The Right Attitude for Meditation
Updated: Jan 2
Chapter 3 – Learning How to Practise Mindfulness & Meditation
THE EXPERIENCE OF BREATHING IN THE MEDITATION – GUIDED MEDITATION (SHORT VERSION)
In my last post, we discussed the Fundamental Instruction we must give to our mind when we start our meditation path: “Mind, please observe whatever comes without getting engaged, just as a silent witness would do, ok?”
How did it go? Was it challenging?
This time we will talk about the importance of noticing our mental and physical sensations to keep us anchored to the present moment based on what Vicente Simón says about it.
“Meditate gently and gradually, step by step. If you feel calmer, accept it; If you don’t feel calmer, accept it as well. That’s the nature of our mind. We must find our unique way to practise and stick to it with great persistence.” Ajahn Chah
One of the challenges we face when we start our meditation path is trying not to follow our busy mind – thoughts, memories, feelings from the past, plans for the future, they all claim importance and demand our constant attention. A trick to begin settling and quieting that activity is to observe our body sensations: our breathing, our chest and belly moving when we inhale or exhale, the clothing touching the skin or even just our posture. Observing with curiosity seems to be one of the “passwords” that open the state of the mind we want to reach, the state of “Being Present”.
As Curiosity, Simon mentions other qualities that help us enter into that desired state of mind:
Openness, Acceptance, Letting Go, Non-Judgement, Love and seeing the Present Moment as a Gift. So, we accept whatever comes, as it is and while letting go whatever is not serving us? Are these instructions to meditate? Yes… but no. These qualities might sound like ingredients of a recipe to meditate, but we can also see them as qualities to cultivate in our daily life – well, only if we want to suffer less!
Another interesting fact of these qualities, is that they all happen in the present time – again the Fundamental Instruction – which is the only time where we can be mindful. However, we are not always in the present, are we?
For me is clear that living in the present is the foundation and the right attitude to meditate, but understanding that doesn’t make it easier to deal with the challenges of the past and the future. Let’s take a closer look.
The Right Attitude to Meditate and other Benefits of “Being in the Present”
“Being in the Present” is a state of mind in which we can get still, observe and live moment by moment. No matter how that moment is and without feeling the need to change or judge what is presented to us. Every step we take to observe while remaining open and accepting (or even loving!) whatever comes will help us stay in the present time. As we will see later, Openness, Acceptance and Love are probably the most important qualities to cultivate at this stage.
So, observing our reality through these qualities seems to be the first step towards the Right Attitude to Meditate. However, to build up stability in that state of mind we might need to cultivate other qualities as Letting Go, Non-Judgement and taking the Present as a Gift. Defining or understanding these qualities is not always easy, though. One of the reasons is because they are conscious states we all approach in different ways: Some of us will accept the present moment easier, and some of us will struggle to love what we accept. We must observe and work on what is available (or not) for us today, reminding ourselves that this will change tomorrow. Nothing is permanent in life, so the self-observation must be.
But Worry Not! We might have trouble understanding the definition for some of the qualities, but apparently we do know their true meaning deep inside us. According to Simon “these are conscious states we once had, when we were little, but we hidden behind worries, stress and all our grown-ups mental activity.” This is great news! This means that we could remember or bring it back with practise.
OK then. So, I need to be in the Present observing my reality through those qualities (more about them in the next post), confident that I will be able to reconnect with that state of mind hidden and sleeping inside my consciousness. Now, let’s take a look to the other challenges we face when trying to meditate: Past and Future wandering.
The Attitude of Remaining in the Past
The mind will always visit the past and there is no escape from it. By nature, our mind will always try to get back to memories and past feelings, emotions or thoughts. For most of us, this is an easier way to check who we are based on what we did or what has happened to us.
We might ask “if this is my mind’s nature, why do I need to change it?”…good point!
Having memories and coming back to them sometimes is not a problem, as we said is normal and, sometimes, necessary. The problem comes when we revisit the past so often that we cannot differentiate memories from reality anymore; when we insist living mainly in the past even if we are totally missing the present, or re-enacting our emotions several times per day. The problem comes when we start distorting those memories and amplifying our past emotions (usually bad ones) without giving us a break to heal.
In the moment our natural mind‘s state to remember, mutates into an obsession of repeating the past experience, we need to consciously start retraining our mind to learn how to come back to its natural state, how to heal and live in the present time. This has to be a conscious work, the mind (and its ego) won’t do it itself.
If something happened to us in the past and we didn’t have the opportunity to resolve, close or make justice in that moment, it is normal to carry a wound within, sometimes for a long time. Simon calls that the “emotional debt”; a debt we didn’t pay off when we should have. In meditation, we aim to ease that debt by observing it, forgiving whatever happened, and accepting it to leave it in the past.
However, sometimes emotional marks from the past are deep, and then it is not so easy to just let go, forget what we felt, what was done to us, stop feeling hatred or guilt, or stop rehearsing the responses we wished we had given. For these cases, we might need professional support to help us stop suffering again and again. When we need to do that? Whenever we feel ready! If we haven’t done it yet, we probably haven’t reached the point where we can do it – mentioning this because I used to circle in such a guilt trip every time someone told me “I should be doing such and such therapy.” Nope. We will know when you are ready. While we wait we can ask ourselves questions like “Is this suffering a direct product from what happened to me or a by-product I amplified in my mind, How long can I take it (check for signs in your skin, body, behaviour to see if there is anything too-unusual), and What could be the consequences to my well-being of carrying on like this.”
If that’s not your case, the invitation is to shift the attitude of focusing on the past into the attitude to experience the present. We do that by remembering the Fundamental Instruction, by using every excuse to help us come to the immediate body sensations: the sounds around us, the breath that is happening right now, as many times as we need. Understanding that we might need to bring ourselves into the present moment several times is very important. Our mind won’t stop wandering the first, fifth or even tenth time we ask it to stay in the present. There is no such a thing as a universal answers to find our ideal state of mind. Instead, we will need to keep trying until we find the unique answers for our unique mind and emotions and stick to them, with great persistence!
The Attitude of Travelling to the Future
I like Simon’s definition of the future: “Future is a concept, not a reality…Future is a time that doesn’t exist.” Simples!
When we read this for a moment, we realise that there is no point of placing our dear expectations, dreams (or worries) in the future. It will never come!
One of the reasons why we put most of our expectations in the future is because we feel unimportant, not good enough, not rich enough, so incomplete to be happy right now, that we need to tell our mind “we will do better later”, “this project will be fantastic in the future”, “I will meet my other-half only when I move out from this town.” However, that “later” never comes. Or comes in a completely different way we imagined and that disappoints us. Or the opportunities we were expecting do arrive, but we miss them because we are not paying attention to the present.
One of the aims of living more mindful is to accept, love and stop judging who we are now. Trusting that if our attention is in the present experience, we will respond to it in the best way we can. If we manage to do that, the “promises of the future” start becoming unnecessary: we don’t rely on the future to do what we want to do, we can do it now. This doesn’t mean we cannot plan or project for the future, but we focus our attention on the steps we need to take now more than the results in the future.
In the same way, we don’t rely on the future to be happy because we can be happy now. And I use “happy or happiness” very carefully here. I know this might be something some of us don’t even relate with. I like Matthieu Ricard’s simple definition of Happiness as “a healthy state of mind.” I see it as “an optimal way of being in which we are comfortable with our decisions without the constant fight for what we should be doing or how we should look like. More like being the best we can be with the resources we have?
Challenging? Yeah, I am aware! Let’s chew these concepts and try to explore the qualities now during the guided meditation. Go slow, step by step, maybe quality by quality. Maybe trying the quality that you are more familiar with first. Let me know how it goes and enjoy your practice!