does not mean that we have to do anything to force this
settling. It is a natural process that happens by itself.
The very act of sitting still being mindful causes this
settling. In fact, any effort on our part to force this
settling is counterproductive. That is repression, and
it does not work. Try to force things out of the mind
and you merely add energy to them You may succeed temporarily,
but in the long run you will only have made them stronger.
They will hide in the unconscious until you are not watching,
then they will leap out and leave you helpless to fight
best way to clarify the mental fluid is to just let
it settle all by itself. Don't add any energy to the
situation. Just mindfully watch the mud swirl, without
any involvement in the process. Then, when it settles
at last, it will stay settled. We exert energy in meditation,
but not force. Our only effort is gently, patient mindfulness.
meditation period is like a cross-section of your whole
day. Everything that happens to you is stored away in
the mind in some form, mental or emotional. During normal
activity, you get so caught up in the press of events
that the basic issues with which you are dealing are
seldom thoroughly handled. They become buried in the
unconscious, where they seethe and foam and fester.
Then you wonder where all that tension came from. All
of this material comes forth in one form or another
during your meditation. You get a chance to look at
it, see it for what it is, and let it go. We set up
a formal meditation period in order to create a conducive
environment for this release. We re- establish our mindfulness
at regular intervals. We withdraw from those events
which constantly stimulate the mind. We back out of
all the activity that prods the emotions. We go off
to a quiet place and we sit still, and it all comes
bubbling out. Then it goes away. The net effect is like
recharging a battery. Meditation recharges your mindfulness.
yourself a quiet place, a secluded place, a place where
you will be alone. It doesn't have to be some ideal
spot in the middle of a forest. That's nearly impossible
for most of us, but it should be a pace where you feel
comfortable, and where you won't be disturbed. It should
also be a place where you won't feel on display. You
want all of your attention free for meditation, not
wasted on worries about how you look to others. Try
to pick a spot that is as quiet as possible. It doesn't
have to be a soundproof room, but there are certain
noises that are highly distracting, and they should
be avoided. Music and talking are about the worst. The
mind tends to be sucked in by these sounds in an uncontrollable
manner, and there goes your concentration.
are certain traditional aids that you can employ to
set the proper mood. A darkened room with a candle is
nice. Incense is nice. A little bell to start and end
your sessions is nice. These are paraphernalia, though.
They provide encouragement to some people, but they
are by no means essential to the practice.
will probably find it helpful to sit in the same place
each time. A special spot reserved for meditation and
nothing else is an aid for most people. You soon come
to associate that spot with the tranquility of deep
concentration, and that association helps you to reach
deep states more quickly. The main thing is to sit in
a place that you feel is conductive to your own practice.
That requires a bit of experimentation. Try several
spots until you find one where you feel comfortable.
You only need to find a place where you don't feel self-conscious,
and where you can meditate without undue distraction.
people find it helpful and supportive to sit with a
group of other meditators. The discipline of regular
practice is essential, and most people find it easier
to sit regularly if they are bolstered by a commitment
to a group sitting schedule. You've given your word,
and you know you are expected. Thus the 'I'm too busy'
syndrome is cleverly skirted. You may be able to locate
a group of practicing meditators in your area. It doesn't
matter if they practice a different form of meditation,
so long as it's one of the silent forms. On the other
hand, you also should try to be self-sufficient in your
practice. Don't rely on the presence of a group as your
sole motivation to sit. Properly done, sitting is a
pleasure. Use the group as an aid, not as a crutch.
most important rule here is this: When it comes to sitting,
the description of Buddhism as the Middle Way applies.
Don't overdo it. Don't underdo it. This doesn't mean
you just sit whenever the whim strikes you. It means
you set up a practice schedule and keep to it with a
gently, patient tenacity. Setting up a schedule acts
as an encouragement. If, however, you find that your
schedule has ceased to be an encouragement and become
a burden, then something is wrong. Meditation is not
a duty, nor an obligation.
is psychological activity. You will be dealing with
the raw stuff of feelings and emotions. Consequently,
it is an activity which is very sensitive to the attitude
with which you approach each session. What you expect
is what you are most likely to get. Your practice will
therefore go best when you are looking forward to sitting.
If you sit down expecting grinding drudgery, that is
probably what will occur. So set up a daily pattern
that you can live with. Make it reasonable. Make it
fit with the rest of your life. And if it starts to
feel like you're on an uphill treadmill toward liberation,
then change something.
thing in the morning is a great time to meditate. Your
mind is fresh then, before you've gotten yourself buried
in responsibilities. Morning meditation is a fine way
to start the day. It tunes you up and gets you ready
to deal with things efficiently. You cruise through
the rest of the day just a bit more lightly. Be sure
you are thoroughly awake, though. You won't make much
progress if you are sitting there nodding off, so get
enough sleep. Wash your face, or shower before you begin.
You may want to do a bit of exercise beforehand to get
the circulation flowing. Do whatever you need to do
in order to wake up fully, then sit down to meditate.
Do not, however, let yourself get hung up in the day's
activities. It's just too easy to forget to sit. Make
meditation the first major thing you do in the morning.
evening is another good time for practice. Your mind
is full of all the mental rubbish that you have accumulated
during the day, and it is great to get rid of the burden
before you sleep. Your meditation will cleanse and rejuvenate
your mind. Re- establish your mindfulness and your sleep
will be real sleep. When you first start meditation,
once a day is enough. If you feel like meditating more,
that's fine, but don't overdo it. There's a burn-out
phenomenon we often see in new meditators. They dive
right into the practice fifteen hours a day for a couple
of weeks, and then the real world catches up with them.
They decide that this meditation business just takes
too much time. Too many sacrifices are required. They
haven't got time for all of this. Don't fall into that
trap. Don't burn yourself out the first week. Make haste
slowly. Make your effort consistent and steady. Give
yourself time to incorporate the meditation practice
into your life, and let your practice grow gradually
your interest in meditation grows, you'll find yourself
making more room in your schedule for practice. It's
a spontaneous phenomenon, and it happens pretty much
by itself--no force necessary.
meditators manage three or four hours of practice a
day. They live ordinary lives in the day-to-day world,
and they still squeeze it all in. And they enjoy it.
It comes naturally.
Long To Sit
similar rule applies here: Sit as long as you can, but
don't overdo. Most beginners start with twenty or thirty
minutes. Initially, it's difficult to sit longer than
that with profit. The posture is unfamiliar to Westerners,
and it takes a bit of time for the body to adjust. The
mental skills are equally unfamiliar, and that adjustment
takes time, too.
you grow accustomed to procedure, you can extend your
meditation little by little. We recommend that after
a year or so of steady practice you should be sitting
comfortable for an hour at a time.
is an important point, though: Vipassana meditation
is not a form of asceticism. Self-mortification is not
the goal. We are trying to cultivate mindfulness, not
pain. Some pain is inevitable, especially in the legs.
We will thoroughly cover pain, and how to handle it,
in Chapter 10. There are special techniques and attitudes
which you will learn for dealing with discomfort. The
point to be made here is this: This is not a grim endurance
contest. You don't need to prove anything to anybody.
So don't force yourself to sit with excruciating pain
just to be able to say that you sat for an hour. That
is a useless exercise in ego. And don't overdo it in
the beginning. Know your limitations, and don't condemn
yourself for not being able to sit forever, like a rock.
meditation becomes more and more a part of your life,
you can extend your sessions beyond an hour. As a general
rule, just determine what is a comfortable length of
time for you at this point in your life. Then sit five
minutes longer than that. There is no hard and fast
rule about length of time for sitting. Even if you have
established a firm minimum, there may be days when it
is physically impossible for you to sit that long. That
doesn't mean that you should just cancel the whole idea
for that day. It's crucial to sit regularly. Even ten
minutes of meditation can be very beneficial.
you decide on the length of your session before you
meditate. Don't do it while you are meditating. It's
too easy to give in to restlessness that way, and restlessness
is one of the main items that we want to learn to mindfully
observe. So choose a realistic length of time, and then
stick to it.
can use a watch to time you sessions, but don't peek
at it every two minutes to see how you are doing. Your
concentration will be completely lost, and agitation
will set in. You'll find your self hoping to get up
before the session is over. That's not meditation--that's
clock watching. Don;t look at the clock until you think
the whole meditation period has passed. Actually, you
don't need to consult the clock at all, at least not
every time you meditate. In general, you should be sitting
for as long as you want to sit. There is no magic length
of time. It is best, though, to set yourself a minimum
length of time. If you haven't predetermined a minimum,
you'll find yourself prone to short sessions. You'll
bolt every time something unpleasant comes up or whenever
you feel restless. That's not good. These experiences
are some of the most profitable a meditator can face,
but only if you sit through them. You've got to learn
to observe them calmly and clearly. Look at them mindfully.
When you've done that enough time, they lose their hold
on you. You see them for what they are: just impulses,
arising and passing away, just part of the passing show.
Your life smoothes out beautifully as a consequence.
is a difficult word for most of us. It conjures up images
of somebody standing over you with a stick, telling
you that you're wrong. But self-discipline is different.
It's the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting
of your own impulses and piercing their secret. They
have no power over you. It's all a show, a deception.
Your urges scream and bluster at you; they cajole; they
coax; they threaten; but they really carry no stick
at all. You give in out of habit. You give in because
you never really bother to look beyond the threat. It
is all empty back there. There is only one way to learn
this lesson, though. The words on this page won't do
it. But look within and watch the stuff coming up--restlessness,
anxiety, impatience, pain-- just watch it come up and
don't get involved. Much to your surprise, it will simply
go away. It rises, it passes away. As simple as that.
There is another word for 'self-discipline'. It is 'Patience'.