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,
Meditation Practice Troubles
QUESTION from Anonymous: Hi Stephen, I'm a student from one of your meditation classes. I haven't been able to come to class lately as it clashed with work, but I have kept on listening to your classes and try to meditate every day even if for just a few minutes. I'm writing to you to share some thoughts, I often want to talk to you but there is never much time....
I have been struggling of late, reverting back to a very old pattern way of thinking...( I thought I was doing so well...) I've had some disappointment from friends and attacks that have affected me, I'm aware of this but I'm back to fear anxiety and anger.... I've even had thoughts of spitefulness and well... Just plain bitchy!!! This turns to guilt and shame! I feel I've gone back 10 years..... I was wondering what you might recommend???
I've listened to letting go - A LOT I'm better as I look at fuel etc.... But removing it still gets hard. The other day I flew off the handle at my mother in law who baits me all the time (I know this) but I chose to bite and let her have it, then spent the next 16 hrs (at work on my flight) punishing myself. To top it all off one of our passengers was a lovely family with a beautiful and severely disabled boy, well I couldn't stop crying about it having to drag myself off to the toilet... thinking about the challenges this mum and dad face 24/7....and how easy I have it....then I'm fearful that my blessings are suddenly taken away!!!
As you can see I'm a bit of a mess.... I'm sorry to bore you, I just wanted to ask your advice ( if you have time ) and although I seem like a basket case I've been listening to you non stop and want to thank you for your wonderful teachings.
ANSWER: Hello, It is nice to hear from you, from reading your letter I can see that you haven’t gone back 10 years, though I know it feels like it; the difference is that now when you react through these old patterns, you know that you are, that’s mindfulness, before you never knew, you are just turning on a spot light. Old conditioning is strong, it will cycle back, we are addicted to it. And yes knowing that you are reacting through these old patterns is painful, but it is through the understanding of that pain that you will eventually become disenchanted with them. The Buddha likened it to hanging onto the tail of a snake, at first you don’t even realise it is a snake, you think it is something good, then through mindfulness you notice that you are holding a poisonous snake by the tail which keeps swinging round and biting you. When you see this clearly enough without thinking you will cast the snake away, will never be fooled by it again. Mindfulness will protect you in this way.
Creating a Refuge
In daily life create an anchor for your mindfulness to be cultivated in, this anchor is the feeling of your body, the sensations in your body can only exist in the present moment, they cannot exist in the past or future, this will give you a refuge.
Guilt and Shame
Guilt is an emotion focussed on the past, it is self imposed torture, shame on the other hand is a positive emotion, it is what you feel when you do something against those that you respect, you feel dirty compared to them, this will motive you to try to improve and to increase your morality. When ever any of these emotions come up just be aware that they are there, know what they feel like, but don’t try to push them away. Whatever comes up in your mind or body is exactly what is supposed to be there, how could it be any other way?
Anger and Aggression
Anger and Aggression is always fuelled by a thought process, the thinking fuels the emotion, the emotion fuels the thinking. Remove the fuel and the fire of anger will subside, the reason for anger / aggression is NEVER anything external to you, that is just the mind looking for a reason for what you are feeling.
As soon as you feel irritated / angry, fight the urge to say or act, be aware of how painful it feels and then intentionally start thinking thoughts of loving kindness “may I be well, may I be happy etc”, intentionally think in a different way, replace one thought with another, even smile. You can also use ‘noting it away’ which means literally shooting the thought process away by quickly noting it “thinking, thinking, thinking” like a machine gun. These are beginning techniques but very effective, once your mindfulness has been developed stronger you will be able to sit with the anger and let it be, without the need to react to it..
Aversion and Fear
Aversion and fear are reverse anger, instead of attacking the mind wants to run away. They use the same cycle of feeling, thinking and emotion that fuels each other. Again loving kindness is the direct antidote for this, by intentionally thinking thoughts of loving kindness you will break the cycle and change you mindstate. Once you get more comfortable doing this then you can start just being with and experiencing the fear / aversion thus deconditioning it.
Conflict with Others
In abusive relationships establish your awareness deep in your body, be aware of the sensation, feelings, hear the sounds but not the words. Every word you hear is a gift, it is your choice whether you want to take it inside you or not. As strange as it may sound the abuser is your teacher, without them you could not develop as a human being, reach your full potential, be grateful for the lesson, as difficult as it may seem. See their pain, their abuse is them crying out, open to your pain in relationship to it, immerse it with your mindfulness, your very being, see what it is trying to teach you.
Do not try to change them, if the situation is dangerous then you are best to walk or run away, but do so mindfully, fully aware of why you are distancing yourself from that situation. To try to change others is a trap, your only task ever is to heal yourself, to change your interaction with the world, as you change you will affect others around you, we attract to us what we are putting out, the world is our mirror, if we play the victim we will attract an attacker, if we are an attacker we will attract a victim, the world is balanced in this way. In the same way if we emit love we will attract people to love, it is a simple law.
No one can hurt you, understand that we are living in a world where everyone has a mental illness, we are all mentally ill. When someone taunts or abuses you it is not them speaking but their mental illness, see their sickness, watch and it will be obvious to you. If a person had a large wound in their body and you poke it, you would not be offended if they cried out at you in pain yet when we can’t see the deep wound in their heart and we poke it, when they cry out in pain we take it personally.
Nothing is ever personal, this is the delusion.
Fear of Losing Everything
This fear comes from the misbelief that everything is permanent; I can’t tell you that it is because it isn’t. Meditation is meant to teach us about the natural flow of nature, that everything is in a state of change, impermanent. Meditation is about becoming comfortable with change, trusting that the flow of life will take care of us. To stop trying to swim upstream and accept that the river will take us where it may. We all have a purpose in life but our very struggle against it stops this purpose from revealing itself. This purpose may not always be grand, it may be as simple as being a good friend to everyone you meet, but within that is great fulfilment and deep contentment. The only way to find true comfort in change is to immerse your attention in each moment, each moment is simple, beautiful, the past and the future heavy and uncertain.
Simply – what you put out to life is what you get back, it is a very fair system. Start changing your life by refining your relationship to it, resisting that which causes pain to yourself or others be it through thought, speech or action, this is the path
These guidelines based on morality for building community say it all:
a) If you want people to treat you with respect, then treat others with respect
b) If you want people to want to give you help then offer to help others.
c) If you want people to give to you then be generous to others.
d) If you want people to talk about what you're interested in then talk about what they are interested in
e) If you want people to like you then be kind to them.
f) If you want people to be your friend then be a friend.
g) If you want all these things to happen then be grateful for everything you have.
Before you encourage any thought, speech or action reflect on what you want to get back, because what you put out there is what you are going to receive, this is the built in morality check of nature.
Meditation is a mental exercise, an exercise of the brain, if you don’t exercise regularly like any other exercise you will start to become unhealthy again. Being in contact with someone who is very mindful makes you mindful, that is the effect of a good teacher, this has an effect on you, there is nothing better initially then having regular contact.
Be kind to yourself, let me know how you are going,
Trouble Finding Breathing
QUESTION from Anonymous: Hi there, as strange as this seems when I try to do meditation using the breath in my stomach as the object like instructed the feeling of it disappears. If I try to breath deeply I can watch it but it seems like I am controlling it and is very hard to build up any concentration on. Is there some other technique I can use, I feel very confined when I watch any breathing, especially at the tip of my nose, if I do this my mind become very restless and doesn't stay anyone spot for very long, please help
ANSWER: We all have different temperaments, and base starting points when we take up meditating. These affect our ability to do certain techniques, firstly do not get attached to a technique, if it does not seem suited to you are better off finding one that suits your temperament. In my classes I have Mindfulness of Breathing as a basis because it suits most people but this does not mean that it is suitable for everyone. When I first started formally meditating under a teacher I could not experience the rise and fall movements of the abdomen, I was more of a chest breather but was continually told to watch the rise and fall movements.
I tied myself up in knots for years until a teacher took the time to ask me what is my predominant experience during meditation practice. At this time it was heavy mental fogginess, I was advised to make this my meditation object and a whole world opened up to me. Investigation and observation of this mental fogginess and my relationship to it uncovered a lot of deep understanding about how my mind worked. For mindfulness meditation the object is not important, whatever is your dominant experience is your object of meditation. The continuity of your mindfulness is the most important thing, as long as you know, this is what I am looking at now, this is what my experience of is and this is what it is doing then your practice will develop. Remembering is the hard part, that is why having a primary object is helpful, hence the breath. Because when you get distracted and lose your mindfulness the moment you remember you will have something to go straight to continue cultivating the mindfulness on, thus lowering the length of the break in your attention.
If you remain confused as what to do when you realise that you had been distracted then you have gone into a non-object limbo and the momentum of the build up of mindfulness will cease. Instead of using the breathing you can use the feeling of the sitting or laying posture of your body, anchor your attention within it. Observe the changing sensations and use it as your primary object, then go out from that point to experience whatever the dominant experience is, when nothing pulls your attention then go back to immersing within your body.
Initially when you start to build up concentration you can use touch points, this means mentally moving through different points of your body. A traditional one is "sitting, touching" You place your attention in the experience of your siting posture and mentally label it "sitting, sitting" , you then move your attention to the experience of the touching sensation of your buttocks on the floor and mentally label it "touching, touching" . As your concentration and attention builds you can add a few more touch points such as your left leg touching the floor, right leg touching the floor, hands touching together, lips touching together etc. this will build up momentary concentration until it is quite strong, when it has built up or you start to feel mentally tight just drop it and start to observe your dominant experience.