your subconscious is telling you something important and relevant to you that your conscious mind is ignoring.
In the beginning, the goal is to reach that state by calming the chattering but once you've reached that state, you don't want to ignore the subconscious. Distinguishing the difference is not easy in the beginning but you will if you stick with it.. 5-10 minutes/day is often enough to notice a difference. Once you can recognize the difference, you can also recognize it during the trade day and become a lot more conscious of your own state of mind while trading.. I think its an excellent practice for trading..
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With mindfulness you can learn to meditate many times a day, with perhaps a 'formal' sitting down meditation once only. When not sitting you can do a short mindful meditation walk, mindfully work on something, and mindfully trade (of course!).
Two good cheap resources are:
Mindfulness For Dummies Book & CD where you are given a very broad mindfulness brush showing how to get into it. The CD has guided meditations to help. Very good unless you get swamped and lost with the excess of info. And...
Mindfulness. An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World which dives straight into a short course, with 30-45 mins a day (or more) of mindfulness meditation practices (including yoga if you know how to do it). Excellent if you just want a very good clear guide (you can download meditations) and want to apply it to our normal life.
Suggest you just buy one of these that appeals to you, or check local library. Both cheap, the latter only $10 which is a gift really.
Hope that helps.
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First Day of Meditation - Descriptions, Process, Post-meditation jottings
Selecting The Place for Meditation
I wanted to select a place inside the house were I can sit quietly for at least ten minutes. An uphill task, what with getting kids ready for school, rushing to office, scanning charts for setups, and hundreds of other distractions I could come up with so many stupid excuses - this allowed me to skip my meditation practice for years at end and then keep blaming my self, my upbringing, my tools and what not for trading losses. I finally decided on meditating after the children went to school.
The goal is to sit for an hour at a stretch but ten minutes is a good start and leaves no excuses for not doing it.
This mediation diary is also a good way to manage my awareness practice so that patterns emerging in the practice will become apparent. I wanted to jot down my thoughts immediately after the meditation session so that they are recorded 'as-is' without any distortion of memory.
I do not plan to isolate myself from outside sounds, so I will not be wearing earplugs, and will not really mind if small noises are heard.
However I will make sure not to have sounds of television, cellphones that ring or vibrate, music, people talking disturbing me - at least in the beginning. Let's see if these things subside with time.
Hopefully with time many of these things might become "background noise" much like traffic, and not unlike a grandfather clock going tick-tock in a silent room.
My goal is to stay between two extremes - i.e. of the mind concentrated on breath and the mind wandering with thoughts - the goal is not to acutely concentrate but to stay aware of the breath (concentration is different from meditation)
My eyes can be either open or closed.
If concentration becomes stronger or pinpointed than mindfulness then I will open eyes.
When I catch myself thinking instead of focusing on breath, I will 'flag' it silently. Today I experienced that some thoughts fade so quickly that they can't even be flagged - before I can flag them they vanished. However trying to flag "thinking, thinking" dissolved the thoughts so that my mind is back on the breath, which is the goal.
Also, I wish to confirm this to myself: Analyzing the thoughts that come is not a right practice at all because then that is succumbing to their stories - we are gullible to thoughts because they are emotional manifestations of the shadowy voices inside. Unpleasant memories and desirable fantasies all lie in the emotional domain - we get upset by the former and drawn to the latter and our emotions subtly change state.
I wish to note to myself again that thinking beautiful thoughts and smiling is not a kin of meditation. When a meditator is aware of a thought he quickly realizes its impermanence.
This is not about 'thinking correctly' but observing thinking correctly.
My meditation is difficult because every moment is a fresh beginning.
Somehow it is effective in disengaging the mind.
For example if my knees are paining from prolonged sitting, my mind goes into convulsions trying to get me to change my posture. Even this must be observed and not acted upon.
Sometimes my pain is more of a mental kind, like worrying about dwindling trading capital.
When I caught the mind wandering I was tempted to think, "How long have I been not concentrating on breath and thinking?" or "When did I lose focus?" but realized that these are simply more thoughts leading me off a tangent. Acknowledged that I can't bring those past moments back, not unlike the fact that I can't take a trade "back then" - thus I continue to stay focused on breath.
As a fearful thought rises up, like the wide stop being taken out again and again, bleeding my account by a thousand paper cuts, and if I try to get rid of that thought by 'blacking it out' or ignoring and suppressing as we tend to do easily during trading, the opposite takes place in meditation. The vision lingers much longer when we try to 'do away with it' during mindful meditation. This was a surprise to me!
Today I felt the need of oneness, the wanting to be right in my trading rising up again and again.
Mindful meditation had this realization creep up that there is a difference between planning a trade and executing, walking through a strategy and actually 'suffering' through it. Meditation lessens the gap between. Suffering is for things we cannot control but try to anyway - it arises only when we are not in the present which is where correct focus should be during execution of the strategy. (post-sitting observation)
A subtle realization that moods and desires are not our guides, though in this commercialized ad filled world it is difficult to believe otherwise.
A thought rose today while meditating: 'I am trading because trading is a rebellion - rebellion against Authority (perhaps I was a pampered child and authority always bugged me and trading seems to be the ultimate way to be free pf societal obligations and yet have plenty". I observed the thought as it was tangentially pulling my attention away from breath and then let it go, gently drawing my attention back to breath. Something inside changes when you meditate and impartially observe "helplessly".
However after some time a thought came back where I was arrogantly slamming my fist on my boss's desk and saying proudly "I now have a billion dollars and can quit this job without worries. I have the ability to trade! I have become independent!" - other times this thought physically excites me. That tried to happen - I felt a rush of indrawn breath, a thrill, but I kept observing, not reacting. By doing so I was 'letting that thought be' - vile, destructive, ungrateful thought (noting now that this is a 'judgement' type of thought about that thought - not the way Vipassana works effectvely!) - it evaporated as suddenly it had come, rush and all, powerless in the sunlight, away from the shadows.
I realized (now, not then) that thoughts have so much pervasiveness because of "stories" that they are interlinked with. This is the way we give substance to thoughts instead of recognizing them as reverberations that rise and then fade away.
Some Final Thoughts After The Meditation And Application to Live Trading
I apply so much importance to myself as a result of the stories my thoughts lead me to believe. My capital. My trade. My entry. My exit. A meditator cannot 'will away' this feeling - I can only impartially practice the observation of our mind and our body without anchoring them to any 'I'.
I have barely scratched the surface today, though it was a good start.
I achieved a mild 'state' to begin trading with.
However I had a break even trading day after counting commissions - I kept subtly focusing my mind on the breath while trading i.e. breath awareness while looking at the screen - sort of like breathing onto the screen and misting it with my breath and inhaling and exhaling the market movements tick by tick (though not in a literal sense!) - but I felt I was in-tune with the market better, was properly seeing the ends of the trading range, then the expanded trading range, and was correctly taking the failures of each breakout (breakouts mostly fail in a trading range), and though I was more confident than other days, I was still wavering, because (I realize post-event that fear still has a deep hold which will take many more days of meditation to eradicate.)
Truly, shunning responsibility (i.e. not taking full responsibility of actions) reduces response-ability. Meditation promises to cure that but it is hard work, painful work, needing dedication!
My first day's unequivocal conclusion: Mindful Meditation is an incredibly invaluable practice. Why was I not doing it regularly for so many years eludes me. I will be continually reinforcing the practice of mindfulness in daily life!
Last edited by iqgod; March 4th, 2013 at 12:52 PM.
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And this tiny morsel of change has not happened over too much time - I hardly meditated for ten minutes yesterday before thoughts of self-importance pervaded me (rebellion, scene of quitting job) and a scariness invasion (sounds babyish like monsters under the bed, but the thoughts were of a wide stop being hit and bleeding my account).
Today I meditated for one full hour!
I had to drop off my wife to office so I could not meditate at home so after reaching my office which was nearly empty at the early hour I found an empty meeting room in the office, removed my shoes and socks, took out the pillow I had got with me and sitting in vajrasana (kneeling posture) I closed my eyes and started the meditation practice.
Right now I have staggered back to my cubicle, typing this fresh off the practice, and my feet still feel like a bunch of pins and needles and the numbness hurts.
The first few minutes were spent in a fidgety way - I adjusted, readjusted and the thought came 'I am not started yet, I am just doing a dress rehearsal' - suddenly the focus was on that thought - with a chill I realized how many trading losses I have taken because 'this was just a dress rehearsal account and a small price to pay for practice when I actually get down to trading the multi-billion account'. This sanskara has now been observed and I hope it will be quieter during trading when it surfaces again.
I gently glided out of these thoughts which promised to spiral to a full blown vortex of conflicting emotions and instead got back to the breath again.
There were tiny sounds through the glass since the room is at the edge of the building - I realized that the sounds were of doves cooing, mating calls perhaps. So many thoughts invade the mind!
Went back to the breath.
By this time it had become sweaty because I had forgotten to switch on the room's thermostat and it had become stuffy.
I chose to observe the feeling instead of getting up to switch it on... soon I was sweaty enough to be uncomfortable and could take it no longer so I opened my eyes, got up, witched on the thermostat and continued in the cool breeze. Note this fact: there is nothing to ponder here, but I came off with a feeling of 'having cheated'.
Then there were long minutes of nondescript breathing in - breathing out which went on for a long time. I felt focus. I felt clear. I felt calm and the silence mingled inside my body.
I again realized that so many thoughts are flowing through the mind - then guided myself back to breath.
Then a sudden thought of @AttitudeTrader's experiment invaded my mind where he had been taught by Mark Douglas to count 1..2...3... while inhaling and say 'and' while exhaling.... I suddenly on impulse switched to this type of meditation, abandoning my current practice and when I found myself confidently counting till 155 (155th inhalation) I became aware that I was not doing the planned Vipassana and then continued with it properly till the hour was complete.
In between I became aware that a person was peeping in through the doorway - I realized it was the security guard who had come to check the shadowy figure kneeling on the ground, and when he found I was ok, back erect, and my eyes were closed in deep concentration, he left without a sound. I proudly state that it did not affect my practice. (or didn't it? my attention had shifted from breath to the shuffling sounds as he entered and then the toc-toc-toc of his shoes as he walked away...)
A beep sounded and then I mindfully thought 'opening, opening' then opened my eyes and brought back my awareness to the objects in the room and then wore my shoes and went back to my cubicle where I will work heartily for the rest of the day, as soon as I complete recording my experiences here at @Big Mike!
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