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“Stage Zero” – the importance of a sense of purpose

lake at dawn One thing that you can add to your preparation for meditation in stage zero is the cultivation of a sense of purpose. As you go through your body, relaxing, and as you become aware of what you are taking into meditation, you might become aware that there are certain things that you particularly need to work on.

You might notice, for example, that there is a lack of joy and inspiration in your experience. Maybe you have a tendency to get annoyed right now. Or perhaps it’s just that your mind is a little restless and needs to be calmed down. It’s good to develop a clear intention of what you want to achieve in such circumstances. You can set yourself the goal of finding a way to enjoy your practice more, or of calming your mind.

You can take this awareness of purpose into the other stages of your practice, monitoring from time to time what progress you’ve made in moving towards your goals. Perhaps the first approach you take doesn’t seem to be working, and you need to try another method. Or perhaps what you are doing works very well – perhaps even too well! You may try to calm your restless mind and be so successful that your mind becomes rather dull and sleepy. At that point you may wish to change your purpose for a more suitable one – in this case perhaps you could adopt the goal of balancing relaxation and energy.

Having goals like these can revolutionize your meditation practice. It’s all too easy for our meditation practice to become stale and mechanical, as we unmindfully use some technique that was once appropriate but isn’t now.

Having clear goals is another way of bringing more mindfulness into our practice. It helps us to become not only aware of what emotional, mental, and physical states are present in any given moment, but keeps us alive to where we are going and, very importantly, whether what we are doing is taking us to where we want to go.

Comments

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Comment from Jeff308
Time: March 17, 2007, 12:50 pm

Can you suggest an example of a sense of purpose for a beginner such as myself?

I thought of just following the breath to learn to do just that one thing… any nothing else.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 23, 2007, 10:02 pm

Hi Jeff,

Sorry about this reply being so late, but I was in Ethiopia when you posted and didn’t notice that you’d asked a question.

I think our sense of purpose in meditation is very individual and emerges as we seem to learn from our experience.

So if you found, for example, that you’d been craving results in your meditation practice then a good aim would be to simply accept your experience as it is, perhaps repeating a phrase like “accepting what is” every time you notice that hunger for results emerging.

Or if you’d noticed that you’re a bit hard on yourself then your purpose could be to keep coming back to the heart and to keep a sense of kindness in your experience.

Or if you have a tendency to daydream then your goal could be to develop and then maintain a clear sense of the object of meditation.

These are just examples, of course. As I suggested, I think that our goals should come out of our experience — they shouldn’t be things we pick at randoml!

I hope this is useful. I love that the website now allows for this kind of exchange.

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Comment from seetaram
Time: May 13, 2008, 3:18 am

I started this meditation recently, but I was searching for detailed meditation guide on Anapanasati technique.
Thanks for elaborated mediattion guide.

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Comment from Janusz
Time: November 19, 2009, 8:35 pm

But what if I feel that I don`t want any part of my life to be thought as a purpose, at any stage. My life should flow into the direction of awarness (I want that, but I`m still dissatisfied with a result). I don`t want to bond my thoughts to be thought in a specific way, but let everything happen freely but with part of being alert of it. Is that right path? I feel that I`m a different person every second(because of bonding to thoughts) and I am not sure if thinking about a purpose in my meditating is again, repeating patern of my `thoughtful`life. Please tell me, how can I accept goals(ways of directing my thoughts) in this situation? Wish You all best! Janusz

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 19, 2009, 10:20 pm

Hi Janusz,

You said, “I don`t want to bond my thoughts to be thought in a specific way, but let everything happen freely but with part of being alert of it.”

So it sounds like that’s your purpose.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Janusz
Time: November 21, 2009, 12:32 pm

Yeah:)you`re actually right about that thanks a lot and again, all the best!!

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Comment from Ashley
Time: October 26, 2010, 1:26 am

Bodhipaska,

I’ve started meditating recently and at first I thought it was just a good thing to do for my health and wellbeing but after doing it a little while I’ve realised as you’re saying here that I need a sense of wider purpose: What’s the goal in practising buddhism and buddhist meditation, do you think? Why do we do it? I’ve been wondering lately why I’m doing this and what the ultimate goal of all this cultivation is… Do you have any insight to offer?

Thankyou,

Ashley. :)

Your site is lovely, by the way. Very helpful, with grounded and clear articles.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 27, 2010, 1:14 am

Hi, Ashley.

Funny you should ask, but I just noticed an excellent article by Mathieu Ricard today, in which he says the following:

Why meditate? Sometimes I wonder why we need to ask this question. Nobody who admires a talented artist, or pianist and would like to become one would say, “Why should I train? Why don’t I just go on stage and play Mozart?” However, when it comes to the basic human qualities that we might admire and hope to acquire—altruism, inner strength, inner freedom to deal with whatever comes our way, emotional balance, not being swayed by hatred and craving and jealousy— we think that they come up just because we want them to, without any training. Or we think that they are fixed, permanent, and that we can’t change them. It is absurd to think that we do not need training to nourish these kinds of positive qualities.

We have the potential to be more kind, to practice mindfulness, and to experience well-being, but we only use a small fraction of the potential we have. So that’s what meditation is about: to cultivate the qualities that we have the potential for but that remain dormant, latent, unused, and to develop them to the best of our own potential.

I think Ricard puts it better than I ever could. The article’s from Tricycle, by the way.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 27, 2010, 1:15 am

And thanks for your kind comments, by the way!

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Comment from Ashley.
Time: October 27, 2010, 8:44 pm

Fabulous, thankyou! :) That really does answer my question.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 28, 2010, 1:01 am

I was just looking at Ricard’s book in Banyen Books tonight before doing a book launch. It looks really excellent.

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Comment from Ashley.
Time: October 28, 2010, 9:33 pm

You’re launching “Living as a River”? Or have you written something recently that I should know about!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 29, 2010, 12:58 am

Yes, I’m doing a tour of North America to launch Living as a River. But about two weeks from now the second edition of Wildmind is coming out. Lots of book activity going on here!

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Comment from Patricia Hughes
Time: May 8, 2011, 12:09 pm

I’m wondering how I integrate “seeking” a particular goal with my meditation. I thought that meditation was partly about letting go of expectations. How do you have a goal without having expectations?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 8, 2011, 12:18 pm

You might want to check out this article, Patricia. I can’t really tell you how to have goals without having expectations. That’s something you have to work out for yourself. I’m sure in fact that you do it all the time. The measure of how much expectation (or grasping) is tied up with attaining a goal is how you feel when you don’t attain the goal. If you feel disappointed, frustrated, angry, or despondent, then that indicates that you were clinging to the idea of attaining the goal. If, however, you fail to meet a goal and you simply take it in your stride, or appreciate the progress you’ve made, or simply feel that the work you’ve done toward meeting the goal was a reward in itself, then that suggests that there was no clinging or expectation.

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