Meditation Questions & Answers

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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,
Stephen Procter

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Learning the Labelling Method

QUESTION from Laura: Hi Stephen, I am just a beginner in meditation (did it in my twenties though, but not the right way I find out now). I consider myself lucky to have bumped into 'your' strategy so early in my learning stage.

I found to videos on YouTube where you explain the method of how to practice. These were helpful, thanks!

But the thing I don't understand yet is: the thoughts, feelings, itches, pains, etc that come up, one has to label them. Is there a book or Wikipediapage, or anything, where I can find how to label them?

ANSWER: The original technique of 'labelling' was made popular by a Buddhist monk, the late Mahasi Sayadaw from Myanmar (Burma) based on the Buddha's Discourse on Mindfulness practice called the Satipatthana Sutta. His original book in a pdf version can be found here Practical Insight Meditation

EXPLANATION: Labelling is used as a way of increasing accuracy of attention during practice, this then stimulates Mindfulness and deepens concentration. Using a label correctly breaks up experience into its separate components, when experience is broken into its elements then identification with that experience breaks down into.

We are already trained in the skill of using labels in our everyday life, my name is 'Stephen', the name 'Stephen' is a label that my parents gave to me to identify me from my brothers and sisters. If my parents called us for they might add the label 'Stephen' if they wanted it directed the call to me only.

I also have another label 'Procter', this is a label that points towards my lineage, these labels say I am 'Stephen' of the 'Procter' family, these labels then separate me within the family and society. But I am not my label, the label just points to me, all labels are like this.

This is how labels are used, as a means of accurately pointing attention and separating experience, we use other labels such as 'cup', 'plate', 'door' etc so that we can communicate. Again the labels are used to point the attention towards something; this is where we must be careful when using labels in meditation, that we don't mistake the label for what it is pointing at. If I went to Den Haag there may be a sign that says Den Haag, this sign points towards the experience that is Den Haag, but it is not Den Haag.

INSTRUCTION HOW TO LABEL Talk I did on this subject: How To Use Labels During Meditation

During your meditation practice you can use a simple label to point your attention towards the breathing, allowing the breathing to happen naturally. This is done by repeating gently a mental label describing your of each movement such as “in, in” as the breath comes in and “out, out” as the breathe goes out.

When the breath comes in it passes through the tip of the nose and may be experienced as "coolness / pressing", passing through the chest as "movement" and moves down to our abdomen which is experienced as "expanding". As the breath goes out it may be experienced as "falling" in the abdomen, back through the chest as "movement" and out through the nose as "warmth / pressing". The label is used as a way of accurately pointing your attention towards the experience.

While gently labelling the breath as "in" and "out" make sure that the labels are concurrent with the experience of the breaths, this alignment increases the accuracy of your attention. Labelling your experience is a way of saying "this is what I am looking at now" and if used properly will help to build your Mindfulness and clarify your awareness.

As the movement of the breathing becomes steady and clear, you can increase the amount of observations that you notice during the movement of the in and out breath, such as “hard” “soft” tingling” “hot” “cold” or anything else that you experience. If the movements contain too many sensations then just observe them in a general way, not creating a label for each individual experience.

WHEN DISTRACTED Once you have established your attention on the movements of the breathing your mind will settle even further and the breathing will start to become clear to you. At some time your attention will be drawn away from the breathing, your Anchoring Object, and will turn towards a distraction, your Secondary Object.

At this point do not hang onto your Anchoring object but instead turn your attention towards and hold it on the Secondary Object. This is now your object of meditation until it no longer draws your attention towards it.

When objects other then the sensations involved in your breathing appear and dominate your attention such as sounds, thoughts, bodily sensations etc., as soon as you notice that they have drawn your attention away from the breathing label them appropriately as you experience them as:

“hearing, hearing”
“thinking, thinking”
“feeling, feeling" and so on.

At first it is not easy to label such a variety of objects, but with increased Mindfulness and practice you will be able to do it.

When you can easily label the thought as 'thinking', you can then sought thoughts by their emotional charge such as

"Fantasising" etc.,

whatever is driving the thought, when the thought dissolves, come back to the breathing again. When the Secondary Object is no longer predominate to you, then go back to noting the Anchoring Object, your experience of the sensations in your body during breathing.

take care
Stephen Procter

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Feeling Mental Stickiness?

QUESTION from Anonymous: I heard you say that memories and thinking about the future contain the water element, they are experienced as sticky. Is that how to determine them?

ANSWER: The stickiness you refer to is the experience of water element, it can appear as cohesion, attachment. Notice how some thoughts or memories are enchanting, they hold your attention and it is hard to stop thinking them. This is the experience of stickiness; if your attention was not stuck on them then you would not be thinking these thoughts. During meditation you can observe the experience of stickiness, the pull of obsession / addiction to thinking them.
take care,
Stephen Procter

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Mindfulness Meditation and Anxiety

QUESTION from Anomynous: Hi I suffer from major social anxiety and panic attacks. I'm unable to do many things for fear of a panic attack. Like going to a hair dresser or having a massage or going through a car wash. I've been to a psychologist and have done the mindfulness app but it hasn't really helped. I've just booked into your class but realise that this is mindfulness also. Is mindfulness all about controlled breathing or a deep form of meditation.

ANSWER:- Thankyou for contacting me, yes Mindfulness meditation if practiced correctly will help with deconditioning of habitual patterns associated with anxiety and panic attacks.

I feel you would benefit from personal Mindfulness training, this will give you the tools to decondition your habitual reactions, and regular contact with a skilled teacher will keep you heading in the right direction. Training Mindfulness correctly will help you experience freedom from anxiety through the strengthening of three mental factors, Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration.

Understanding Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali word Sati, Sati literally means ' memory' or 'to remember', but it is a particular type of memory, it is not remembering the past but remembering the present, remembering reality. The idea that you have to put effort into remembering the present may seem strange, but once you begin meditation you will start to notice how quickly it can be forgotten.

Mindfulness has two functions, that of remembering:

This is what I am experiencing right now, and
This is how I am relating to what I am experiencing right now

Mindfulness alone is not enough, it needs to be stimulated, this is the function of the factor of investigation. The near cause of the developing of Mindfulness is the desire to look, to investigate, holding a question mark over everything that you experience. A good teacher will always stimulate investigation, this is their role.

Understanding Investigation
This means practicing Mindfulness meditation while holding questions like:

What is anxiety? Where do I feel it in my body?
What are the sensations that make up anxiety?
What is this feeling of unpleasantness, why does it make me move?

Understanding Concentration
Investigation stimulates Mindfulness because the desire to look continuously turns the attention towards the object of meditation so that Mindfulness can remember the object and sustain the attention on it.

In general most peoples attention is very dispersed, it is jumping between sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch of the body and thinking, likes / dislikes etc. Jumping around in this unfocussed way means that awareness is dispersed.

Mindfulness is the near cause of the concentration of awareness, when you continuously remember "I am aware of this", the awareness starts to concentrate. In the same way that a sweet drink is concentrated by removing water, awareness is concentrated by removing distraction through sustaining it on one object.

Concentration of the awareness means that it is no longer agitated; this brings about mental stillness and clarity allowing you to see clearly the habitual processes of reaction and how to break these cycles through your own experience.

Understanding the Cycles
Every time you get caught up in thinking, for that period of time it becomes your reality, the awareness of what it feels like to be right here, right now, fades away. Your reality then becomes the content of the thought and reaction to reality is made through the emotional charge attached it, in your case it is through anxiety and fear.

These appear as the sensations in your body associated with anxiety. These sensations associated with anxiety, through past conditioned response, appear as unpleasant to you. This feeling of unpleasantness is a trained perception.

Your aversive relationship to the unpleasant feeling alters the way that your brain perceives the present reality. You then, viewing the world through this perception, try to escape from it, thereby reacting to the unpleasantness and perpetuating the cycle.

In a physical sense the neural pathways in your brain are constantly changing, they are not fixed, every time you react towards something through either liking or disliking you strengthen pathway associated with that reaction. An emotional pattern is just that, it is an embedded pattern in the brain, it is not fixed, it is practiced.

Every time you react to the feeling of anxiety when it arises in your body you re-enforce the pattern, you are stimulating the neural pathways in your brain and strengthening the behaviour. Each time you react by wanting to get away from the anxious feelings the pattern is more deeply entrenched and more likely to arise in the future.

This cycle of aversion to the feeling of anxiety strengthens over time until it becomes all consuming.

But there is good news:

What is practiced can be unpractised, what is conditioned can be unconditioned, no behaviour is fixed, the brain can be rewired.

This is where Mindfulness meditation, if practiced correctly, comes in.

Strengthening your Mindfulness will hold your attention in the present and obsessive thinking will start to settle down. This is because thinking is always directed towards the past and future, never the present. When your thinking settles your awareness will start to concentrate and you will be able to be with difficult emotions in your body without reacting to them.

Using correct Mindfulness meditation techniques you can then begin to decondition your reaction to the unpleasant feeling associated with the anxiety and your pattern of reaction will gradually weaken. Eventually the feelings no longer arise.

Of course to get results you have to want to be free from the anxiety, this means doing daily Mindfulness practice. Since reacting to the anxious feeling strengthens the pattern you need to cultivate Mindfulness and apply the techniques just as regularly to get the results.

You are not alone; many people have done this successfully before you

take care
Stephen Procter

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