Suppose that I was to take a clear container and scoop up some water, including a bit of muddy sediment, from a lake.
The water is a bit murky because the sediment has been mixed with the water and it is still in motion.
If someone were to ask me if there is anything inside the water, would I be able to tell?
I suppose I might fire out a few educated guesses, aside from water and dirt—maybe there is a piece of a tire somewhere in there, maybe a rock, a piece of metal, or maybe even a fish. In point of fact I would have to wait for the sediment and motion in the container to settle down before I could really see, and then know, what is inside.
Meditation is a colossal topic.
There are many traditions that utilize meditation; Buddhism is one of them. His Holiness The Dalai Lama is frequently quoted for defining Buddhism as “the science of the mind.” Anyone who does any research on Buddhism reads about a man named Siddhartha Gautama who realized something very profound—you read about a man who realized who, what, and where he was; he realized himself, his intrinsic inner nature—often referred to as Dharma—and the situation of life in the universe.
This did not happen because of reading something somewhere in a book, or hearing some wise man in India talk about it. He discovered and uncovered these universal facts of life because he meditated. He meditated using his body and mind and through his own efforts discovered dharma.
What is more, he taught others how to do the same, as we all have the same nature, that same dharma, within. So if meditating involves mind, whatever that may mean to you, let’s talk about mind.
The Gautama Buddha taught that there are five khandhas or aggregates that compose the human organism.
1. body / form (rūpa)
2. faculty of perception, sensory and emotional (vedanā)
3. memory (sañña)
4. thinking / mental formations (saṅkhāra)
5. cognition / knowing (viññāna)
In layperson’s terms, khandhas one through five equals “Body + Mind.”
The last four refer to the functions of the mind and together they make up citta (mind.)Easily put, wherever our attention is, is where our mind is. So samadhi—a refined and ecstatic state of concentration naturally produced when properly meditating—happens when all five of these aggregates return from being distracted and dispersed from one another to unite in a single location.
Habits are repetitive actions of body, speech, and mind.
Author Dame Agatha Christie affirmed, “Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.”
Because our minds are used to and familiar with activity and movement, we don’t always see the deeper and more subtle parts of what is going on inside of “us”.
We’ve developed the habit of mentally engaging the waves of the mind—the push-and-pull here and there—while trying to get things done and or even organize it all at the same time. When we attach an identification to the mental activity: “this is ‘me’ thinking this thought”, as well as losing ourselves and control within that wave or movement, we run the risk of developing stress, anxiety, pressure, loss of memory, confusion, fear, distractions, inability to concentrate for long periods of time, in-productivity, loss of self esteem or position, irritation, misunderstanding, etc.
The plethora in the list of potential daily sufferings goes on and on. Perhaps this is a little disturbing when we first think about it, as it goes deep into the rabbit hole.
How do we stop the troubles at the roots, instead of slapping bandaids—or popping pills—to cover the problems?
Well that’s just it: this is where disciplining the mind using meditation as ‘weight-training’ gives great benefit.
By learning how to bring the mind to stillness, we grasp how to tame the mind and put it in a better working condition. This is how meditation develops efficiency and productivity and it is also how we subdue the mental and emotional tempests that disturb and influence our daily life. We give time to let the sediment—content—in our mind, in who we are, settle down.
Then, we will see and know what’s going on inside of ourselves. Learning how to look within is the purpose of Buddhist meditation—through repetitive practice, we learn about the process behind developing better habits.
We learn about what is influencing us to choose what we do and then we can make better, more conscious decisions. We can choose to build habits leading to a successful, informed, and fulfilling life—or, we can choose not to. We can then see why anyone from any religion can meditate while guiltlessly maintaining themselves to be upholders of their perspective faith.Sometimes the biggest problems have the simplest solutions.
For those who just want to truly relax, to let go and also do something productive in their own development as a human being with values, meditation provides that option. It has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, increase alertness, decision-making, organization, awareness and energy.
Many meditators have more energy than they know what to do with—all the previous energy used in trying to fight stress and irritation is now for use at their disposal.
For those on the spiritual journey, meditation gives access to the deepest parts of ourselves and our place in the universe around us. Meditation is how we really to get to know ourselves. We learn who we really are, both of the light and the shadows, and what we are doing here in this thing we call ‘life’.
Sometimes the ‘good work’ can appear as dirty work. Trekking through the dredges of the shadows within may take an attitude adjustment.
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse says in his book Not For Happiness that,
“Buddhist practices are techniques we use to tackle our habitual self-cherishing. Each one is designed to attack individual habits until the compulsion to cling to ‘self’ is entirely eradicated….So if you are only concerned about feeling good, you are far better off having a full-body massage or listening to some uplifting life-affirming music than receiving dharma teachings, which are definitely not designed to cheer you up.”
That may at first sound a tad pessimistic, as he is straight-forwardly making a point. There are things we have to face about life, and it is best to get a grip on the reality of our situation and where we are at in our lives, rather than remain living in an idealized fantasy. When we know more about ourselves and our situation, confidence automatically manifests. Moreover, we come to have purpose.
When we meditate properly, we find a unique assurance along our life path. Paulo Coelho refers to it like this, “The warrior who trusts his path doesn’t need to prove the other is wrong.”
Meditation leads way to complete understanding and the highest of happiness—what Gautama Buddha referred to as Nirvana: a place and state literally meaning ‘blown out’, or ‘extinguished’, referring to a mode of being where the fires of desire, aversion, anger, and delusion have been doused and eradicated.
“Nibbanam paramam sukham”, “Nirvana is the highest bliss.”
~ Dhammapada 203
No matter how delicious we can try to make meditation sound in order to tempt someone into meditating, it is a fruit that is meant to be eaten and not just described. In the end, it is not for anyone but ourselves. Meditation removes the blindfold, the darkness that covers inner and absolute truth. It generates the inner light that provides vision to see just what is really happening both inside us, as well as the resulting world around us. And I think that, in itself, speaks enough for itself.
Five Training Hurdles
While practicing, there are a few obstacles that you might encounter. Traditionally there are five main obstacles—Pali: pañca nīvaraṇāni—that most people who begin to learn how to “stop their mind still” come across at some point.
1. Wanting, Desire: kāmacchanda
2. Irritation, Frustration: byāpāda
3. Laziness, Sluggishness: thīna-middha
4. Distraction, Worry, Restlessness: uddhacca-kukkucca
5. Skepticism, Doubt: vicikicchā
So how to fix these? Simple. Don’t take heed of them and continue to allow the mind to “stop still.” Don’t engage in letting them bother you.
Yeah. Right. So, for those who need a bit more explanation check this out:
1. Perhaps we might desire to think about this or that. We might feel a pull that we have to do something or think that something needs to be done, especially before we think we will forget it. Practice letting go and knowing that meditating “right now” is the current priority.
There is a time and a place for everything. Stick it out for now. Let it go! Things will come up on their own, by themselves.
In meditation, we are finding things that already exist within us, we just need to create the right atmosphere and condition so that they will be revealed and arise by themselves. The more we still the mind in a well-rounded way with relaxation, delicateness, softness and calmness, the faster we get results.
Desire, pushing, trying to create, searching for and grasping after, etc., are the opposite of stillness. They counteract stillness. People who have already had some inner experience should bear this in mind. Make sure that you do not desire any experience, at all whatsoever. If you have had an experience and want to create it again, or go about your session searching for it, chances are you’ll end up disappointed. Cut that habit at the root. “Zen mind. Beginner’s mind.” Every session is a new session.
Simply be content and satisfied with where you are at right now and what you have right now. Concerning inner experience, wanting to experience something will only take us farther away from what it is that we want. Remember the technique, not the result.
Like many other things, they come when we least expect them.
2. At times we might find ourselves frustrated or irritated in meditation: “Had a bad day, things just aren’t going right, and meditation is not helping!” Sometimes all that something needs is just a little time to process. We should be compassionate and content with ourselves and our current state. Go in deeper inside that contentment and satisfaction along with the current effort that we are displaying. Enjoy the meditation; use it as an escape from the outer world as well as for embarking on a progressive development of the inner environment.
Also, don’t try to force ourselves through the meditation. If we are really heating up, go take a little break, stretch it out, get a cup of water, or whatever else suits us. Then what? Try again. Remember to not push too hard, we don’t want to pop. To be natural, we don’t need to try to be natural. Just let ‘natural’ do its thing. Let it be. Meditate naturally.
Know that no matter what is happening outside or inside, no matter how many disturbances we may have, the real peace and stillness lies beyond that—and beyond the corporeal senses—deeper down in the silence within.
3. Sometimes we just may feel too lazy and without energy to meditate. Try to make meditation the easiest part of your day. When you sit down to close your eyes, make it easy and simple. Refrain from rushing anything with meditation; take it step by step, and enjoy it.
Satisfaction is a key to persistence, and persistence is the key to continuity.
Simply make it easy, and smile while you are meditating. There’s nothing to lose by trying; there is everything to gain. Not only that, if you really make it easy and learn to let go while following the steps, you will notice just how much more energy you have, and that will give you a lot of encouragement.
4. We may find ourselves—more often than we’d like—completely distracted and seemingly immersed within a stream of continuous thought. Just let the river flow, notice that we’re getting caught up in it, and gently remove ourselves from it. Suppress any urge to yank ourselves out. There’s no need to force anything.
In fact, that would be counter-productive. Know that our purpose is to still the mind with softness and gentleness. That is the opposite of pushing, pulling, pressing, controlling, driving and forcing anything to happen. At the same time avoid pushing them away. Aversion and grasping are opposite sides of the same coin.
Utilize ubbekha, meaning equanimity, with practical application as ‘non-reactiveness’, ‘non-responsiveness’, or ‘disinterest’ in the thought clouds and moods that temporarily pass through your awareness. We can choose what we give attention to.
5. It is possible that we might also find ourselves worrying about our development. “Why haven’t I improved…This isn’t working…Where is it? Where is my mind?…Am I doing this right?”, etc. Let it go. Just by putting the effort into the practice, we are guaranteeing ourselves success. We might as well “put it in writing”. It is accumulative. A teacher of mine says that meditation is like watering a tree.
The more we water the tree the more we contribute to the tree’s growth. So every bit counts, even if we may not immediately notice it. This is a marathon, not a sprint; we need to find our own pace and go with the flow.
The main point is to be content, satisfied with the moment, still, soft, caressing, delicate and stable within. Also, a good tip for those of us whom tend to press and try to control is to let go of using the eyes to see and refrain from trying to think it out with the brain or thought-processing skills. Feel from the inside out. We need to open ourselves up and let go of any issues arising from within, surrendering to ourselves.
Forgo being attached to them, as well as attempting to avert them. Know that our point in sitting down is to find some inner peace and relaxation, keep it that simple. Rest the mind within the body just as we would place a leaf on a table and let it be.
It will stay still by itself if we leave it alone, yet, if we were to turn on a fan, or open the window, the leaf would fly all over the place.
Keep it simple.
Learn how to build the mood and atmosphere conducive to having our own minds nestling into stillness within. Everyone is different, so we need to find our own way. We need to be the scientist and experiment with our mind. If we find ourselves slipping or getting too distracted then slightly open the eyes, and go back to the beginning. It’s never too late or early to start over. Socrates is quoted for saying, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
Build good meditation habits. Do the right method, even if it feels unnatural or unusual at first. Building a firm foundation is essential. Please do not overlook it. Keep up the motivation and consistency.
As was said before, just by putting the effort to practice we are guaranteeing ourselves success: we might as well “put it in writing”. Stick with a routine, and don’t make it difficult. Make it simple, easy, and enjoyable. We will know we are on the right path when we have a combination of the follow indicators:
3. “Refreshedness” and inner cleanliness
4. “This is getting easier!”
5. Increasing stillness and concentration
We may also have feelings of emptiness or hollowness with transparency, softness, gentleness, looseness, delicateness, stability, contentment, translucency,
There are a lot of side-effects, too many to briefly mention here. Also, cease and desist from being too critical and analytical. Feeding a cynic feeds negativity. “Just stay still!” said Mom. It took Thomas Edison over 1,000 tries to make the light bulb and he eventually found the way because he never ever gave up.
And we can be sure that he had a few doubts along the way.
Mr. Edison started from scratch, but we already have the methodology. All we need to do is to just stick to it, and we will get the results. We have the match box and the sticks. It is up to each of us to ignite the fire within ourselves for ourselves, and only we can do that.
Over time and practice, we will learn how to put the pieces together in the way that suits us best and so that it always bears fruit. Remember not to rush anything, and enjoy the process.
Stay cool. Keep it simple. Keep it real.
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Assistant Ed: Bronwyn Petry/Ed: Bryonie Wise