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“Clarity of mind” meditation

kathleen mcdonald

Overview

This is a mix of Kathleen McDonald’s “Meditation on the Clarity of Mind” Part 3 chapter 2 in “How To Meditate” and Pema Chodron’s ‘Using Thoughts as an Object of Meditation’ in “How to Meditate” p. 70. Any benefit this meditation brings is a result of the understanding and realisations of these two experienced and revered practitioners.

The philosophy behind this meditation (you don’t have to read this, you can skip to the meditation practice itself just below)

Thoughts are not solid. They are not real. The argument you act out in your mind isn’t happening and may well not happen at all. The fine meal you are dreaming of won’t be occurring until next week and when it does it won’t be like the dream you are having about it now anyway. Seeing thoughts like this helps us to escape from the ‘catastrophisation’ that goes on in our head, where we start to believe the negative storylines we invent so they become solid and real to us. We don’t have to deny them entry or squash them deep down to try to forget they exist. Nor do we need to smash them with a hammer or fight them to the ground. Instead we can lightly touch these thoughts, say ‘thinking’ to ourselves and let them dissolve away.

If we are free ourselves of adding a sense of solidity to things that have none we can start to also start to loosen the ties of our ingrained mental habits. When someone mentions our boss we don’t have to run down that overworn path of tales we, without fail, recount of what she will do and say to us. We don’t have to get lost in dreams of “if only” and “how marvellous it would be if …” Seeing thoughts, emotions and feelings as dreamlike relieves us of so much burden. We can begin to understand how all that we create in our mind is less solid than we give it credit for and then we can see how restricted we were, how we made such a big deal about something that does not need to have a hold over us.

Consequently we begin to experience how vast our lives can be when we don’t attach or push away from all our experiences as though they were solid and real. Right there lies true freedom.

The Meditation Practice Itself 

1/ Take up the correct posture via the 6 points we have already learnt. (See previous meditation instruction here if it helps)

  • Feet/Legs
  • Seat
  • Torso/back
  • Hands
  • Eyes
  • Face

“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.” Pema Chodron

2/ Become mindful of your outbreath. The instruction is “Just be aware of the normal and uncontrived outbreath. Follow it, be with it; be aware of it. “ Spend about 5-10 minutes doing this or until you are fully relaxed and aware of the outbreath.

3/ Once your awareness has become sharp turn your attention to the clarity of your consciousness. Your consciousness, or mind, is whatever you are experiencing at the moment; physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, emotions. The nature of each of these experiences is clarity (like a still glass of water). Focus your attention on this clear, pure nature of the mind.

Thoughts will still arise and when they do let them pass through. Thoughts come and thoughts go. Just observe them. Take the same approach with physical sensations, feelings and emotions. They are clear by nature and without substance.

If this is hard at first meditate on a mental image of clarity … Imagine lying on a hilltop and staring up at a sky that is completely clear and free of clouds. Concentrate on this vast unobstructed emptiness, Imagine that it flows down and embraces you and your surroundings; everything becomes empty like space. Hold this experience; feel that the nature of your mind is like this clear empty space.

 

4/ When you finish dedicate any benefit you may have gained from this practice either to all sentient beings or to people you know who themselves are struggling; let go of the result of the meditation as well.

 

Resources:

Kathleen McDonald’s book can be found here

Pema Chodron’s book can be found here

Other sellers other than amazon are of course available

how to meditate pema chodron

 


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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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A loverly meditation

Someone just shared this fantastic meditation with me. It is given by Ajahn Amaro who is an Abbot in the Thai forest Tradition of Buddhism. He is based at Amaravati Buddhist Centre in SE England.

He speaks wonderfully during this meditation about “Setting the intention to learn from whatever arises …. or however the mind is…… as things go in that direction we learn from that. If they go according to our wishes or …. if the mind is filled chattering thoughts, the body uncomfortable, with waves of agitated emotions… one after another after another then we learn from that.

Whether it is liked or disliked, wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected. Everything will teach us if we let it…if we’re wise the painful and unliked difficult experiences will teach us as much as, if not more than, the wished for and likeable, beautiful experiences…. because then everything benefits us; the beautiful, the difficult and the neutral.”

Anyways I could write ALL the things he says, but it would be better for you to listen to the words as they were actually said on the video above

Notes:

  • I found this meditation via the Facebook https://www.facebook.com/dailymeditation365/ which aims to share a mindfulness and meditation practice every day for 2017
  • I was lucky enough to visit there for a couple of days this Summer and wrote about my experience here and here


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Mid Life Questions

Personally, I have married, mortgaged and helped raise 3 children Professionally, I have studied, qualified,  applied, been appointed and worked. And now I have a family, a career, savings and a house. All is good. Well done me.

Around about the time William the conqueror was searching out King Harold at Hastings, a  Tibetan saint Milarepa was coming out of a long time of retreat and realisation. He wrote:

“All worldly pursuits have one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow

Acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings in destruction; meetings in separation; births in death.

Knowing this one should, from the very first, renounce acquisition and heaping up, and building and meeting,

And faithful to the demands of an eminent guru, set about realising the truth, which has no birth or death.

That alone is the best science.”

I read this quote in Vicki Mackenzie’s excellent book on Tenzin Palmo called “Cave in the Snow”. Tenzin Palmo is an East ender who became a Tibetan nun in the early 60s and has spent at least 12 years of her life meditating in a cave 12,000 feet up in the Himalayas, which certainly fits in with this definition of good science.

So if you think the spiritual is worth pursuing, to what extent is it worth pursuing? If you believe there is something other, something else, then what value should you place on the material? How do you get the right balance?

I am sorry this is all questions and no answers. You need to read someone a lot more enlightened than me to get some of those. Though Milarepa may be an extreme place to start.

Wikipedia on Milarepa here

Biography of Milarepa here

cave in the snow

 

 

 

 

 


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That isn’t me

Sitting down is rarely some marvellously peaceful happening for me. More often than not, I am replaying past perceived injustices (“she should never have said that to me”) or imagining how I could do better in the future (“…. and then they will all like and respect me again”)

There is one thing I am beginning to understand even tough it is only conceptually. It has come though hearing 3 similar teachings. Firstly, for a while now I have been attempting to follow Pema Chodron’s suggested meditation technique. I try to notice I am distracted away from my out breath, say to myself ‘thinking’ and without judgement return to the object of concentration. As this stands this is as much mindfulness as it is Buddhist meditation.

Secondly, earlier this year I heard Venerable Amy Miller talk. I remember her telling us to see thoughts as ‘mental events’ and not as who we are. So it’s not that “I am angry”or “I am jealous”. Rather you can view it as “there is an angry thought” or “there is a jealous mental event”. Immediately  there rises the possibility of a different and truer perspective on it all.

Finally, I have been studying Buddhist psychology through Geshe Tashi Tsering’s book of the same name In this he explains Buddhists say people have (i) a main mind that is all clear and all knowing and (ii) mental events that colour this. He compares it to a blank screen and the images beamed upon it. “We never really see the screen, because we are so caught up in the images projected on to it.”

Putting this together gives a fuller picture of how mindfulness works in Buddhism. It is more than just a technique for obtaining calm and letting go. Instead it can become a step to better understanding our mind and our misplaced sense of self. The mental events of our mind are less permanent and solid than we believe. So that when we are able to see this they immediately have less hold over us. Powerful stuff indeed.

 


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One way to Spend the Rest of Your Life

I just read this paragraph written by Pema Chodron and I thought it was beautiful

“With each meditation session, you could train in opening to whatever arises, and relaxing with the immediacy of your experience. Just acknowledge your pleasant and unpleasant thoughts without bias and let them pass away. Then at the time of death, you will be ready to let go of your attachment to this life and surrender to the process of dissolving.”

It seems to me she has just described how to live a purposeful life.

It is taken from her book “No time to Lose” in the chapter on enthusiasm. There are reviews of the book and where to buy it here

 


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Lazy Holidays – Trying not to be a monkey

So what do you do with yours?

I spend my work time imagining how great the holidays will be; how I will get down to basics, to what really matters and let go of all the crap. For a week or so, I won’t have to do those things that fill so much of my time. I will be able to read, sleep, meditate reflect and yes, even write a new post on this blog. But there again, on the weekly holidays Saturday and Sunday, I am no more likely to meditate than on a week day. right now, I have only sat down on my cushion on two of the first five days of this half term break.

I read this old article today in Tricycle magazine. It was an interview with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo (nee Diane Perry). She nailed my problem when she said The crux of the matter is laziness. Even when we know what we should be doing, we choose what seems to be the easier path. We’re gods acting like monkeys.” 

I have the seeds of a plan though. Firstly, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo goes onto to say that “The thoughts are not the problem. Thoughts are the nature of the mind. The problem is that we identify with them.” This reminded me of how Pema Chodron described this fault in our lives “Its as if we have been kicking a spinning wheel all our life and it has its own momentum” The attachment to these thoughts is SO strong in my life. I identify with them. I consider them me. I want to protect them and my ego at all costs. This spinning wheel keeps turning in the early part of the holiday and only after a while can I properly turn to reflection and meditation.

The second part of my small plan is taken from the same Pema Chodron book as above, “Taking the Leap”. You can get a copy of it from here. Put simply it is to (a) get in the habit of noticing when we are hooked into these thoughts, into kicking that spinning wheel so it keeps turning so that (b) we can pause and “lean in” to the energy at that moment and “Abide with it. Experience it fully. Taste it. touch it. smell it. be curious about it”. In this way we don’t embrace or reject the thought or run with or feel guilty about our reaction to it. This means we can also (c) relax and move on so the whole process doesn’t become an “endurance test, a contest that you win or lose”

But I like this practise for another reason. It will keep me in touch with the meditation I (hopefully) did in the morning, so that its momentum is maintained, so that when the holidays come around I don’t at first feel such a strong desire to reject my thoughts and emotions (the shenpa as Tibetans call it) before I can get down to using the holidays in a much more productive and practical way.

After all, it is, as Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo said, practice that will help us most.