Previously posts have covered how to use the breath as an object of meditation and how to deal with distractions so you can kick butt on the cushion and in daily life. On to more stuff.
What is the process/point of this meditation?
You calm your mind and train it to see how awareness operates. When you understand how awareness operates, you stop being confused. You stop having uncontrolled and unwanted thought after thought, annoying feeling after feeling, reaction to this, reaction to that. Simply, suffering stops. You stop being pulled this way and that. When you stop imagining impersonal processes can be controlled, you in effect gain total control – it’s a fun paradox. To become imperturbable, you must let it all go.
An object of meditation is necessary to see exactly how your mind works so you can stop being duped by it. Without an object of meditation, it is possible to stabilize in what seems like a calm, still place but not be able to see all sorts of activity that is still happening under the surface. Even if the activity is invisible, it will generate thoughts and reactions if you don’t see it. You need a reference point to go deep, and that is what a meditation object provides. You know what your meditation object is; you know what isn’t your object. You let go of what isn't your object.
On to Samadhi.
Ah, ever so tasty Samadhi. Its as mysterious and temping as sex to a young teenage boy, but fortunately far more attainable. Where does this fit in with the goal of seeing how the mind works?
First, WHAT is Samadhi? Well, Samadhi is a word that the Buddha made up to describe the kind of meditation he developed. It’s a compound word. Sama – calm or even and Dhi- wisdom or intellect/awareness. Calm wisdom, calm awareness. That’s what it means. Now, there, despite a single source for this concept (the Buddha), there are multiple Buddhist meditation traditions and multiple interpretation of what constitutes Samadhi. Even better, non-Buddhist meditation traditions have adopted the word to describe meditative states that are very different then the original intention. Without going into the amazingly complex and perhaps fascinating details, just know that there are multiple types of Buddhist Samadhi that are frequently taught. The type of Samadhi that I am going to talk about is one where the mind is unified and sharpened, and one retains the ability to know what is happening with awareness. Concentration/Unification and Insight yoked. Samatha Vipassana. This technique is described in the oldest written records of Buddhist training, the Pali suttas.
Samadhi arises quite naturally as mind calms, and one gets less enmeshed with experience. The more you let go, the more open and joyful mind naturally reveals itself to be. Furthermore, when mind is calm and collected, it gets to be very smart, fast, and deeply perceptive. Creative, spontaneous, unlimited. This is why it is useful to develop some collectedness/concentration, so you can see how everything works with a nice, shiny, supercharged awareness. Plus, it feels really good – a big relief.
There are about 8 distinct stages of Samadhi with this meditation technique. Lets call them Jhanas, or stages of meditation. The first Jhana happens when you finally let go deeply of a serious distraction. You let it go, over and over, and finally it doesn’t come up, or you simply are done with it and don’t fall for it anymore. At that moment, mind stills. You feel a relief, like a weight off your shoulders, and you start to feel happiness and pleasure. Often, a big grin is on your face. Happy joy, fun stuff. Now, this may happen with a less dramatic transition if you have some experience with meditation, or some natural talent for stilling your mind. But, the joy, pleasure, and stillness will always be there.
When you enter the first Jhana, you have let go of a level of distraction, mind calms, and you get some candy- the happy joy. This will sustain itself for a period of time, and then more distractions will arise. Probably they will be different distractions. Maybe more subtle, and brand new type of experiences since your mind was not clear enough to detect them before. This is a good thing, even if it bounces you out of the Jhana. Now, you can let go of more stuff, purify your mind more, and this will lead you to deeper Jhanas, deeper insight, and closer to the big insight of seeing the way everything in the mind works. So, the distractions are just as important as the Jhana, we need the distractions to go deeper and see how mind works.
This is a process: there is an arising distraction, some work to let the distraction go, and then eventual release. After a while, you will be ‘done’ with the distraction of a given level of meditation or Jhana. Then you will have complete access to the Jhana without having to go through lots of work. It’s like learning to ride a bike. Its tough at first, you fall often, and have to put in time and work, but after a while you just do it instinctively. This is pretty cool, having instant access to pleasure, calm, and a clear mind, on or off the cushion. Seriously, you can be standing in line at the grocery store or wherever with a clear happy mind and bliss just dripping off you. A side effect worth working for, maybe?
As you start letting go of all these distractions, you might notice some stuff. One thing is, distractions are instinctive, automatic reactions. For example: you might remember or feel something, you then don’t like it, you starting thinking about why you don’t like it, and then you forget that you’re meditating. Something like that, every time. With practice, you get better at noticing the parts of this process. Maybe you only catch yourself after you have forgotten that you are meditating. Maybe after a while, you start to see when you starting verbally thinking, and can let that go and go back to the meditation before you get distracted. Great, that’s improvement. It takes mindfulness to do this, and mindfulness takes practice to cultivate. As you get better at seeing the distraction arise, you can let it go before it becomes a thought. You can notice that mind is starting to lose its focus, and bring it back right away. In this way, you are learning to always stay with relaxing on the breath, or whatever meditation you are doing.
So, what are the breathing instructions again?
When you breath in, be aware you are breathing in. Relax you entire body and head one time.
When you are breathing out, again be aware of this fact in a very general way. Relax you entire body and head one time.
When you get distracted, or begin to loose focus:
Let go of the distraction. Let it be there, don’t push it away or dislike it. Stop paying attention to it.
Relax you head and body one time. You wont succeed in relaxing everything. Doesn’t matter. Move on.
Smile, cause it makes everything easier – and this is an amusing game, yes?
And then go back to relaxing on the in and out breath.
Do it again.
With Buddhist meditation, the path is well trodden. The states on the path are well documented. You follow a formula of training that has been completed over and over throughout the last 2500 years or so. You follow the recipe, and predictable, well-documented results happen. If you don’t follow the recipe, something else or nothing happens. Simple. What’s even better, even tho everything is well documented and there is a map of the training, you still have to rediscover it for yourself. Nobody can do it for you, and the maps are only guides – the actual experience of the meditation path is not easy to explain and probably not what you think it is when studying the maps. Gotta see it for yourself.