Dukkhaboy

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How to Meditate

how to meditate pema chodron

I have been lucky enough to read quite a bit of Pema Chodron over the last few years and have come to use many of her suggestions and techniques to guide my meditation practice. I have gathered these below in case they are of use to anyone. If you do find them helpful then you should know they are taken primarily from her book “Wisdom of No Escape” and also “How to Meditate”. I highly recommend both these books. The former looks more at how our lives need meditation while the latter looks closer at meditation techniques first before applying it to the rest of our lives. If you already have a practice maybe “How to Meditate” would be the best of the two to go to first and if you do not meditate regularly yet then “The Wisdom of No Escape” has a more simple technique to get going with. However, if you are anything like me reading either one will have a hugely beneficial impact on your life and on the people in your lives as well.

I apologise for the instructions abeing rather wordy, but I found it hard to edit Pema Chodron’s original ideas. And indeed it is fair criticism to say that you would be better reading the original description and explanation as they are from someone with true realisations rather than from my amateurish experience. However, if you need a start (or restart) to your practice and you haven’t the books I leave this here in case it is of value. If you have any questions please just leave a comment.

Meditation Instructions

What to do

  1. a) Posture
  • Seat –Keep yourself balanced and stable with the back of the seat slightly higher than the front. This tilt helps your torso.
  • Hands – In your lap, face down. How far forward they are affects your overall posture or in a simple mudra; right on top of left with thumbs lightly touching.
  • Torso – straight and relaxed. Pema Chodron calls it “keeping your heart open”. Be aware of tension in the shoulders
  • Eyes – half open. Helps us to stay with the present and taking an “all inclusive” approach.
  • Face – relaxed, mouth slightly open. Be aware of tension in the jaw
  • Legs – crossed. But your knees should be lower than your waist. If this is not possible then a chair is best. Sit with a straight back your ands on your lap and you feet flats on the floor, directly under your knees.

Pema Chodron says

“Bring ease to your posture. It’s so important not to get into a major struggle but to simply try to be as relaxed and comfortable as you can. In each of these six points, you want to embody a sense of relaxation, openness and dignity; you want to embody an expression of being awake and confident.”

 

b)Be mindful of your outbreath (the precision, gentleness and letting go)

(i)Just be aware of the normal and uncontrived outbreath. Follow it, be with it; be aware of it. This seems simple, but this it the precision right here. That we always come back to it sharpens our mind and awareness; hence precision.

But our minds wander; it’s what they do and when this happens, we simply notice what has happened and say ‘thinking’ to ourselves – this label is also about precision.

(ii) We have already brought in an idea of relaxation to our posture and the gentleness follows right on in from this. Firstly, we don’t have 100% attention on the outbreath to the exclusion of all else. Our eyes are open and equally we are alive to what else is happening. Maybe we have ¼ of our attention on the breath as it goes out. We have a light touch on our outbreath. There is no goal here. We are not trying to rid our mind of all these thoughts. There are so many and we couldn’t do it if we tried. We just try to be aware.

We should also have a light touch when we say ‘thinking’. Notice how you say it to yourself. Don’t get angry; don’t chastise yourself. If you have just noticed that you were distracted then that is a good thing. Well done you. So if you say thinking in a judgmental way try saying it again more gently before returning to the outbreath.

(iii) We can directly work on being more gentle and maybe on being more precise but the ‘letting go’ only comes as a result of the other two. It is not really tangible in that way. This is also why this particular technique focuses on just the outbreath. There is a natural gap or pause between one outbreath and another. This is an opportunity to let go as the outbreath dissolves into the air and into the room. There is nothing to hold onto … and over time with practice we can realise we don’t have to be caught in the grip of our fears and our passions, of our anger and our anxieties, of our depressed thoughts and our addictions. How liberating is that!

 

And if this is too much to remember at first then just remember this:

  • Posture
  • Precision
  • Gentleness
  • Letting Go
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Early Morning and an active mind

Something disturbed my sleep around 4 this morning. I rolled over and in just 5 minutes later started thinking about how I could improve the behaviour in one my classes; a couple of them had been a right pain yesterday and I don’t think I had dealt with it well: I must have been more worried than I had realised. I got up; I knew sleep was defeated

The meditation teachers, they all say let go. so when my mind JUMPS and GRABS without me even properly waking up, I can tell how much attachment there is deep down as well as at the surface of my life.

Then in my morning meditation, the same occurs: I hardly get to settle, place my light concentration on my breath, when I am away planning lesson, worrying about workload, observations and the like. Then when I realise what I am doing I feel inadequate and angry with myself “Dam! I am letting myself get taken over by thoughts of work and the day ahead AGAIN.”

Pema Chodron says in “the wisdom of no escape” to be gentle as well as precise in meditation.

“Don’t judge yourself when you notice your mind has wandered. She says “all that’s happened is that you’ noticed. Good for you, you actually noticed! You’ve noticed that the mind thinks continuously, and its wonderful you’ve seen that. Having seen it, let the thoughts go. Say “thinking”. If you notice that you’ve been harsh, say it a second time just to cultivate the feeling that you could say it to yourself with gentleness and kindness, in other words that you cultivating a nonjudgemental attitude.you are not criticising yourself, you are just seeing what is with precision and gentleness”

And it worked to a partial extent this morning! I realised how harsh I was being with myself and tried to just let go. So that when my mind wandered again I realised that their could be a good side as well to all this mental energy, that THIS IS HOW IT IS and I couldn’t change it if I wanted to anyway


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Initial Plans – The Wisdom of no Escape

A friend of mine’s father had a heart attack this year. My friend had been having a hard time of it for a while. But his Dad’s  brush with death made him look at it as “we are only here in this life for a finite amount of time and so we need to make the most of every moment we have. ”

That made me think too. The things that had been getting me down, they are not worth the hours of negative reflection I grant them. In fact the endless churning over of what is wrong, or what I think is wrong just makes it all worse and worse.

And then I picked up

Pema Chodren

And it brought the simplicity and pointedness of meditation back to me; chapter 4 on gentleness, precision and letting go especially.


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Starting point

Too often I have let it get on top, envelop and dominate me. Not often enough have I tried some precision, gentleness and letting go.

Surely and slowly I have felt the blues creeping up on me. Tears before being able to get out the front door in the morning, disinterest in what used to spark me, overeating – you know the sort of thing. I am not really bad. I am not after your sympathy. There are many huge positives to make the most of:

  • living well in an affluent country
  • health
  • support from my wonderful partner
  • joy in 3 gorgeous children
  • a job that pays the bills and more

but ……. but…… there is always the dukkha and I would like to work out how I can live better with this ever present dissatisfaction.

Whereas you probably have no desire to read about the minutiae of my life and the minor depression of a another middle class white male, I hope that getting myself to write about my attempts to look dukkha in the eye will provide some discipline and force clarity of thought and expression. After all, someone out there may be reading what is written!