Early in my meditation practice I had a serious strangle hold on my practice of meditation. I believed that it was going to be a life changing process that was going to somehow improve the “ME.” I had a list of goals and accomplishments that I was dead set on accomplishing. (You know, stuff like becoming permanently enlightened!) I had made that very personal decision that said sitting on the cushion for hours was going to effectively improve who I thought I was. The mindset was pretty typical in the sense it was a marketplace/buyer mentality. I would do this to get that. It became a contest that had a prize, a winner, and a loser.
I was able to use the language that indicated there was no permanent self to improve. But, obviously, I wasn’t understanding that insight on a practical level. That’s one of the dangers of learning the language of spirituality without embracing the meaning. I spent a long time endlessly saying and thinking things that sounded spiritual but I had no real understanding of application. I am much more interested in application at this point in my life.
My sitting did produce some beneficial change in an unintended way that engaging a process will educate and change a person.
I remember sitting for hours at a time, my eyes screwed shut, my joints hurting, but practicing as though “My hair was on Fire!” I had read that once and felt like it was something to aspire to although I didn’t have a clue to what it meant. I thought it meant making this energetic effort to sit. It was my version of high output stoic sitting. That may work for some people but trying to develop a perspective via forcefully sitting wasn’t going to do it for me.
HERE IS MY PAST EXPERIENCE:
In the first one to five minutes of my meditation, I would, because I read and was told you were supposed too, concentrate on my breath starting with the air coming in and out of my nose. I would then count the breath and, if I made it to number ten, would start again at one. So far so good. I would be aware of thoughts rising and sensations. I had a limited intellectual comprehension that I was not my thoughts.
AFTER A FEW MINUTES:
I would simply drift off for a period. Dreaming and in an altered state that was closer to daydreaming than meditative. This is not a judgement or criticism of neutral, right, or wrong. It was my experience. (Every single experience has value and has to happen exactly the way it happened.) At times I would come back to the present but would soon drift off again. Finally, the timer would count down, the bell would ring, and I would return to the moment. Many times I would literally jerk back into the moment. There was always a feeling of an abrupt change from one mind state to another. This was my experience whether sitting alone or in a group of people. I would initiate meditation with an aware intent and then drift off.
I was learning what didn’t work as far as spiritual growth and having spiritual insights. I had continued to read, go to workshops, and discuss the spiritual path with a lot of people. I could talk the talk all day but continued to feel uncomfortable with what I was doing in general. This went on for a long time and it felt, on a lot of levels, as though I was faking something. I refused to look at those thoughts and feelings and spent a lot of time on the cushion convincing myself that I was growing.
I had the concept of good and bad meditation. I understood intellectually that I needed to avoid the duality and judgement of good and bad. It continued to persist and I judged my meditation internally. Good meditation seemed to be judged by how quickly the time went by. Good was quick and flowing, a bad meditation was one that took forever. This, despite the fact that the time spent had nothing to do with the quality of meditation. There isn’t a certain amount of time that is optimal, the idea is to meditate period. It’s not a sport and competition it’s a gateway to a perspective on life.
What I was doing wasn’t right or wrong, this mode simply wasn’t working for me. So, I finally came to a place where I needed to accept the reality of my experience. I had to let go of trying to get the approval of authority or those around me who presented as thought they knew what they were doing. To clarify~~~ “authority” includes external authority and any internal authority speaking in terms of “I/You Should.” This was a painful awakening for me. People bitch because I refer back to Cheri Huber and the monks so much but they are the ones who awakened me on this path so I will continue refer any and all back to the Living Compassion at this address, Website http://www.livingcompassion.org/, it will be worth your time to visit there.
In the past if I was evolving it was because I was reading and learning new conceptual material that I applied as a tool for better interaction with my life. But, sitting on the mat was still a stand alone activity. I really wanted something that I could integrate into my life.
I was willing to embrace doubt and experiment so a few things changed. I had continued to read from multiple sources, talked to mentors and guides from a variety of paths, and realized that much of what I wanted as far as change had little to do with my meditation practice as a fragmented activity. I had focused so much energy on the practice as a discrete activity I had failed to see that practice wasn’t the goal.
LIVING MY LIFE AS PRACTICE WAS THE EVOLUTION.
I was seeking to change from reacting to responding to my life’s experiences. Meditation was not an end all in itself. Noticing things rising and falling was OK, but seeing the rising and falling was not going to convince me to start using components of the Eight fold path or the precepts, or treating others like I wanted to be treated with no expectations of return.
So, in doubt and in seeking, I had developed an awareness of other processes I needed to engage. I asked myself “How is meditation going to change my belief system that learning how to say something in a responsive mode is going to enhance my life and reduce suffering?” I realized that I needed to use a different process when meditating. I needed to develop a different perspective on my living process. I needed to do this by seeing the messages and developing awareness of the control that conditioned mind exerted.
- I started meditating and focusing on the entire breathing cycle. Not the tip of the nose or my belly but the entire feeling of presence within the cycle of breath. I stopped counting breaths. I was no longer relying on the mind alone but allowing the entire body, breathing, and mind, to be engaged in the changing now. I immediately noticed that I was no longer drifting for several minutes at a time. There was a sense of presence that was lacking before and I attribute this to using my entire sense system. Not thinking of using it and focusing the mind but using the whole body including mind to focus on being right here. If I felt myself drifting I would catch myself right away and gently return. I wasn’t drifting in a mindless unaware way. I was aware of the experience of the drift itself.
- I returned to a Zen and some of the Taoist processes of meditating with my eyes slightly open. I would struggle with random images and “see things” if I was tired but, was always aware of the process of seeing things. Again, almost from the first sitting, I wasn’t drifting anymore. (In fact my conditioned mind started longing for the times when I could close my eyes and let conditioned mind control the sitting.)
- I started feeling my thoughts and emotions come and go. I was no longer “thinking” of the rise and fall, I was learning how it felt coming and going. I develop awareness of how my conditioned mind was operating the show. I noticed that it was “operating” me from the future and the past. Being reactive was a default when I was trying to respond in the now from the future or past. As I continued in this new meditation mode it became more apparent in my non-cushion practice that I was listening and reacting to a mind that was almost always in the past and future. I started to key into the feeling of reaction. Not looking at the thinking that I was reacting, but simply feeling the reaction as a thing unto itself. I started to feel when reaction started to engage. I starting reacting less and responding more.
- I started sitting more frequently but with shorter sittings. This made a huge difference. My resistance to sitting diminished. Conditioned mind had been using the length of sitting time against me and many times I wouldn’t sit for a few days. Consistent sitting seemed to help me engage in my entire process.
- I started dedicating a second short practice period to the suggestion that was given by Nisargadatta directly and J. Krishnamurti as a by product. I used “I am” as a focal point in the second meditations and frequently throughout the day. I would watch the breathing cycle and focus on the “I am.” The result of this focus was a growing sense of feeling in the moment and processing in the time frame in which I was existing. The “I am” is not a terminus but a doorway. I will write more on this later.
- I found because I was in the moment, here with life, I changed to a response based nature. Being here changed how I responded to being here. It seemed as though I was living less in a fantasy thought based existence and more in a curious “seeking to see what’s next” view. My resistance to what is and the need for things to be anything but what they are diminished.
There wasn’t any single thing that opened my practice. It was a combination of things that allowed me to see how much of my behavior I desired to change was tied to the “How” my conditioned mind reacted. Watching the conditioned mind on the cushion tied it to my interactions everyday. I started feeling the control the conditioned mind was using, ignored that, and rested in responding from a genuine presence. Realizing that there is nothing outside of the self was a leap in perspective. It gave me the constant understanding of what’s really important in life.
I’m glad I shared this with you. Each person initiates developing their own path and the means to navigate the path. I would be interesting in hearing about your experiences in meditation.