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,
How Much Effort?
QUESTION from Martin: Another question popped up. Talking about quality of attention, how much effort is there needed? I read things like, paying attention if your life depends on it. What do you mean bij quality of attention, what criteria or goal, do I have be as allert as possible?
The amount of effort needed to be applied during meditation needs to be in balance, too much effort and you will become mentally agitated, too little and you will become dull and start to fall asleep. Your effort during your meditation should be applied to fully knowing your experience each moment as it arises, your effort is just in staying present. This effort sits more towards deep relaxation then strong effort, you know when it is in balance when you feel deeply relaxed yet clearly aware of each moment as it passes, it is actually quite gentle. When it is correct your attention will start to sustain on your meditation object and your attention will not wander off it, at this point you will no longer need to apply the effort it will become effortless.
Having Trouble Sleeping
QUESTION from Julie: Recently I have been very busy with family and work, it is now at the stage that it is driving me crazy, I am so exhausted. I have tried meditating but it makes all my worries come up and to make it worse I now can not sleep at night, I spend most of it tossing and turning in bed. Am I doing something wrong in my meditation, I started meditating to feel calmer but can't even get started as I always feel restless and start thinking about my problems
any help is welcome
ANSWER: You are not going crazy, meditation does not make our thinking / emotions speed up, instead meditation increases our awareness of what is happening in our mind. As the awareness increases it is like turning on a spotlight in a dark room, suddenly we realise what is inside the room and also how messy it is. If your thinking was going 100 miles an hour before you started meditating then that is what you will see more clearly as your awareness and concentration grows, this does not mean you are going crazy, it is just that you never noticed how crazy you were before.
This is not a bad thing, now that the light has been turned on you have a chance to clean out the room, to clean out your own mind. During your formal meditation practice do not interfere with your thoughts / emotions etc, instead passively observe them. Being mindful of them as they flow on in your mind will increase your awareness of them and will give you a feeling of being separate so that you won't get lost in them. Through non participation and mindful watching you will be withdrawing your energy from them and then of their own accord, when the energy starts to run out they will slow down and eventually disappear leaving silence and peace.
In regards to falling asleep do not try to sleep, this in itself is effort which creates energy.
Instead start by immersing your awareness in the feeling of your body laying on the bed, mentally feel the sensations in your body, anchor your attention. When you do this your thoughts will start to die down. When some concentration has grown start to be aware of your breathing as it comes in and goes out. Be aware of it from the tip of your nose down deep in your belly and all the way back out again, you can gently use some mental labelling such as "in in" and "out out" with each breath. Do this gently, with little effort, if your attention wanders to thinking etc don't get upset, just gently turn your attention back to your breathing. At the end of each breath let out a short sigh and let this relax you, letting any tension go.
if you do this you will fall asleep in no time, remember do not try to fall asleep, let it happen naturally
Overcoming past trauma
QUESTION from Anonymous: I have experienced alot of trauma in my life and am feeling very stuck, how can I overcome this using meditation? I keep thinking about it all the time a go from being to feeling down and dont know what to do. I thought that meditation may help me. Can you help me please?
ANSWER: Hi, One bit of advice, I want to point your attention towards the truth. In reality all you ever have is right now, anything that happened to you in the past no longer exists, your experience of right now, in this moment, is all you have and all we ever have. You are sitting reading this email, that is your reality, when you stand up from reading this email and walk away, reading this email becomes a memory, just a thought, but it is no longer your reality, your reality is the experience of walking away.
Our past only exists because we continue to relive it in our head, we give it importance through our attention. This moment does not contain the past, the only way the past exists is because we keep thinking about it. Our relationship to something in the past then ‘colours’ our experience of the present, we bring that relationship with us. This ‘colouring’ then distorts the way that we are perceiving the present, so we make judgements based on misinformation.
Anchor your attention in your body, feel the sensations in your body, don't think about it just feel it, notice how in the simplicity of just sitting here reading, feeling your body, past does not exist, just this present experience. The future is also the same, it only exists in our head as an idea, the only time we can ever experience the future is right now, we cant experience it in the future. When the future arrives it is the present, it is no longer the future, and once we have experienced it, it is no longer the present, but the past, and doesn't exist unless we think about it.
Every moment is new, in every moment you are a blank slate, you can be any sort of person you want to be, when you are fully living in the present the past and future have no hold over you.
You are on the right track, the meditation practice will give your brain a rest, if you practice regularly my truth will become your truth.
Be gentle on yourself, you are dealing with habitual ways of reacting, at first when times get tough you will find you will fall back into habit, but that is ok, because now you know that there is a path that leads out of the hole, each time you fall in just laugh and climb back out again through Mindfulness
Letting Go Meditation
QUESTION from Misty: Hi Stephen, I enjoy doing the letting go practice in class, out of all the types on meditation I feel like I get the deepest peace from it. Could you write down the instructions the way you lead it in class and is it ok if I do this as my main meditation practice?
ANSWER: Yes you can use Letting Go Meditation as your main practice if you like, it just depends what you want out of your meditation practice. If you want deep relaxation and a 'defrag' at the end of the day it is ideal. Letting Go Meditation can develop very deep concentration, but it is a basis practice to create the foundation for concentration or mindfulness meditation practices.
Letting Go Meditation Instructions
Take a comfortable sitting posture that you can stay in without moving for the desired length of your meditation or lie on the floor or your bed on your back. Close your eyes and take a deep breath then breathe out letting all thoughts and tension drop away. Slowly scan from the top of your head to your feet and release any knots and tensions you come across by breathing into them. Make a half smile on your face and then be aware of your whole body, of its heaviness and the sensations within. Every time you breathe out allow your body and mind to relax and grow heavier.
1. Focus on the feeling of your body, the tension within it and as you breathe out let that tension go, relax.
2. Next take a breath in then wherever you feel tension within let that relax as well as you breathe out.
3. Focus on nothing else except relaxing with every out breath; allow your body to become heavier, moment by moment.
4. Do not rush relaxing, forget about time, obligations and the world, this time is yours, enjoy it and let go. During this technique do not think but soundlessly watch, ignoring past and future or any external distractions.
5. Try not to imagine or place your body anywhere, ignore all distractions, you need to do one thing and one thing only, breath and relax, nothing else. Once your whole body is relaxed start focussing on mentally relaxing, relaxing with each breath and practice letting go, allowing your body and mind to sink deeper and deeper.