Introduction to Meditation
Helsinki, main library, auditorio 8th of Jan 2004
my name is Thubten and I'm a monk from Samye Ling monastery which is the headquarters for Rokpa
In our tradition a teacher has to spend many years in solitary retreat before they are really qualified to be a spiritual teacher. This I haven't done, so, what I do, I'm helping people on the path, rather than being a teacher.
I want to present this lecture to you in a very general way. Meditation can be practised by everybody; you don't have to become Buddhist to meditate. You can practice meditation even you are very strongly involved with another religion or if you are not interested in religion at all. But actually when you do any kind of Buddhist teaching, specially if you are a monk or nun, then you usually say some prayers in the beginning, so I'm going to do a few prayers in the beginning which are really just to help me to be in the right frame of mind, and you should not feel alienated by the prayers.
Sang-je chö dang tso-ji cho nam la
chang-chub bar-du da ni chab-su-chi
da gi jin sok jin-pe sö-nam ji
dro la pen-chir sang-je dru-par sho.
In the Buddha, Dharma and noblest Sangha
I take refuge until Enlightenment is reached.
Through the virtue generated by generosity and other virtues (1
may I achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of beings.
Sem-chhen tam-che de-wa dang de-we ju dang den-par jur-chig
dug-nal dang dug-nal chi ju dang dral-war jur-chig.
Dug-nal me-pei de-wa dam-pa dan min dral-var jur-tsig
nje ring cha dan dang dral-vei tan-njom chen-po la ne par jur-tsig.
May all beings be happy and create the causes of happiness.
May they all be free from suffering and creating the causes of suffering.
May they find that noble happiness which can never be tainted by suffering.
May they attain universal, impartial compassion, free of worldly bias towards friends and enemies.
A Prayer to the Root-Guru
Pal-den tsa-we la-ma rin-po-che
da-gi chi-wor pe-de den-shu la
ka-drin chen-pö go-ne tse-zung te
ku sung tu chi ngö-drup tsal-du sol
Glorious root guru
sitting on top of my head on a lotus and moon
accept me in your great kindness
and grant me the siddhis of body, speech and mind.
When we talk about meditation it's very useful to talk first about our usual experience as a human being, and why we would want to improve that. Every single human being is looking for happiness and wants to be free from problems. Everybody is living very different lives, everybody is doing different things on the surface, but deep down the wish is the same: everybody wants happiness and wishes to be free from problems. Some people really like to be unhappy. Some people like to cause suffering for others and to themselves but they are also looking for happiness, just the wrong way round.
We have tendency to look for this happiness from other things. We look around us - and we want other things to make us happy. And actually our whole life is made up of this looking for happiness from other things, we are always running after different situations hoping that they will make us happy. Actually, what happens to us is that we just keep running, running constantly after something, because we find that when we get things, they are not good enough, we have to keep running for more things.
And if we are running after things in order to find happiness then at the same time we are running away from things that will make us unhappy. These two things go together. And this is the definition of stress: constantly on the run, a little bit like a small mouse or hamster going round and round. If you look at it very logically you can say, that the process of running increases the things we have to run towards and the things we have to run away from. It is through running that we create the suffering. I'm talking symbolically; I don't mean jogging.
So this idea that happiness comes from things outside and suffering comes from things outside, this makes us into a victim of whatever is outside. We become a victim of all the circumstances of life, because we don't have much control of the things. Everything in life is always changing, everything is impermanent. So if we are looking for happiness and that happiness is dependant on outer things, then we are very unstable, because those things should not be relied on, they are always changing. We are dependent on things that are unstable and unreliable and we know that, and that gives us a very subtle kind of fear.
The basic mistake we make is that we are looking at things the wrong way round. It is actually the mind that is the most important thing, because in the mind is the experience of happiness and suffering. That experience is inside us. We think that the happiness and suffering are inside the things around us and we have to get the nice things and get away from the bad things. But it is not true, the happiness and suffering are inside us.
You can do a very simple experiment to prove that: you take 20 people and put them in the same room, like we are doing now. You play them the same music or you give everyone the same food to eat, you put everyone through the same experience. Of course everyone has a different experience. Some people like it, some people don't like it, some people don't care, everyone has different experiences depending on their own mind. So it's a very simple way of proving that the situation itself has no meaning. It's the mind of the person in the situation that determines whether it's pleasant or unpleasant.
We can see this in our own life, how from childhood to now we have changed so much and over the years things which we didn't like, maybe we now like them, or the other way round. It's all dependent on our mind, and so, this is the first step in meditation training, to understand that point.
One can say that being a meditator means you first of all have to take responsibility for your own experience. If we can develop a more flexible mind, a more peaceful mind, then we could be in many different situations and it could be okay. So, developing inner peace, inner freedom, that's the point of meditation.
A lot of people think that meditation means you have to stop thinking, give up thinking, but that's wrong. That's why it's not very good for you to read books about meditation and then try and follow the book, because you could get totally the wrong idea, many people do. Because usually in the book they describe the result of meditation, and then you read that and try to copy that. It's like trying to jump to the top of a cliff, it's impossible.
It's very important that you don't think: meditation means I have to empty my head or stop thinking or clear my mind, because if you try and do that you get very tense. If I tell you now, just sit here and stop thinking, try it. Don't think. You are not allowed to think. No thoughts. You are not allowed to think about a carrot. You are not allowed to think about the sky. You must not think about anything. I'm sure you find it very difficult. I do, I can't stop thinking, can you? If you try and stop thinking you just think more. And a lot of people try and meditate like that and they get very upset. If you put restrictions on your own mind, your mind will have a revolution.
So what happens, people sit down to meditate and they try and stop
thinking, then the thoughts come, they try to stop the thoughts and then they
get frightened, they feel they are no good and they give up.
Actually meditation means to give our mind freedom. Inside ourselves we have to give our mind freedom, we have to give ourselves space. But if you try to clear the thoughts away, then you are not giving yourself freedom, instead you are making yourself tense. Meditation means you let the mind be. If the mind is thinking alot, that's fine, you don't have to be bothered by it.
So an example is, if you are standing at the side of a road and look at the cars, in the example the road is the mind, the cars are all of our thoughts and feelings. Maybe this is a really busy highway with lots of cars. If you try to stop the cars they will all pile up and there will be a big crash. That's what people often do in meditation and then they get upset, and that's the wrong way to meditate. Instead we could stand at the side of the road and just watch the cars going by. Maybe some of those cars are taxis. If you put your hand out then the taxi stops for you, you get in the taxi and go for a drive. That's what we tend to do with our thoughts and feelings. We get in like a taxi and go for a long drive, round in circles, and then come back and we don't know where we've been.
Actually we have to just stand there and let the taxis go by and not stop any of them. The definition of meditation is to let the mind be but to have awareness. That's the key: to have awareness. If we develop that, then it doesn't matter what the thoughts are doing. Eventually in the later stages of meditation we have to start to understand that those thoughts really aren't that solid after all.
The thoughts and feelings are not as solid as we thought they were, so we don't need to be bothered by them. What usually happens to us is: we feel something like anger, depression or fear and we feel like there is something very heavy inside us, so we have to do something about it. We want to escape from it, so we either express it or we repress it. But this doesn't work, this just causes more suffering. So, in meditation we have to understand that it's not solid and we don't need to do anything about it, we can just learn to be aware.
I am talking about different stages of meditation here, talking in a kind of gradual way. Eventually through this process we have to slowly start to understand that actually we are good, and underneath all of our problems we are okay. That is the meaning of Buddha. Buddha means purity, and that is within us, but we can't see it, because we are too confused. Through meditation we will eventually have more insight and clarity and see the purity.
I have given a few examples which show us the different stages of meditation going from beginning to more advanced. But how do start to meditate, as a beginner, what does one actually do? That's what we should really talk about. As a beginner it is going to be very difficult to do what I just said. If we go back to that example of standing by the road and letting the cars go by, that's going to be very difficult, because we have an automatic tendency of get into those cars without even knowing what we are doing. Just to be there, be aware and let things be is very difficult. We need something, a strong technique to help us as a beginner.
For a beginner the best thing to do is to learn to focus on your own breathing, and that will help you to be less attracted by the thoughts and feelings. This is a beginner's technique which helps to develop some inner strength. So I'm going to give you instruction on that technique. First of all I will talk generally about it and describe it.
Basically what you do in this technique is to be aware of your own breath. Then the mind will definitely start to wander. You don't need to worry, that's fine, that's part of the process. What you do is, when you remember - which could take a long time - but when you remember, that the mind is wandering, you bring it back to the breath. Then you might manage to be aware of a few breaths and then the mind might start wandering again. Then you just bring it back to the breath. You might not remember instantly, it may take a long time, but when you remember, you bring it back to the breath.
It's like on the ocean you have a boat or ship with a long rope and an anchor in the sea-bed. The anchor is the breath and the ship keeps floating away but then it comes back to the anchor.
So, what we are doing is we are learning to have a little bit of detachment. Detachment is a difficult word because it may give you an idea that we are trying to get rid of our thoughts and it's not really like that. Actually what we are doing is learning to have some freedom. It's almost like getting glued into the thought, and we have to unstick from the glue and come back. You don't need to analyse your thoughts and feelings, you don't need to worry or think: "Where does this come from?" You just have to come back to the breath. This is not repression. You are not trying to get rid of the thought, you are just changing focus. That's very important, because when westerners try this technique, often they say: "Isn't this repression? A feeling is coming and then I have to avoid it and go back to the breath." But it's not repression and it's not avoidance.
I’ll give you an example. Suppose I'm looking at the right side of the room for a long time and very interested in it and then I just change and look at the left hand side. In order for me to look at that wall I do not need to get rid of the other wall, it doesn't have to go away. I just turn, the other wall is fine, it doesn't have to bother me. So it isn't repression, is it?
Before I go any further do you have any questions about this technique or about anything I've said so far?
Okay, now I've given you a basic idea of the technique, how it works, and now I want to give you instruction on how to do this. Then we will try it together and then we will talk about how to bring it into our daily life and how to deal with difficult situations.
There are couple of things we need as a support for this technique and for every meditation we do. One is posture and the other is motivation. First I want to talk about posture. It is very important, when you meditate, learn how to sit in a good posture, and that is a support for the mind to become peaceful. You can sit on a chair or you can sit on a floor. You don't have to worry, this posture is not particularly difficult.
Our mind and body are linked together, they affect each other. For example the way we are feeling in our mind will manifest in our body and also what is happening in our body we will feel in our mind, for example pain, if somebody pinches you, you feel it. But who is feeling the pain? It's the mind which feels the pain, not the body. For example, if you have a dead body and you pinch it, it doesn't feel anything because there is no mind there. So I hope this helps you to understand how there is a link there between the mind and the body. When we are practising with the mind we have to put the body in the right posture to help the mind.
The basic main instruction is to sit very straight but not too straight, not hard and rigid. Normally, especially in our culture when we want to relax, we make the body lean back. Sitting straight we don't think of as relaxing. Actually it is more relaxing because when the body is balanced the mind can be balanced. Also you can do things to help the posture to be more easy. You don't have to have a posture totally unsupported. Like I said the main thing is to have straight back. If you are sitting on the floor you sit cross-legged and you can sit on a little cushion. If you are sitting on a chair you just have your legs parallel and balanced, you don't have the legs crossed.
If you want to learn how to meditate sitting on the floor you can learn different ways of crossing your legs and you can learn that from a meditation teacher later, for now I am only going to teach you on a chair. You sit up in the chair and you don't lean back against the back of the chair, because that can make you sleepy. You have to find a right kind of chair so that you can sit straight and you don't feel uncomfortable. What happens is that usually people start to find that the base of their spine starts to contract and you get pain there. If we don't lean against the back of the chair the back is totally unsupported and it's crushing down onto itself and that's quite painful.
But it's very easy to fix this. You just have to get a towel or blanket and roll it up like a sausage. Then you can experiment for yourself how thin or how thick that should be for your own body. You place that underneath you at the back of your bottom, so that your pelvis is tilted forward off the edge of that on the chair. For now sitting on these chairs you just have to do your best, but when you get home you can really find the right chair for you and get this support underneath so that your back can feel very free. The whole idea is that your back should feel like it's growing upwards like a blade of grass growing up to the sun.
You sit like that with a straight back and you can place your hands with the palms up, right above the left, thumbs touching, in your lap. Try and sit in this balanced way and try to have the shoulders very balanced and even. Bring the head slightly back on top of the neck, tucking the chin in slightly. Not the face leaning down but the face facing forward, just tucked in a bit, almost like a bird when it goes to sleep. Try to have the whole face very relaxed like water. People tend to have a lot of tension in their shoulders and also in their jaw, so be aware of that and try to be relaxed. Have your lips and teeth slightly open; not wide open and not clenched shut, just slightly open. And put the tip of your tongue right behind the top row of teeth, so it's touching the top palate. This is the natural resting place for the tongue. It also stops you from dribbling when you meditate.
When you meditate you should have your eyes open. A lot of people like to meditate with their eyes closed but actually this is not very good for you. The reason why we want to close our eyes when we meditate is that we feel everything outside is going to distract us and harm our meditation. But if you develop that kind of mentality, it is quite bad for you, because you develop a kind of fear that things around you are going to disturb you, so you have to block them out. And then, how are we going to integrate our meditation into our daily life? Do we have to keep closing our eyes all the time to calm down? It's a bad habit. So you keep your eyes open when you meditate but you don't have to force them open so that they start watering and you can't blink.
A lot of people say: "I can't meditate with my eyes open, it's too difficult." But then what are you doing all day? Your eyes are open. It's no different. Leave eyes alone. They are open but they are not particularly looking, they are switched off. You know when you are sitting somewhere and you start to go into yourself, you start daydreaming. You might even be at work in a very boring meeting and you are looking straight at somebody's face, you are daydreaming and you don't even see them. You know that feeling? So that's what you do with your eyes in meditation. Your eyes are open but they are not looking at anything, they are just not doing anything.
For beginners it's usually easier if your eyes are pointing slightly downwards, you are looking slightly at an angle downwards but not at things, just in that direction. And they are little bit unfocused. I don't know if in this country you have these books where it's all just little dots and then if you look in a special way you can see a picture. It's a bit like that, your eyes are not really focusing, just relaxed. That's a little bit about the posture. If you want to study more about the posture you can come to a meditation class at another time and get more details but that's enough for now, just sitting on a chair.
The next thing is motivation. This is very important. At the beginning of each session, before you start meditating, you should establish a good motivation, and at the end of each session you should re-establish it. The definition of a good motivation is where the motivation is without limitations and without selfishness. When we have selfishness it means we are just running after something and we never get it. So a good motivation is when we sit down to meditate and we think: "I want to do this so that I can find freedom, but also for everybody else, not just for me."
Then you might think: "Well how is me meditating going to help anybody else? What's the connection? There is an obvious link because we are all connected, we are all interacting with each other all the time. So, if we meditate and become more peaceful, more forgiving, more patient, then obviously that is going to be good for others. And also, if we become less selfish we can become more compassionate and we can bring benefit to others, we will be more interested in helping others.
So, meditation is to help us to develop more compassion. At the moment our compassion is quite limited, because we tend to think about ourselves all the time, and when we are helping others, we have a lot of grasping. You know how sometimes you can really do a lot of things for somebody, really go out of your way to help them, and then one day they turn around and they abuse you or insult you. Then we feel terrible and we think: "After all I have done for them, how they could do this to me?" That's an interesting statement, because it shows us that our compassion was conditional. Unconditional love means to love somebody no matter what they do. Little bit like a mother loves her baby. If you are a mother with a small baby, the baby can kick you, the baby might vomit all over you and you don't mind. But if someone else's baby vomits on you, you may not be so happy!
The Buddhist concept of compassion is that everybody is our baby and everybody can vomit on us. That doesn't mean that we have to let people abuse us and let people destroy us, it means that we have to have an attitude of a mother, who will forgive, understand and be patient. Through meditation we can start to develop more unconditional compassion....because through meditation we are starting to overcome our ego and fear, that is the obstacle to compassion. If we develop this compassion, then the result of that is that we will go and help others. So, when we meditate it means that we are useful to others, because we are developing this more broad, open mind, and through that we will be better people for others.
Alot of people say that Buddhism is a very lazy and selfish religion, because Buddhists love to sit alone in a room doing nothing. So it looks very lazy and selfish. They talk about helping others, but then they go to their room and do nothing. What's going on? If you understand the motivation aspect, then you won't be able to make that accusation. When a Buddhist practitioner goes to their room to do nothing like that, they establish the motivation of training their mind for the welfare of all beings. So they are actually doing something.
Maybe at the moment we can't really help many people, but if we meditate regularly with that motivation then it means we are learning and we are developing skills so that later we can help. So it's very important that every session you do, you begin by establishing that motivation so that you remind yourself of compassion and the reason why you are meditating. The reason that is so important is because if we begin every session with this motivation idea, then we are literally investing all our sessions correctly.
It's little bit like putting money in a bank. Suppose you go to bank every week and put one euro into your account. While you are carrying your one euro to the bank and looking at it you might feel very poor, you have only got one euro, it doesn't feel like much, does it? But because you are putting it each time in a bank it's growing, and eventually you can have lots of money, and be very rich. It's the same with meditation. Every time we sit down to do 15 - 20 minutes of meditation it feels like one euro, it's not very big, it doesn't feel like much. But because we put this motivation at the beginning of each session it is like investing each session in a bank and eventually it will accumulate.
Through establishing the motivation at the start of each session it is like we are taking our entire practice and putting it on one track, which is going towards one result. The way you do it is you sit down in a good posture, and before you start meditating you think about the motivation. You don't have to start thinking or analysing: "Do I have compassion", and then I beat myself up because I don't have compassion. It's not like that. It's very simple; you can either use a prayer or an affirmation. If you believe in some particular religion like Buddhism or Christianity or anything, you pray to your particular god or the essence of truth that you believe in.
So you pray to whoever it is and you say: "May I meditate for the welfare of myself and all beings everywhere. Just as you have achieved purity may I achieve it too", there is a feeling of support. Of course it will differ slightly from religion to a religion. If you are practising within a Christian context then it would be blasphemous to say "May I become God", for example, but you can do it saying: "As you wish me to be in your example, may I follow that." You can say that to God. But we Buddhists are quite ambitious; we would quite like to become Buddha, so we pray to become Buddha. Anyway, you don't have to conceptualise it too much, you just pray in your own way according to your heart and you pray to meditate with the right motivation.
Now, that is if you are into praying. Some people don't like to pray, they have no wish to pray, so there is another way of doing it. You can do it through a kind of affirmation. So you sit very quietly and just inside yourself you develop the conviction and the promise and the wish that you wish to meditate for yourself and all beings. You just have to do it each session. You don't have to think about it too much or make it really good or special, you just do it each time and through doing it again and again it will start to imprint itself into your system.
At the end of the session you do what is called a dedication. It's very similar to the motivation, it goes together. Dedication means: at the end of the session you think: "Now I have done this session and I'm dedicating it for all beings." Dedicate that may all beings find total freedom, may they all become enlightened and happy, ourselves included.
That gives you an idea of a structure of a session. You sit down in a good posture and begin with establishing the motivation. You do the practice and at the end of the session you dedicate. How do you actually do the practice, that's the next question. It's very easy, the reason why we find it difficult is because of expecting too much. Don't expect too much and it will be easier.
What you do is you sit, after you have done the motivation, and just relax, sit there and first of all, be aware of your own body. You just bring your mind to where your body is and feel the presence of your physical form, the weight of your body against the chair or floor, ground yourself like that. Get into an awareness of the feeling of stillness. Then you notice that within that stillness there is movement and that is your breathing. Very slowly start to notice that your stomach is moving slightly, your diaphragm is moving, you can feel that there is slight movement in the body: the process of breath. Just feel it generally. The mistake a lot of people make is that when they start being aware of breathing, they think they are supposed to start breathing, as if they weren't breathing before and they start breathing very strongly. Just continue to breathe normally and be aware of that. Don't breathe more heavily or slowly – a lot of people do that and that's going to make you more tense. Just breathe evenly and normally, don't change it.
This is very important and it is quite difficult for westerners because in the west we have many medical ideas about calming down through deep breathing. It's okay if you want to stop yourself from having a panic attack but for meditation it's something different. If you meditate like that with heavy deep breathing you are actually going to make yourself more wound up in the long run. And if you do it for a very long time you can end up being paranoid, really, you can end up little bit crazy. So, just breathe normally, don't change it.
As I said, the first stage is you are aware that there is this movement in the body. Then you can start to follow with your mind the process. You can follow the air as it comes in, goes down and goes out. If you feel comfortable then breathe though your nose, that's the best, but if you find that difficult, don't force yourself, just breathe through the mouth. Being aware of the air as it goes in and comes in and out of the body: that is called mindfulness of breathing.
Everybody is different. Some people feel they can do that, but some people find it too vague and they want something a little bit more specific. So you can, if you want after a while, focus more specifically on the point at the tip of your nose where you feel the air moving in and out. Either you are focusing generally on your breath or specifically at the tip of your nose, which is the entry and exit point of the air. That's what you do, that is staying in the present moment, because you are breathing now. You are not looking at the breath you breathed ten minutes ago, you are not thinking about the breath you might breathe next week. You are breathing now, and it's right here at the present. And that's the essence of meditation; is to learn not to follow the past or worry about the future. Just remain in the present with simplicity.
What does simplicity mean? It means we are just aware of the breathing. We don't need to think: "Now I'm breathing, now I'm meditating, am I breathing right? Am I meditating right?" That's complicated, don't do that. Simplicity means you just breathe and you are just aware of that in a very direct uncomplicated way. This is so important for us especially in our culture, because in our culture we are so complicated, and we are always thinking about everything. We are always analysing and interpreting everything instead of just being.
So, you watch your breathing and then I absolutely promise you your mind will wander....that's okay. This is where a lot of people make a mistake because they think: "Now my mind has wandered off, I'm not meditating, I've done it wrong." It's fine for the mind to wander, in fact, it's quite good, because it gives you the opportunity to bring it back. So don't look upon distraction as being a problem. See it as an opportunity to bring your mind back to the breath.
So the mind is going off somewhere and maybe it goes for a long time, then you bring it back to the breath and that coming back to the breath is the meditation. Nothing more to it. For us at this stage as beginners that's all we have to do, we are not looking to be in a particular state of anything. We are just repeatedly coming back. That coming back is the training. Every time we come back we are developing a kind of psychological muscle, the ability to not get distracted by feelings and thoughts. It's the ability to be aware and to stay in the present. It's a very powerful and useful tool we are developing every time we come back.
Let's just try for a few moments. First of all sit - I'll talk you through it. Think about the motivation. If you want to, use a prayer, otherwise use your own voice inside.
Relax and be aware of your body as a whole.
Slowly start to be aware of your breathing.
Now be aware of your breathing either generally or specifically, whichever method you prefer.
To end the session just relax generally into your body as a whole, let go of the awareness of breath.
Finish with dedicating your session.
That was a very short session. If you want to get into this I would recommend that you do 15 minutes sessions. It's very important to do it every day. You can do it in the morning, that's the best time, but if you find that impossible, do it in the evening. Find a place in your house where you can go quietly and sit and you won't be disturbed. Do your session every day, regularity is the most important thing.
Then when you are ready you can extend it to 20 minutes, 30 minutes, slowly slowly. You can build up to one hour but not for at least first six months I would say. Everybody goes at their own speed. Don't start doing one hour straight away and maybe it can take a very long time before you can do one hour.
Now I will tell you a trick which will make it easier. It's called “short periods repeated often”. Even within one session you can do lots of little sessions. As a beginner you don't have to sit there the whole time doing the technique, you can do it a little bit, then relax. You don't have to move, you just relax, then do it a little bit, then relax, short, repeated often. Even during the day; maybe 15 minutes, maybe few more sessions, short ones repeated often. It sounds like cheating but it's actually very clever, it's not cheating. If you do too long, then you could get into a habit of rebellion. What I mean is if you sit there too long and you try and force your mind to stay with the meditation, your mind might start to feel very imprisoned and restricted. Then it will naturally start to get more distracted. Then you will start to make a habit: when ever you sit down to meditate your mind will think: "Oh no, he/she is going to meditate, now I have to run away."
It's the same with relaxation. If you are learning relaxation and you try to hold the relaxation for too long, you'll get tense, because you start to feel that you are restricting yourself. It's almost like you have to slip the relaxation in before you have time to notice you've done it. But anyway, you have to find your own speed. When you are doing a session you just break it up if you need to.
Next I want to talk how to integrate the practice into daily life. That's actually very important. It's no good just to meditate every day and then the rest of the day not to mix it with your daily life. What we have to do is to meditate every day as a kind of disciplined exercise, but then during the rest of the day, from time to time, we should bring ourselves to the present moment. This is called mindfulness in daily life. It's very important, and if you don't do it, then the meditation is quite useless. Because, if you are doing 30 minutes meditation every day, but then the other 23 hours and 30 minutes you are not remembering it - which side of the scales is going to be heavier? So, the rest of the time you have to regularly - maybe beginning with once in every couple of hours and once an hour - however you can manage, just bring yourself to the present. Don't stop what you are doing, carry on with what you are doing but bring your mind into focus on the present, and then let it go again.
So, while you are washing the dishes, cleaning or walking, whatever you are doing, you don't have to stop, you just bring your mind into that action and be with it. And again, the important thing is to remember the word "simplicity", directness.
You don't have to think: "Now I'm cleaning, why am I cleaning, what am I doing”, just be there with the action in a very direct and uncomplicated way. Don't try to hold the mindfulness for too long, because then you will get tense and you may want to run away. It's more useful to do it regularly many times a day in short bursts. It's like exercising, you don't go swimming and just swim for 16 hours until you are dead; you do regular short sessions of swimming. And actually meditation is very similar to exercise. You have to do it regularly, and also you have to not be too impatient about the results.
If you are doing exercise - supposing you are lifting weights - you'd be very stupid if you kept looking to see if your arms are getting bigger. Or if you are on a diet you are not constantly looking down at your stomach to try and see it getting smaller and smaller. Actually what happens is you do the exercise or you do the diet, and then slowly the results will come. It is an important instruction: not to grasp after the results because that grasping will stop the results coming. When there is grasping there is tension, that's the opposite to meditation. It's very important not to be too ambitious. Because if we have this expectation of "I want it to work, I've got to feel better, I've got to feel happy", then we just end up feeling depressed.
Expectation has a twin brother or sister, disappointment. They always go together like twins. So, it's like exercise, you do it regularly and you don't worry about the results. You just work it into your life, so it becomes very natural.
I also wanted to talk about how meditation can help us to deal with difficult situations and deal with the problems of life, but there is no time tonight, so I'm going to talk about that tomorrow. Tomorrow I will talk about Buddhist philosophy and its application to suffering and daily problems. Do you have any questions before we stop?
Question: When in meditation we set a goal to meditate on the meaning of life, or on compassion, how does it happen, shall I first decide that the subject is compassion and then I leave my mind empty? Or do I actively contemplate it during the meditation?
Answer: There are two types of meditation and you are talking about a very specific type. You are talking about analytical meditation, in Tibetan it is called che gom. It's a very specific practice, which involves using your thoughts in a productive way. Actually it's not really like meditation, we call it contemplation or analysis. You sit down in the same way in the posture and you set up the motivation. For your session you think about a particular subject like compassion or precious human life, impermanence or whatever. And there will be instructions in different texts on the traditional ways of thinking about those subjects so that you develop more wisdom.
Question: You gave an example about turning from one wall to another. In my case it feels like all walls are falling on me.
Answer: Can you explain how that happens in your mind, with your thoughts?
Question: For example with feelings. I cannot just leave a feeling or idea there and turn my attention to somewhere else.
Answer: In my example there was something a bit misleading, because when I said: "I look at this wall, and that one stays there", it's not really like that. If we are not focusing on something, it may as well not be there, it's not an issue. In fact, technically speaking the mind can only think about one thing at the same time; it can't have many thoughts together. But it is possible for the mind to work very fast, moving very quickly between many thoughts. So, maybe that's what you are feeling. The solution is to come back to the breath and then the mind will go back to the many thoughts and then you come back again.
Your problem may be that you see the thoughts as your enemy. I think that you should start to try and see those thoughts a little bit like weights on a weightlifting machine. You have these machines where there are weights and a bar that you pull down. If there aren't weights on the other side, it doesn't work, does it? But if you put some weights there, then you have nice resistance, which helps you to do the exercise and you get stronger through it. So your thoughts and emotions are like the weights; they help you to have something to come back from - you come back to the breath because of them. Those thoughts and emotions are reminding you to come back to the breath; they are friends in your meditation.
And just be very patient. Just come back to the breath regularly and have trust that through doing that eventually your mind will get better.
Audience: I want to say thank you very much. It was a very beautiful teaching and practical exercise. Many thanks!
Gelong Thubten: Thank you for listening.