Monday, June 9, 2008

Slowly coming together

Yesterday during my one-on-one with Lama, as we were discussing my progress, he mentioned that it's probably not so critical that I refrain from social contact at this point. The basic reason, I think, is that meditation is not so foreign to me any more.

In a previous post I mentioned that reaching "the next stage" was very tricky because it was resistant to grasping. Well, it turns out that in the tradition I'm studying, there are no "stages" as such, and since the instructions are more or less "don't grasp," it's clear why that approach just doesn't work.

For anyone who's worried that meditation is hard and boring, here's a bit of good news: once you figure out an approach that works well for you, it's not so bad. The approach I study is the simplest of all, it turns out, and because most Westerners want desperately to do something, it can also be the hardest. I'll try to give you a bit of intuition so you can see if it works for you...
A quick primer on "simple" meditation

If you've ever sat down to watch your breath for 15 minutes, you've almost certainly noticed at some point that you're thinking about something else entirely, even though you fully intended to watch the breath. Ask yourself what exactly was happening in your mind at the time. You'll find that it's like a mini-bout of amnesia: you know you're supposed to be meditating, but you kinda sorta temporarily forgot. Oops!

The English term "mindfulness" is a translation of the Pali term "sati" (Sanskrit "smrti"), which refers to remembering. In this case, it's remembering that you're supposed to be watching the breath. It's not that you "forgot" in the colloquial sense -- if someone were to interrupt your daydream by asking you what you're doing, you'd say "meditating."

But there's a clear distinction between the times you're remember to watch your breath, and the times you're "forgetting": it's a sense of cognizance, awareness, witnessing, presence of mind. Call it what you want, but the key point is to get an intuition about the difference between being "on the ball" and being either spaced out or lost in thought. The breath is used as a "support" because it's dead obvious when you've lost the witnessing aspect: if you're not watching the breath, you've lost presence of mind. Beware of false positives, though: it's no good to be watching the breath in a spacey, absentminded, or distracted way.

Once you gain a firm understanding of the difference between presence and absence of mind, it's not so crucial to have a support for meditation. At that point, just relax, and keep your wits about you. Bit by bit, you'll develop lucidity and vividness, the presence will stabilize, compulsive thoughts will subside, and you'll end up in a much more aware state than when you were a bare novice!

1 comment:

Bianca Renee Abate said...

Your Lama mentioned that it's probably not so critical that you refrain from social contact at this point???
Yay! Then that means I can say hello! And I can tell you that I miss you :)
Good luck. I am so proud of yoU!