This section is dedicated to questions on Mindfulness Meditation from many students all over the world. If you have a question that you would like to ask you can ask it here: Contact Stephen
thankyou and take care,
Boredom During Meditation
QUESTION from Martin: I saw your movie on youtube about meditation on the breath. You talked about experiecing the breath and you could exprerience all kind of aspects, kind of sensations like movement, warmth or cold, hard or soft. Does this mean you have a program during meditation? So first concentrate on one type of sensation and then move on to another. What is the order or can you experience them all together forming one experience. Or do I just pick one.
What Is the guideline here? It seems very complicated. What is the function of al the aspects, to keep it interesting? So when I get bored I switch to another channel?
ANSWER:There are a number of separate questions here so I will address one at a time in the order they would appear during Mindfulness Meditation practice.
Firstly there is no such thing as boredom during meditation, if you feel boredom when you are meditating then you are not meditating, the mental factor of Mindfulness is absent. When Mindfulness is present every experience, be it in meditation practice or everyday life, is interesting, Mindfulness doesn't grasp onto or push away any experience. Boredom is a mixture of aversion and delusion, when Mindfulness is low, this then affects the clarity of our awareness of the meditation object creating a state of not knowing - delusion, aversion then arises out of this delusion. When the aversion arises in our mind it starts looking off into the future, it wants to experience something other then what is happening right now. To overcome boredom put more effort into experiencing your object of meditation, look more closely and boredom will dissolve.
If you swap your attention like swapping channels to keep up your interest then concentration will not develop and your mind will never settle.
Mindfulness of breathing is not complicated, there are set stages that you follow in the progression of the meditation practice.
1. First establish your attention in your body and be aware of the sensations within it. Bringing your attention to the sensations in your body will anchor you in the present, it will stop your attention wandering off in thoughts of the past and future. This is because the sensations in your body can only be experienced right now, they can't be experienced any other way.
2. Soften into the feeling of your body, relax into it and as you do so your breathing will start to appear to you. Don't interfere with it in any way but be aware of the whole of each breath as it comes in and out.
3. Once your mind has settled down and has stopped wandering start paying attention to the length of each breath, just know whether it is long or short and relax into it until the breathing becomes long and gentle.
4. Your breathing will then become settled and very relaxed and subtle, your attention no longer wandering off. Start paying attention the the whole of each breath, from beginning to middle to the end. You can do this by being aware of the breathing, which is experienced as, cool, hot, tense, smooth, tingling etc. Don't think about these just know them. At this stage if you hold continuous attention on your breathing your attention will start to concentrate and it will become effortless, staying on each in and out breath.
Having Trouble with Thinking
QUESTION from Julie: Hi Stephen, I go to your Thursday class and really enjoy it, I have a question, I hope you can help me :) When I try to meditate, especially at home, I can't concentrate for very long and spend most of the time thinking or falling asleep. Is there anything I can do to improve my concentration?
ANSWER: When you first start meditating it can seem as if your thinking is going out of control and that the mindfulness meditation is making you feel agitated or more sleepy. Even though it appears this way it actually isn't, what mindfulness meditation is doing is clarifying your experience, turning the light on. Mindfulness acts like a spotlight, it shines on your mind and its relationship with the world, the stronger your mindfulness the more clearly you can view how you experience the world around you, your habitual relationships that lead to pain in your life. So mindfulness meditation isn't making you sleepy, agitated or think a lot, instead it is allowing you to see what is really there and how messy your mind really is. Don't let this dishearten you, once you realise how crazy your mind is and the mess that you are living with it then gives you the basis to start your process of healing, of cleaning out the mess and bringing your mind back to a state of cleanliness, calm and peace.
Thinking in Meditation is not your enemy, it will become your teacher. You can learn a lot about yourself by observing the obsessive nature of your thinking process and its uncontrollability. If obsessive thinking arises during your practice try to notice it, as soon as you have noticed that you were lost in thinking don't stress about it, its ok, because that very act of noticing that you were lost in thinking is Mindfulness, at this point you are meditating again. Once you notice that you were thinking it will most probably disappear, acknowledge it and then bring your attention back to your main object of meditation.
Rinse and repeat, make this a game of remembering what you are doing, the better you get at the game the faster you will notice that your mind has wandered, this is developing mindfulness, this is how your meditation practice will deepen and your mind will quieten down.
Restlessness and sleepiness are similar, they are just imbalances, not enough effort to be aware during your meditation and you will feel sleepy, too much effort and you will get agitated and restless. The skill of meditation is to be aware of the imbalance and find the balance between both. Keep at it, it is endlessly interesting, question everything, you are your own detective, find out who done it ;)
take care and see you in class,
Thinking - Meditation to Use?
QUESTION from Mandy: Stephen, I tried to watch my thinking but it was very hard, what type of meditation should I do to make this easier, we use so many different types in class?
ANSWER: When we first start meditating thinking is one of the main distractions to overcome, if we don't approach it in a skilful way we can end up in an all out battle that we are doomed to lose. Firstly you need to know that thinking is not your enemy, you will get lost in thoughts for long periods at first during your meditation practice, your task is just to be aware that you have been distracted and be mindful of what that felt like.
Being aware that you were lost in thinking for a period of time will develop mindfulness, to practice mindfulness you just need to be aware of and know what is happening in each moment. If what is happening is that you were off thinking then that then becomes your object of meditation, the one you develop your skill of mindfulness on. Once you know that you have been distracted the thinking will disappear and you can go back to your main / chosen object of meditation. Do not cling to your main object such as the breath, understanding the nature of distraction is part of the learning curve of meditation. Think of your main object being the anchor for your attention and any distraction as being the second or momentary anchor. As long as you keep up a continuity of awareness your mindfulness will increase and concentration deepen, the length of time between distractions will shorten as you will notice faster when your attention has wandered. Eventually the thinking will settle down and stop by itself.
Points to pay attention to:
1. Use an anchor for your attention such as being aware of your body and always keep your attention there
2. Never try to suppress or struggle with thinking, you will just give it more energy
3. If the thoughts are running wild give them space to run like you would a wild horse - Widen your awareness to take in everything, your thoughts, body, sounds around you and let your mind tire itself out, use up all the energy
4. Never pay attention to the story in the thinking, always focus on the experience of it and also your relationship to it
Thinking obsessively is just another addiction, we think because we enjoy it, but the very act of thinking creates its own pain. Try techniques like counting your outbreaths from 1 to 10 and restarting whenever you forget - make it a game of remembering and see if you can get a perfect score. Be prepared to start again, every time you forget what you are doing hop back on the mindfulness horse
Sitting on the Floor?
QUESTION from Anonymous: Hello :D I tried to sit on the floor to meditate but my back and hips hurt, I can't even get my foot on my leg, is it ok if I lean against a wall? I have tried some yoga but it hasn't helped, does this mean I wont be able to meditate properly?
ANSWER: Posture is helpful to the development of meditation practice but do not cling to the idea that you need perfect posture. There are many options for posture such as cushions, kneeling stool, chair or lying on the floor. It all depends on the type of meditation you are doing, concentration based meditations are more posture reliant if you want to go to a deep level, Mindfulness meditation can be practiced in any posture as concentration used is momentary and not fixed.
There are traditional meditation postures like full and half lotus which are useful for sitting unassisted on the ground, the main advantage of these is that they rotate the top of the pelvis forward stopping the roll back of the buttocks which causes the posture of the back to collapse and arch. These postures cause good energy flow up the spine and also keep the body more comfortable. These postures are very useful for concentration based meditation used to experience Jhanas (Absorptions) where you need good energy flow and to be rock steady still for long periods of time. In regards to this the Buddha said: "Herein, monks, a monk who has gone to the forest, or to the foot of a tree, or to an empty place, sits down cross legged, holding his back erect, arousing mindfulness in front of him."
That being said if you are doing concentration meditation without trying for Jhana you can use any posture you like as long as it is steady, even lying down though it is harder not to fall asleep.
Mindfulness meditation is not reliant on posture but a good sitting posture can be helpful to make the body more comfortable and to help balance the energy. You could try the Burmese method which instead of crossing the legs places one leg in front of the other. If your knees wont touch the ground then use a cushion to raise your buttocks off it and this will lesson the pressure on your hips and make it easier to attain good body posture, remember it is important to keep your back straight to increase the flow of energy. Mindfulness practice can be done walking, standing , sitting or lying down so any posture as long as you are aware of it is good. I have also practiced it on a lounge chair, on a car seat and lying on a bed or floor with great success. The main thing is the continuity of mindfulness for the development of this practice.
The Buddha said: "Furthermore, when walking, the monk discerns, 'I am walking.' When standing, he discerns, 'I am standing.' When sitting, he discerns, 'I am sitting.' When lying down, he discerns, 'I am lying down.' Or however his body is disposed, that is how he discerns it.
So go easy on yourself, get to know your body and what it can and can't do, accept it and then work with what you have, this is how meditation develops