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Letting go of struggle

I have a great deal of struggle in my life and it's intensely annoying when I get stuck in a cycle of difficulties (as I touched upon here onset, struggle, etc). It is quite demanding when I get caught but when I do manage to let go of struggle it is like being released from a set of chains; quite a pleasant experience but not one that is easy to achieve. There is, unfortunately, a process to be lived through.

When we struggle with our experience, we have a tendency to make it worse. We are trying to use our will power to overcome what is going on and, in some small way, we are trying to exert control. Perhaps this has been an effective strategy in the past, but ultimately it is energy sapping and unpleasant. Let's not beat ourselves up about it - there is something instinctual about struggle - if we fall into quicksand our gut reaction is to struggle to get out but this only makes things worse. We have to learn patience and perserverence to get through - some might call it wisdom.

So here we are with our situation - difficulty occurs, we struggle with it, it gets worse. When we have limited resources it blows our circuits. We need to recognise that we are struggling and let go (not give up) a little bit - this is what is going on, I am not going to fight it. Let reality play itself out - I am overwhelmed, it will last days. We settle into our 'not fighting' energy level (perhaps we are familiar with this sense of laissez faire from our previous nightmares). We find areas where things are not so bad - my body is holding up, the sun is shining, this part of my face is not a knotted mess. We look for the good and hang out there instead - I am OK, I can find OKness even if this part of my life is not presenting me with ease and well being. And at some point we feel relaxed enough in our mind to let go of struggle in a deep cathartic manner, like a snake shedding skin. Then we begin again.

I have more to say on this topic but that'll do for now. Letting go is quite a big deal.

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A standard view of the Jhana states (what happens when we meditate)

Here is a diagram of the Jhana states as they are generally explained. The first row consists of the Jhanic factors (I have compressed the first two, applied and sustained thought, into one called "Settled mind" to make the diagram more consistent). The second row are the first four Jhanas, and the bottom row are the formless states of mind. (If you click the image, it gets bigger).



So then, how do we use this kind of information as we meditate. Well, I spent many years wondering about various experiences that occurred during meditation and only when I discovered this information was I able to get a sense of the whole map. This was helpful.

Generally, I like to use these states not as a list of achievable things but as a conceptual map of what is possible with the mind. As you meditate, it can be useful to incline the mind towards contentment and wide open space rather than simply counting 10 breaths. Even though the depth of the actualized Jhana states is tremendously profo…

Meditation is simple

Here are the simplest instructions I know for meditation. It's a good place to start:

1. Find somewhere quiet and comfortable.

2. Pick something you want to rest your mind on: your breath coming in or out; staring (eyes half down) at an object; listening to a steady sound. As you breathe in and out, maintain relaxed attention on the object. Maintain attention on the object as you breathe in, as you breathe out and during the gaps in between.

3. Your mind will wander off.

4. Cultivate a laissez faire attitude to what is going on. Let things come and go. Return to gently to your object.


Do this for 10-15 minutes to begin with. Observe any relaxation that may occur: your body giving way, the mind calming.

From here, you can begin to investigate what is happening, but this is where you start.

A nice exercise in whole body awareness

It all starts with the body. Your body is your greatest asset.

Take a seat somewhere. Go inside your body and take a relaxing breath. Become aware of your body. Start at the feet and then expand from there. Sense your awareness of the body growing - become aware of the feet and legs; then feet, legs and torso; then feet, legs, torso, arms and hands. Have a sense of energy growing through the body.

Finally, as you breathe, hold your entire body in awareness - feet, legs, torso, arms, hands and head. Feel into a sense of openness and clarity. Notice any blockages in the flow of openness. Then enjoy three or more clear breaths. Nothing outside the present moment, you and your body.

During the day: try it standing up, or in everyday situations. Notice what undermines your attempts to do the practice.

Quick fix: attempt one full body breath before you begin your next task. Do it as often as you can.

How do I fix myself with mindfulness

This appears to be a common pattern. We do our mindfulness course expecting to be transformed, we feel a bit better on the course, a week after the course we find that nothing has changed. There's also the case of people who have been doing meditation for ages and yet they still feel as depressed and angry as they did when they started.

So then, what is going on?

The mind is a tricky beast. It is used to taking action and seeing immediate results. Mindfulness is more subtle than this. It is about seeing the relationship between body, feelings, mind and thoughts and how they come and go. There is no explicit result to be found, just an on going relationship with the thing that is us. However, the longer we observe ourselves the more likely we are to see wisdom arising. That is to say, we begin to see what is beneficial and what is harmful to us. We begin to take responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness - we are no longer simply victims of circumstance. We know what we nee…

What is mindfulness?

I like to have a crack at this every now and again because my appreciation of it seems to change as the years go by. This time I'll do it through a series of questions.

How do I know I'm being mindful?
The simplest way to do this is to label your experience as it happens. Keep it casual. Pay attention to what is going on and give it a label - sitting, seeing, thinking, feet, pressure, breathing. If you are able to label what is happening then you know what is happening. This knowing is mindfulness.
Is that it?
That's the beginning. Once you know what is going on you can begin to explore experience and what your mind is doing. This gives you some space around experience and this gap is where the freedom happens. This space separates out the details of your life from what you really are.
Why does it come and go?
The mind is a complex instrument that is rapidly switching between different modes of operation (for want of a better phrase). Mindfulness is not a mission critical thi…