With What Mentality to Approach the Meditation Practice
Gone are the times that meditation was an awkward word that most people didn’t even know its origin. Now the practice is very well known, there are so many scientific studies, so many books, so many smartphone applications, so many classes and so on. All the people talk about the tremendous benefits of the practice and even more are starting engaging every day.
I am trying to remember how I was first approaching it when I started at last committing to it about 3 years ago and at the same time I am reading from time to time several questions from people on Reddit and forums that are beginning. I have noticed a similar approach which for me doesn’t help in the deep understanding of the process and as a result its efficiency. As well it may lead the person to soon abandon it as they may notice that they don’t get results that were promised.
The way I have experienced it when I started
Maybe I kept meditating daily as since I started I have tried to learn about it from several sides and most importantly from the ones I considered most experienced on it. The ones who had an ancient tradition. Up to that time scientific books had already warmed me up and they were the main reason I started. They were providing concrete evidence about the benefits of practices such as the mindfulness of breathing and I had no reason to not be sure that it’s something helpful to include in my daily activities.
However, as I said, I was sensing that there was definitely a need to learn how was meditation approached by the source. So I stayed in Buddhist monasteries and followed all the daily activities of the monks. I have followed introductory classes of meditation from Buddhists. Of course I have visited numerous temples and obviously I have read several books and watched lectures by Buddhists, especially from the Zen and Terravada traditions. I haven’t been to Tibet (yet) and I’m afraid it has been too corrupted so many years after the Chinese invasion and plenty of tourists however I’m sure that still you could see incredible things, especially when you have learnt to appreciate them. Then I continued learning from other schools.
All this interest of mine that up to a point I keep having still, I am sure has changed me as a person radically. Because in these people I recognised a totally different way of thinking than the one I have been brought up in the Western society. At the same time I was outstanded about the amazing knowledge they had about the human mind. These people seemed to have mastered the human mind and as a result they created innumerable brilliant techniques some of which have been so useful to me.
I started looking at life in a so different way that I needed a few years to start balancing it with a more realistic concept on how to pull all these out, combine them with that I really am and put them into practice. That’s why I stopped writing and wrote again 2 and a half years later, I had so many contradictory ideas in my head. But the good thing is that I knew I had to show patience for the appropriate time for it to manifest in words and practice. So here we are, I am writing now here my juice from all this enjoyable confusion.
Our societal influences in the way we approach life
But I don’t want to get out of the subject much telling you about my story, the important thing is what you can get out of that. So I mentioned it in order to explain that these people created the meditation practices but they are a different culture. And obviously they made them according to their culture. That doesn’t mean that someone from another culture can’t access it, however he has to first understand the ideas from where they arise. This will be valuable in order to make his own practice more efficient.
Think how we are operating from day to day. We live with expectations. Whatever we do is done in order to gain something. Everything we do we measure it. Everything we do we want to strategize to the exact point, we expect things to happen according to plan although life proves that many times has different plans. We keep thinking and thinking about any issue that matters to us because we believe that the more we think the more chances we have of reaching the answer.
At the same time we have a high idea of self. We are egoists which means we want to control everything. Even our emotions that come and go. So we want to control them but we can’t and we keep fighting with them. Ironically the more we fight obviously the more the emotions influence us and most of the times they drag us lower. And we don’t accept them because they don’t suit the image we have about our own selves. “How can I be jealous of this very low level human being?” almost always says the average jealous human being.
These don’t happen only in the western person’s mind but in the way our society works they have been too much exaggerated and definitely our behavior is not only a result of our nature.
There are some teachers in the East that are first giving an initiation lecture to the new students and only after that they can start practicing with them. By offering their approaches they want to balance the people’s approach in meditation, to help them take out the predispositions they had about it. As well to start understanding the nature of their mind. I, also, find essential then to talk about how we could approach meditation in order to comprehend it.
So we talk a lot about benefits of something. At first look this is normal since why would then do something that doesn’t have benefits? First of all not all enjoyable things have benefits, I assume there exist hobbies where we get nothing more from them than the enjoyment of doing them. But most importantly many times we become stack to gaining the benefits quickly. Instead of working by remaining focused on something and look at the results after some time, we are all the time anxious in case we notice a single improvement. We then become tired of the anxiety about our improvement and we abandon. Anyway, improvement as all processes in life seems to be working like a spiral and not in a straight line. As well there is a learning curve a lot of times.
We have in mind all the time the outcome and the excuses
I see people starting to meditate because they have anxiety and want to relax, or because they want to be more focused, or they don’t have a lot of energy. They are all looking for a fix. They believe that if they go and meditate they will be calm and happy later. This is the mentality of the magic pill. It’s fully understandable, as I said, as this is how we have been taught to approach life. So most people in fact are attached to the meditation hoping that this way they are becoming better people and they are fighting. They have attached it to a specific model in their minds and approach it with a predisposition of what feelings it will arise.
You may understand up to now that with that kind of approach in fact you are still trying to get away from problems. And you keep them hidden. Most of the times you blame them on others. Because you haven’t realised yet that all the problems are a creation of your own mind. Your mind gets attached to several issues, thinks of them too much and gives them much higher priority than what they deserve. You imagine how the future might be and you believe negative possibilities to be actual. You can’t get away from things that have happened in the past. According to your mood you judge things differently. Your mind compares according to what you have been used to and not to what actually exists and you have a misconception of reality. You believe the image the others sell about themselves and you are lowering your esteem with no reason and so on.
If you’ve been trying to meditate but haven’t noticed the above happening on you it’s because you haven’t let meditation work on you, instead you have been trying to control it. Because meditation is the opposite of avoidance, it’s the clear look at everything that takes place.
Obviously there are thousands of different meditation schools and approaches but for me this is the most basic way of approaching. Afterwards you can look at anything else you want. So I mainly see meditation as a practice to be with what is, to flow with it.
Before the practice you don’t need to think or feel anything specific. You don’t need to expect something and have a predisposition. If before an experience you only think of how it should be then you are ruining it. Every experience is unique and it’s a pity to try to imitate a moment that is gone forever. So only the admiration of the process is enough. Just make a conscious decision that you are willing for that time to ignore everything. It won’t happen but your willingness is helpful in order to be reminding you your priorities.
When you sit for a practice what you care about is to notice what is going on with you. What feelings do you have and in which parts of your body they manifest and how. When you get lost in thoughts it’s not a problem. First accept that you were lost instantly, understand the concept and return to now. Notice the difference in the quality between the present moment and the time that you were lost in thoughts, it’s a great opportunity for that. If your mind gets lost in thoughts in the same subject then it’s a lesson about what matters to you. If your mind gets lost in something unexpected then you may have learned that there is something you may need to look, why did this thought appear among any other possible thought?
These are for me the important things. To be able to sincerely look from the standpoint of an independent observer who is non-reactive about everything but is always very attentive to the happenings. This is how you learn yourself because you are open to self enquiry that will be leading you to many and important answers the more you dig.
Unlabelling the Emotions
Also, emotions aren’t good and bad. We judge them because of the models that are in our minds and have us attached to what is right what is wrong without us realising. They are energies in different parts of the body coming and going like waves. They are all different sides of the same coin. Black and white, hot and cold, sun and rain, yin and yang, constantly changing but all being part of the whole. It’s their change that maintains the overall harmony.
If you want to get away from them (by using meditation for example) you are going against the truth, you turn away the observer from the happenings and you are blocking their release so all this weakening energy of the waves remains flowing massively inside you. So without realising you are actually harming yourself.
You can see it also another way. Instead of focusing all the time on the emotion and the thoughts connected to it, you can look in the background. You can search for the hidden reason that most of the times looks irrelevant to the manifestation we mostly focus on in such situations.
In the beginning many teachers had to clarify to me the difference between being unattached to an emotion and not sensing it. When we become a keen observer of the “inside of us” doesn’t mean we don’t feel the emotions any more. On the contrary we can notice them more clearly even if they may be distressing. The difference is that you become less reactive with plenty of resilience. You have more power to handle it. And as time is passing you will be embracing it. Because from my experience you will start figuring out that every event that caused you an emotion was there in order to make you learn something or keep the balance that you had started losing.
Don’t think too much
If you are now starting you can’t know how you will be after meditating for a few months. Because you haven’t experienced that so you can’t imagine any images of yourself. And as I said, it’s better to not even try to do it. On the contrary what only matters is to focus in the practice with faith on the process. Not blind faith, I understand, if you have been meditating for months with the approach I described and you believe hasn’t helped you in your self enquiry of course if you find wise to abandon it maybe it’s the right choice for you. Everyone’s path is different.
Meditation the way we see it is an exercise, though. It’s not life. It’s not enough to meditate in order to be a good human being, that’s irrelevant. Thus you can extend the approach to your whole life. You can be looking at yourself in all situations of your life and keeping more your balance. You can always be taking lessons about yourself according to how you behave in different situations. You can better understand when thoughts are carrying you away. So you don’t to be limited in the label of meditation, take the approach of the practice and make it a part of you. First you do it in a controlled situation such as your room but as time is passing your mind is unavoidably led to operate similarly in your whole life.