One of the biggest myths about meditation is that it involves experiencing blissful or “spiritual” states of mind. It doesn’t. It’s about experiencing and accepting the very ordinary states that present themselves to us, and working with them, gently and kindly.
Now it is possible to experience beautiful, calm, joyful states of mind in meditation. There are delineated lists of these, complete with traditional accounts of the various factors that constitute those experiences. Those traditional lists correspond closely to the actual experience of contemporary meditators of many spiritual traditions—not just Buddhism. They’re real. They’re attainable.
But if we think that this is what meditation essentially is, then we probably won’t meditate, because most of the … Read more »
In meditation we can slip into a flow state — that is, one where we’re un-selfconsciously and happily absorbed in an activity. What we’re focused on in a state of meditative flow are the experiences that are arising in meditation itself. So in a meditative flow state we’re focused on the experience of flow itself.
This is puzzling if we assume that “un-selfconsciously” means “unmindfully.” After all, isn’t meditation supposed to make us more self-aware? The thing is that self-awareness and selfconsciousness aren’t the same thing — at least not in the way those words are being used here.
When we’re selfconscious, and therefore unable to be in a state of flow, what happens is … Read more »
Jhāna — a progressive series of meditative states of absorption — is a controversial topic in Buddhism. This should be rather amazing given that the Buddhist scriptures emphasize jhāna so strongly. In the Eightfold Path, Right Concentration is consistently defined as the four jhānas. The Buddha said things like “There is no jhāna for him who lacks insight, and no insight for him who lacks jhāna.” The jhānas are enumerated over and over again in the Pāli scriptures. They’re also implicit in teachings like the Seven Bojjhaṅgas, the 12 positive nidānas, and the Ānāpānasati Sutta, which mention various of the jhāna factors.
Despite the scriptural importance of jhāna, some teachers, like Thich Nhat Hanh, have … Read more »
Should I focus on one specific sensation? But if I do so, isn’t it restrictive, replacing mindfulness of the whole experience of eating by concentration on only one of its aspects? In fact, I already faced similar questions when trying walking meditation. Walking involves so many movements, so many sensations… How to be mindful of all of them?
There are really two different modes of mindful attention, one of which is more narrowly focused, while the other is more open. Each is valuable in its own way.
Mindful, Focused Awareness… Read more »
So far in this 100 Days of Lovingkindness I haven’t said anything about the phrases we use in cultivating equanimity on the cushion, although in the guided meditation I posted the other week I suggested the words “May all beings find peace.”
In his “A Wise Heart,” Jack Kornfield suggests some beautiful phrases:
“May you learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.
May you be open and balanced and peaceful.”
These remind us of a number of things. We’re reminded that equanimity includes an element of wisdom, which is where its peace comes from. Our deepest suffering comes from an inability to deal with impermanence, and from craving … Read more »
People often think of compassion as being a sombre, even depressing experience, but that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact when our compassion is sorrowful, this is just a sign that we have attachments to work through. (Which is fine, by the way. This is work we all have to do.) We might be attached to the idea that suffering shouldn’t exist, or that it’s “unfair” for it to affect someone we know, or that it shouldn’t reserve its attentions for those we deem to be bad, sparing the good, or that we shouldn’t feel discomfort. But those kinds of thoughts fly in the face of reality, and simply lead to our suffering.… Read more »
For most of the 25 days in which we focused on Metta Bhavana, I felt like I was swimming in joy. About two thirds or three quarters of my meditations were positively blissful, and in my daily life I felt cocooned by lovingkindness, as if I was inside a bubble of joy that stress was unable to penetrate.
Then, on day 26, I switched to the karuna bhavana (developing compassion) and that all ground to a halt. I didn’t find the practice actually depressing, but it did feel sober. There was a feeling of having a weight in the heart.
But after just over a week of karuna bhavana I started finding the joy starting … Read more »
The other day I posted some commentary on a study showing that mindfulness practice improved students’ working memory and boosted their grades by 16% in just two weeks.
Yay, for meditation! You’d think Buddhists would generally be happy to see that their practices can be shown to be effective. But not everyone’s happy about this. On one of the social media networks, someone criticized the study as “misuse of Dhamma” because meditation is being used for to “make people continue the usual [worldly] ways.”
Furthermore, I was told the “The Buddha even did not teach meditation to ordinary laymen.”
So there are two things here: the use of meditation for “worldly” ends (as opposed to … Read more »
Sometimes in my meditation practice, time and space vanish.
There are passages in the early Buddhist tradition that encourage us to let go of past and future, and to remain in the moment. For example, the following verse is found in the Bhaddekaratta Sutta:
You shouldn’t chase after the past
or place expectations on the future.
What is past is left behind.
The future is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see [vipassatī] right there, right there.
Not taken in, unshaken,
that’s how you develop the heart.
In another verse, in the Attadanda Sutta in the very ancient Sutta Nipata, not clinging to past, present, or future is linked to letting go … Read more »
A lot of the time in meditation our experience is of distractions relentlessly colonizing our attention. We set off to follow the sensations of the breathing, but after some time we come to realize that we haven’t been paying attention to the breath at all. We realize that we’ve been caught up in some inner drama, or that we’ve been turning over thoughts in the mind. What were we thinking about, exactly? Often it’s hard to say. Our distractions are often dream-like, and as we “awaken” into a more mindful state they often slip away from us, as do our dreams when we wake in the morning. We commit ourselves once more to mindfully observing … Read more »