~ May all beings be free from suffering ~


Part II: COMMON ISSUES FOR MEDITATORS


MONKEY MIND


At first, you may be surprised at how active and uncontrolled your mind is. Don't worry - you are discovering the truth about your current state of mind. Accept and "sit with" whatever comes up. Don't try to change it by force, use patience. Sit up, relax, and gently bring your attention back again and again to the object of your meditation.


It is common to mistake thinking for meditating. It takes practice to distinguish pleasant, dreamy thoughts from having your attention connected to the changing experience of this moment. Staying focused on the body/breath is a good way to stay grounded in the present.


THE CLASSICAL FIVE HINDRANCES TO PRACTICE


1.  Grasping: wanting more (or something different) from what's present right now

2.  Aversion: fear, anger, any form of pushing away

3.  Restlessness: jumpy energy, agitation

4.  Sloth and torpor: sleepy, sinking states of mind and body

5.  Doubt: a mind-trap that says, "It's no use, this will never work.  Maybe there's an easier way"


Meditators experience all of these states. During sitting practice, if you notice one of the hindrances arising, it is useful to name it silently to yourself, e.g., "grasping, grasping" or "sleepy, sleepy". If it is strong, try not to pull away from the difficult energy, but bring all of your attention to it. Let yourself experience it fully through the sensations in your body, neither getting lost in it nor pushing it away. Watch what happens without expectations, and when it dissipates, return to the primary focus of your meditation. As Ven. Henepola Gunaratana encourages in Mindfulness in Plain English: "Examine [the hindrances] to death". When you clearly see the suffering created by grasping and aversion, you will naturally start to let them go.






FOLLOW THESE STEPS EACH TIME YOU SIT:


SET YOUR POSTURE


Alertness is one of the two essential ingredients in every meditation. Sit on a chair, cushion, or kneeling bench as straight and tall as possible. In the beginning, sitting against a wall can help you learn what a straight back feels like. Around this straight-back position, let the rest of your skeleton and muscles hang freely. Let the hands rest comfortably on your knees or lap. Let the eyes close, bringing the attention inward.



RELAX DEEPLY


Openness is the second essential ingredient in every meditation. once you feel your spine is erect, let everything else relax, hang loose, and soften. Breathing through the nose, loosen the face, neck, hands, and stomach area. You may want to begin at the scalp and move your attention slowly downward, methodically relaxing and softening each part of the body. Please don't skip the step of relaxing/letting go! Consciously releasing body tension will help you open to whatever arises during your meditation.


CHOOSE AN OBJECT OF MEDITATION


Once you've established this alert and open posture, you are ready to decide where you'll place your attention. Useful objects for beginners are:

The breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils

Other body changes during breathing, e.g., the rise and fall of the chest

Sounds as they arise from within the body or outside of it

Other body sensations as they arise


Whatever object you select, stay with it for at least ten breaths. Even with this effort, your mind will insist on going to its usual places. Make note of this when it happens, and gently lead your attention back to the chosen object of meditation. Your intention and persistence are the key ingredients for cultivating awareness, not the number of times your mind wanders. As often as you need to, check yourself -- "Alert and erect? Relaxed and open?" - and begin again.


THE CLASSICAL OBJECTS OF MEDITATION


The four objects of meditation that the Buddha outlined in the Satipatthana Sutta are called the four foundations of mindfulness or the four frameworks for cultivating mindfulness:


1. Mindfulness of the body (starting with breath)

2. Mindfulness of feeling (there are 3 - pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral)

3. Mindfulness of mental objects (thoughts and emotions)

4. Mindfulness of all dharmas (all phenomena), starting with the Five Hindrances and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and proceeding to all the sense and thought experiences that make up human life


If you are interested in learning more about the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, read Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg, or The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera.


A DIFFERENT OBJECT OF MEDITATION


Metta practice, also called Loving kindness Meditation, cultivates both compassion and concentration. The practice uses specific phrases to send loving and kind wishes to (a) yourself, (b) your parents, (c) your teachers or mentors, (d) your family, (e) your friends, (f) neutral persons, (g) difficult persons (or enemies), and (h) to all beings everywhere, without exception. The phrases might be:


May I be filled with loving kindness

May I be safe from harm

May I be well

May I be peaceful and at ease

May I be happy

May my parents be filled with loving kindness

May they be safe from harm...


To learn more about metta meditation, read Loving kindness by Sharon Salzburg.


CONCENTRATION & MINDFULNESS


It will be important as you practice to recognize and balance the qualities of concentration and mindfulness. Concentration is the ability to gather your attention into one place. Mindfulness is pure moment-by-moment noticing. Without some concentration, mindfulness is difficult to sustain. Without mindfulness, concentration bears no fruit. In meditation practice, both are developed gradually.


How to Establish a Daily Sitting Practice

Common Issues for Meditators

Sustaining a Practice

Steps to Follow

How To Meditate By Yourself

   by Lynn J. Kelly



Part I: How to Establish a Daily Sitting Practice


BEFORE YOU SIT


As with all things, start where you are. You have everything you need right now. First, decide to sit each day. Next, plan the time, place and duration for your sitting meditation.


CHOOSE A TIME


Morning is often best because the mind is calmer than it is later in the day. However, the best time is the time that you can commit to on a regular basis. If one longer sit isn't possible, try two shorter ones.


CHOOSE A SPACE


There is no perfect place. If possible, dedicate a space exclusively to your daily sitting. Choose a relatively quiet space where you can leave your cushion (or chair) so that it is always there to return to. You may want to create an altar with a candle, inspiring photos or statues. These are not necessary, but are beneficial if they help to motivate you.


CHOOSE A DURATION


As long as is comfortable, plus 5 minutes. This is a general guide, not a rule. Even fifteen or twenty minutes will seem an eternity in the beginning, but that impression will change with time. If you sit each day, you will experience noticeable benefits (e.g., less reactivity, more calm) and be able to increase your sitting time.




Part III: SUSTAINING A PRACTICE


HERE ARE JUST A FEW HELPFUL HINTS FOR SUSTAINING A SITTING PRACTICE


Sit every day, even if it's for a short period

A few times during each day, establish contact with your body and breath

Remember that everyone wants to be happy, just like you

Practice regularly with a group or a friend

Use inspiring resources such as books or audiotapes of dharma talks

Study the Buddhadharma (e.g., The Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eight-Fold Path)

Sign up for a retreat - one day, a weekend, or longer. The experience will deepen your practice

If you miss a day, a week, or a month - simply begin again

If you need guidance, ask for help from an experienced meditator or teacher


You are travelling a path that has led to clarity and peace for many people over thousands of years. May their efforts support and inspire you.


RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Ven. Henepola Gunaratana: Mindfulness in Plain English

Ayya Khema: Being Nobody, Going Nowhere

Charlotte Joko Beck: Everyday Zen, and Nothing Special


WEB RESOURCES

Insight Meditation Community of Washington

Access to Insight

Bhavana Society, Forest Monastery and Retreat Center


(J. Kelly, April 2001. Reprinted here with her very kind permission

 Insight Meditation Community of Washington)