Laughter is inner jogging.
Monthly Archives: May 2010
Change your thoughts, and you change your world.
Entering the Meditation Hall
Entering the meditation hall,
I see my true self.
As I sit down,
I vow to cut off all disturbances.
is like sitting under a Bodhi tree.
My body is mindfulness itself,
free from all distraction.
Finding a Stable Posture
In the lotus posture,
the human flower blooms.
The udumbara flower is here,
offering its true fragrance.*
Calming the Breath
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment!
Feelings come and go
like clouds in a windy sky.
is my anchor.
This cup of tea in my two hands,
mindfulness held perfectly.
My mind and body dwell
in the very here and now.
Watering the Plants
Don’t think you are cut off, dear plant.
This water comes to you from the Earth and sky.
You and I have been together
since beginningless time.
Breathing in, I enjoy today.
Breathing out, I see today is the best day.
Breathing in, I feel relaxed.
Breathing out, I smile.
Walking meditation is mindfulness in action. It’s a good alternative to sitting meditation, when possibly you are a bit agitated, or too tired after a hard day’s work, or simply when you have been doing a lot of sitting meditation and your legs need a stretch but you want to retain a meditative state of mind. It is a meditation that can be utilised in a variety of situations; walking in the forests, along a beach, through hills and mountains, or even walking on the way to and from work or college.
But traditionally it is a meditation which is properly practised in a more restricted, quiet area, where you are less likely to be disturbed by other people. This could be a secluded spot in the forests, in your garden, in a large room or hall, a quiet corner of a park, or anywhere you can find a straight path on a flat piece of ground and walk mindfully up and down. Alternatively you could walk continuously in a circle.
Depending on the weather conditions, and whether you are inside or outside, you can do this practice wearing comfortable shoes, or in bare feet.
Start standing on the spot. Become aware of your weight being transferred through the soles of the feet to the ground. Then begin to walk in the normal manner, at your usual, or maybe slightly slower than usual, pace. There is no need to change the way you walk.
Awareness of Body
First, keep the attention in the soles of the feet, being aware of the alternating patterns of contact and release. Be aware of all the different sensations in your feet as the soles contact the ground, and then as the foot lifts through the air. Feel the sensation of the stockings and shoes on your feet, or feel the touch of ground and air on your bare feet. Let your feet be as relaxed as you can. Notice the quality of the sensations in the joints of your feet and ankles. Ground your attention through your feet.
Then take your attention upwards through your lower legs, through the calf muscles and shins. Be aware of any contact with clothing, and the temperature of the skin. Be aware of the muscles working in the legs, releasing any tension you notice in the muscles.
Then, lift your attention to the knees, thighs and up into the hips and the area of the pelvis. Again notice feelings and movements in the joints and muscles, notice any contact with clothing, any changes in the temperature of the skin.
Take your attention into the lower back, feeling the sensations in the spine as you walk. Now turn your attention to the stomach, letting your awareness rise up through the chest, feeling the rise and fall of the chest with the breathing, to the shoulders. Let your arms simply hang by your sides and let them swing naturally. Feel the sensations of air flowing over the hands and skin as your arms swing through the air.
Feelings and Emotions and the Metta Bhavana: Sometimes we use the words ‘feeling’ and ‘emotion’ as if they meant the same thing. But there is a difference. ‘Feeling’ refers to a basic, almost instinctive like or dislike of something. Depending on whether we like, or dislike, or neither like nor dislike something, we develop pleasant (like), unpleasant (dislike) or neutral (neither like nor dislike) feelings. These responses are almost automatic and we have little control over them.
‘Emotion’ refers to the active responses that we make on the basis of our feelings. For example, we may meet someone we hardly know and for whom we have neither like nor dislike. (The so-called ‘neutral’ person who appears in the third stage of the metta bhavana meditation). In response to the neutral feeling on meeting this person, we may generate an emotion or attitude of disinterest. Being disinterested in someone, or not caring about them, is an active emotion. Or, we may meet someone who we dislike, (the so-called ‘difficult’ person in the fourth stage of the metta bhavana), and that gives rise to an unpleasant feeling. In response to this unpleasant feeling we may give rise to ill-will towards that person in our mind. Ill-will is an active emotion.
When we are not being mindful or aware of what is happening in our mind, these emotions can arise almost without our noticing the process. But when we have developed mindfulness we can begin to see the process taking place, and we can learn to exercise choice on how to respond to our feelings.
In the metta bhavana meditation we learn that by maintaining awareness, we can choose not to respond to unpleasant feelings by generating ill-will when we meet someone we dislike. Instead, at the same time as experiencing the unpleasant feeling we can choose to wish the person well. Similarly, we can experience neutral feelings when we meet someone we neither like nor dislike and, at the same time, wish them well.
Stage One (Self)
If you have problems with wishing yourself well, please consider this is very commong among practitioners in the West, while for meditators in the East this stage is quite easy. Just remember that you simply want the best for yourself, that you want to be happy and well. After all, why did you come to a meditation class, if it was not hopefully to find something that would help make for a better, more fulfilled life?
Stage Two (Good Friend)
It’s usually best to choose someone of a roughly similar age, to whom you’re not sexually attracted, who’s alive, and who is the same sex as yourself.
Stage Three (Neutral Person)
Here you could choose someone you see regularly but know little about, such as a person who often catches the same bus as you on the way to work or college. Or, you could choose someone who you know better but who you neither particularly dislike nor like.
Stage Four (Someone with whom you’re having difficulty – the Difficult Person)
When starting to learn the metta bhavana it’s best not to choose someone with whom you’re very angry, or for whom you feel a very strong dislike, as this could prove too much to take on too early. But at the same time it is important to be honest with yourself and to recognise how you feel about whoever you put in this stage. Remember, you are not trying to make yourself like this person. You are simply trying to develop an attitude of wishing them well.
Stage Five (All Living Beings)
At the beginning of this stage, first focus your mind on an image of yourself and the other three people together, and try to direct your well-wishing, your metta, equally to all four people. Then, gradually direct your well-wishing outwards to more and more beings. You could do this by imagining your metta as a beam from your heart which you first direct to the north and then to other directions around the world.
Or you could let imagined scenes from around the world come into your mind, maybe of friends who are in another country, or of people from around the globe who you’ve seen on television, and through these gateways into different parts of the world, spread your metta outwards.
Or, you could imagine your well-wishing going out as beams of light to all the people you’ve ever met or known, and then each of those people in turn beaming out lights of metta to all the people they’ve ever met or known, and so on, until every being is connected by beams of light. And don’t forget animals and other beings!
Using the Phrases
When you use the phrases — ‘May you be well’, ‘May you be happy and content’, ‘May you be free from pain and suffering’, ‘May you make progress in your life’ — you may find it helpful to sometimes give the phrases a more specific meaning. For example, instead of ‘May you be well’ you might say ‘May you recover from your cold’, or, instead of ‘May you be happy and content’ you might say ‘May you be happy in your new relationship’. In this way you might make the phrases more personalised and find it easier to develop well-wishing in the first four stages.
Choosing The Persons
To begin with it’s best to take a few moments before you start meditating to decide who you are going to put in the second, third and fourth stages. Don’t take too long over this. If someone comes to mind then choose them, and don’t worry whether they’re exactly the right person or not for that stage. Otherwise you could spend a lot of the meditation simply deciding who to choose!
Becoming More Aware of our Emotions: sometimes, though, when we check on our emotions it may not be clear what’s happening. In these situations it may simply be that our emotions are not really engaged. They are like a car sitting in neutral gear. Or, maybe a better guide to our emotions is to look at the state of our thoughts, either as they are when we sit to meditate, or at how they have been before we sit down to meditate.
For example, when we are feeling positive emotions, we find that we tend to see the good things in people. But when we are irritable and in a negative emotional state, we tend to find fault with ourselves and with others. By being aware of our thoughts we can discover an emotional tone to them.
Metta Bhavana: If the Mindfulness of Breathing gives us greater awareness of our body, thoughts and emotions, by practising the Metta Bhavana meditation we can learn how to work with our emotional states and to increase our emotional positivity.
“Metta” means ‘loving-kindness’, or ‘unconditional love’, a love that is given without asking for anything in return. “Bhavana” means cultivation. So Metta Bhavana means the cultivation of unconditional love or loving-kindness.
But “metta” can also simply mean friendliness or wishing someone well. And for most of us it’s best to think of “metta” as wishing someone well. It’s no good thinking that we can give unconditional love to all living beings if we can’t wish for someone we know to be well!
The Practice of Metta Bhavana: The practice of the Metta Bhavana meditation is in five stages, though it’s best to start by only doing three of them. In each stage we cultivate metta or well-wishing as follows:
Stage 1 Towards ourselves
Stage 2 Towards a good friend
Stage 3 Towards a ‘neutral’ person (someone we neither particularly like nor dislike)
Stage 4 Towards a ‘difficult’ person (someone we have conflicts with, or towards whom we have feelings of ill-will)
Stage 5 Towards all living beings
To start with we will only do Stages 1, 2 and 5.
How To Cultivate Metta: There are several ways to cultivate well-wishing, but the traditional and simplest method is to use words and phrases. So, if we are trying to develop metta towards a good friend, then you could use the following phrases:
May you be well
May you be happy and content
May you be free from pain and suffering
May you make progress in your life
[The same phrases can be used in all the stages]
First of all, call the person to mind. Maybe silently say their name to help bring an image of them into your mind.
Then silently in your mind say each phrase in turn. Say each phrase with kindness and put meaning into it.
At the same time as putting in gentle and kind effort to each phrase, leave time after the phrase to observe and absorb what effect it has.
You are being both active and receptive with your mind; actively working with your emotions and receptively watching what effect your actions are having.
It’s like dropping a stone into the centre of a pond and watching as the ripples from the stone spread gently out to the edge of the pond.
You might want to try saying the phrase on an out-breath — then waiting and watching for its effect, whilst breathing in and out another two times — before moving on and saying the next phrase on an out-breath.
Finally, it’s important to realise that you don’t have to be in a good state of mind, and already experiencing positive emotions, in order to practise the metta bhavana. In the metta bhavana meditation you can work with whatever emotions you find are present in your mind. Be honest with how you are and the meditation will go better!
The point of meditating is to bring about a greater degree of mindfulness, so that your entire life can be transformed. To some extent this can happen naturally; the mindfulness we develop in meditation simply spills over into our daily lives, and we find ourselves being more aware of how our mind and emotions function in everyday encounters with the world, leading to an increased freedom from reactive emotional and mental habits.
But we don’t have to simply hope that our meditation will have an effect on the rest of our lives. We can consciously choose to use everyday activities as opportunities to practice mindfulness. It’s good to take a few daily activities and make a point of doing them with more awareness than usual. You may like to check our blog from time to time, because we publish gathas which can be used as a tool for Mindfulness in daily activities.
When you shower mindfully, you can be aware of the physical actions, such as rubbing soap onto your body, or the way you shampoo your hair. You can be aware of the water hitting your skin and running down your body. You can be aware of how your mind tends to think about what you’re going to be doing next, and get into the habit of bringing your awareness back to your physical experience. (Remember that the point in being mindful is not to think about your experience but simply to notice it.)
One attribute of mindfulness has been described by Japanese Zen Master Suzuki Roshi as “Beginners’ Mind”. Beginners’ Mind arises when we let go of the “been there, done that” attitude that we normally carry in to everyday activities. When we let go of the assumption that there’s no point paying attention to this experience since we’ve done it a million times already, we’re free to fully experience those sensations. Having let go of comparisons with previous experiences, we really can feel almost as if we’re brushing our teeth for the first time.
You may also find that brushing your teeth more mindfully and carefully leads to fewer cavities.
Try eating breakfast without reading. See what it’s like when you really pay attention to the food you’re eating. Notice your mind wandering and bring it back to the experience of eating.
Developing mindfulness triggers
A mindfulness trigger is something that will remind you to break out of “automatic pilot” so that you can be mindful, spontaneous, calm, and free.
The Vietnamese Buddhist Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests posting little notes that will remind you to smile and relax. You can post notes so you will see them first thing in the morning, helping to set the tone for the day. You can stick a note to your computer screen or wherever you work, in order to remind you to detach yourself from the flow of habitual thoughts and emotions for a few breaths.
Mindfulness triggers can also be ordinary actions or objects in your environment. You can learn to associate those actions and objects with being mindful, so that they act as reminders to be aware. What might be called “transitional events” can make the best mindfulness triggers. A transitional event is an action that involves changing from doing one thing to doing another. So walking through a door can be a transitional event that acts as a mindfulness trigger, as can getting into your car, or stepping onto a train or bus or tram, hearing your phone ring, or putting down a briefcase.
You can cultivate mindfulness triggers by choosing a particular transitional event, and consciously reminding yourself to be mindful whenever that event occurs. For example, when the phone rings, you can remind yourself to take our awareness to your breathing, and to smile, and to breathe deeply three times before we reach for the phone.
Mindfulness triggers can be very powerful “wake up calls”. We might be in the habit of grabbing habitually for the phone as soon as it rings. This tends to add to stress, since the compulsive nature of the grabbing suggests that the phone is in charge of our lives — since we can’t control when the phone rings we’re not in charge of our own lives, which is inherently stressful. That small gap that we produce after the phone rings and before we pick it up reminds us that we have choices. We can choose to calm ourselves by consciously taking a few deep breaths, and we can choose to pick up the phone in a friendly state of mind by smiling.
Any other mindfulness trigger can be used in a similar way. We use mindfulness triggers as opportunities to wake up from automatic pilot and to be more fully alive in the present moment. We let go of thoughts of past and future, and in doing so we let go of some of the emotional turmoil that those thoughts engender.
You can even associate a phrase or image with a trigger – for example you could say to yourself “opening my heart” as you open the door to your house, and take your awareness to your emotions as you do so.
Times to Meditate
There’s no one best time to meditate. Many people find it useful to get up a bit early and meditate before the pressures of the day mount up. They want to prepare for the day so that things go well. Other people like to meditate before going to bed in order to “unwind.” Both can work.
Some of us see ourselves as a “morning person,” and prefer to meditate before breakfast. Maybe it’s not a good idea for us to limit ourselves with these labels — “morning person” and “evening person.” Even those of us with allergies to mornings can benefit from getting up a little early. The beneficial effects of twenty minutes of meditation before hitting the streets usually far outweighs the benefits of another few minutes in bed.
You might even want to experiment with meditating during the day. You could try shutting the office door, taking the phone off the hook, and catching ten to fifteen minutes of relaxing and stimulating meditation.
Choosing a Time to Meditate
Probably the worst thing you can do is to tell yourself that you’ll just “fit it in” at some point. That point will probably never come. You need to decide when you’re going to meditate and stick to that time. If you plan your week, then plan your meditation into your week to make sure it happens. It’s too important to leave to chance.
Places to Meditate
It can be good to have a particular place to meditate regularly, and to make that place a little special, meaningful, and beautiful. You can do this by having some pictures that remind you of why you want to meditate – you could use spiritual imagery or scenes from nature. You can have candles and incense. The ritual of lighting candles is quite soothing and grounding, especially if you do it with mindfulness, and in a spirit of reverence.
How much time will it take to to Meditate?
The results you get from meditation depend on how intelligently and creatively you engage with the practice, as well as how long you spend doing it.
If you were to spend as little as ten minutes a day meditating, then you would notice some benefits. But if you meditate at least 20 minutes a day you will notice more than twice the benefits than from a 10 minute sit.
You might think that your day is already pretty packed, but there are two things to bear in mind. One is that if our minds were clearer and more focused through doing meditation, then we’d be more efficient in what we do. That would more than repay the time we’d invested in meditating. The second thing is that if we fit the important things in (those things that make a real difference to our lives), then somehow we manage to still get a lot done.
If we try to fit our meditation in around other less important things, then it won’t work. There’s an infinite amount of unimportant things to occupy our time. Well, those things seem important at the time we’re doing them, but that’s because anxiety makes unimportant things seem crucial. If you meditate, then you can have more of a realistic view of what is important and what is not. That’s a powerful change to come from 20 minutes a day.
Of course, once you see the benefits of meditating, you may well want to spend more than twenty minutes doing it. Maybe you will end up meditating twice a day, or once a day for as long as forty or fifty minutes, and you will still get more done than you did before you started meditating!