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Welcome to the Shamatha Seminar:
I am glad that you have decided to join us on this 9 week meditation intensive. As we did in our previous seminar, let me clarify what meditation is NOT.
- Zoning out
- Non thinking or feeling
- Clearing or emptying the mind
- A quick fix
- New Age
- Selfish or self absorbed
In fact, most of what we have seen or heard on TV and the movies about meditation is quite false. Meditation, in its most refined definition, is simply being mindful of what is happening right here and now. It is the process of simple, mindful, non judgmental observation. If our mind is empty and unthinking, what is there to observe? It is in fact, impossible to make the mind stop thinking.
Through meditation we can learn to direct the mind. To work with the mind instead of our mind running free reign in every direction. We learn how to correctly think and how to choose or not choose, to grasp at thoughts and feelings.
Meditation allows us to take note of what is happening. To watch and dig into what we allow to have influence over our minds and daily decisions. It is the core foundation of creating right view and right intention; the wisdom aspect of the eight fold path of Buddhism.
Shamatha is a Sanskrit word that means essentially, calm abiding. It is allowing the mind to find its natural and calm state by non grasping at random thoughts and emotions. In order to help this process, we focus on breathing and the sensation of breathing; in and out. This rhythmic pattern and soothing feeling of the breath passing through the nostrils, naturally brings the mind to a slower pace and allows us to simply observe our natural patterns.
In the Buddhist sutras, Buddha said that we meditate by being mindful; we recognize that, I am breathing in now and I am breathing out now.
Seems too simple doesn’t it?
The meditation however isn’t the breathing. The breathing and awareness of it gives us grounding into the present moment. Our meditation takes place as we become rooted in the present moment and are able to observe both what is happening within the moment as well as how our mind and its projections are working within the present moment.
During your first week of practice, we will be focusing on simple watching the breath, much like we did during our 7 Day Happiness Challenge. The difference in focus this time will be in duration and frequency.
For week one, we will sit four times a day for 5-15 minutes each sitting. With each sitting, each in breath will be represented by a number, so as you breathe in, mentally say 1 and then sit within the feeling of the out breath, 2 on the next in breath and again, sit within the feeling of the out breath. This will continue until you reach a point where you lose count because your mind has wandered.
Do not rush your breathing. Allow it to rise and fall in its natural pattern.
Simply note the count of the breath and sit within its feeling. Most commonly, people lose count between one and 10. With practice, we want to keep our focus until we are consistently reaching 100 counts without distraction or struggle.
This stage of meditation is called the placement stage. It is simply the process of learning to place the mind on a single object or aspect and remain focused on that. For our purposes, it will be our breathing. We are becoming aware of our in and out breathes. We can even mentally say to ourselves IN and OUT.
Eventually this process will be just simple awareness with no mental commentary or judgments; just simple continued awareness of the flow of our breathing.
The Placement stage is defined by the Dalai Lama as such: “The first stage involves placing the mind on its object of concentration. This stage is called placement. At this stage you have difficulty remaining concentrated for more than a brief moment and feel that you mental distraction have increased. You often drift away from the object, sometimes forgetting it completely. You spend more time on other thoughts and have to devote great effort to bringing your mind back to the object.”
Losing focus is normal and perfectly okay. Right now we are simply learning about placement and finding our balance.
Consider the story of Shrona, the musician who became the Buddha’s student. When Shrona was having a hard time learning to meditate, he asked the Buddha what he was doing wrong. The Buddha asked him to demonstrate. Shrona sat, became rigid, and could visibly be seen struggling to control his mind. He was fighting against himself.
The Buddha asked Shrona, “When you used to tune your vina, did you make the strings really tight?” Shrona replied no. In fact, if you over tightened the strings, they would snap. The Buddha then asked, “Did you just leave the strings slack and loose?” Shrona again replied no. He explained that if the strings were too loose, there was no tune and they could not be played.
Buddha stared at Shrona and said, “so too the mind.”
As you begin your sitting, it is okay to struggle and falter. Don’t attempt to fight yourself or make your meditation of process of conquest. Your mind may do many things and wander many places. Just learn to observe and bring yourself back to your breath.
So for week one, try just getting to 10 counts for a few times in each sitting.
When you leave your meditation, have a journal at hand. Take not of what most often came up when you lost focus. Where did your mind go to? Was it focused in the past, on things that need to be done yet today, and how did these feelings make you feel.
As you note these, please remember, we are not judging how we felt, just making a note of the feeling. There is neither a good nor bad feeling, just a feeling. At the end of week one, collect your notes and put them into a document noting how your repetitions went, where your mind most frequently led and how you felt, i.e. “I am frequently anxious, I am frequently sad, etc.”
Points to Remember
- Sit Upright in a comfortable and relaxed position.
- Leave your eyes open but relax your focus. Your gaze should naturally be out and slightly down.
- Place your hands comfortably on your lap or knees
- Spread your shoulders slightly to allow a space between your torso and your arms.
- Allow your mouth to relax and open if it wants to, while the tongue rests against the back of your upper teeth.
If your posture is good, your meditation will arise more naturally and easily. Find a natural middle ground between too rigid and too relaxed. Be comfortable but not dull. And most importantly, love yourself. Just as much as any living being, you also deserve love and compassion.
Be well, strive well, and be blessed.