A somewhat authoritative (or at least opinionated) text about how to practice mindfulness. This book is like a manual with a bit of philosophy, religion, and history peppered in. I enjoyed the specific recommendations for techniques: what to think when you notice yourself getting distracted, how to properly sit down, how much to meditate, how to get started, and what to expect.
Our minds are full of opinions and criticisms. We have built walls all around ourselves and are trapped in the prison of our own likes and dislikes. We suffer. “Suffering” is a big word in Buddhist thought. It is a key term and should be thoroughly understood. The Pali word is dukkha, and it does not just mean the agony of the body. It means that deep, subtle sense of dissatisfaction that is a part of every mind moment and that results directly from the mental treadmill. The essence of life is suffering, said the Buddha.
You can’t ever get everything you want. It is impossible. Luckily, there is another option. You can learn to control your mind, to step outside of the endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn not to want what you want, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them.
When you have learned compassion for yourself, compassion for others is automatic.
The meaning of faith here is closer to confidence. It is knowing that something is true because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself.
All meditation procedures stress concentration of the mind, bringing the mind to rest on one item or one area of thought. Do it strongly and thoroughly enough, and you achieve a deep and blissful relaxation, called jhana. It is a state of such supreme tranquillity that it amounts to rapture, a form of pleasure that lies above and beyond anything that can be experienced in the normal state of consciousness. Most systems stop right there. Jhana is the goal, and when you attain that, you simply repeat the experience for the rest of your life. Not so with vipassana meditation. Vipassana seeks another goal: awareness. Concentration and relaxation are considered necessary concomitants to awareness. They are required precursors, handy tools, and beneficial byproducts. But they are not the goal. The goal is insight. Vipassana meditation is a profound religious practice aimed at nothing less than the purification and transformation of your everyday life.
definition, is the cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. If you find that you are becoming unconscious in meditation,
Learning to look at each second as if it were the first and only second in the universe is essential in vipassana meditation.
MISCONCEPTION 8: MEDITATION IS A GREAT WAY TO GET HIGH. Well, yes and no. Meditation does produce lovely blissful feelings sometimes. But they are not the purpose, and they don’t always occur. Furthermore, if you do meditation with that purpose in mind, they are less likely to occur than if you just meditate for the actual purpose of meditation, which is increased awareness. Bliss results from relaxation, and relaxation results from release of tension. Seeking bliss from meditation introduces tension into the process, which blows the whole chain of events. It is a catch-22: you can only experience bliss if you don’t chase after it.
Meditation does produce lovely blissful feelings sometimes. But they are not the purpose, and they don’t always
Patience is the key. Patience. If you learn nothing else from meditation, you will learn patience. Patience is essential for any profound change.
“Never mind what I have been taught. Forget about theories and prejudices and stereotypes. I want to understand the true nature of life. I want to know what this experience of being alive really is. I want to apprehend the true and deepest qualities of life, and I don’t want to just accept somebody else’s explanation. I want to see it for myself.” If you pursue your meditation practice with this attitude, you will succeed. You’ll find yourself observing things objectively, exactly as they are — flowing and changing from moment to moment. Life then takes on an unbelievable richness that cannot be described. It has to be experienced.
You assumed that they would endure forever. They never do. But now you can tune into the constant change. You can learn to perceive your life as an ever-flowing movement. You can learn to see the continuous flow of all conditioned things. You can. It is just a matter of time and training.
We have taken a flowing vortex of thought, feeling, and sensation and solidified that into a mental construct. Then we have stuck a label onto it: “me.” Forever after, we treat it as if it were a static and enduring entity. We view it as a thing separate from all other things. We pinch ourselves off from the rest of that process of eternal change that is the universe, and then we grieve over how lonely we feel.
Meditation is participatory observation: What you are looking at responds to the process of looking. In this case, what you are looking at is you, and what you see depends on how you look. Thus, the process of meditation is extremely delicate, and the result depends absolutely on the state of mind of the meditator.
- Don’t expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Treat the whole thing as an experiment.
Don’t strain. Don’t force anything or make grand, exaggerated efforts.
Don’t rush. There is no hurry, so take your time. Settle yourself on a cushion and sit as though you have the whole day.
Don’t cling to anything, and don’t reject anything. Let come what comes, and accommodate yourself to that, whatever it is.
Let go. Learn to flow with all the changes that come up. Loosen up and relax.
Accept everything that arises. Accept your feelings, even the ones you wish you did not have. Accept your experiences, even
Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. You may not be perfect, but you are all you’ve got to work with.
Investigate yourself. Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don’t believe anything because it sounds wise and pious and some holy man said it. See for yourself.
View all problems as challenges. Look upon negativities that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow. Don’t run from them, condemn yourself, or bury your burden in saintly silence.
Don’t ponder. You don’t need to figure everything out. Discursive thinking won’t free you from the trap. In meditation, the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention.
Don’t dwell upon contrasts. Differences do exist between people, but dwelling upon them is a dangerous process. Unless carefully handled, this leads directly to egotism. Rather than noticing the differences between oneself and others, the meditator trains him- or herself to notice the similarities.
How to deal with distraction: The recommended procedure is as follows: When we as meditators perceive any sensory object, we are not to dwell upon it in the ordinary egoistic way. We should rather examine the very process of perception itself. We should watch what that object does to our senses and our perception. We should watch the feelings that arise and the mental activities that follow. We should note the changes that occur in our own consciousness as a result. In watching all these phenomena, we must be aware of the universality of what we are seeing. The initial perception will spark pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feelings. That is a universal phenomenon, occurring in the minds of others just as it does in our own, and we should see that clearly. By following these feelings various reactions may arise. We may feel greed, lust, or jealousy. We may feel fear, worry, restlessness, or boredom. These reactions are also universal. We should simply note them and then generalize.
For instance, we sit comfortably. After a while, there can arise some uncomfortable feeling in our back or our legs. Our mind immediately experiences that discomfort and forms numerous thoughts around the feeling. At that point, without confusing the feeling with the mental formations, we should isolate the feeling as feeling and watch it mindfully.
Feeling is one of the seven universal mental factors. The other six are contact, perception, attention, concentration, life force, and volition.
If we simply dwell upon the feeling without separating it from other mental factors, our realization of truth becomes very difficult.
Mindfulness practice is the practice of being 100 percent honest with ourselves.
We do not like it when someone points out our faults, for we take great pride in ourselves. We do not like someone to be wiser than we are, for we are deluded about ourselves. These are but a few examples of our personal experience of greed, hatred, and ignorance. When greed, hatred, and ignorance reveal themselves in our daily lives, we use our mindfulness to track them down and comprehend their roots. The root of each of these mental states is within ourselves.
Our goal is to reach the perfection of all the noble and wholesome qualities latent in our subconscious mind. This goal has five elements to it: purification of mind, overcoming sorrow and lamentation, overcoming pain and grief, treading the right path leading to attainment of eternal peace, and attaining happiness by following that path. Keeping this fivefold goal in mind, we can advance with hope and confidence.
Our mind is analogous to a cup of muddy water. The longer you keep a cup of muddy water still, the more the mud settles down and the water will be seen clearly.
Counting: In a situation like this, counting may help. The purpose of counting is simply to focus the mind on the breath…you are not supposed to continue your counting all the time. As soon as your mind is locked at the nostril tip where the inhalation and exhalation touch and you begin to feel that your breathing is so refined and quiet that you cannot notice inhalation and exhalation separately, you should give up counting. Counting is used only to train the mind to concentrate on one object.
Connecting: After inhaling do not wait to notice the brief pause before exhaling but connect the inhaling with exhaling, so you can notice both. you keep your mind focused on the rims of your nostrils, you will be
notice whatever sensation arises in the body. When thought arises notice it, too. All you should notice in all these occurrences is the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and selfless nature of all your experiences whether mental or physical.
On sitting posture: The purpose of the various postures is threefold. First, they provide a stable feeling in the body. This allows you to remove your attention from such issues as balance and muscular fatigue, so that you can center your concentration on the formal object of meditation. Second, they promote physical immobility, which is then reflected by an immobility of mind. This creates a deeply settled and tranquil concentration. Third, they give you the ability to sit for a long period of time without yielding to the meditator’s three main enemies — pain, muscular tension, and falling asleep.
The most essential thing is to sit with your back straight. The spine should be erect with the spinal vertebrae held like a stack of coins, one on top of the other. Your head should be held in line with the rest of the spine. All of this is done in a relaxed manner.
There are a number of ways you can fold your legs. We will list four in ascending order of preference. a) Native American style. Your right foot is tucked under the left knee and left foot is tucked under your right knee. b) Burmese style. Both of your legs lie flat on the floor from knee to foot. They are parallel with one in front of the other. c) Half lotus. Both of your knees touch the floor. One leg and foot lie flat along the calf of the other leg. d) Full lotus. Both knees touch the floor, and your legs are crossed at the calf. Your left foot rests on the right thigh, and your right foot rests on the left thigh. Both soles turn upward. In all these postures, your hands are cupped one on the other, and they rest on your lap with the palms turned upward. The hands lie just below the navel with the bend of each wrist pressed against the thigh. This arm position provides firm bracing for the upper body.
It is best to sit in such a way that your back does not lean against the back of the chair.
On breath focus:
All living things exchange gases with their environment in some way or other. This is one of the reasons that breathing has been chosen as a focus of meditation.
The Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha’s original discourse on mindfulness, specifically says that one must begin by focusing the attention on the breathing and then go on to note all other physical and mental phenomena that arise.
Now exhale and notice the sensation at the same point. It is from this point that you will follow the whole passage of breath. Once you have located your own breath point with clarity, don’t deviate from that spot. Use this single point in order to keep your attention fixed. Without having selected such a point, you will find yourself moving in and out of the nose, going up and down the windpipe, eternally chasing after the breath, which you can never catch because it keeps changing, moving, and flowing. If you ever sawed wood you already know the trick. As a carpenter, you don’t stand there watching the saw blade going up and down. You would get dizzy. You fix your attention on the spot where the teeth of the blade dig into the wood. It is the only way you can saw a straight line.
Watch the delicate interrelation between the breath, the impulse to control the breath, and the impulse to cease controlling the breath. You may find it frustrating for a while, but it is highly profitable as a learning experience, and it is a passing phase. Eventually, the breathing process will move along under its own steam, and you will feel no impulse to manipulate it. At this point you will have learned a major lesson about your own compulsive need to control the universe.
Every breath has a beginning, middle, and end. Every inhalation goes through a process of birth, growth, and death, and every exhalation does the same. The depth and speed of your breathing changes according to your emotional state, the thought that flows through your mind, and the sounds you hear. Study these phenomena. You will find them fascinating.
[Eventually] you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pellmell down the hill, utterly out of control and helpless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation; they have not.
In the wordless observation of the breath, there are two states to be avoided: thinking and sinking. The thinking mind manifests most clearly as the monkey-mind phenomenon we have just been discussing. The sinking mind is almost the reverse. As a general term, sinking denotes any dimming of awareness.
How it feels to have achieved mindfulness:
You begin to experience a state of great calm in which you enjoy complete freedom from those things we called psychic irritants. No greed, lust, envy, jealousy, or hatred. Agitation goes away. Fear flees. These are beautiful, clear, blissful states of mind. They are temporary, and they will end when the meditation ends. Yet even these brief experiences will change your life.
At the end of a well-done meditation session, you will feel a delightful freshness of mind. It is a peaceful, buoyant, and joyous energy that you can then apply to the problems of daily living. This in itself is reward enough. The purpose of meditation is not to deal with problems, however, and problem-solving ability is a fringe benefit and should be regarded as such.
our minds are like cups of muddy water. The object of meditation is to clarify this sludge so that we can see what is going on in there. The best way to do that is just let it sit.
What you expect is what you are most likely to get. Your practice will therefore go best when you are looking forward to sitting. If you sit down expecting grinding drudgery, that is probably what will occur. So set up a daily pattern that you can live with.
Seasoned meditators manage three or four hours of practice a day. They live ordinary lives in the day-to-day world, and they still squeeze it all in. And they enjoy it. It comes naturally.
after a year or so of steady practice you should be sitting comfortably for an hour at a time.
“I am about to tread the very same path that has been walked by the Buddha and by his great and holy disciples. An indolent person cannot follow that path. May my energy prevail. May I succeed.”
The main trick in dealing with obstacles is to adopt the right attitude.
When you are having a bad time, examine that experience, observe it mindfully, study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a trap is to study the trap itself, learn how it is built. You do this by taking the thing apart piece by piece. The trap can’t trap you if it has been taken to pieces. The result is freedom.
You can suffer through things like that or you can face them openly — the choice is yours. Pain is inevitable, suffering is not.
Problems will arise in your practice. Some of them will be physical, some will be emotional, and some will be attitudinal.
step two. Make the pain your object of meditation. Don’t jump up and don’t get excited. Just observe the pain mindfully. When the pain becomes demanding, you will find it pulling your attention off the breath. Don’t fight back. Just let your attention slide easily over onto the simple sensation. Go into the pain fully. Don’t block the experience. Explore the feeling. Get beyond your avoiding reaction and go into the pure sensations that lie below that.
there are two things present. The first is the simple sensation — pain itself. Second is your resistance to that sensation. Resistance reaction is partly mental and partly physical.
Pain not viewed in the clear light of mindfulness gives rise to emotional reactions like fear, anxiety, or anger. If it is properly viewed, we have no such reaction.
This technique is one of life’s most useful and applicable skills. It is patience.
Meditation goes in cycles. You have good days and you have bad days.
Mindfulness is never boring. Look again. Don’t assume that you know what breath is. Don’t take it for granted that you have already seen everything there is to see. If you do, you are conceptualizing the process. You are not observing its living reality.
At some point in your meditation career you will be struck with the seriousness of what you are actually doing.
If you find yourself discouraged, just observe your state of mind clearly. Don’t add anything to it. Just watch it. A sense of failure is only another ephemeral emotional reaction.
On dealing with distraction:
Rather than dividing thoughts into classes like “good” and “bad,” Buddhist thinkers prefer to regard them as “skillful” versus “unskillful.” An unskillful thought is one connected with greed, hatred, or delusion. These are the thoughts that the mind most easily builds into obsessions. They are unskillful in the sense that they lead you away from the goal of liberation. Skillful thoughts, on the other hand, are those connected with generosity, compassion, and wisdom. They are skillful in the sense that they may be used as specific remedies for unskillful thoughts, and thus can assist you in moving toward liberation.
This brings up a new, major rule for your meditation: When any mental state arises strongly enough to distract you from the object of meditation, switch your attention to the distraction briefly. Make the distraction a temporary object of meditation. Please note the word temporary.
You switch your attention to the distraction only long enough to notice certain specific things about it. What is it? How strong is it? And how long does it last?
Examine the distraction wordlessly, and it will pass away by itself. You will find your attention drifting effortlessly back to the breath. And do not condemn yourself for having been distracted. Distractions are natural. They come and they
Distractions are really paper tigers. They have no power of their own. They need to be fed constantly, or else they die. If you refuse to feed them by your own fear, anger, and greed, they fade.
The meditation technique called vipassana (insight) that was introduced by the Buddha about twenty-five centuries ago is a set of mental activities specifically aimed
Three fundamental activities of mindfulness.
- (i) mindfulness reminds us of what we are supposed to be doing,
- (ii) it sees things as they really are, and
- (iii) it sees the true nature of all phenomena.
The three prime characteristics that Buddhism teaches are the deepest truths of existence. In Pali these three are called anicca (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and anatta (selflessness — the absence of a permanent, unchanging entity that we call Soul or Self).
A balance is essential. Too much awareness without calm to balance it will result in a wildly over-sensitized state similar to abusing LSD. Too much concentration without a balancing ratio of awareness will result in the “stone buddha” syndrome, where you get so tranquilized that you sit there like a rock.
Just about the only rule you need to follow at this point is to put your effort on concentration at the beginning until the monkey mind phenomenon has cooled down a bit. After that, emphasize mindfulness. If you find yourself getting frantic, emphasize concentration. If you find yourself going into a stupor, emphasize mindfulness. Overall, mindfulness is the one to emphasize.
The most important moment in meditation is the instant you leave the cushion. When your practice session is over, you can jump up and drop the whole thing, or you can bring those skills with you into the rest of your activities.
The usual pattern is to intersperse blocks of sitting with blocks of walking meditation. An hour of each with short breaks between is common.
Select an unobstructed area and start at one end. Stand for a minute in an attentive position. Your arms can be held in any way that is comfortable, in front, in back, or at your sides. Then while breathing in, lift the heel of one foot. While breathing out, rest that foot on its toes. Again while breathing in, lift that foot, carry it forward and while breathing out, bring the foot down and touch the floor. Repeat this for the other foot. Walk very slowly to the opposite end, stand for one minute, then turn around very slowly, and stand there for another minute before you walk back. Then repeat the process.
Make a mental note of “lifting, swinging, coming down, touching floor, pressing,” and so on.
If your meditation isn’t helping you to cope with everyday conflicts and struggles, then it is shallow. If your day-to-day emotional reactions are not becoming clearer and easier to manage, then you are wasting your time. And you never know how you are doing until you actually make that test.
Loving friendliness is one of the four sublime states defined by the Buddha, along with compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity.
May my mind be filled with the thoughts of loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May I be generous. May I be gentle. May I be relaxed. May I be happy and peaceful. May I be healthy. May my heart become soft. May my words be pleasing to others. May my actions be kind.
May all that I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think help me to cultivate loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May all these experiences help me to cultivate thoughts of generosity and gentleness. May they all help me to relax. May they inspire friendly behavior. May these experiences be a source of peace and happiness. May they help me be free from fear, tension, anxiety, worry, and restlessness. No matter where I go in the world, in any direction, may I greet people with happiness, peace, and friendliness. May I be protected in all directions from greed, anger, aversion, hatred, jealousy, and fear.
Dukkha is the Pali word meaning: suffering.
Sati is the Pali word meaning: mindfulness.
The Tipitaka, which is the three-section compendium of the Buddha’s original teachings.
The word metta comes from another Pali word, mitra, which means “friend.” That is why I prefer to use the phrase “loving friendliness” as a translation of metta, rather than “loving kindness.”
The Pali term for insight meditation is vipassana bhavana. Bhavana comes from the root bhu, which means to grow or to become. Therefore bhavana means to cultivate, and the word is always used in reference to the mind; bhavana means mental cultivation.