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A meditation process roadmap

Meditation means different things to different people - most of us start out thinking that it is about getting blissful and relaxed, which is perfectly reasonable. Then after we've been doing it for a while we realise that pleasure and contentment do arise, but there's also a lot of other things that happen that seem to get in the way - these are commonly known as the five hindrances in certain circles. We work with these for a bit and then we start exploring the mind a little more - pleasant things still happen, but there's also a lot of other things to see too. We see things coming and going, we see how the mind contracts around experience, and we start to see that nothing is personal - life just happens. Once these ideas sink in, we continue the process of letting go of our preconceptions about who and what we are - this letting go brings with it more bliss and happiness. As we let go, the mind becomes less reactionary and we start to experience the freedom of a mind that is balanced and calm. By now we realise that we have come a long way from our original idea of meditation - a simple relaxation technique - and that we are beginning to face life as it really is. Good things happen, bad things happen, we experience them fully. This is not a fun time - but we begin to own our own life as it happens and this brings with it a deep shift towards self reliance. All the while, a sense of calm builds within us - this drops us deeper into letting go, and the pleasure of deep relaxation.

That's probably enough for now. The meditation process changes the meditator profoundly, but that's no bad thing. We all have within us this drive to understand this thing we are born into and a meditation path helps us to figure these things out in no small way. If, for some reason, we cannot fulfill our life in the normal way, then this at least gives us an opportunity to explore something that can bring a different kind of fulfillment.

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Ingredients

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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…