Free: A Most Inspiring Book

downloadWhen I went to Thailand in 2000 to do the first of many silent retreats to train in Vipassana meditation methods, I was awash with information – things I’d read, accounts of other people’s experiences, different methods and views. And all of it made a mess in my head, such that I had a lot of trouble committing to any particular way or path into Vipassana. And in this initial venture into Vipassana, drifting from method to method as I was, and mixing and matching methods, I was not making progress at all.

I should have been committing to one method and advancing that skillset, and then, from a position of relative skill, experimenting if I needed to.

But I was impatient and my mind was very un-trained by my previous life as a musician – so, for the first month of my retreat I kept making a mess of things and getting very despondent about it.

In this, I think I was a very exasperating student for the monk who was teaching me, Phra Manfred – a wonderful German monk whose patience and strict guidance was so valuable to me at the time.

So one morning during the interview on the verandah of his kute, after so many fruitless arguments with me as he tried to get me to focus, he slid a small booklet across to me, saying: ‘Read this, it might help’

It was only a small booklet, the pages burred and creased with use. I read it in an afternoon, and it changed everything.

I had never heard such clarity spoken about the Theravada Buddhist way, and the place of meditation in it, and indeed, in life itself. The book is not about meditation per se, so much as the attitude behind it, and it gave me what I needed, and inspired me to give myself to the skill I was being taught. From that point, this book formed a core to my practice, and indeed, my life.

It’s not about religion – if anything, unlike many Buddhist monks, he was extremely unreligious in his view of Buddhism. It’s simply common sense and I strongly recommend it to anyone – not just meditators – it is a message of incredible wisdom and inspiration from a man who inspired Thailand itself for almost a century.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE BOOK

ABOUT BUDDHADASA BHIKKU (from Wikipedia)

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Thai: พุทธทาสภิกขุ, May 27, 1906 – May 25, 1993) was a famous and influential ascetic-philosopher of the 20th century. Known as an innovative reinterpreter of Buddhist doctrine and Thai folk beliefs, Buddhadasa fostered a reformation in conventional religious perceptions in his home country, Thailand, as well as abroad. Although he was a formally ordained ascetic, or “monk,” having at the age of twenty years submitted to mandatory government religious controls, Buddhadasa developed a personal view that rejected specific religious identification and considered all faiths as principally one. His ground-breaking thought inspired such persons as French schooled Pridi Phanomyong, leader of Siam’s 1932 revolution, and a group of Thai social activists and artists of the 1960s and 70s.

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 (thank you to Bhuddanet (http://www.buddhanet.net) for making this copy of the book available.

A Little More

Ashleys party 30-7-2010 053I was looking through a meditation journal from one of my retreats in Thailand the other day and I found something that made me smile – a vibrant little note scrawled in my journal about something I’d realized – something important at the time, that had to be written down or my head would burst.

It made me smile when I read it, because it encapsulated the peculiar naiveté that settles over one’s heart like fairy dust when one shuts oneself in a hut and meditates for a month or two. It’s like, cynicism and hopelessness fall away – the mind sees possibilities which seem so obvious in the peace of the monastery, and which, when one brings them out into the harsh light of this pounding, crashing, brutal world we live in, become child-like, even silly.

And though these hopeful little notes and head explosions make me smile when I read them later on, I often feel a little sadness as well, because I wish life was as simple and innocent as the naked, beautiful mind I meet within myself in the monastery, who I love so much.

The journal note I made said:

 “I’ve figured out the solution to all of our (humanities) problems!  It came in a flash and is encapsulated in one simple phrase: ‘Always give just a little more than you take.’

Just imagine if, in everything they did, everybody in the world gave just a fraction more than they took – a minute more work than they’re paid for, a dollar more than is asked for or earned, their place in the queue, a little more food on some one else’s plate than our own, a spontaneous smile, a greeting to a stranger, a small gift that has no reason. To clean up a little of someone else’s mess, wash someone else’s dishes; fix something broken by someone else.

It doesn’t have to be much. We always think that a gift has to be a big deal, but that’s only because we don’t have a habit of giving – so when we give, we give too much.  If we gave just a little all the time, everything would change. It’d be a slow spreading explosion of good-will that would feed on itself.  It’d be amazing!”

Hmmm … wouldn’t it be wonderful.

Happy New Year to all. May it be filled with insight and inspiration – the best year of all, for everybody.

love Roger XXX

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Make Friends With Yourself

IMG_8827-001So, let’s go back to basics.

Meditation is not a big deal. All we’re doing is learning to sit still, and be still, mentally and physically, without it making us anxious. We’re teaching ourselves to be happy to be still. And in that stillness the mind and body slowly unwind and balance naturally occurs.

It’s inevitable. Be still long enough and the mind and body will naturally become tranquil. Trouble is, we rarely have the patience for this to happen.

The stillness I’m talking about is the most fundamental state we can be in – mind and body in a state of symbiotic unity so close the two become one.

And for every living thing on the planet except us, this stillness is an integral part of their lives. Everything in nature moves in and out of the alert stillness that lies at the core of the life experience.  For them, it is one of the most necessary parts of their life – an endless source of wellbeing  – everything they do arises from it, and when there’s nothing to do, they return to it.

Take your family cat, for instance, or your dog. When there’s nothing to do, they do nothing. They sit or lie still. And though their eyes might be closed, in many cases they are not asleep. They’re just resting until something happens, aware of everything that’s going on around them. And in that awareness they are not worrying, or fretting, or regretting, or planning, or needing. And if something happens they’re instantly awake and refreshed, ready and raring to go.

This is a skill we contemporary human beings have largely forgotten, though we unconsciously yearn for it.

And we suffer the consequences.

In the restless world we have built, with the kind of lives we’ve created, our attention is constantly engaged, like a motor always running in top gear – work, entertainment, life business, social media, radio, television, computers – we’re constantly being force-fed from a plethora of often meaningless and unnecessary information, in which our emotions, fears and desires are being tweaked or titillated in some way. This is the world we’re used to – the exciting, adrenalised race in which, while we have the stamina to keep pace, we thrive on.

And because we’re used to it we tend not to notice the fatigue it creates, because things are happening so fast and it’s all so exciting. We’re addicted to the adrenalin, so we don’t notice until the effects on our wellbeing have become so debilitating we cannot ignore it anymore. Trouble is, then we have drugs to keep the effects at bay – caffeine and anti-depressants being the most common. And though these keep the effect at bay, they are not solutions – they simply blind us to our dysfunction until it makes us sicker or kills us.

In nature it’s not normal to suffer the way we do with depression, anxiety, psychosis, cancer, high blood pressure and heart problems. Within their place in the flow of nature, other creatures on this planet live relatively successful, quiet, peaceful lives while all the while we humans are getting sick, going crazy, getting lonely and depressed and messing things up.

But as critical as we know things have become, we blame everything else for our problems – our workplace, food, our relationships, parents, childhoods, government, pollution, bacteria, virus’s, lack of money, lack of exercise, lack of everything we can think of – the list of reasons why we feel ruined is endless.

We point the finger at everything around us – but never at ourselves.

Twenty three years ago, when I began my training in Vipassana meditation at Sorn Thawee Meditation Centre in Thailand, my teacher said something that gave the shock I needed to take meditation seriously. He said: “Your self is like your own child, ignorant and often lost. For this reason you should treat your own self with the same love, kindness and patience as you would treat your own child. This is what we do when we meditate.”

In that moment, as I turned around and looked at what I had become, and how I had treated myself throughout my life, I realized how abusive I had been – and how mindessly cruel I had been in my treatment of my best friend – my Self.

I had taken my mind and body for granted and ruled my Self like a tyrant, always expecting and taking from my mind and body but never listening, or giving back. I had expected my body to feel good and look good and do what I wanted when I wanted it. And if it complained, I ignored it.

Same with my mind, which I expected to always be happy and confident and inspired – if it tired or complained, I whipped it along with drugs to keep it at work, to get the stuff I wanted. And I judged my Self more harshly than anyone else and was unable to be satisfied by its efforts, no matter what I achieved. And if my Self failed I cursed it, worried at it and hated it, while shutting out its complaints with entertainment, alcohol and drugs.

I was no friend of my Self – not at all. I was a slave driver, and in those days it showed. I was only 38, but my Self was exhausted and disillusioned and my body was falling part.

I realized then, this was not a mental crisis I found myself in, nor was it a physical crisis as I had always thought – it was a crisis of love.

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We try so hard to give meaningful love to people around us – yet invariably we forget to form the same meaningful relationship with ourselves. We forget that, like any of our lovers, parents, children or friends, our own Self needs the same kindness, patience, tolerance and understanding  that we try to give to them.

In this, we never stop to ask ourselves – what are all these aches and pains telling us? What is our body trying to say when it gets ill and when we feel terrible? We rarely listen – rather we try to escape, ignore or take drugs to make the sensations go away, then keep whipping ourselves forward.

The same with the mind – do we ever ask ourselves, what is this anxiousness or depression trying to tell me? What is my mind trying to tell me? Again, not at all – we simply amputate the feelings with anti-depressants and keep whipping ourselves forward.

In this we forget a simple truth of nature, which is this – there is nothing in existence that has no reason for being there.

Pain, anxiety, depression are all there for a reason – as such, they are not superfluous inconveniences to be pushed away and ignored. They are your body and mind telling you the truth about themselves – and usually, if they have gotten to the point of extreme pain or anxiety or depression, they are truths you have already been ignoring for too long.

The sensations in our body, and the feelings that arise from mind are the child of your Self asking you to pay attention.To pay attention with patience, tolerance, kindness and …. Love.

And in good meditation, that is what we do. We commune wit the Self, and give it the attention and love we usually reserve for everyone else. In fact this kind of self-love should be right at the core of meditation, because without it, meditation will just not work.

As a meditation trainer, I keep hearing the same complaints. ‘I feel pain and it’s distracting me,’ or ‘I can’t stop thinking, and its distracting me,’ or ‘My body is so restless I can’t sit still so I can’t meditate,’ and so on. And I keep telling people that all these things – the pain, the thinking, the restlessness – they are not distractions from meditation. At the point where they are happening, they are the meditation. But people keep forgetting this – they keep trying to meditate past these things – to make the signals the Self is sending go away – as if meditation is simply another anti depressant or analgesic.

And in this, they betray themselves terribly.

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 As you meditate, it is inevitable you will meet your Self and it won’t be the carefully constructed apparition you like to present to the world each day. No, the Self you will meet will be the truth. It will be your real self.

And you must be there to meet it. And you must be ready to pay attention to what it tells you – without judging, or reacting. Like any good parent with a child, you must be there to pay attention and be patient and kind and listen to its confusion and sadness and rage and pain. Because after all, no-one else ever will. No-one else can ever give you the attention your Self needs.

And you know what?

This paying attention is all the mind and body needs to heal.

What you will find as you meditate is, if you stop trying to use the meditation method to escape yourself and do the opposite – turn around and give your self loving attention, things will begin to evolve and change.For example, the thinking that ‘curses’ you – instead of trying to stop it, pay attention to it.  Take an interest in what it is – not what it is saying, but what the phenomenon of thinking actually is – feel the activity in your head, watch the frenetic quality of it.  Take a interest in it ‘as it is’, and you will find the thinking will calm down.

Same with pain, or anxiety. Instead of trying to stop it, or escape it – turn around and give it a gentle, loving attention. Let the discomfort be there and just pay attention. ‘Listen’ to it as a sensation. Let it change and evolve. Take an interest in it, because after all, it has very good reasons for being there.

And you will find it will change, and calm down.Your mind and body have been waiting for you to turn around and love them.

And you will find when you do, they will respond. Like an abused child, they will calm beneath your touch, and all kind of emotions long suppressed will arise – of grief, anger, or even happiness.  And as the good parent, you allow these to unfold.

And as you continue meditation, using the methods to listen to you Self rather than escape, you will find more and more sensations in the body, and deeper levels to mind – because finally you are listening. All of the different parts of your Self will ‘speak’ – skin, muscles, stomach, lungs, kidneys, heart, emotions. They speak with sensations, feelings, memories and compulsions, some so strong they will be uncomfortable, some so subtle you barely notice them. And as each part of your Self is listened to, it also listens – and in the wordless dialogue that occurs, mind and body become unified, helping and healing one another, and balance appears naturally.

No need to imagine figures of light or ridiculous visualizations. Just pay attention and listen, without thinking or trying to do anything, and change will happen naturally.

And the longer this meeting of the spirit continues, and the more often it is done, the deeper the healing effect will become. You will lose mental and physical ‘mass’ in layers. First the surface layers of body tension. Then the layers below, of sensations and feelings more subtle than before – tingles, itches, deep aches, emotions and feelings.

And as each layer arises, the sensations and thoughts will become more and more subtle.  And the deeper we get, the more subtle these layers will become until our mind and body are in balance. These are the layers of our physical and mental Self which, as each of them passes through our awareness, are re-assimilated with each other so that the community of our Self can work more efficiently, and feel more unified with itself.  In the lessening of internal conflict, we feel more clear, more fluent, and our life opens up and breathes a sigh of relief.

But don’t wait for it. That would be like trying to watch a flower grow.  And anyway, the end point is not the purpose. The purpose is to be in an on-going fully functional relationship with your mental and physical Self.

Change will come as it comes, in its own time – all you have to do is make friends with yourself … easy huh?

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Meditation is More than Calm

Interesting question came in during the week.IMG_7801

“I started meditating recently. Today was my fourth time actually, about 20 minutes long. I was fine afterwards, calm, like I had been the 3 times before. I decided to go running afterwards. I got home and tried studying thinking the meditation plus running would have calmed me down enough to do so. I noticed right away I was super angry, agitated, rage filled against my girlfriend, extreme anxiety, paranoid, it felt uncontrollable- I couldn’t focus- and I’m always under control- I’ve never had anxiety or feelings like this ever. I’ve had anxiety before but it always passes and never to this extreme. It lasted about an hour and then slowly started tapering off. I’m still suffering from anxiety even as I right this. I’m scared to try meditating again.

You see I started meditating in the first place because I thought it would help with my anxiety and depression from fibromylagia. I’m 24, relatively active but I started getting depression and anxiety when my fibro symptoms developed. Never tried meditating before this but the first 3 times I felt genuinely calm after, I felt actually really good. This last time freaked me out. Having googled it, I’ve read they say people with severe depression might not want to try meditation. You see I wasn’t actually angry when I meditated- it was only after that this happened- I don’t if running with music caused it?.

I’m wondering if I’m doing something wrong or if this is wrong for me. All I do when I meditate is count my breaths to fifty and then start over and do about 3 times total. Then I sit and try and block out everything/suppress any thoughts that come/quiet the mind so to speak. I don’t know… I don’t want to stop but if the meditation is causing it then I’ll have to there’s no way I can go another day and have that happen. What do you think Roger?”

from Will

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 Hi Will, Over the twenty four years I’ve been coaching people in meditation, one of the biggest obstacles has been people’s misconceptions about what meditation is – which has largely been created by the huge business that’s built up around it, which sells meditation as a kind of magical panacea for everything that ails us. This business of shysters and snake oil salesmen sell meditation through a plethora of key words, like: ‘calm’, ‘tranquility’, ‘relaxation’, ‘oneness’, ‘peace’, ‘enlightenment’, and so on.

They sell meditation with these words because they know we want these things. They know we want meditation to be an escape – a comfy place where we can forget we are alive. Which is why the same words are used to sell anti depressants and heroin.

Now, I’m not saying calm, tranquility and so on will not happen if you learn how to meditate – they will. Anyone who persists with a practice of meditation will experience these things, and more, in time.

But these things are not the destination of meditation – they are simply side effects, inherently meaningless and transitory as you progress – different bends in the path, that’s all.

But anyone who begins a meditation practice with the expectation of these things as a constant result of meditation, is doomed to failure.

Why? Because each of these expectations is a distraction from the most essential part of meditation – the experience of NOW.  Sitting down to meditate with an expectation of calm or peace or relaxation is like driving a car while staring at a photo of your destination. Very quickly you’ll run off the road.

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There are three basic principles I’ve always emphasized when I’ve written about meditation, or spoken about it – because these three principles are core elements of efficient, and effective meditation.

  1. Acceptance of what is happening as it happens NOW.
  2. Let go of what is happening as it is happening NOW.
  3. No expectations of anything other than what is happening NOW.

It doesn’t matter what meditation method you’re using, if it doesn’t help you to enact these three core requirements, meditation will not be effective.

Meditation is not about calm or peace or any of the cliches and catch-words we’ve been sold.  These things are possible by-products of meditation, but they are not the purpose or the destination. They’re simply what the snake oil salesmen think we want. Put simply, meditation is a way to stillness. Mental and physical stillness. That’s all. Well, I say that’s all, but in actual fact, that’s everything. Because everything we need comes out of stillness.

  • Out of stillness comes rejuvenation, as the body, released from the stressors of a nagging, worrying, excited mind, heals and re-balances itself.  It does this naturally, on its own whenever the mind goes still – which for us, is almost never.
  • Out of the apparently empty space of stillness comes intuitive intelligence – that is, when the mind goes still without the usual fug of mental commentary, in that openness, the ‘source material’ of intuitive inspiration and understanding arises – often unexplainable, but valuable none the less.
  • Out of stillness comes awareness – that is, present time awareness of everything we”re usually oblivious too – sensations, feelings, emotions, inspiration and so on. Most of us spend our lives oblivious to most of what we are, simply because we channel almost all of our energy into paying attention to our reactions to things, rather than the things themselves. We feel so such, but get preoccupied with whether we like it or don’t like it.  We conceptualize everything into languaged units, and then focus on that, rather than the reality of it. As such, we live in a parallel universe to the one our body is in – a ghost universe of ideas, reactions and concepts.  But when our mind is still, this false universe disappears, and we naturally fall back into the universe our body is in – of reality as it is NOW.  and sometimes that cane be socking, as we suddenly become aware of aches, anxieties and emotions we have long been distracting ourselves from.

So, to answer your question – why did you experience anxiety/anger when you meditated? Well, because it was already there – and perhaps you have been using your life, and the endorphins of running and all the other things you do, to avoid feeling it. And perhaps now is the time to feel it. Not think about it, or be afraid of it, or run from it. Just feel it. As it is. As it is happening. It won’t kill you after all. You’re simply sitting.  it’s just uncomfortable, that’s all.

As you sit with the feelings, you might find it apparently gets worse.  That’s good.  It means the mind is getting to know it, after hiding from it for so long. So long as you stay with the feelings as they are, without reacting, the mind will slowly work it out.  And the anxiety will reach a pitch, and panicked thoughts will yelp and squeal – but you ignore them and keep focusing your attention on the feelings ….

….and what you you find?  So long as you stay in present time, feeling instead of thinking – the anxiety will rapidly fade away.  And you will have taught the mind that one more life-demon is not so powerful – that it can be beaten – simply by being still, like an oak tree in a storm.

THAT is meditation.

Not escape, or the artificial calm of distracting yourself by counting up and down and trying to block out thinking. Meditation is knowing what is happening now, and using effective meditation methods to help let it go – whatever it is, whether it is anxiety, anger, frustration or boredom or whatever.

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So then, we see that meditation is much more exciting than getting boringly ‘calm’. We see that meditation is a journey through the accumulated rubbish of reactive habits we have collected throughout our life.

Because each time we use the methods to go still, one by one, these habits that hurt us will arise. It is inevitable, because the more still we become, the more we become aware of everything that interferes with that sublime stillness.

And as we pass through them, they will make our mind agitated, and cause discomfort – but in passing through them we defeat them. One by one, as we pass through anxiety, fear, worry, anger, and in that stillness we feel their full force, and by maintaining detachment and fearlessness, we face them down. and in facing them down, we are released from the burden of our past just a little bit more.

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Now Will, I have to say, I think the meditation method you are using, of counting up to 50 and then ‘blocking or suppressing’ thoughts is the WORST possible method you could use, and destined to send you mad if not bore you to death first.

Please don’t be offended … I’m just telling you straight.

Why do I think this?

Well, because for one, you will never stop thinking – in one form or another the mind thinks, that what it is designed to do – so you trying to ‘block or suppress thoughts’ is like standing in a river trying to make it flow backwards by flapping you hands in the water.

Far better for you to accept the thinking – but re-frame your view of it.

See it as ‘thought energy’ if you like – or water continuously flowing from a spring in the side of a mountain. practice ignoring the commentary, or narrative of what the thoughts are telling you, and keep watching it as a phenomenon – like looking at an interesting thing. As soon as you switch from involving yourself in what the thoughts are saying, and watch ‘thinking’ as an interesting occurrence, you will no longer be at their mercy.  An the more you practice this, the less power the thoughts will have over you.

And secondly, you need a more constant main object to absorb your attention than counting up to fifty and back. I strongly recommend you pay attention to your breath – the flow of breath in and out of your body – the sheer physicality of it. In this, practice being fascinated with the breath, and in particular, all the ways you notice yourself inhibiting, or tightening up around the breath.  Practice letting go of all the muscles around the breath, letting the body breathe on it;s own.  And so on.

If you’re keen, then I strongly recommend you buy my meditation audio course – its only 50 bucks.

Otherwise, for you and whoever reads this, I’ll give you a basic meditation audio lesson, which usually I sell. I think it might be helpful.

You can download the exercise for free from HERE.

Hopefully, in the practicing of this simple exercise, you will develop a love and fascination for something I strongly believe is an essential part of a life. And finally, thank you so much for your question. It gave me an opportunity to address a couple of issues that, like you,  a lot of people struggle with.

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There’s More to Life Than Being Happy

The following article addresses one of the most confusing issues of today – the question of happiness.  In a culture that constantly bombards us with messages selling happiness in the form of many and various products, our idea of happiness and its place in life has become confused.

But I’ll let the article speak for itself:

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‘There’s More to Life Than Being Happy’

By Emily Esfahani Smith

Taken from ‘The Atlantic’ – published Jan 9 2013, 8:06 AM ET

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

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                                                                                                                                                    Kacper Pempel/Reuters

In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished — but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, “Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation.” Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, “Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?”

As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Frankl worked as a therapist in the camps, and in his book, he gives the example of two suicidal inmates he encountered there. Like many others in the camps, these two men were hopeless and thought that there was nothing more to expect from life, nothing to live for. “In both cases,” Frankl writes, “it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them.” For one man, it was his young child, who was then living in a foreign country. For the other, a scientist, it was a series of books that he needed to finish. Frankl writes:

This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

RTR6BQFinset.jpgViktor Frankl [Herwig Prammer/Reuters]

In 1991, the Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club listed Man’s Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States. It has sold millions of copies worldwide. Now, over twenty years later, the book’s ethos — its emphasis on meaning, the value of suffering, and responsibility to something greater than the self — seems to be at odds with our culture, which is more interested in the pursuit of individual happiness than in the search for meaning. “To the European,” Frankl wrote, “it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.'”

According to Gallup , the happiness levels of Americans are at a four-year high — as is, it seems, the number of best-selling books with the word “happiness” in their titles. At this writing, Gallup also reports that nearly 60 percent all Americans today feel happy, without a lot of stress or worry. On the other hand, according to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. “It is the very pursuit of happiness,” Frankl knew, “that thwarts happiness.”

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This is why some researchers are cautioning against the pursuit of mere happiness. In a new study, which will be published this year in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables — like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children — over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.”

“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors write.

How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want. While not having enough money decreases how happy and meaningful you consider your life to be, it has a much greater impact on happiness. The happy life is also defined by a lack of stress or worry.

Nearly a quarter of Americans do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful.

Most importantly from a social perspective, the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior — being, as mentioned, a “taker” rather than a “giver.” The psychologists give an evolutionary explanation for this: happiness is about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire — like hunger — you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want. Humans, then, are not the only ones who can feel happy. Animals have needs and drives, too, and when those drives are satisfied, animals also feel happy, the researchers point out.

“Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others,” explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need. “If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need,” the researchers write.

What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans, according to Roy Baumeister, the lead researcher of the study and author, with John Tierney, of the recent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Baumeister, a social psychologists at Florida State University, was named an ISI highly cited scientific researcher in 2003.

The study participants reported deriving meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of the overall group. In the words of Martin E. P. Seligman, one of the leading psychological scientists alive today, in the meaningful life “you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.” For instance, having more meaning in one’s life was associated with activities like buying presents for others, taking care of kids, and arguing. People whose lives have high levels of meaning often actively seek meaning out even when they know it will come at the expense of happiness. Because they have invested themselves in something bigger than themselves, they also worry more and have higher levels of stress and anxiety in their lives than happy people. Having children, for example, is associated with the meaningful life and requires self-sacrifice, but it has been famously associated with low happiness among parents, including the ones in this study. In fact, according to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, research shows that parents are less happy interacting with their children than they are exercising, eating, and watching television.

“Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy,” Baumeister told me in an interview.

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. “Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life,” the researchers write. “Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future.” That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

Having negative events happen to you, the study found, decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. “If there is meaning in life at all,” Frankl wrote, “then there must be meaning in suffering.”

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Which brings us back to Frankl’s life and, specifically, a decisive experience he had before he was sent to the concentration camps. It was an incident that emphasizes the difference between the pursuit of meaning and the pursuit of happiness in life.

RTR29GZDinset.jpgPeter Andrews/Reuters

In his early adulthood, before he and his family were taken away to the camps, Frankl had established himself as one of the leading psychiatrists in Vienna and the world. As a 16-year-old boy, for example, he struck up a correspondence with Sigmund Freud and one day sent Freud a two-page paper he had written. Freud, impressed by Frankl’s talent, sent the paper to the International Journal of Psychoanalysis for publication. “I hope you don’t object,” Freud wrote the teenager.

While he was in medical school, Frankl distinguished himself even further. Not only did he establish suicide-prevention centers for teenagers — a precursor to his work in the camps — but he was also developing his signature contribution to the field of clinical psychology: logotherapy, which is meant to help people overcome depression and achieve well-being by finding their unique meaning in life. By 1941, his theories had received international attention and he was working as the chief of neurology at Vienna’s Rothschild Hospital, where he risked his life and career by making false diagnoses of mentally ill patients so that they would not, per Nazi orders, be euthanized.

That was the same year when he had a decision to make, a decision that would change his life. With his career on the rise and the threat of the Nazis looming over him, Frankl had applied for a visa to America, which he was granted in 1941. By then, the Nazis had already started rounding up the Jews and taking them away to concentration camps, focusing on the elderly first. Frankl knew that it would only be time before the Nazis came to take his parents away. He also knew that once they did, he had a responsibility to be there with his parents to help them through the trauma of adjusting to camp life. On the other hand, as a newly married man with his visa in hand, he was tempted to leave for America and flee to safety, where he could distinguish himself even further in his field.

As Anna S. Redsand recounts in her biography of Frankl, he was at a loss for what to do, so he set out for St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna to clear his head. Listening to the organ music, he repeatedly asked himself, “Should I leave my parents behind?… Should I say goodbye and leave them to their fate?” Where did his responsibility lie? He was looking for a “hint from heaven.”

When he returned home, he found it. A piece of marble was lying on the table. His father explained that it was from the rubble of one of the nearby synagogues that the Nazis had destroyed. The marble contained the fragment of one of the Ten Commandments — the one about honoring your father and your mother. With that, Frankl decided to stay in Vienna and forgo whatever opportunities for safety and career advancement awaited him in the United States. He decided to put aside his individual pursuits to serve his family and, later, other inmates in the camps.

The wisdom that Frankl derived from his experiences there, in the middle of unimaginable human suffering, is just as relevant now as it was then: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself — be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is.”

Baumeister and his colleagues would agree that the pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.

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Reality is Created by Actions, Not Thoughts!

33590_10150289093640171_866503_nQuestion:  I read something the other day about the Law of Attraction, which basically states: you attract what you think about.

I’m wondering what you view is of this.

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Interesting question, which gives me the opportunity to talk about a contentious issue – that being the counterproductive influence of New Age notions on meditation practice.  I can only hope that in what follows as I type, an answer of a kind will make itself evident.

The ‘law of attraction’ is the name given to the belief that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative results in ones physical reality. Proponents of this theory use a hotchpotch of orphaned facts from quantum physics to sell the idea that consciously driven thinking will directly ‘manifest’ as physical events.  Of course, this usually inevitably leads to the buying of books and CD’s to teach you how to manifest wealth and happiness simply by wishing for it.

Speaking personally, I regard ‘The Law of Attraction’ as it is popularly propagated as a form of mental fascism, in which ‘positive’ thoughts are courted to get what we desire, while other so-called ‘negative’ thoughts are suppressed because they threaten what we desire.

The notion that ‘thoughts create reality’ arose out of the New Age movement which has its origins in the writings of an English author by the name of Thomas Troward in the latter part of the 18th century, who, along with Madam Blavatsky, wrote a series of works which were influenced by a mismatched melange of Eastern mysticism conveniently lumped in with Christianity to make it palatable.

Since then the general thrust of this movement has persisted in many forms, appearing more recently in films like ‘What the Bleep: Down the Rabbit Hole’ and ‘The Secret’ in which, predictably, the ‘thoughts creating physical reality theory’ has once again been mixed with badly understood quantum physics, all with the purpose of commercially marketing a new kind of snake oil to desperate and lazy people.

And it’s a big market, as the advertising columns of the many New Age publications attest – because a lot of people want to believe that changing their life is that facile – that all they need to do is think positive thoughts exclusively, and wealth and happiness will duly ‘manifest’.

The attraction is obvious, because it gives people the illusion of having control over their lives.  All they need is to change their thoughts about money, and suddenly they’ll attract money like a magnet. And the purveyors of these lucrative schemes have a get out of jail card – because if it doesn’t work, it’s your fault because you didn’t try hard enough to think those positive thoughts.

This attempt to control the freeform intuitive universe of mind is futile, stupid and incredibly harmful to the ecology of mind and can only lead to confusion and frustration in life.

Because life and the mind are not so logical as to obey our wishes like machines.

Life and mind evolve from an infinite number of stimuli through almost identical processes, summed up in the Pali term, ‘Karma Vipaka’ – that being the law of cause and effect.  That being, for every action, there will be a reaction in kind. For every event there will be a counter-event in kind.

Or,  as the Buddha said:

According to the seed that’s sown,

So is the fruit you reap there from,

Doer of good will gather good,

Doer of evil, evil reaps,

Down is the seed, so thou shalt taste the fruit thereof.

Notice the key word here is ‘doer’ – not thinker.  So even though Thomas Troward and the New Age occasionally try to use Buddhist theory to try to slate the original cause for life effects to our thinking, nevertheless, it remains a universal fact that the dynamic of cause and effect relates almost specifically to actions, not thoughts.

That is to say, our life appears out of what we do, not what we think.  And though thoughts do indeed precede actions, nevertheless, unless those thoughts become ‘intentions-crystallised –as –action’ no effect will ensue.

For example, let’s say we hate someone – we hate them so much that we cannot stop thinking about how we would like to ruin them, hurt them, crush them and so on. These negative thoughts spontaneously arise from the hurt and fear we feel, perhaps created by the actions of that person to us in the past.

But let’s also say we decide, wisely, that when we meet this person, we will act with kindness, courtesy and good will, regardless of what we think.  That is our intention.

And we crystallise this intention as action – when next we meet this person, we act to that person with kindness and love regardless of the bitter hatred our thoughts spontaneously express  – and the effect that carries on from our actions is indeed harmonious.  Perhaps our kindness then softens our enemy, and they too begin to act back to us with kindness and love, which soothes our hatred until it disappears.

So we see, that it was actions that changed our reality – not thoughts.

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When I was counselling people as part of meditation training, I met so many people who had been through the New Age carnival who had, as a result of their mindless subscription to the ‘thoughts create reality’ notion, become terrified of their internal environment.

With desperate smiles pasted on their faces, they would meticulously avoid all ‘negativity’, chanting vacuous affirmations to themselves and determining every day to ‘look on the bright side’ of everything.  Meanwhile their lives were usually falling apart, and they kept wondering why disaster , chaos and darkness kept blindsiding them (which was why they were coming to see me)– because after all, they would reason, they were thinking all the ‘right’ thoughts.

So why was their life so thwarted and horrible?

And I would tell them, if you keep censoring and suppressing your own darkness, then it makes sense it will keep blindsiding you from all hidden places you have consigned it to.  Just because you refuse to consciously acknowledge a stream of thinking does not mean its source does not exist.

Or, as Jung very wisely said:

“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.  That is to say, when the individual remains divided and does not become aware of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.”             

To live efficiently, we must allow our internal environment to be free – to be able to express itself freely.  We must be aware of everything, of all the thoughts that arise – happy, sad, peaceful, violent, insane, sane, whatever.  Because everything that arises in mind is as essential as any plant, seed, bug or bacteria in a healthy forest.

To practice suppression of our natural darkness in favour of so-called ‘positive outcomes’ is to estrange ourselves from one half of our self, making it inevitable that, like terrorists pushed underground, tis dark side of our conditioned self will always take us by surprise.

But here’s the thing.

The only power we have in this awareness of the full spectrum of our self, is to develop the detachment and strength to be able to choose which thought streams we will enact in our life.

Because as I said, it is from our conscious intentions and actions that reality arises.

And this is where meditation practice is immensely helpful – because it teaches us to be aware of the full spectrum of our internal environment both dark and light, yet fully able to withhold permission for certain thought streams to enact as anxiety or mindless action.

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Now … one more point on this issue of thinking in meditation.

There are basically three kinds of conscious thought:

1.  Spontaneous – those thoughts which arise intuitively, usually fleeting.

2.  Functional – a simple mental statement of intention or fact which elicits no emotional reaction.

3.  Reactive – an argument for or against something – an opinion or reaction which elicits an emotional reaction of some kind.

Of these three, the main focus of meditation methods is to learn to neutralise only the last kind of thinking – reactive thinking.

Because it is only reactive thinking that ties us up in knots.  It is reactive thinking, where we like this or don’t like that, which creates tension and anxiety of all kinds, whether pleasant and unpleasant, and in turn forming the physical impetus to act mindlessly.

So remember – the purpose of meditation is not to have a mind without thought.  That’s impossible.  The mind thinks – that’s its purpose in a life, to create thought energy.  So no matter how advanced you get in meditation, the mind will keep on thinking – perhaps in more subtle forms – but nevertheless, thought energy will always flow.

The point of the meditation methods is to give you the power to let go of reactive thinking when it arises. Because as long as reactive thoughts are efficiently cauterised as soon as they arise, the mind and body will go still.

And that is the purpose of the mental noting method – to cauterise reactive thinking as soon as it appears.

And for this, we use functional thoughts.  So when you note, ‘thinking, thinking’, that is a functional thought. It has no power except as way of directing the attention to pay attention to a certain object in a certain conditioned way.  And in our case, the note forms a trigger cause the attention to let go of any reaction that may have arise from it’s noticing of that object.

So please, please – never be afraid of any thought, however insane or wrong it might seem.

Thoughts of all kinds are essential expressions of your inner ecology, like storms, cyclones and earthquakes are expressions of our external ecology.

Allow all thoughts to arise – be aware of everything, while choosing carefully which streams of thinking you choose to enact, and which you let go of to fade away. And for that purpose, the functional thinking of mental noting is perfect.

Hope this is all clear … again, thanks for the opportunity to write about the larger issues I attached to your question.

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Expansiveness is the Lifeblood of Meditation

56787645271630713_EcCNebVA_cA question came the the other day that made me think.

It was about a very common problem to do with uncomfortable tightening of the breath each time the practitioner meditates.  I won’t relate the whole exchange, because it was quite long, but in part his question was:

“… whenever I observe the breath, either at the nostrils, in the chest or the rise of the stomach, I get very tense. I notice the tenseness in my face and particularly around my eyes. In my early days of meditating, I’d just push on with this and didn’t pay it much attention. I’d often get very frustrated, but carried on anyway.

More recently, I’ve noticed that my observation of the breath causes it to change in some way. I’m thinking that subconsciously I make it harsher or stronger so that it’s easier to observe. I can’t seem to just let the breath arise and allow much mind to ‘rest’ on it. It just seems to want to grab the breath and control it in some way.

 This problem has caused me to give up meditation for many years at a time because it was just too stressful and difficult…”

And my reply was:

 “Your problem is quite common among Westerners. In fact, I too had it happen to me in the early days. I put it down to our habits of control. We try to control whatever we pay attention to.

Because as you said, when we’re not paying attention to it, the breath is fine – relaxed and deep. But when you begin to meditate and pay attention to it, suddenly it’s as if you’re ordering it to march in step to some expectation of ‘how the breath should be’ – forcing it to be deep and regular. Forcing it to be ‘relaxed’.

The breath, when left to itself, is as changeable as the weather – as it should be.  So when you assert an unnatural kind of symmetry it, this creates an uncomfortable reactive loop which ties us up in knots around the simple act of breathing.

So forget the breath for the moment – I cured myself of this insidious habit by spending time working on my attitude to the breath – by re-examining how I relate to the breath in meditation.

 The way I did this was, every time I found the breath tightening in response to my attention, I would immediately let go of the main object and expand the area for my attention outwards to the whole body – feeling the whole body sitting, and feeling the breath within the body.

In response, the breath always loosens and relaxes, at which point I gently pull my attention back onto it … and it it begins to tighten again, once again I’ll let it go and go back contemplate the entire body.

 In this, it’s a bit like training a horse to be ridden – slowly coaxing my attention to learn how to ride the breath without dominating it.  Teaching it to observe without an agenda – to simply feel the breath move without  trying to make it behave differently.”

(ref previous posts:’ Tightness in the Breath’, ‘When Meditation Becomes Hell’)

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 Now, I know I have addressed this particular problem before in previous posts.  But after I wrote this, I got to thinking about ‘the bigger picture’, that this particular problem sits within – an overview or attitude that is essential to efficient meditation.

And it can be summed up in one word:

‘Expansiveness’

 Put simply, and speaking generally, meditation must be practiced as an act of expansion. Otherwise it isn’t meditation.

But let me explain from the beginning.

As I see it, there are basically two states of being in a life – two ways of view and approach. We are either in expansion, or we are in contraction.  That is, we tend to move between expanding outwards into the life experience, or contracting away from it.

We are in an expansive state when we exercise love, happiness, kindness, generosity, innocence, surrender, acceptance, tranquility, empathy and so on.

Whenever we expand outwards we forget our limited sense of conditioned self.  In expanding beyond this constructed self we become part of something greater – whether as part of a loving couple, or in the comradeship of a group, or life itself and the universal flow.

To expand is to not hold back, but to give out – to accept, to act outwards without fear.

Contractive states are the opposite. They are fear, anxiety, control, repression, resentment, loneliness, envy, greed, neediness, defensiveness … you get the idea.

‘Contractedness’ includes all the ‘tense’ states – the many and various manifestations of fear.

When we contract we become separate from everything – essentially imprisoned within our conditioned self, trapped inside the conditioned delusions we have developed throughout our life.

Contracted people need a lot – they build walls, both real and metaphorical, they react defensively and spend a lot of energy on hiding.  Even within themselves they need things to fill the loneliness and isolation they feel, to insulate themselves from the things they fear or hate; to help them forget all the things that make them so anxious.

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 It’s a pity that in general, the kind of culture we live in encourages contractedness. Indeed, the entire spinning machine of our modern civilization depends on  us living in a contracted state of being.

A lot of resources are spent on creating contractedness in people. Governments and corporations use anger, fear and divisiveness to guide and control people.  Advertising elicits envy, fear, greed and so on – because contractedness creates need – need to consume; need to compete, fear, fight, desire. And all this makes it such that, in the average urban life, there is not much that engenders expansiveness, unless we actually take command and create it ourself.

And this is where we come to meditation.

Meditation trains us to expand instead of contract.

Indeed, it is impossible to meditate efficiently if we don’t learn to let go and expand.

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One of the most common mistakes most people make when they first come to meditation is to treat the act of meditation the same as everything else we do.

When we first begin we try hard to excel at it – to succeed, to achieve, to win. We bring so much desire and ambition to meditation – and I’ve heard it all, students wanting to ‘become enlightened’; to ‘achieve detachment’ … and so on. Most people, including myself when I began, come to meditation wanting something, or are intent on getting something.

As such, just as we have been trained to do in our life, we set about ‘getting’ what we want – ‘achieving our goals’.  And I can tell you now, from experience, that there is no surer way to create suffering in meditation than to start trying to ‘get’ things from it.

Why?

Because as I said, the stillness that is heart of meditation, is by necessity a completely expansive state. It can only arise from expansiveness.

So when we go at the meditation methods like a bull at a gate, trying to ‘get’ things, we are instantly separated from this stillness by having turned meditation into something to be subjugated to our will – a contracted process completely at odds with the gentle act of love that good meditation is.

The conditioned mind is like a child.  It responds to love and does not like being bullied.

So trying to ‘still the mind’ by sheer force only closes the mind up, making it fight back and creating tension in the body.

And so it is, that no matter how energetically we try to meditate, or how disciplined we might be, if there is no love in our meditation we will suffer – either that or sink into a desperate unconsciousness which many people misinterpreted as ‘a deep state’.

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 It is unfortunate that, as I said before, this heavy handed ‘forcing’ of meditation comes so naturally to us Westerners, who see everything in terms of ‘success’ and ‘winning’. As such, it is normal that most of us will struggle when we first try to meditate, and suffer in a way that many Asian practitioners do not understand.

I think I spent the first four years on my training learning the simple act of accepting and letting go – and that time was characterized by struggle.  And all the Thai monks around me never understood exactly how I managed to tie myself in knots over the simple act of sitting still.

Because in the end, that is what meditation is – to sit still, or be still, and be happy to be still – something so simple, yet it seemed utterly beyond me, because I could not accept the actuality of my constantly changing momentary experience, and expand into it. I kept trying to control it, change it, pacify it, make it match some idea in my head of what meditation was supposed to feel like, or be.

Anything but accept, and expand into reality as it was.

Because when we meditate, that is exactly what we need to do.

We practice expanding into our conditioned Self as it isas it has become, without fear or judgement. We accept the various nuances of suffering we feel – the natural consequences of having lived the live we’ve lived.

In this way we practice union with our conditioned Self on its own terms – by being aware of the real-time sensations that are the language of Self, and how they change – treating our conditioned self in a similar way to that of a loving parent with their child. We become a good friend to our Self – a lover with our beloved – choose whichever analogy you like, it all adds up to the same thing.

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So, if you are finding meditation difficult, perhaps review your attitudes to your self, and work at changing them.  Meditate as an act of love instead of coercion  and you might find your mind and body responding like children who are loved –  softening, becoming playful instead of unmanageable, changing with you instead of against you.

And on a practical level, perhaps consider these strategies:

KEEP A BALANCE BETWEEN ATTENTION AND AWARENESS.

Remember, there should always be two parts to your perception: Your attention, which interacts with things – and awareness, which knows the wholeness of everything around the attention. These two qualities should always be present in equal measure (at least until the attention disappears back into awareness).

A well balanced mind allocates an equal amount of energy to both attention and awareness.  So when you bring your attention to the breath, don’t concentrate so hard that awareness disappears.  Keep your attention light and affectionate – such that there is still a passive awareness of everything else around you as you concentrate.

After all, meditation is not a closed, contracted and unconscious state – rather it is a bright and aware state – an expansive state, in which, though the attention is still (on the breath), the awareness is bright and knowing.

So whenever you focus on the main object of the breath, don’t get too close to it.  Always focus from a distance, maintaining a peripheral awareness of your whole body and the environment around you.

ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING.

Treat meditation as a kind of communion with the conditioned Self as it is at any one time. Accept your Self’s terms – listen to the body speak to you with sensations.  Watch the weather patterns of the mind without engaging – notice whether it is confused, fuggy, hyperactive, focused, calm.

And at all times, maintain an almost affectionate attitude to this conditioned being that you are.

‘Affection’ – such a beautiful word – no control, only affectionate and detached interest.

REMEMBER, THERE ARE NO ENEMIES IN MEDITATION.

Thoughts are not the enemy; pain is not the enemy.

Both of these things are commonly seen as annoyances in our life, so it is our habit to try to suppress or control them in some way. One of the prime lessons of meditation is to learn that pain and thinking have a right to exist.  And in fact, will always exist to some degree or other, because they are natural conditions of being alive.

So it is imperative that you accept them.

Ironically, you will find that the more you accept thinking and pain, the less they will appear as suffering.

NEVER DO BATTLE WITH ANYTHING IN MEDITATION.

If something takes the attention away from the breath, do not fight it, or try to suppress it.

Rather, regard it with affectionate disinterest, then remove your attention from it so it either fades away in its own time, or flutters about in the awareness until it naturally disappears.

ALLOW THINGS TO CHANGE.

If tranquility is here, don’t expect it to stay that way.  Don’t expect to be calm, or peaceful as you meditate.

If you feel anxious or tense, then allow the discomfort to be there.  Accept whatever is happening with the same affectionate awareness you give to everything else, and in time it will change.

Tranquility will disappear, and be replaced by something else.  As will the discomfort.

Accept whatever is happening now.  Always. Learn to stay in flow with the weather patterns of life.

And if the mind begins lapsing into habits of resistance, reaction or complaint, then simply bring the attention back to the main object of the breath and start again.  The mind may continue muttering and whinging in your peripheral awareness, but so long as your attention is on the breath, eventually change will happen.

Change is your friend.

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 So, to conclude, the general rule of expansiveness in meditation is:

‘KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW, ACCEPT IT AND LET IT GO, TO CHANGE AS IT WILL.’

 As you practice this in meditation it slowly becomes a new habit in life. And as the habit gets stronger with practice, the letting go becomes easier, and faster.

With thinking for example – when we first begin to meditate, thinking is a terrible problem because our attention cannot detach – it reacts to everything we think. But as we practice ‘knowing, accepting and letting go’ we find, though the mind still thinks, as our attention gets better at letting go, the thoughts disappear more quickly.

And the more we practice, we increasingly find thoughts disappearing so fast it’s almost as if they are disappearing as soon as they have arisen – as if there is no thinking at all. The end effect is a kind of ambient silence n the mind, like the sounds of a forest or ocean waves.

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 The only other comment I have to make is, the expansiveness of meditation should not stop when we finish meditation and stand up.

Every expansive action we make in our lives, where we give kindness, or generosity, or acknowledge someone else with a smile – any expansive act lights up our entire physiology, relaxing the body and causing pleasure, however subtle.

So meditation is where we practice expansiveness, but our life should be where we apply it. And we’ll find, through the law of cause and effect, that through the smallest actions, we are capable of changing the destiny of other people, even the world.

So try to make sure as many actions as possible come from an expansive spirit.

Thanks for reading this far … it’s been a long, long post.

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To buy the Practical Meditation Audio Course please click HERE …. ($50)

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