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«Mindfulness In Plain English By Ven. Henepola Gunaratana Preface In my experience I found that the most effective way to express something in order ...»

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Find yourself a quiet place, a secluded place, a place where you will be alone. It doesn't have to be some ideal spot in the middle of a forest. That's nearly impossible for most of us, but it should be a place where you feel comfortable, and where you won't be disturbed. It should also be a place where you won't feel on display. You want all of your attention free for meditation, not wasted on worries about how you look to others. Try to pick a spot that is as quiet as possible. It doesn't have to be a soundproof room, but there are certain noises that are highly distracting, and they should be avoided. Music and talking are about the worst. The mind tends to be sucked in by these sounds in an uncontrollable manner, and there goes your concentration.

There are certain traditional aids that you can employ to set the proper mood. A darkened room with a candle is nice. Incense is nice. A little bell to start and end your sessions is nice. These are paraphernalia, though. They provide encouragement to some people, but they are by no means essential to the practice.

You will probably find it helpful to sit in the same place each time. A special spot reserved for meditation and nothing else is an aid for most people. You soon come to associate that spot with the tranquility of deep concentration, and that association helps you to reach deep states more quickly. The main thing is to sit in a place that you feel is conducive to your own practice. That requires a bit of experimentation. Try several spots until you find one where you feel comfortable. You only need to find a place where you don't feel self-conscious, and where you can meditate without undue distraction.

Many people find it helpful and supportive to sit with a group of other meditators. The discipline of regular practice is essential, and most people find it easier to sit regularly if they are bolstered by a commitment to a group sitting schedule. You've given your word, and you know you are expected. Thus the 'I'm too busy' syndrome is cleverly skirted.

You may be able to locate a group of practicing meditators in your area. It doesn't matter if they practice a different form of meditation, so long as it's one of the silent forms. On the other hand, you also should try to be self-sufficient in your practice. Don't rely on the presence of a group as your sole motivation to sit. Properly done, sitting is a pleasure.

Use the group as an aid, not as a crutch.

When To Sit

The most important rule here is this: When it comes to sitting, the description of Buddhism as the Middle Way applies. Don't overdo it. Don't underdo it. This doesn't mean you just sit whenever the whim strikes you. It means you set up a practice schedule and keep to it with a gentle, patient tenacity. Setting up a schedule acts as an encouragement. If, however, you find that your schedule has ceased to be an encouragement and become a burden, then something is wrong. Meditation is not a duty, nor an obligation.

Meditation is psychological activity. You will be dealing with the raw stuff of feelings and emotions. Consequently, it is an activity which is very sensitive to the attitude with which you approach each session. 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. Make it reasonable. Make it fit with the rest of your life.

And if it starts to feel like you're on an uphill treadmill toward liberation, then change something.

First thing in the morning is a great time to meditate. Your mind is fresh then, before you've gotten yourself buried in responsibilities. Morning meditation is a fine way to start the day. It tunes you up and gets you ready to deal with things efficiently. You cruise through the rest of the day just a bit more lightly. Be sure you are thoroughly awake, though. You won't make much progress if you are sitting there nodding off, so get enough sleep. Wash your face, or shower before you begin. You may want to do a bit of exercise beforehand to get the circulation flowing. Do whatever you need to do in order to wake up fully, then sit down to meditate. Do not, however, let yourself get hung up in the day's activities. It's just too easy to forget to sit. Make meditation the first major thing you do in the morning.

The evening is another good time for practice. Your mind is full of all the mental rubbish that you have accumulated during the day, and it is great to get rid of the burden before you sleep. Your meditation will cleanse and rejuvenate your mind. Re-establish your mindfulness and your sleep will be real sleep. When you first start meditation, once a day is enough. If you feel like meditating more, that's fine, but don't overdo it. There's a burnout phenomenon we often see in new meditators. They dive right into the practice fifteen hours a day for a couple of weeks, and then the real world catches up with them. They decide that this meditation business just takes too much time. Too many sacrifices are required. They haven't got time for all of this. Don't fall into that trap. Don't burn yourself out the first week. Make haste slowly. Make your effort consistent and steady. Give yourself time to incorporate the meditation practice into your life, and let your practice grow gradually and gently.

As your interest in meditation grows, you'll find yourself making more room in your schedule for practice. It's a spontaneous phenomenon, and it happens pretty much by itself -- no force necessary.

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.

How Long To Sit A similar rule applies here: Sit as long as you can, but don't overdo. Most beginners start with twenty or thirty minutes. Initially, it's difficult to sit longer than that with profit. The posture is unfamiliar to Westerners, and it takes a bit of time for the body to adjust. The mental skills are equally unfamiliar, and that adjustment takes time, too.

As you grow accustomed to procedure, you can extend your meditation little by little. We recommend that after a year or so of steady practice you should be sitting comfortable for an hour at a time.

Here is an important point, though: Vipassana meditation is not a form of asceticism.

Self-mortification is not the goal. We are trying to cultivate mindfulness, not pain. Some pain is inevitable, especially in the legs. We will thoroughly cover pain, and how to handle it, in Chapter 10. There are special techniques and attitudes which you will learn for dealing with discomfort. The point to be made here is this: This is not a grim endurance contest. You don't need to prove anything to anybody. So don't force yourself to sit with excruciating pain just to be able to say that you sat for an hour. That is a useless exercise in ego. And don't overdo it in the beginning. Know your limitations, and don't condemn yourself for not being able to sit forever, like a rock.

As meditation becomes more and more a part of your life, you can extend your sessions beyond an hour. As a general rule, just determine what is a comfortable length of time for you at this point in your life. Then sit five minutes longer than that. There is no hard and fast rule about length of time for sitting. Even if you have established a firm minimum, there may be days when it is physically impossible for you to sit that long. That doesn't mean that you should just cancel the whole idea for that day. It's crucial to sit regularly.

Even ten minutes of meditation can be very beneficial.

Incidentally, you decide on the length of your session before you meditate. Don't do it while you are meditating. It's too easy to give in to restlessness that way, and restlessness is one of the main items that we want to learn to mindfully observe. So choose a realistic length of time, and then stick to it.

You can use a watch to time your sessions, but don't peek at it every two minutes to see how you are doing. Your concentration will be completely lost, and agitation will set in.

You'll find yourself hoping to get up before the session is over. That's not meditation -that's clock watching. Don't look at the clock until you think the whole meditation period has passed. Actually, you don't need to consult the clock at all, at least not every time you meditate. In general, you should be sitting for as long as you want to sit. There is no magic length of time. It is best, though, to set yourself a minimum length of time. If you haven't predetermined a minimum, you'll find yourself prone to short sessions. You'll bolt every time something unpleasant comes up or whenever you feel restless. That's not good. These experiences are some of the most profitable a meditator can face, but only if you sit through them. You've got to learn to observe them calmly and clearly. Look at them mindfully. When you've done that enough times, they lose their hold on you. You see them for what they are: just impulses, arising and passing away, just part of the passing show. Your life smoothes out beautifully as a consequence.

'Discipline' is a difficult word for most of us. It conjures up images of somebody standing over you with a stick, telling you that you're wrong. But self-discipline is different. It's the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting of your own impulses and piercing their secret. They have no power over you. It's all a show, a deception. Your urges scream and bluster at you; they cajole; they coax; they threaten; but they really carry no stick at all.

You give in out of habit. You give in because you never really bother to look beyond the threat. It is all empty back there. There is only one way to learn this lesson, though. The words on this page won't do it. But look within and watch the stuff coming up -restlessness, anxiety, impatience, pain-- just watch it come up and don't get involved.

Much to your surprise, it will simply go away. It rises, it passes away. As simple as that.

There is another word for 'self-discipline'. It is 'Patience'.

–  –  –

In Theravada Buddhist countries, it is traditional to begin each meditation session with the recitation of a certain set of formulas. An American audience is likely to take one glance at these invocations and to dismiss them as harmless rituals and nothing more. The so-called rituals, however, have been devised and refined by a set of pragmatic and dedicated men and women, and they have a thoroughly practical purpose. They are therefore worthy of deeper inspection.

The Buddha was considered contrary in his own day. He was born into an intensely overritualized society, and his ideas appeared thoroughly iconoclastic to the established hierarchy of his own era. On numerous occasions, he disavowed the use of rituals for their own sake, and he was quite adamant about it. This does not mean that ritual has no use. It means that ritual by itself, performed strictly for it's own sake, will not get you out of the trap. If you believe that mere recitation of words will save you, then you only increase your own dependence on words and concepts. This moves you away from the wordless perception of reality rather than toward it. Therefore, the formulae which follow must be practiced with a clear understanding of what they are and why they work. They are not magical incantations. They are psychological cleansing devices which require active mental participation in order to be effective. Mumbled words without intention are useless. Vipassana meditation is a delicate psychological activity, and the mental set of the practitioner is crucial to its success. The technique works best in an atmosphere of calm, benevolent confidence. And these recitations have been designed to foster those attitudes. Correctly used, they can act as a helpful tool on the path to liberation.

The Threefold Guidance

Meditation is a tough job. It is an inherently solitary activity. One person battles against enormously powerful forces, part of the very structure of the mind doing the meditating.

When you really get into it, you will eventually find yourself confronted with a shocking realization. One day you will look inside and realize the full enormity of what you are actually up against. What you are struggling to pierce looks like a solid wall so tightly knit that not a single ray of light shines through. You find yourself sitting there, staring at this edifice and you say to yourself, "That? I am supposed to get past that? But it's impossible! That is all there is. That is the whole world. That is what everything means, and that is what I use to define myself and to understand everything around me, and if I take that away the whole world will fall apart and I will die. I cannot get through that. I just can't."

It is a very scary feeling, a very lonely feeling. You feel like, "Here I am, all alone, trying to punch away something so huge it is beyond conception." To counteract this feeling, it is useful to know that you are not alone. Others have passed this way before. They have confronted that same barrier, and they have pushed their way through to the light. They have laid out the rules by which the job can be done, and they have banded together into a brotherhood for mutual encouragement and support. The Buddha found his way through this very same wall, and after him came many others. He left clear instructions in the form of the Dhamma to guide us along the same path. And he founded the Sangha, the brotherhood of monks to preserve that path and to keep each other on it. You are not alone, and the situation is not hopeless.

Meditation takes energy. You need courage to confront some pretty difficult mental phenomena and the determination to sit through various unpleasant mental states.

Laziness just will not serve. In order to pump up your energy for the job, repeat the following statements to yourself. Feel the intention you put into them. Mean what you say.

"I am about to tread the very 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."

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