Well, I’m finally back online.  I’m sorry I’ve been absent for a while, but I’ve been travelling in China, and until recently, was not able to get to my blog, because WordPress.com is blocked by the Chinese authorities.  So, now we’re living here for a while, we have had to find ‘other ways’ to get through the ‘Great Firewall of China’.

In the meantime, I’ve tried to keep up with the questions, and will begin posting a few of them, together with my responses, over the next few days.

The following question is particularly interesting, because it covers one of the most profound difficulties we can find in meditation.

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Hi Roger,

Occasionally while I’m meditating, I experience a very pleasant nothingness – it’s like I move from feeling each moment of the breath to being each moment of the breath.

And then the next time I sit down to meditate, I find myself trying to recapture that experience, which only results in strain and frustration.

Do you have any tips for getting around this?

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This ‘very pleasant nothingness’ you are experiencing is one of the most dangerous traps we can meet in meditation, not because it’s wrong, or bad – but because it is so seductive.

Ironically, this tranquil ‘void’ is a natural result of having practiced well, arising from the natural equilibrium that occurs when our attention has finally quietened down and let go of its usual compulsions, to recede back into awareness – at which point, stillness occurs.

So in effect, as I said, it’s a natural consquence of efficient meditation.

But what makes it so dangerous is that it feels so beautiful that the meditator cannot help but to cling to it when it first begins to happen – the result being, as you said of yourself, you begin looking for it every time you meditate, and expecting it to happen again.

And it is that expectation that throws meditation totally out of whack – because the tranquil equilibrium will only arise when you let go of everything. Yet it feels so heavenly that clinging inevitably arises – we want more of it.  We wait for it.  We grasp for it.  We feel deprived when it has not come.  So we are no longer letting go – which only estranges us all the more from that which we crave – which only comes when we let go.

As you can see, it’s a circular trap of addiction we  fall into if we don’t practice the right attitudes, and learn the intrinsic lesson embedded within this mind-trap.

And that lesson is: we must learn to let go absolutely.  Unconditionally.  And we must learn to let go of everything.

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Now, I mean let go, not stop.  Because the act of letting go is not at all like stopping, or preventing, or suppressing or repressing.

When we let go of any object, we must first accept it exists.  And allow it to exist.  So we’re not making anything go away. All we need to do is to remove our reactions to it.

That is letting go

So, for example, if the object is sadness, then we allow the body to feel the sensations of the sadness, while preventing the mind from feeding the story of the sadness.  Same with anger. We practice feeling the anger, while learning to remain detached from the story the mind creates out of it.

The thinking that is arising from these states still thinks itself;  the body still feels and sensations come and go.  But we keep our attention detached as best we can.

This is letting go.  And in meditation, it applies to everything, both unpleasant and pleasant

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As difficult as it can be to get past, this stage of addiction is a natural stage of meditation development – and it must be gone through to advance any further.

The first time I experienced stillness in meditation, I was immediately addicted, and it took me over a year to let it go of it – a year of struggle, in which I wasted hours of meditation looking for the tranquility, waiting for it, tying myself in knots to make it happen while telling myself I WASN’T looking for it.

And when my teacher kept telling me to simply note it and let it go, I’d find myself ridiculously hoping that the stillness would arise one more time, just so I could let it go.   But the more I sought it, the further away it became, and the more uncomfortable and tight meditation became, and the more desperate I became.

Classic addiction.

It was only when I finally realized I had to be very tough with myself, and stop lying to myself, and re-learn the most basic lesson of meditation – to  let everything go – not just pretend in the hope I’d get more of the drug  but let EVERYTHING go – both pleasant and unpleasant, both happiness and suffering.

EVERYTHING!

And that’s where mental noting was so very useful – because it simplifies the process of letting go.

You see, in life, and in meditation, we tend to think of unpleasant things as ‘good’ and unpleasant things as ‘bad’.

And if we’re not vigilant, this can distort the way we note things – we find ourselves vehemently noting ‘unpleasant’ things, while at the same time looking for the ‘pleasant’ things to occur – inviting them to occur.

This is a very bad habit in meditation, which creates its own form of suffering – because the more we favour the good stuff, reaching for it, expecting it to come, the less likely it is to happen – because clinging is by definition an anxious state.

When we cling to anything, it is inevitable we suffer.

Added to which, the more vehemently we note the bad stuff, the more it fights back, apparently defying us – because we’re noting it the wrong way.  We’re noting it to to try to make it go away instead of noting it simply to let go – and the energy we use to try to stop unpleasant things ironically feeds the very thing we’re trying to stop.

And so we find we have slipped into the same reactive habits of desire and aversion that create suffering in our life – the same life habits we’re trying to change with meditation, have now re-appeared in meditation and begun infecting the way we meditate.

So there it is … stillness will only arise if note EVERYTHING with the same tone.

If happiness arises, note it with the same equanimity and acceptance as you practice in the face of anger or sadness.

If pleasure arises, note it with the same detached attention as you are practicing with pain.

If serenity arises, do not favor it or luxuriate in it.  Accept that the serenity is there, but don ‘t lose balance to grasp at it. And if  the attention darts to it and begins lolling about in it like a satisfied dog, then note ‘serenity, serenity’ and pull the attention away, back to the main object, or to the general body sensations.

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I’m not saying happiness, or pleasure or serenity are bad – not at all.

It’s just that we need to teach the mind to treat EVERYTHING with the exactly the same degree of detachment if we are to change our life habits from reactive, to non-reactive.

For this reason, because the conditioned mind is so addicted to pleasantness, we must be a little bit more stern and vigilant when it comes to these things – to help the mind re-balance its view of life.

In time, as you train, this balance will become more and more innate and you will be able to treat ALL states of being the same – at which point the flux of living will begin to lose its bi-polar qualities – the ‘unpleasant’ stuff will lose it’s sting, and the happiness will be less unbalancing – and a new and quiet sense of tranquility will infuse life instead, in which the natural weather patterns of living are seen as what they are, and pleasure and pain will not e so highlighted as one or the other – simply because the mind is not reacting to things so strongly.

I hope this is clear, because it’s very important. Let me know if you have any questions.

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