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Meditation & Mindfulness


Meditation is one of those words like cooking that covers many different activities from baking to braising to frying to boiling. There are meditations to produce relaxation, to focus attention, to develop compassion, or to develop clarity and awareness, to mention just a few. As in cooking, meditation is designed to create some sort of change through its processes.


Types of Meditation Practice

Meditation means “to become familiar with,” so we are always meditating on something. Breakfast. Our clothes. An article we’re writing. Often we’re fixating on the negative: What someone did wrong at work. How our mother/daughter/father/son/wife/husband fails to understand us, does not support our needs, is generally lacking. These can often be lengthy meditations indeed. So the question is whether our meditation is doing anything for us or just working to deepen unfortunate patterns. By taking up traditional meditation, we develop an intention of where our attention is being placed and an awareness of our motivation for doing so. By doing so, we align ourselves with positive change.

Basic calm abiding meditation conditions the mind to pay attention, to become conscious of bodily sensations such as breathing, and to be comfortable staying in the present. It slows us down and opens a space for mindfulness.

  Another practice in traditional meditation, variously called introspection or contemplation or insight, begins to shed light into how the human mind works. It can be quite profound and life changing and lead to a paradigm shift in ways that following the breath cannot. If you only follow the breath, it is like pausing a tape, but when you finish meditation, you’re right back at the same point before you paused. Nothing has really changed in terms of changing negative patterns although your stress may be reduced.  

Wisdom teachings and contemplation need to be added to basic meditation for deep changes to take place. But first, one needs to learn Shamatha or Calm Abiding meditation which is designed to provide the kind of stable attention that is conducive to all kinds of other mindfulness practices.

How to Meditate

  Shamatha meditation focuses on following the breath, in and out, in and out, in a natural rhythm. This meditation trains us to keep coming back to the present moment. It also fosters relaxation, stability, and clarity.

In any meditation, it helps to sit up straight so that the air flows freely through body. First just sit. Don't try to do anything. Just sit. Next comes relaxation: become aware of the muscle groups in the face, the forehead, around the eyes, the cheeks, the jaw. Let your attention lightly scan this area just as a brush lightly touches a canvas. As you scan, relax the muscles so that your face is as soft and open as that of a sleeping baby. Continue to scan down the body, noting where there are knots of tension and releasing them as you go. Become aware of the sensations of the body, just noting them. Center on the sensation of the breath as it flows in and out. When thoughts arise, and they will, don't fight against them but try not to get carried away by them either. Just return your attention to your breath, in and out, in and out.

Stability comes with holding your body still and your mind quiet. Clarity brings a sense of brightness or aliveness to the process and is related to being aware of what you are doing. The ability to focus your attention with more ease and clarity is an added bonus of meditation. The greatest value will eventually come from becoming aware of your inner world and gaining some control over your own mind and actions.

When you meditate, you’re conditioning the mind, training your mind for something. Traditionally in Asia, people didn’t meditate just to reduce stress, although in the West it is a good place to start. Buddhists have a series of paradigm shifts that start with basic calm abiding and go on from there. If you’ve never meditated before, start small with following the breath practice. Begin with five minutes at a time, work up from there. 20 minutes a day can create wonders. In Buddhist countries like Bhutan, people go in & out of meditation all day rather than rope off 20 minutes in the morning. Once you’ve establish a meditation practice on the cushion you can (and should) do this as well.


Meditation is easier to practice than to explain. We often have a lot of misconceptions about mediation that can get in the way. Tibetans say that it is a very natural thing, like drinking water. Also, it is something that you do every day, like drinking water.

So What Does Meditation Train The Mind To Do?

▪ We learn to focus, to pay attention.

▪ Trains us to live in the present rather than the past or future.

▪ Trains us to recognize impermanence. We begin to notice that just like our breath that comes and goes, our thoughts come and go, our emotions come and go, we come and go.

▪ Trains us to watch our thoughts so that we become a witness to them rather than simply being controlled by them.

▪ Allows us to create a gap between our thoughts, a space of openness in which we are awake and aware in a way that does not involve analytical thinking.

▪ Both the gap and the witness allow us to become less reactive emotionally and more conscious of the reality of others.

▪ The more we meditate, we less we are taken in by our fleeting, often deluded thoughts.

▪ Teaches us to expand the gap and deepen into it by spending more time there.

▪ The more our negative patterns of behavior dissolve, the more compassion arises spontaneously.

▪ As we spend more time in nonverbal awareness, insights about the nature of mind begin to arise unexpectedly.

▪ We discover deep mind.


Reading Suggestion: Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham


The word "mindfulness" is today often used interchangeably with the term "meditation" or a code word for “stress reduction,” but traditionally it has wider connotations, specifically in terms of becoming aware of cause and effect.

Mindfulness includes paying attention to where you are paying that attention. As William James pointed out, whatever we attend to becomes our reality. We need to be able to track our minds rather than simply let them wander at will. At first, we must set our intention to do this, but in time it simply becomes second nature.

You are mindful of your breath in calm abiding meditation, you are mindful of your bodily sensations, such as tension in the face.

On and off the cushion, you can become mindful of your emotions, the workings of your mind, as well as your reactions to others and the effect of your actions on others and on yourself. You should also remain ever mindful of your motivation, your intentions and direction. Are you motivated solely by pleasure? How much of this pleasure depends on an outside source? Can you generate happiness from within yourself? Are you simply on a hedonic treadmill? What sort of person are you? Completely self-involved or helpful to others? Somewhere in between? Where are you headed in your life? What are your true aspirations and goals? Are your actions aligned with these goals? On the deepest level, what would you like to become? What would you like to contribute to the world? Looking back from age 84, what would you like to have accomplished?

Another thing to be mindful of is your own mind. Are you often distracted? Spaced out or dull? Do you live in reality? Fantasy? Daydreams? Do you know how your mind works? Do you operate from concepts about how things should be rather than seeing how they actually are? How often do you fall into obsessive thinking? How do you get out of it? Can you stop the flow of your own thoughts? Are you highjacked by each thought as it goes by? Do you believe everything you think is 100% true just because you think it?


Dogen's Zen Meditation Instructions

  Dogen (1200-1253), founder of the Soto (Chinese: Ts'ao-tung) school of Zen, traveled to China in 1223 and studied with Ju-ching, a Chinese Ch'an master. One day during meditation practice, another monk fell asleep, and Ju-ching woke him up, admonishing him to practice meditation diligently in order to "drop off body and mind" (Japanese: shinjin datsuraku), an idea that became a cornerstone of Dogen's system of meditative practice. The following passage contains instructions on meditation practice(zazen), which in Dogen's system is based on the experience of "not thinking"

  In the state of not thinking, a meditator moves beyond discursive and dichotomizing thought (shiryo), transcends the tendency to stop ordinary thought by suppressing it (fushiryo), and thus enters into a spontaneous awareness of reality in which thoughts flow along of their own accord. In this state of spontaneous mindfulness, the meditator experiences his or her own "buddha nature," an inherent propensity toward enlightenment that is shared by all beings.

Once you have settled your posture, you should regulate your breathing. Whenever a thought occurs, be aware of it; as soon as you are aware of it, it will vanish. If you remain for a long period forgetful of objects, you will naturally become unified. This is the essential art of zazen. Zazen is the dharma gate of great ease and joy....

Having thus regulated body and mind, take a breath and exhale fully. Sitting fixedly, think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen. Zazen is not the practice of dhyana [meditation]. it is the dharma gate of great ease and joy. It is undefiled practice and verification.


Stop, Relax, Wake Up. Sakyong Mipham in the Lion's Roar.


Meditation Instruction on Loving Kindness YouTube


Meditation as Inquiry into the Self & Nature of Mind

Adyashanti: The Art of Allowing Everything to be as it is. YouTube