Sit Daily in Meditative Silence
We are caught in a traffic jam of discursive thought.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The whispers of truth are much more easily heard with a silent mind. Concentration meditations which are used to quiet the babbling brain are important in both the initial stages of mind development practice and in the long time meditator. In the beginning, concentration on the here and now is usually poorly developed. These practices are also known as tranquility meditations because of the calming influence they have on our soul. In most peoples’ lives the personality has a stranglehold on our thoughts. Automatic, impulsive and self-perpetuating these discursive thoughts act like noise which blocks the more subtle perceptions of our most clear mind. Concentration meditations are also needed later on when the difficulties of a mature practice disrupt our presence or when we need to refine our perceptions to the most subtle aspects of consciousness investigation.
One can begin by choosing a quiet time and place where there will be no interruptions or distractions. Sit in a comfortable but erect posture. Start by counting either the inhalation or exhalation of each breath. Count to 10 then begin over again. If distractions disturb the accurate counting of breaths, gently return to counting from number one. Do not be discouraged for lapses in attention. The deconditioning of the automatic workings of thought takes time. When this counting can be done regularly with little distraction the counting can be abandoned and we can just notice each in-breath, each out-breath, and the pauses in between them. If we find it difficult or impossible to do this without distracting thoughts silently saying to oneself, “in...out...in...out...” may help.
A rich life is all about being in the present moment and these are excellent practices for developing that type of immediate attention. The past is gone, just a memory. The future is not here yet, just a dream or fear. Notice how the mind automatically wants to leave the present moment for the unreality of either long lost memories or future fantasies that may never be. Life can be lived only in the present moment. Practice staying here ... awake and alive. For more detailed instruction on this and other similar forms of meditation read the books in the resource section of this lesson.
Another form of meditation which can be helpful at any stage of mind development practice is lovingkindness or metta meditation. It is a way to bring a soft heart into our meditative life. Compassion for oneself and others is an important aspect of full life and lovingkindness meditations can help to tune us into that aspect of our reality. It is a way to open our hearts and mind to a world larger than our own personal agenda, wounds, anger, and defensiveness. More will be said in a later lesson about the specifics of these types of practices. There are also lovingkindness meditations in the resources of this lesson if you want to add some of these meditations to your daily practices.
A form of advanced practice that is very powerful can be engaged once one-pointed concentration is strong enough to fend off usual distractions. It is known as shikantaza meditation in Zen and mahamudra or Dzogchen meditation in Vajrayana practice. It is has been described as “just sitting” or undistracted nonmeditation without an object, without concepts, no recollection, no anticipation of the future, no mental examination. It is an abiding in the relaxed state of deepest quietude, settled in nondiscriminatory absorption that feels like vast space. One must be attentive, not dull. At the same time there should not be an effort to direct the mind. Just allow it to relax without clinging to any perception. It is not an easy practice.
Ideally, one should have expert guidance on these forms of meditation from someone skilled in these deep practices. An excellent instructional text is The Mahamudra: The Quintessence of Mind and Meditationby Takpo Tashi Namgyal.
The Experience of Insight: A Simple and Direct Guide to Buddhist Meditation by Joseph Goldstein
Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom by Joseph Goldstein
Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield
The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau
Guided Meditations, Explorations, and Healings by Stephen Levine
The Mahamudra by Takpo Tashi Namgyal
Buddhist meditation resources like free online meditation classes and free e-books Buddhanet.net
Men occasionally stumble across the truth,
but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.
For the beginner set aside 20 minutes per day of silent meditation. If 20 minutes at one time is initially very difficult try two 10 minute sessions. Most should be able to sit still and count breathes for 20 minutes, though. Take the phone off the hook. Close the door to your room. Ask family members not to disturb you. What is your experience? Do you notice a jabbering mind? Does it feel like you do not have much control of the thoughts that pop into the mind? How much are you drawn by past thoughts? How much by future planning? Is there an anxiety that arises when you just relax and stay with the present breath? What could be so important that you can’t take a few minutes just to relax with yourself? Do you have trouble even letting your breath move naturally and freely? Some people feel the urge to control their breathing rate and rhythm. If you meditate with your eyes closed and tend to fall asleep try meditating with your eyes open. See what you can learn about how little real control you have over what arises in your experience. Meditation is designed to arrest the automatic habitual patterning of our lives in order to make space for a fresh, conscious, energized unfoldment of life.
For those who want a more involved practice read some of the resource books and do the exercises suggested in them. Some may be able to make a commitment to twenty minutes per day, some for one hour of meditation daily. Often two half-hour sessions are helpful.
For the serious practitioner begin your search for a reputable, experienced teacher in the contemplative tradition that suits you best. Use the Resource section in Comprehensive Health Care for Everyone to help you with that search. Diversity in meditative techniques is helpful but also beware of not sticking to one meditation practice long enough to overcome the obstacles that it presents. Many diligent practitioners bop from one meditation practice to another every session or even within a session out of unconscious boredom or difficulty. Beware of this common pitfall of practice.