Dukkhaboy

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Why isn’t my meditation working?

Firstly I bet you it is. May not in the way the amount or with the speed you want, but it will almost certainly be having a positive effect. So don’t worry.*

How long do you meditate a day? A week? How long each day are you NOT on your cushion? As Lama Zopa Rinpoche once said about our days, “30 minutes meditation and 23 and a half hours ego”. And unless you give up your job or go on a retreat this ratio is unlikely to alter much let’s be honest. So there are two options; 1) improve the quality of your meditation, which I am not skilled enough to write much on apart for the basics, which I already clumsily covered here or 2) Make your 23 and half hours become a support for your daily meditation.

Firstly, to be able to practice well it is necessary to have enough of life’s necessities not to have to worry about getting or having them. But also it is important not to have too much, or rather not to be too attached and involved with it all. To help concentration in meditation it is important to be content with life and possessions and not to have too much attachment to them. This will both lessen distraction in meditation and allow more  time for it to happen.

Secondly, a busy life will lead to a busy mind and a lot of conceptual thought arising. Personally, my job and family life means my days are packed and in the evenings I am worn out. Therefore I have found that a routine of morning practice before I leave for work can help lessen all that mind traffic. Also I like to have had breakfast before I settle down so that i am not worrying about my stomach!

Buddhist teaching also mentions leading an ethical life aids meditation. this of course is harder to change quickly. But to reflect on the motivation behind actions and words during the day greatly helps meditation by lessening strong emotions. This is best left for another day, but Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote wonderfully about this here if you want to read more about that.

Finally, I was lucky enough to hear Venerable Robina Courtin talk earlier this year. (She has an excellent website full of good stuff and links here ) I got the chance to ask her a question I said,  “I had been meditating for years and felt I was getting nowhere.” She replied:

  1. If we notice bad things we are doing or saying or thinking, this is positive and is progress
  2. We all have deep seated attachment so if our mind is calmer or concentrating better or more compassionate or wiser we then think, “Why aren’t I doing even better?” we are never satisfied
  3. So don’t worry, we are doing okay 🙂

 

*But beware: Whereas many religious and spiritual traditions including Buddhism emphasise the importance of concentration, in Buddhism concentration is only a tool, not the end itself. Concentration on its own, without compassion and wisdom is just another reason to be reborn in Samsara.

The majority of the ideas for this were gained from Geshe Tashi Tsering’s excellent book “Emptiness” and especially chapter 2


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Who knows where the time goes?

One thing parents always say about their children is “They grow up so quick. I don’t know where the time goes.” Being a mother or father takes up so much time and energy, so that life frequently feel like a helter skelter ride. Increasingly, over the last few years politicians have wanted to be support “hard working families”. Busyness is assumed to be an admirable and even desirable trait. Of course it doesn’t have to be children, there are many other things that can fill your hours and minutes to the brim and parents certainly don’t have the monopoly on busy lives. But whatever the reason, it is scary when you realise John Lennon’s observation “Life is what happens to other people when you are busy making plans.” applies to you.

That’s why mindfulness is seen as such an attractive (non)activity: the chance to STOP for even a second has become a luxury for many. We know life is passing us by and we’d like to do two things:

1) Notice what is happening and what we are feeling, thinking and doing.

2) Question whether we are feeling, thinking and doing the right things.

But that is also why mindfulness on its own is not the whole answer. It helps us with the first point; to be aware of ourselves and our relationship with our surroundings. But if we left it there it could become just another selfish pursuit, something to make us feel better about ourselves. While that is not a bad thing at all, if it doesn’t lead to any change in our lives mindfulness becomes a huge missed opportunity. When we stop and become aware of what we are thinking and how we are reacting, we can start to change those habits by getting less and less involved in the ingrained patterns our thoughts normally follow. The reason we don’t notice the time going by is we spend so much of it repeating and rerunning old routine ideas and responses; we are hooked into these mental patterns and so too much of our life is spent numbed to our environment and experiences. We aren’t aware of all that is passing us by moment by moment. Mindfulness helps us correct this. Practicing it will help us know better where the time is going and also how we can use it better for ourselves and for others.