«Mindfulness In Plain English By Ven. Henepola Gunaratana Preface In my experience I found that the most effective way to express something in order ...»
Another influential factor is your own emotional state. If there is some real conflict in your life, that agitation will carry over into meditation. Try to resolve your immediate daily conflicts before meditation when you can. Your life will run smoother, and you won't be pondering uselessly in your practice. But don't use this advice as a way to avoid meditation. Sometimes you can't resolve every issue before you sit. Just go ahead and sit anyway. Use your meditation to let go of all the egocentric attitudes that keep you trapped within your own limited viewpoint. Your problems will resolve much more easily thereafter. And then there are those days when it seems that the mind will never rest, but you can't locate any apparent cause. Remember the cyclic alternation we spoke of earlier. Meditation goes in cycles. You have good days and you have bad days.
Vipassana meditation is primarily an exercise in awareness. Emptying the mind is not as important as being mindful of what the mind is doing. If you are frantic and you can't do a thing to stop it, just observe. It is all you. The result will be one more step forward in your journey of self-exploration. Above all, don't get frustrated over the nonstop chatter of your mind. That babble is just one more thing to be mindful of.
Problem 6 Boredom It is difficult to imagine anything more inherently boring than sitting still for an hour with nothing to do but feel the air going in and out of your nose. You are going to run into boredom repeatedly in your meditation. Everybody does. Boredom is a mental state and should be treated as such. A few simple strategies will help you to cope.
Tactic A: Re-establish true mindfulness
If the breath seems an exceedingly dull thing to observe over and over, you may rest assured of one thing: You have ceased to observe the process with true mindfulness.
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. When you are clearly mindful of breath or indeed anything else, it is never boring. Mindfulness looks at everything with the eyes of a child, with the sense of wonder. Mindfulness sees every second as if it were the first and the only second in the universe. So look again.
Tactic B: Observe your mental state
Look at your state of boredom mindfully. What is boredom? Where is boredom? What does it feel like? What are its mental components? Does it have any physical feeling?
What does it do to your thought process? Take a fresh look at boredom, as if you have never experienced that state before.
Problem 7 Fear States of fear sometimes arise during meditation for no discernible reason. It is a common phenomenon, and there can be a number of causes. You may be experiencing the effect of something repressed long ago. Remember, thoughts arise first in the unconscious. The emotional contents of a thought complex often leach through into your conscious awareness long before the thought itself surfaces. If you sit through the fear, the memory itself may bubble up where you can endure it. Or you may be dealing directly with that fear which we all fear: 'fear of the unknown'. At some point in your meditation career, you will be struck with the seriousness of what you are actually doing. You are tearing down the wall of illusion you have always used to explain life to yourself and to shield yourself from the intense flame of reality. You are about to meet ultimate truth face to face. That is scary. But it has to be dealt with eventually. Go ahead and dive right in.
A third possibility: the fear that your feeling may be self-generated. It may be arising out of unskillful concentration. You may have set an unconscious program to 'examine what comes up.' Thus when a frightening fantasy arises, concentration locks onto it and the fantasy feeds on the energy of your attention and grows. The real problem here is that mindfulness is weak. If mindfulness were strongly developed, it would notice this switch of attention as soon as it occurred and handle the situation in the usual manner. No matter what the source of your fear, mindfulness is the cure. Observe the emotional reactions that come along and know them for what they are. Stand aside from the process and don't get involved. Treat the whole dynamic as if you were an interested bystander. Most importantly, don't fight the situation. Don't try to repress the memories or the feelings or the fantasies. Just step out of the way and let the whole mess bubble up and flow past. It can't hurt you. It is just memory. It is only fantasy. It is nothing but fear.
When you let it run its course in the arena of conscious attention, it won't sink back into the unconscious. It won't come back to haunt you later. It will be gone for good.
Restlessness is often a cover-up for some deeper experience taking place in the unconscious. We humans are great at repressing things. Rather than confronting some unpleasant thought we experience, we try to bury it. We won't have to deal with the issue.
Unfortunately, we usually don't succeed, at least not fully. We hide the thought, but the mental energy we use to cover it up sits there and boils. The result is that sense of uneasiness which we call agitation or restlessness. There is nothing you can put your finger on. But you don't feel at ease. You can't relax. When this uncomfortable state arises in meditation, just observe it. Don't let it rule you. Don't jump up and run off. And don't struggle with it and try to make it go away. Just let it be there and watch it closely.
Then the repressed material will eventually surface and you will find out what you have been worrying about.
The unpleasant experience that you have been trying to avoid could be almost anything:
guilt, greed or problems. It could be a low-grade pain or subtle sickness or approaching illness. Whatever it is, let it arise and look at it mindfully. If you just sit still and observe your agitation, it will eventually pass. Sitting through restlessness is a little breakthrough in your meditation career. It will teach you much. You will find that agitation is actually a rather superficial mental state. It is inherently ephemeral. It comes and it goes. It has no real grip on you at all. Here again the rest of your life will profit.
Problem 9 Trying Too Hard Advanced meditators are generally found to be pretty jovial men and women. They possess that most valuable of all human treasures, a sense of humor. It is not the superficial witty repartee of the talk show host. It is a real sense of humor. They can laugh at their own human failures. They can chuckle at personal disasters. Beginners in meditation are often much too serious for their own good. So laugh a little. It is important to learn to loosen up in your session, to relax into your meditation. You need to learn to flow with whatever happens. You can't do that if you are tensed and striving, taking it all so very, very seriously. New meditators are often overly eager for results. They are full of enormous and inflated expectations. They jump right in and expect incredible results in no time flat. They push. They tense. They sweat and strain, and it is all so terribly, terribly grim and solemn. This state of tension is the direct antithesis of mindfulness. So naturally they achieve little. Then they decide that this meditation is not so exciting after all. It did not give them what they wanted. They chuck it aside. It should be pointed out that you learn about meditation only by meditating. You learn what meditation is all about and where it leads only through direct experience of the thing itself. Therefore the beginner does not know where he is headed because he has developed little sense of where his practice is leading.
The novice's expectation is inherently unrealistic and uninformed. As a newcomer to meditation, he or she would expect all the wrong things, and those expectations do you no good at all. They get in the way. Trying too hard leads to rigidity and unhappiness, to guilt and self-condemnation. When you are trying too hard, your effort becomes mechanical and that defeats mindfulness before it even gets started. You are well-advised to drop all that. Drop your expectations and straining. Simply meditate with a steady and balanced effort. Enjoy your meditation and don't load yourself down with sweat and struggles. Just be mindful. The meditation itself will take care of the future.
Problem 10 Discouragement The direct upshot of pushing too hard is frustration. You are in a state of tension. You get nowhere. You realize you are not making the progress you expected, so you get discouraged. You feel like a failure. It is all a very natural cycle, but a totally avoidable one. The source is striving after unrealistic expectations. Nevertheless, it is a common enough syndrome and, in spite of all the best advice, you may find it happening to you.
There is a solution. 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. If you get involved, it feeds on your energy and grows. If you simply stand aside and watch it, it passes away.
If you are discouraged over your perceived failure in meditation, that is especially easy to deal with. You feel you have failed in your practice. You have failed to be mindful.
Simply become mindful of that sense of failure. You have just re-established your mindfulness with that single step. The reason for your sense of failure is nothing but memory. There is no such thing as failure in meditation. There are setbacks and difficulties. But there is no failure unless you give up entirely. Even if you spend twenty solid years getting nowhere, you can be mindful at any second you choose to do so. It is your decision. Regretting is only one more way of being unmindful. The instant that you realize that you have been unmindful, that realization itself is an act of mindfulness. So continue the process. Don't get sidetracked in an emotional reaction.
Problem 11 Resistance To Meditation There are times when you don't feel like meditating. The very idea seems obnoxious.
Missing a single practice session is scarcely important, but it very easily becomes a habit.
It is wiser to push on through the resistance. Go sit anyway. Observe this feeling of aversion. In most cases it is a passing emotion, a flash in the pan that will evaporate right in front of your eyes. Five minutes after you sit down it is gone. In other cases it is due to some sour mood that day, and it lasts longer. Still, it does pass. And it is better to get rid of it in twenty or thirty minutes of meditation than to carry it around with you and let it ruin the rest of your day. Another time, resistance may be due to some difficulty you are having with the practice itself. You may or may not know what that difficulty is. If the problem is known, handle it by one of the techniques given in this book. Once the problem is gone, resistance will be gone. If the problem is unknown, then you are going to have to tough it out. Just sit through the resistance and observe that mindfully. When it has finally run its course, it will pass. Then the problem causing it will probably bubble up in its wake, and you can deal with that.
If resistance to meditation is a common feature of your practice, then you should suspect some subtle error in your basic attitude. Meditation is not a ritual conducted in a particular posture. It is not a painful exercise, or period of enforced boredom. And it is not some grim, solemn obligation. Meditation is mindfulness. it is a new way of seeing and it is a form of play. Meditation is your friend. Come to regard it as such and resistance will wash away like smoke on a summer breeze.
If you try all these possibilities and the resistance remains, then there may be a problem.
There can be certain metaphysical snags that a meditator runs into which go far beyond the scope of this book. It is not common for new meditators to hit these, but it can happen. Don't give up. Go get help. Seek out qualified teachers of the Vipassana style of meditation and ask them to help you resolve the situation. Such people exist for exactly that purpose.
We have already discussed the sinking mind phenomenon. But there is a special route to that state you should watch for. Mental dullness can result as an unwanted byproduct of deepening concentration. As your relaxation deepens, muscles loosen and nerve transmission changes. This produces a very calm and light feeling in the body. you feel very still and somewhat divorced from the body. this is a very pleasant state and at first your concentration is quite good, nicely centered on the breath. As it continues, however, the pleasant feelings intensify and they distract your attention from the breath. You start to really enjoy that state and your mindfulness goes way down. Your attention winds up scattered, drifting listlessly through vague clouds of bliss. The result is a very unmindful state, sort of an ecstatic stupor. The cure, of course, is mindfulness. Mindfully observe these phenomena and they will dissipate. When blissful feelings arise accept them. There is no need to avoid them. Don't get wrapped up in them. They are physical feelings, so treat them as such. Observe feelings as feelings. Observe dullness as dullness. Watch them rise and watch them pass. Don't get involved.
You will have problems in meditation. Everybody does. You can treat them as terrible torments, or as challenges to be overcome. If you regard them as burdens, your suffering will only increase. If you regard them as opportunities to learn and to grow, your spiritual prospects are unlimited.
At some time, every meditator encounters distractions during practice, and methods are needed to deal with them. Some elegant stratagems have been devised to get you back on the track more quickly than trying to push your way through by sheer force of will.
Concentration and mindfulness go hand-in-hand. Each one complements the other. If either one is weak, the other will eventually be affected. Bad days are usually characterized by poor concentration. Your mind just keeps floating around. You need some method of reestablishing your concentration, even in the face of mental adversity.