A good meditation

‘A good meditation is one you have done.’ Shinzen Young

When we reflect on the expectations we have of ourselves, we might notice that we often tend to set the bar pretty high. This can be true for meditation, where we might feel as if everyone else in the world is meditating like little Buddhas, with their minds at rest in perfect peace and equanimity, and it’s only us who is struggling with intrusive thoughts, physical discomforts, an inability to focus for more than a few seconds, and general feelings of restlessness and frustration. In fact, virtually all meditators have experiences which are far removed from bliss and calmness, and each tradition has techniques for working with our inherently restless mind, and systems of thought for putting these experiences into context. This is why it can be difficult to learn meditation on our own, without a teacher – we don’t know what to expect, and how to work with the challenges which inevitably arise when we meditate regularly. It can be helpful to regularly be in touch with more experienced meditators who can guide us, by attending courses or meditation evenings or retreats. And if we’re fortunate enough to find a teacher we trust long-term, this can be wonderful opportunity to deepen our meditation practice.

Meditation is about seeing clearly what is actually going on – not getting caught up in avoidance or projection or excessive drama. Sometimes, what is going on are strong emotions such as frustration, sadness, resentment. We might sit down to meditation with the idea of gaining some relief from these, and then find ourselves confronted with the current state of our mind, with nowhere to escape to. Mindfulness meditation cuts off our usual escape routes, the many ways we might have at our disposal to avoid being with ‘life as it is’. We are left instead with the bare bones of our existence.

These bare bones can become the building blocks for a less reactive life, a life where we are more present, more grounded. Regular meditation involves simply showing up to the practice, and staying as present as we can during the time we have set aside for it, whether it be five minutes or thirty or an hour. Some days we may notice sensations of peace, whereas other days we realise that our mind is really quite busy today. As Shinzen Young says, a good meditation is one that you have done. Sometimes the most challenging meditations are the ones which are ultimately most useful to us, as they invite us into a different way of responding to the challenges of everyday life.

Practice idea:

Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper, and on the left hand side, write down your expectations of how meditation ‘should’ be, and on the other side, some of the experiences you’ve had during meditation. What do you notice?

Anja Tanhane

Nurture Positive

A pink lotus flower and lily pads with saturated color

This week’s blog is a contribution by Michelle Morris:

When I was a young child I would imagine going to a place with animals that I loved, this gave me a deep feeling of calm and safety.

We all have the capacity to create positive mental images and positive mental talk, which can trigger positive emotional body feelings. We can use this natural capacity, which is particularly accessible for children, to develop mindfulness. So with the mindfulness practice of Nurture Positive we get to focus on things that are pleasant and enjoyable, while at the same time cultivating positive feelings and developing mindfulness skills; concentration/attention and equanimity.

Nurture Positive/Focus on Positive, is part of the Basic Mindfulness System developed by the innovative mindfulness teacher Shinzen Young. There are a vast range of practices throughout history and different cultures, which come under the umbrella of Nurture positive. What these practices all have in common is intentionally creating and holding positive content in our subjective world of thoughts and feelings. Some examples are lovingkindness/Metta, Diety yoga, The Catholic Rosary, visualisations, affirmations, gratitude, self-compassion and forgiveness practices.

The Dalai Lama was shocked to discover low self-esteem is a widespread experience of people in Western culture. Perhaps this is why self-compassion and forgiveness practices have become popular. They can be a powerful antidote to self-criticism, self-hatred and feelings of unworthiness, and can develop compassion and self-love, which we can then extend to others.

The traditional Buddhist practice most commonly taught with mindfulness is lovingkindness practice. The Buddha taught this practice to a group of monks after they became very frightened of the dangers in the jungle, where they were trying to meditate. Roger Walsh comments on this “smart psychologist that he was, the Buddha realised that fear and love displace each other, and that if the mind is filled with love fear is swept away”.

Aside from the traditional phrases of the lovingkindness practice, we can also create a personalised nurture positive practice. We can choose a specific positive feeling, positive behaviour or positive cognition we would like to cultivate. For example a mother was having a struggle with her young son’s morning routine, and not feeling good about her reactivity. I instructed her in the Nurture Positive technique. She created positive words, and a positive image to help connect her with the positive feelings she wanted to cultivate. She describes the benefits she found from practising this:

“The Nurture Positive meditation has ended up wonderfully for my full-time time with my son. I did manage to use it and it made a huge difference to my ability to notice and control my tone and attitude”.

The mindfulness practice of Focus on Positive is not the same as positive thinking. We are not trying to suppress, fight with or get rid of “negative”, but give total permission to the non-positive to arise if it wants to, allowing it in the background whilst intentionally focusing on the positive content.

 

Weekly practice idea:

Think of a time when you felt cared about, loved. It may have been by a person, a pet, spiritual figure, or nature

Hold the image of the person, or other

If there is a name of that person, that helps you to connect with positive feeling, think of that

Feel any pleasant sensations of being cared about, loved

Then shift to an image of someone you have loved and hold that feeling.

By gently focusing back on the positive content, each time the mind is distracted we are developing concentration. By allowing distractions, including “negative” ones to arise and pass away, we are developing equanimity.

Michelle Morris

 

A good meditation

Path

‘A good meditation is one you have done.’

Shinzen Young

Even though meditation is now practised in all kinds of settings, from schools to hospitals to large corporations, it’s still often surrounded by a sense of the arcane. Someone who meditates might be seen as very ‘Zen’, engaged in some mysterious pursuit which evokes images of distant mountain caves; hermit monks who speak in strange riddles; spirits floating by on clouds, reaching nirvana and bliss.  Because of these esoteric associations, it’s not easy to settle into meditation without some expectation that the next half hour should be calm, special, infused with joy. We would like to reach a state beyond the hum-drum ordinariness of our daily existence, perhaps become enlightened, or at the very least break through into some profound insight. If all goes according to plan, we will rise from our meditation cushions transformed, our every action from here on will be composed and mindful, and all our annoying neurosis will have once and for all been laid to rest. Continue reading “A good meditation” »