However, there is a fundamental crutch in our culture to rely on experts to the detriment of trusting our own experience. It’s important to learn how to trust ourselves once again. So an increase in gray matter in areas of learning and memory and a decrease in gray matter density in areas of stress and anxiety is cool, but we don’t need to get lost in it.
At the end of the day, it’s our experience that is our most reliable teacher, trust in that more than any research or guru out there.
As such, not only is “Mindfulness Meditation” (the approach most often taken in the West) a redundancy, but it misses the point of meditation completely as I see it.
People are told that meditation is “about bringing the mind back to the here and now, as opposed to letting the mind drift.” But who or what brings the mind back to the here and now? That implies a separate entity making an effort to do so. And upholding the separate self is antithetical to meditation.
Indeed, to initiate authentically meditative states one has to let the mind drift, and watch it as it does. Control is an illusion, and effort is a diversion from what is. Letting go of control and effort opens up space in the mind, releases emotions, and allows insight. It is insight that changes the brain.
Meditation isn’t about methods, techniques, effort, or stress reduction; it’s about play, experiment, discovery, and insight.
My first question to those who want to meditate would be: Why do you want to do it? I consider this question very important, for it is the intention which decides the entire value of the meditation. If our motivation is not as pure as it should be, it is our duty to correct ourselves by right thinking.
Some people want to meditate because they have a disturbed mind and they want a peaceful one….They only want to be free from their restlessness, or their tiredness, or their frustration. It would be better for them to take a couple of sleeping pills for these not only work faster but produce the desired result without any effort on the part of the sufferer.
Other people think of meditation as a kind of therapy for curing physical and mental diseases and although this may happen occasionally, it is not its primary function. Modern medicine with its chemical remedies and techniques has far greater efficacy in this field.
Then there are those who want to gain magical powers or some sort of special powers that feed their already enlarged egos. They want something uncommon that ordinary people do not have — just to show off, in fact. For these people, meditation will be an utter failure, it may even divert them into immoral activities.
We should be very careful, then, and examine our motives as to why we want to meditate. And first we must know what meditation is. For our questions —Why do we meditate? What is meditation? — are closely interrelated. — Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche
Researchers compared the response of 13 Zen meditators to 13 non-meditators to a painful heat stimulus, and compared the subjects’ perceptions of pain to the MRI imagery.
The results suggested that meditators were aware of the stimulus, but that the sensation wasn’t processed in the part of their brains responsible for appraisal, reasoning or memory formation.
Sitting cross-legged, my hands cupped upward, I began to struggle with the basics of Vipassana meditation, trying to pay attention to my breath as it tickled my nostrils. “Vipassana” comes from the Pali word for “insight,” but here in Cambridge, Mass., the term connotes something else — a certain East Coast, over-educated style of sitting on a pillow.
Don’t try to get anywhere in the practice. The very desire to be free or to be enlightened will be the desire that prevents your freedom. You can try as hard as you wish, practice ardently night and day, but if it is still with the desire to achieve in mind, you will never find peace. The energy from this desire will be a cause for doubt and restlessness. No matter how long or how hard you practice, wisdom will not arise from desire. So, simply let go. Watch the mind and body mindfully but don’t try to achieve anything. Don’t cling even to the practice of enlightenment. — Ajahn Chah
The most important thing when you are meditating is to have the right attitude.
- When meditating, donâ€™t control. Donâ€™t try to create something. Donâ€™t force or restrict yourself.
- Donâ€™t try to create anything, but donâ€™t reject what is happening. But as things happen or stop happening, donâ€™t forget. Be aware of them.
- Trying to create something is lobha (greed). Rejecting what is happening is dosa (aversion). Not knowing if something is happening or has stopped happening is moha (delusion).
- Only when the observing mind has no lobha, dosa, nor soka (worry/anxiety) inside it, then the meditating mind will arise.
- You have to double check to see what attitude you are meditating with.
- You have to accept and watch both good and bad experiences.
- You only want good experiences. You donâ€™t want even the tiniest unpleasant experience. Is this fair? Is this the way of the Dhamma?
- Donâ€™t have any expectations. Donâ€™t want anything. Donâ€™t be anxious. Because if these attitudes are in your mind, it becomes difficult to meditate.
- Why are you focusing so hard when you meditate? You want something to happen? You want something to stop happening? It is likely that one of these attitudes is there.
- If the mind is getting tired something is wrong with the way you are practicing.
- You cannot practice when the mind is tense.
- If the mind and body are getting tired, it is time to check the way you are meditating.
- Meditating is waiting and watching–with awareness and comprehension, understanding, not thinking, not reflecting, not judging.
- Donâ€™t practice with a mind that wants something or wants something to happen. The only result will be that you will tire yourself.
- The meditating mind should be relaxed and at peace.
- Both the mind and the body should be comfortable.
- A light and free mind enables you to meditate well. Do you have the right attitude?
- Meditating is whatever happens, good or bad, accepting, relaxing and watching it.
- What is the mind doing? Thinking? Or being aware?
- Where is the mind now?Inside? Or outside (of oneself)?
- Is the watching/observing mind properly aware? Or only superficially aware?
- You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want it to happen, you are trying to know what is happening as it is.
- Donâ€™t feel disturbed by the thinking mind. You are not practicing to prevent thinking. To recognize and acknowledge thinking whenever it arises is what you are practicing.
- You are not supposed to reject the object (phenomena/things that are happening/being known). You are to know (and thus note/observe) the defilements that arise because of the object and thus remove them (the defilementâ€™s).
- Only when there is Saddha (faith), Viriya (energy) will arise. Only when there is Viriya, Sati (mindfulness) will become continuous. Only when Sati is continuous, Samadhi will become established. Only when Samadhi is established, then you will know things as they really are. Saddha then increases further.
- Just pay attention to what is exactly in the present moment. Donâ€™t go to the past! Donâ€™t plan for the future!
- The object is not important.The mind that is working in the background–working to be aware, i.e. the observing mind, is more important. If the observing (mind) is done with the right attitude the object will be the right object.
For more on U Tejaniya, listen to Gil Fronsdal’s dhamma talk.
The point is that really this mind of ours is naturally peaceful. It’s still and calm like a leaf that is not being blown about by the wind. But if the wind blows then it flutters. It does that because of the wind. And so with the mind it’s because of these moods — getting caught up with thoughts. If the mind didn’t get lost in these moods it wouldn’t flutter about. If it understood the nature of thoughts it would just stay still. This is called the natural state of the mind…
The mind is naturally peaceful. It’s in order to understand just this much that we have come together to do this difficult practice of meditation. — Ajahn Chah, “Training this Mind”
If you haven’t cried a number of times, your meditation hasn’t really begun. — Ajahn Chah
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. Habitual deliberation is not necessary to eliminate those things that are keeping you in bondage. All that is necessary is a clear, nonconceptual perception of what they are and how they work. That alone is sufficient to dissolve them. Concepts and reasoning just get in the way. Don’t think. See. — Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana