Before anyone starts with this meditation guide, the most important and general thing to consider is: Why do you want to meditate and what meditation benefits are you looking forward to?
Because we often think it’s very easy to be at peace with our own mind and body, and our own emotional world then yet it is apparently not.
People usually want to start meditating because they are struggling with themselves and their experience in some way. But the learning process asks us to turn toward the very things we don’t want to take a look at because that’s where the reactive pattern that we have been struggling with is happening. And if we don’t take a look there, then we haven’t gotten a starting place.
I. Why do we meditate?
What moves us to start practicing mindfulness meditation? Motivation is at the heart of our practice, and it gives us the enthusiasm, the vision, the push to start and keep going, even if it becomes difficult.
For those of us who approach mindfulness through MBSR and MBCT routes, our motivation may likely be explicitly linked to our need to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.
For those who approach it through Buddhism, the desire for a spiritual path may be more present. Traditionally Buddhism has seen motivation at two core levels, such as:
The first is personal motivation, wanting to make our own lives better. While the second, more altruistically is the deep desire that comes from within to help everyone else as well.
Whatever the approach, our suffering lies at the center and is the universal starting point whether the very apparent suffering of mental and physical unhappiness or the subtle or equally profound pain of spiritual longing.
II. Starting out with Meditation-
When we first start out with our meditation practice, it seems that our motivation is quite clear and simple. We feel something is wrong with us, and we want to change it, this wrongness comes in many forms, professional’s highlights them as:
- Chronic pain
- And stress
Many of the people who come here on prokensho.com are motivated because they want something in their lives to be better, they don’t want to get depressed again or they want to find a better way of working with pain. Maybe they want to manage the overwhelm at work, etc. (all of these sorts of things)
There is the kind of hook that people arrive with, and it’s a really good starting place, it’s a great motivator. Ask what originally motivated them? A whole variety of reasons are forthcoming from people who have been through the more in-depth and personal courses.
As per some mindfulness practitioners, it is, “There is a longing not to do the busy, busy.”
Busyness in one’s life isn’t the answer, especially as, I am in the last decade of my life? I suppose that one wants to get that essence of one’s self and be true to oneself.
For some it takes something painful to motivate them, such as Loss of job security, a relationship breaking down, perhaps someone dying. Traditionally these luminal events are seen as a gateway to a deeper relationship with ourselves, a threshold where events required that we stretch.
For many it’s not much of an outer event that initiates meditation practice, as psychological problems:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Experiencing chronic misery
- Never being able to settle
- Feeling socially inadequate
The list is almost endless.
A. Let me walk you through one of my acquaintance’s experiences of re-occurring depression and how that let him start with his mindfulness meditation practice:
That was probably the third or fourth time I suffered from depression for a length time, well I think I probably have been depressed for quite a lot of my life really but I didn’t notice it or maybe I fight it the most of the time.
I had another session, and I think I have always sort of known what’s good for me but never done it. People have suggested meditation to me before but I never thought it was the right thing for me. Then my counselor thought it would be good, and unlike the past when I felt resistance, it was obviously just the right thing to do at the right time.
I don’t think I have ever thought of doing courses as such. But I have been to the Buddhist meditating thing in town, and I have done guided meditation with people, but I suppose it was just the time for me to do it. And I knew what was good for me at that moment, and I needed the course just to keep me present and focused.
Depression is almost endemic in our society as we struggle to survive in a world where we at times become alien and threatening. For many of us who have tried a variety of cures, we reach a point where we have nowhere else to turn except back towards ourselves.
We need to be motivated by some powerful need to get started and keep going but once we start practicing we must during each mindfulness session let this need go, if we do not we are in danger of damaging our mindfulness before its established.
By looking for the fruit before the plant is even beginning to grow, wanting to feel better is fine but checking whether we feel fine yet every time we practice mindfulness will only take us away from being present without knowing how we actually are now and to the hope that we might be better in the future.
We all want to feel better, happier, more at ease with ourselves and other people. Well, this makes a powerful motivator for change, and it also is one of the things that mindfulness reveals as a subtle non-acceptance of ourselves. Wanting things to be different means, we do not want to be who we are now and how our life looks like at present.
Mindfulness enables us to recognize this and turn toward ourselves with greater kindness and acceptance.
B. Here, there is something about getting the Meditation balance right:
As Mindfulness professor, Rebecca Crane explains, “If our motivation is an idea of how things should be, an idea of a future possibility where I’ll be able to manage my pain in a beautiful, kind and peaceful way then this really gets in the way of being able to sense into our own individualistic experiences just as it is in this moment.
However, I also feel that we would never sit on the cushion if we didn’t have motivation. So it isn’t a question of throwing motivations out of the window, but more a question of holding them in a light-touch way. Holding our motivations lightly, not letting them obscure, or being accepting and present with our experience just as it is may enable them to change and evolve.
Rebecca continues, I think there is also a thing about motivation evolving as we stay with the practice. The sorts of motivation that bring us into a mindfulness course are often things around wanting something in everyday life to be better or easier or less stressful.
Remain the things that get us onto the cushion, perhaps for the rest of our lives, but I also sense that they are eventually not enough. That our motivation inevitably shifts as we have been with the practice over time.
For people who have been practicing for a longer period, mindfulness becomes embedded within them as a way of being. There is a congruence between the practice and their core beliefs about their views, their life, their world, and the nature of things.
So it is in synchrony with the whole person, not a longer kind of an add-on to make one aspect of your life a little bit easier.
III. Acceptance in Meditation-
Acceptance is to see things as they are in the present, it is the opposite of denying what is wanting things to be different or resisting things as they are. When we accept ourselves as we are in our meditation, we are present with whatever our experience is:
- Physical sensations
- And emotions
Without the intention of changing it for something we believe we will feel better by being accepting of what is, we see that it is always changing. Acceptance does not mean to like what we experience, nor it is an activity that means we will not change anything. By accepting what is, we place ourselves in the best positions for making wise changes.
Acceptance makes space for the most appropriate actions. Acceptance does not mean that we drift into unconscious indifference to our meditation either by allowing ourselves to be continually caught up in thinking or sliding along dull, sleepy and disengaged.
Mindfulness is awareness of where we are in our meditation and leads us back kindly to our object of mindfulness. Mindfulness is noticing when we have lost acceptance and have fallen into unhelpful judgments.
Meditation teaching often sounds very exciting when we first start with them, but as time passes, the experience of putting them into practice on a meditation cushion or seat is usually very difficult and depressing. It just seems so hard to place our attention on one thing and have to stay there.
We quickly realize that there is a big difference between the idea of meditating and the experience of having a go.
When this discrepancy is particularly significant and shows no signs of changing, our original motivation may be threatened, we may want to give up.
Because this is the deep paradox in mindfulness meditation, as we start with the hope that in the future we will get better, but if we are to practice mindfulness it will mean accepting ourselves JUST AS WE FIND OURSELVES in the present moment, giving up the whole enterprise of self-improvement.
Furthermore, we must accept parts of ourselves that we would like to get rid of, such as:
- Our out of control mind
- And difficult conflicting emotions
In fact, Mindfulness meditation intentionally turns us toward these key parts of ourselves making them more conscious, more apparent moment by moment. It is rather like the fairytale beauty and the beast, beauty would do anything to get away from the beast she has been married to and it is only when she starts to make a relationship with it to accept and then love what she first fell was ugly and frightening that he transforms into what is most valuable.
Imagine it like this:
Would you really want to go in a room where the wallpapers say things like, you are a defective human being, people don’t love you, or that kind of stuff.
I can see how that kind of wallpaper and that kind of mindscape is not a very nice place to go, so why would you want to go there?
It’s very hard to sit with our own personal experiences, it’s just very counterintuitive. Our instinct is to want to retreat from feeling the intensity of our experience. All of our instinct takes us in the opposite direction, which shows up in many ways, many people describe it as-
They are too busy to practice, saying that 45 minutes is too long. My sense is that often we begin to inquire what really happening, you find there is a challenge in shifting mode. If we are into the busyness of our everyday life, shifting gear and settling into being present with just our experience rather than into the forward thrust of our lives is a really challenging shift.
It is counter instinctive; it’s not how we are wired to do things. We are hard-wired to be somehow on the move, to be moving away from much of what we experience. So my sense is it’s not always the length of the practice that’s the challenge, it’s that switch that’s really challenging.
To actually make that move in our lives and say this is what I am going to do right now.
BEING WITH OURSELVES CAN SOMETIMES BE DIFFICULT.
We live in a world full of distractions, where if we choose we need never be entirely alone and still. When people sit or walk with themselves in silence, so many layers of that camouflage are just put to one side, and people discover they are not that comfortable or at ease in their own skin with everything that is going on there is sometimes almost a startling.
Even horrifying awareness that comes into being of just how chaotic their minds are, how habitual and obsessive their thinking can be and how difficult, how challenging it is just to feel at ease even in the silence, in simplicity, in aloneness.
Essentially that aloneness is something that people don’t know what to do with, except knowing that it feels uncomfortable.
And I notice people often pose the question: why meditation is so difficult? But I think this is the wrong question, rather it’s why there is so much difficulty in just being with myself. Just being with this mind and body and everything it does.
And when people ask that question, then they start looking at their habits of a lifetime, their activities, their negative thoughts, and lack of peace essentially. We think it is very easy to be at peace with our own mind, and yet it is not.
Fortunately, mindfulness meditation does not only take us closer to those parts of us that scare us, but also being a practice that includes the cultivation of calm abiding, it is a source of deeply replenishing nourishment.
With practice, mindfulness enables us to form a deep calm that already exists within us and that opens out into the insight, and into the nature of how things really are.
So give yourself and your mindfulness meditation practice some time. Let your mind wander and feeling to go wild because without knowing where they go, you can’t stop or cure them.
Patience is a key in Mindfulness meditation practice, so keep on practicing it to bridge the gap between where you are standing today and where you want to reach.