From time to time, I like to pass on any interesting articles on the topic of meditation. As I’ve written many times before, meditation is a very useful adjunct to psychotherapy – and like psychotherapy is a practice that has the potential to improve quality of life. (I would not recommend it as replacement for psychotherapy – that would be just as silly as recommending psychotherapy to someone interested in meditation.)
I’m not that familiar with Mr. Harris, but he’s written a number of books with intriguing titles and I was immediately struck by his clear, straightforward, pragmatic and informed meditation instructions. He strikes a very nice balance of both committed and skeptical, one many writers on the topic should be envious of.
And here’s a brief excerpt in which he compares learning to meditate with learning to walk a tightrope:
As every meditator soon discovers, such distraction is the normal condition of our minds: Most of us fall from the wire every second, toppling headlong—whether gliding happily in reverie, or plunging into fear, anger, self-hatred and other negative states of mind. Meditation is a technique for breaking this spell, if only for a few moments. The goal is to awaken from our trance of discursive thinking—and from the habit of ceaselessly grasping at the pleasant and recoiling from the unpleasant—so that we can enjoy a mind that is undisturbed by worry, merely open like the sky, and effortlessly aware of the flow of experience in the present.
Stop Being a Victim of Compulsive Thinking. MeditationSHIFT is one of my favorite sites for musings mindful. They consistently and fruitfully mine the same territory — don’t fall victim to your thinking mind — don’t get lost in compulsive thinking, or “stop following your mind wherever it leads.” So often we take for granted that we are in control of our minds. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
This is the essence of mindfulness and meditation. They are practices that allow you to cultivate awareness of your compulsive mind and its non-stop activity. They help you develop the skill of noticing it all without getting caught up in it. They train you to move your attention away from the mental drama instead of indulging it.
As such, you are no longer victim to the next thought, emotion, or urge that pops into your head. And, you break the cycle of conditioned behavior that culminates in unskillful decisions, actions, and reactions.
Nice post on meditationSHIFT (the 9/2 entry in their “daily musings” section) about dealing with discomfort in meditation, and by extension, in life. This is a topic not adequately addressed in most mindfulness material, and can be one of the chief stumbling blocks one encounters while attempting to establish a meditation practice.
Some readers made astute observations about things we tend to be uncomfortable about, including meditating. Many people approach the practice with the belief it will be relaxing. Relaxation can be a side-effect, to be sure, but it’s not the goal.
Piece at PsychCentral has some useful tips I thought I’d pass along. This is my favorite, but there are some that are equally useful!
Start meditating for short periods. The best way to start a meditation practice is simply to start meditating. You’d be surprised at how difficult this can be. We often procrastinate until we find the perfect time. Don’t wait. Start immediately.
Find a quiet place where you can sit for a few minutes without being disturbed. Close your eyes and begin following your breath. Focus your attention on the sensation of the air passing through the tip of your nose. Count your breaths one through five silently in your mind. When you get to five, simply start over again. When you get distracted, immediately bring your attention back to your breath, and continue counting. The counting helps you stay focused.
After a few minutes, stop counting and begin observing the entire breathing process mindfully. When you get distracted, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
Start with about a 10-minute session, then work your way up to about 20 minutes or more. It may be a challenge to sit still in the beginning, but it will get easier as your mind settles down over time.
“Studies by Andrew Newberg and others have shown that long-term practice of meditation produces significant alterations in cerebral blood flow in parts of the brain related to attention, emotion, and some autonomic functions.”
― Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations
Just a quick note — here’s a website devoted to meditators sharing their experiences and connecting. OpenSit.com
Here’s some text from their About page:
“This movement reflects a wider cultural change in our understanding of meditation. The practices and doctrines of hundreds of previously esoteric traditions are now available to us, and we are free to verify their practical aspects whilst taking apart the unhelpful myths, superstitions, dogmas and falsehoods that prevent the free discussion and dissemination of authentic meditation.
This shift towards transparency and honesty naturally emphasises practice over belief. Journalling your practice is a great way to reflect on your own journey, and sharing your notes is a great way to get support and feedback. OpenSit is firmly built around the practice journal, with an added social element so that you can follow other peoples journals.
The culture surrounding meditation is evolving. OpenSit is community exploring what modern meditation practice means to us, the ways we can support each other, and the effects of meditation itself, from equanimity, to energetics to enlightenment.”
Author Giovanni Dienstmann methodically lays out the general types, religious groupings (Buddhist, Hindu, TM, Yoga, Self Inquiry, Chinese meditation, Christian meditation, guided meditations). If you don’t learn something after you’ve read this post, then you’re already an expert on meditation.
After quite enjoying Rinzler’s Sit Like A Buddha, I wandered over to his website and discovered he has a nice little “TEACHINGS” page. There you’ll find links to periodicals. Here are the results from Sonima. There is also a section of guided meditations, and one of recorded talks, one entitled, “How to Stop Being A Jerk.” Unsurprisingly, Rinzler’s tone keeps to his easy to digest, down-to-earth approach I found in his book.
Here’s a great website I’d never heard of before, meditationSHIFT. They take a studiously non-religious stance (“What we teach isn’t something mystical. It won’t conflict with your religious or philosophical beliefs. And, you don’t have to sit in an uncomfortable, cross-legged position.”), yet are clearly conversant with Buddhist terms. Here’s a very nice post: Equanimity and impermanence.
What strikes me is their very down-to-earth approach to thoughts, and how meditation can change our relationship to thoughts. From their front page:
“Our minds are compulsive. They narrate the world around us, commenting on and judging everything (including ourselves). They constantly produce thoughts, emotions, urges, and stories that play on a loop in our heads. All of us carry around the effects of this non-stop mental noise. We get weighed down with worry, fear, doubt, and regret. We struggle with stress, anxiety, and depression. Relationships suffer. Work suffers. Health suffers. We suffer. And our minds drone on and on. There is a way out, though.”
Would you do mind training if it helped you with the endless, pointless thinking? A Sakyong Mipham quote courtesy of meditationSHIFT, on their daily musings page, August 12 entry.
“Many of us are slaves to our minds. Our own mind is our worst enemy. We try to focus, and our mind wanders off. We try to keep stress at bay, but anxiety keeps us awake at night. We try to be good to the people we love, but then we forget them and put ourselves first. And when we want to change our life, we dive into spiritual practice and expect quick results, only to lose focus after the honeymoon has worn off. We return to our state of bewilderment. We’re left feeling helpless and discouraged. It seems we all agree that training the body through exercise, diet, and relaxation is a good idea, but why don’t we think about training our minds?”