by Ajahn Sumedho © Amaravati Publications
Reflection occurs quite naturally afterwards,
when one is 'comfortable' within the context of the meditation
exercise. There will be a sense of ease and interest, and one
begins to look around and become acquainted with the mind that is
meditating. This 'looking around' is called contemplation, a
personal and direct seeing that can only be suggested by any technique.A few ideas and guidance on this come in a later section.
A quiet room with not much in it to distract the mind is ideal; a setting with light and space has a brightening and clearing effect, while a cluttered and gloomy room has just the opposite. Timing is also important, particularly as most people's days are quite structured with routines. It is not especially productive to meditate when you have something else to do, or when you're pressed for time. It's better to set aside a period -- say, in the early morning or in the evening after work -- when you can really give your full attention to the practice. Begin with fifteen minutes or so. Practice sincerely with the limitations of time and available energy, and avoid becoming mechanical about the routine. Meditation practice, supported by genuine willingness to investigate and make peace with oneself, will develop naturally in terms of duration and skill.
Awareness of the Body
Use a posture that will keep your back straight without strain.A simple upright chair may be helpful, or you may be able to use one of the lotus postures (Illustrations and notes on posture are given later.) These look awkward at first, but in time they provide a unique balance of gentle firmness that gladdens the mind without tiring the body.
If the chin is tilted very slightly down this will help, but do not allow the head to loll forward as this encourages drowsiness. Place the hands on your lap, palms upward, one resting gently on the other with the thumb-tips touching. Take your time, and get the right balance.
Now, collect your attention, and begin to move
it slowly down your body. Notice the sensations.
Investigate how you are feeling. Expectant or tense? Then relax your attention a little. With this, the mind will probably calm down, and you may find some thoughts drifting in reflections, daydreams, memories, or doubts about whether you are doing it right! Instead of following or contending with these thought patterns, bring more attention to the body, which is a useful anchor for a wandering mind.
Cultivate a spirit of inquiry in your meditation attitude. Take your time. Move your attention, for example, systematically from the crown of the head down over the whole body.
Notice the different sensations -- such as
warmth, pulsing, numbness, and sensitivity -- in the joints of each
finger, the moisture of the palms, and the pulse in the wrist. Even
areas that may have no particular sensation, such as the forearms
or the earlobes, can be 'swept over' in an attentive way.
First, follow the sensation of your ordinary breath as it flows in through the nostrils and fills the chest and abdomen. Then try maintaining your attention at one point, either at the diaphragm or - a more refined location - at the nostrils. Breath has a tranquilizing quality, steady and relaxing if you don't force it; this is helped by an upright posture. Your mind may wander, but keep patiently returning to the breath. It is not necessary to develop concentration to the point of excluding everything else except the breath. Rather than to create a trance, the purpose is to allow you to notice the workings of the mind, and to bring a measure of peaceful clarity into it. The entire process -- gathering your attention, noticing the breath, noticing that the mind has wandered, and re-establishing your attention -- develops mindfulness, patience, and insightful understanding. So don't be put off by apparent 'failure' -- simply begin again. Continuing in this way allows the mind to eventually calm down.
If you get very restless or agitated, just
relax. Practice being at peace with yourself, listening to --
without necessarily believing in -- the voices of the mind. If you
feel drowsy, then put more care and attention into your body and
posture. Refining your attention or pursuing tranquility at such
times will only make matters worse!
If you have access to some open land, measure
off about 25-30 paces' length of level ground (or a clearly
defined pathway between two trees), as your meditation path. Stand
at one end of the path, and compose your mind on the sensations of
the body. First, let the attention rest on the feeling of the body
standing upright, with the arms hanging naturally and the hands
lightly clasped in front or behind. Allow the eyes to gaze at a
point about three meters [10 feet] in front of you at ground level,
thus avoiding visual distraction.
Of course, the mind will wander. So it is important to cultivate patience, and the resolve to begin again. Adjust the pace to suit your state of mind -- vigorous when drowsy or trapped in obsessive thought, firm but gentle when restless and impatient. At the end of the path, stop; breathe in and out; 'let go' of any restlessness, worry, calm, bliss, memories or opinions about yourself. The 'inner chatter' may stop momentarily, or fade out. Begin again. In this way you continually refresh the mind, and allow it to settle at its own rate.
In more confined spaces, alter the length of the path to suit what is available. Alternatively, you can circumambulate a room, pausing after each circumambulation for a few moments of standing. The period of standing can be extended to several minutes, using 'body sweeping'.
Walking brings energy and fluidity into the
practice, so keep your pace steady and just let changing conditions
pass through the mind.
Focus attention on the breath, which you will now be using as the means of spreading kindness and goodwill. Begin with yourself, with your body. Visualize the breath as a light, or see your awareness as being a warm ray, and gradually sweep it over your body. Lightly focus your attention on the center of the chest, around the heart region. As you breathe in, direct patient kindness towards yourself, perhaps with the thought, 'May I be well', or 'Peace'. As you breathe out, let the mood of that thought, or the awareness of light, spread outward from the heart, through the body, through the mind, and beyond yourself. 'May others be well'.
If you are experiencing negative states of mind, breathe in the qualities of tolerance and forgiveness. Visualizing the breath as having a healing color may be helpful. On the out-breath, let go -- of any stress, worry or negativity -- and extend the sense of release through the body, the mind, and beyond, as before.
This practice can form all or part of a period of meditation -- you have to judge for yourself what is appropriate. The calming effect of meditating with a kindly attitude is good for beginning a sitting, but there will no doubt be times to use this approach for long periods, to go deeply into the heart.
Always begin with what you are aware of, even if it seems trivial or confused. Let your mind rest calmly on that -- whether it's boredom, an aching knee, or the frustration of not feeling particularly kindly. Allow these to be; practice being at peace with them. Recognize and gently put aside any tendencies towards laziness, doubt or guilt.
Peacefulness can develop into a very nourishing kindness towards yourself, if you first of all fully accept the presence of what you dislike. Keep the attention steady, and open the heart to whatever you experience. This does not imply approval of negative states, but allows them a space wherein they can come and go.
Generating goodwill toward the world beyond
yourself follows much the same pattern. A simple way to spread
kindness is to work in stages. Start with yourself, joining the
sense of loving acceptance to the movement of the breath. 'May I be
well.' Then, reflect on people you love and respect, and wish
them well, one by one. Move on to friendly acquaintances, then to
those towards whom you feel indifferent. 'May they be well.'
This meditation can expand, in a movement of compassion, to include all people in the world, in their many circumstances. And remember, you don't have to feel that you love everyone in order to wish them well!
Kindness and compassion originate from the same
source of goodwill, and they broaden the mind beyond the purely
personal perspective. If you're not always trying to make
things go the way you want them to; if you're more accepting
and receptive to yourself and others as they are, compassion arises
by itself. Compassion is the natural sensitivity of the heart.
After calming the mind by one of the methods described above, consciously put aside the meditation object. Observe the flow of mental images and sensations just as they arise, without engaging in criticism or praise. Notice any aversion and fascination; contemplate any uncertainty, happiness, restlessness or tranquility as it arises. You can return to a meditation object (such as the breath) whenever the sense of clarity diminishes, or if you begin to feel overwhelmed by impressions. When a sense of steadiness returns, you can relinquish the object again.
This practice of 'bare attention' is well-suited for contemplating the mental process. Along with observing the mind's particular 'ingredients', we can turn our attention to the nature of the container. As for the contents of the mind, Buddhist teaching points especially to three simple, fundamental characteristics.
First, there is changeability (anicca) -- the ceaseless beginning and ending all things go through, the constant movement of the content of the mind. This mind-stuff may be pleasant or unpleasant, but it is never at rest.
There is also a persistent, often subtle, sense of dissatisfaction (dukkha). Unpleasant sensations easily evoke that sense, but even a lovely experience creates a tug in the heart when it ends. So at the best of moments there is still an inconclusive quality in what the mind experiences, a somewhat unsatisfied feeling.
As the constant arising and passing of experiences and moods become familiar, it also becomes clear that - since there is no permanence in them - none of them really belong to you. And, when this mind-stuff is silent- revealing a bright spaciousness of mind - there are no purely personal characteristics to be found! This can be difficult to comprehend, but in reality there is no 'me' and no 'mine' - the characteristic of 'no-self', or impersonality (anatta).
Investigate fully and notice how these
qualities pertain to all things, physical and mental. No matter if
your experiences are joyful or barely endurable, this contemplation
will lead to a calm and balanced perspective on your life.
There are some useful points to bear in mind whenever you meditate. Consider whether you are beginning afresh each time - or even better, with each breath or footstep. If you don't practice with an open mind, you may find yourself trying to recreate a past insight, or unwilling to learn from your mistakes. Is there the right balance of energy whereby you are doing all that you can without being over forceful? Are you keeping in touch with what is actually happening in your mind, or using a technique in a dull, mechanical way? As for concentration, it's good to check whether you are putting aside concerns that are not immediate, or letting yourself meander in thoughts and moods. Or, are you trying to repress feelings without acknowledging them and responding wisely?
Proper concentration is that which unifies the heart and mind. Reflecting in this way encourages you to develop a skillful approach. And of course, reflection will show you more than how to meditate: it will give you the clarity to understand yourself.
Remember, until you've developed some skill
and ease with meditation, it's best to use a meditation object,
such as the breath, as a focus for awareness an as an antidote for
the overwhelming nature of the mind's distractions. Even so,
whatever your length of experience with the practice, it is always
helpful to return to awareness of the breath or body. Developing
this ability to begin again leads to stability and ease. With a
balanced practice, you realize more and more the way the body and
mind are, and see how to live with greater freedom and harmony.
This is the purpose and the fruit of Insight Meditation.
By looking into your intentions and attitudes in the quiet of meditation, you can investigate the relationship between desire and dissatisfaction. See the causes of discontent: wanting what you don't have; rejecting what you dislike; being unable to keep what you want. This is especially oppressive when the subject of the discontent and desire is yourself. No- one finds it easy to be at peace with personal weakness, especially when so much social emphasis is placed on feeling good, getting ahead and having the best. Such expectations indeed make it difficult to accept oneself as one is.
However, with the practice of Insight Meditation you discover a space in which to stand back a little from what you think you are, from what you think you have. Contemplating these perceptions, it becomes clearer that you don't have any thing as 'me' or 'mine'; there are simply experiences, which come and go through the mind. So if, for example, you're looking into an irritating habit, rather than becoming depressed by it, you don't reinforce it and the habit passes away. It may come back again, but this time it's weaker, and you know what to do. Through cultivating peaceful attention, mental content calms down and may even fade out, leaving the mind clear and refreshed. Such is the ongoing path of insight.
To be able to go to a still centre of awareness within the changing flow of daily life is the sign of a mature practice, for insight deepens immeasurably when it is able to spread to all experience. Try to use the perspective of insight no matter what you are doing - routine housework, driving the car, having a cup of tea. Collect the awareness, rest it steadily on what you are doing, and rouse a sense of inquiry into the nature of the mind in the midst of activity. Using the practice to center o physical sensations, mental states, or eye, ear or nose consciousness can develop an ongoing contemplation that turns mundane tasks into foundations for insight.
Centered more and more in awareness, the mind
becomes free to respond skillfully to the moment, and there is
greater harmony in life. This is the way that meditation does
'social work' - by bringing awareness into your life, it brings
peace into the world. When you can abide peacefully with the great
variety of feelings that arise in consciousness, you are able to
live more openly with the world, and with yourself as you are.
There is really nothing mysterious about the path of Insight. In the words of the Buddha, the way is simple:
It is a long-observed tradition, then, for
people who engage in spiritual practice to place great importance
on proper conduct. Many meditators undertake realistic moral vows -
such as refraining from harming living beings, from careless use of
sexuality, from using intoxicants (alcohol and drugs), and from
gossip and other graceless speech habits - to help their own inner
clarity, and perhaps gently encourage that of others.
For the legs:
by Ajahn Sumedho © Amaravati Publications