What’s Wrong with Meditation II – Improper Instruction

Image result for upset with meditation

What’s Wrong with Meditation II – Improper Instruction


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The next biggest danger is that no one thinks there are or can be any dangers to meditation, so there is almost no discussion and information-gathering on the subject. Everyone is just going blah blah about the benefits. As a consequence, meditators are constantly being blindsided and derailed by things that should be trivial hazards, easily dismissed or bypassed. If we compare meditation to a day at the beach, it is as if people are saying, “Oh, don’t worry, you can never get enough direct sunlight. Just soak it up. You don’t even need a hat. And swim out in the ocean as far as you want. It’s a lake. With dolphins that will love you.”” – Lorin Roche


As was discussed in the prior essay on What’s Wrong with Meditation I – Expectations there are three essential problems with the way meditation has been presented in the west that have produced problems, misconceptions, and misunderstandings. First, meditation has been presented in a way that has evoked beliefs, ideas, and images that are overly idealized and not reflective of the typical experiences of meditation practice. Secondly, is the focus of the present essay, that immediately jumping into meditation practice has been encouraged, without the provision for proper background information, study, or instruction. Lastly, the jargon used to describe the process, experiences, obstacles, and results is extreme, evoking images and expectations that far exceed normal experience.


The Dalai Lama was brought on a tour of a major new meditation center in the United States. At the end of the tour, he simply asked “where’s the library?” He was astonished when he was told that there wasn’t one. He commented that before any of his new monks were allowed to meditate that had to spend at least a couple of years studying before they were allowed to meditate. He stressed that it is imperative that the practitioner have a proper background to understand the practical and theoretical basis for meditation before starting. This story exemplifies the difference between ancient Tibetan practice and meditation as it’s taught in the west where practitioners are launched into meditation practice with only minimal instruction. Hence people dive in without knowledge of obstacles and dangers hidden beneath the surface.


This western practice would be fine if meditation was straightforward and there weren’t any difficulties and traps that could ensnare the meditator. But, meditation practice is not simple and straightforward and without instruction in what to expect and how to recognize true progress, the practitioner is left to grope and stumble their way through the process. Beginners are generally not instructed, except in very general terms, as to what is the goal and how to recognize it if they attain it. They are frequently told to just follow and/or count the breath but receive no instruction as to what to do when their mind inevitably wanders. They are told simply return to following the breath. This was exactly how I was instructed when I began meditation practice.


As a result of this lack of instruction, beginners deride themselves for mind wandering making the process unpleasant. They are not told that this is effectively punishing themselves for recognizing that their mind has wandered. This makes it less likely that the individual will recognize and return from mental discursions. With a little instruction, they can learn that minds do what minds do, and that’s OK. They’re going to wander. Get used to it! But, they also need to be instructed to celebrate their recognizing it and returning to the meditative focus. This instruction produces reward for recognizing that the mind has wandered making it more likely that it will be recognized again and sooner. If beginners were simply given this much simple instruction their meditation practice will be much more enjoyable and productive and they’ll be much less likely to give up the practice.


Beginning meditators are frequently told that they should quiet the mind but are never instructed as to exactly what that means. They often confuse a quiet mind with a total blank, believing that a quiet mind is one without content. If they are simply instructed that they are to quiet the internal chatter, not everything. There’ll still be sounds, sights, odors, touches, etc. But when the mind is quiet there is no verbal commentary accompanying them. They are simply observing these stimuli as they are without categorization, judgment, labelling, reflection on past stimuli, or projections as to the future course of the stimuli. That’s a quiet mind. But few beginners are taught this. A completely blank mind can and will happen later in practice, but only after the mind has been quieted, not stopped. If beginning meditators were simply provided instruction about what is their goal and what a quiet mind is actually like their meditation practice will be much more enjoyable and productive.


A very important instruction for beginners is to warn them about the troubling kinds of thoughts and memories that often spontaneously arise during meditation. People come with the misconception that meditation will help them escape from their problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, meditation does the exact opposite, forcing the meditator to confront their issues. The strength here is that meditation is a wonderful occasion to begin to deal with these issues. But, often the thoughts or memories are overwhelming. Proper instruction is needed on how to work with issues gradually, avoiding delving too deeply too soon. At retreats, there are always boxes and boxes of tissues available for the inevitable copious tears shed by some of the participants as they are dealing with deeply troubling issues. Yes, in meditation you try to quiet the mind. But, in that relaxed quiet state, powerful, highly emotionally charged thoughts and memories are likely to emerge. The practitioner needs proper instruction beforehand of the likelihood of this happening and how to deal effectively with it. Knowing that this is normal, healthy, and part of the process, helps immeasurably to lessen the impact of these thoughts and memories on the individual and increases the likelihood that they can be effectively resolved. At times, professional therapeutic intervention may be needed. Once again, if this is understood ahead of time, the individual is more likely to seek assistance.


Meditation practice can also produce some troubling experiences beyond unmasking deep psychological issues. These are rarely presented or discussed with people before engaging in meditation. Not the least of these experiences are awakening experiences themselves. These can occur at any time and even to beginners. If they are not properly understood, they can lead to sometimes devastating consequences. These experiences are so powerful and unusual that they can be misinterpreted. Awakening experiences have been misdiagnosed as psychotic breaks and the individual placed on powerful drugs and/or institutionalized. There are no systematic studies of the extent of this problem, but a number of psychiatrists who meditate and understand awakening experiences have said that it is quiet extensive. At the very least, the individual may believe that they are losing their sanity or as one has said, “I just got used to the idea that occasionally I would have just one of those days.” This is one of the reasons why the Dalai Lama insists that beginners study first, so they can recognize what is happening to them if and when these experiences arise.


Meditation practice can sometimes produce energetic states that can vary in intensity, location, and duration. If and when these occur, they are usually quite surprising and unexpected. Many practitioners never experience these states or only experience very mild energy states. But, for those that do, if they have no prior instruction they can readily misinterpret them. They are sometimes called Kundalini energy states and involve energy focused in specific parts of the body or overall. They can feel like nervousness, tension, or almost like electrical currents flowing through the body and can produce spontaneous and undirected movements. These can be minor or overwhelmingly intense and can last from a few days to years. With these states sleep can be quite difficult and the individual may go days at a time without any sleep whatsoever. These energy states are usually found to be aversive and difficult to cope with. If the practitioner hasn’t been instructed about these states, they may seek out medical help. Unfortunately, the medical professions are not trained to recognize these states and often prescribe powerful anxiolytic drugs that can stupefy the individual but not affect the energies. Monasteries and major retreat centers are often equipped to recognize and treat these energies states. But, the vast majority of meditators and meditation instructions are completely devoid of an understanding of Kundalini energies. A little prior study and instruction can go a long way toward preventing misinterpretations and getting assistance from experienced teachers.


Another state that can be produced by awakening experiences has been termed as the “dark night of the soul.” After awakening there is, almost inevitably, a honeymoon period of happiness and bliss. But this is frequently followed by an aversive state that has been described as a spiritual desert. These have been reported by awakened individuals throughout the centuries, including the Christian and Sufi mystics and saints, Buddhist masters, and everyday practitioners. In these states the individual loses interest in life and seemingly has no motivation to do virtually anything. They feel emotionally dry and lament the loss of what they call the juice of life. Everything is flat and the individual often becomes deeply depressed. This dark night can last for months or years. To deal with dark nights the individual needs sophisticated instruction from accomplished teachers. No preparatory instruction will help to stop or prevent this from occurring. But, with proper instruction the individual can be better prepared to understand what is happening to them and what to expect in the future. This again can prevent misinterpretation and consequent maladaptive responses and harmful consequences.


At this point it should be clear why the Dalai Lama is so insistent upon extensive study and instruction prior to engaging in meditation. It can prevent potential negative reactions and consequences to some of the unexpected consequences of meditation. It has been my experience that the less instruction a person has prior to engaging in meditation the greater the likelihood that problems occur and the greater the likelihood of them being misinterpreted and counterproductive and even damaging responses occurring. So, study about meditation, work with an experienced teacher, and prepare yourself ahead of time before getting deeply involved in meditation practice. If you do, the rewards can be maximized and the pitfalls minimized, making practice productive and potentially profoundly altering.


The issues discussed above can seem off putting. You may be asking yourself if it makes any sense at all to engage in a meditation practice with all these potential problems. The answer is a resounding yes. The amazing benefits of meditation practice on your psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual health make it well worth the effort. In fact, it has the potential to change you in profound ways for all of existence. The above caveats should be taken as indicators that study and guidance should be undertaken and that meditation should be practiced with understanding of what to expect both good and bad ahead of time. These warnings are important but should not be taken a stop signs, only caution signs. Know what you’re getting into, be prepared, and then reap the extraordinary benefits.


It’s a kind of re-birth.  The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die.  What dies is the egoic sense of self.  Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died there – only an illusory identity.  Now it is probably the case that some people who’ve gone through this transformation realized that they had to go through that, in order to bring about a spiritual awakening.  Often it is part of the awakening process, the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.” – Eckhart Tolle
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


What’s Wrong with Meditation 1 – Expectations

Image result for misconceptions of meditation

What’s Wrong with Meditation 1 – Expectations


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“When you meditate, whether you know it or not, you unconsciously setup expectations or conditions. This starts off simple enough. You expect to relax, you expect to release tension from your muscles or core, you expect to find some relief from your day-to-day concerns etc. These expectations, although they may be subconscious and we aren’t aware of them, they are there and often feed the babbler. More so, they greatly limit the depth of meditation you will experience. For the novice, it can make the difference of finding yourself frustrated half way through your meditation because you are dissatisfied that you are not relaxing as much as you had hoped or expected. So by default your session has ended or ironically created more frustration and self-disappointment.” – Eric Pepin


How many time have I heard people say, “I tried meditation, but I can’t do it,” or “I tried meditation, but it scared me,” or “I stopped meditating since it didn’t seem to be going anywhere,” or “It’s against my religion to engage in a heathen practice.” These statements are reflective of the large numbers of people who could benefit from meditation but refuse to try it, abandon the practice, or feel that they failed at the practice and abandoned it. All of these statements reflect the prevailing misconceptions and misunderstandings about meditation.


I believe that there are three essential problems with the way meditation has been presented in the west that have produced problems, misconceptions, and misunderstandings. First, meditation has been presented in a way that has evoked beliefs, ideas, and images that are overly idealized and not reflective of the typical experiences of meditation practice. Secondly, immediately jumping into meditation practice has been encouraged, without the provision for proper background information, study, or instruction. Lastly, the jargon used to describe the process, experiences, obstacles, and results is extreme, evoking images and expectations that far exceed normal experience.


These three problems set up expectations about what the meditator is supposed do and what should be experienced. Unfortunately, that is simply not what actually occurs. As a result, new practitioners quickly give up the practice as they find that they can’t meditate like their image of what meditation should be, they get overwhelmed by the unexpected and powerful psychological issues that arise, sometime precipitating negative consequences, or they are thoroughly disappointed as they discover the promised benefits are subtler than they were led to believe. I’ll admit it, that I was a victim of inaccurate expectations and I’d be willing to bet that at the beginning of a meditation practice most westerners also have them.


The media, including print, video, books, and the internet have presented idealized images of meditation, including blissfully meditating people in serene settings. They are presented on the seashore, on mountain tops, at waterfalls, in gorgeous temples, in meditation groups populated by extremely attractive young people, and even floating in the clouds. Just do a google search on meditation pictures and this is what you’ll find. These can be wonderful settings, except perhaps clouds, but are not the usual or even common setting where meditation occurs. Meditation not only doesn’t require this it actually distorts reality. For example, the meditation hall in one of the first meditation centers in the U.S., the San Francisco Zen Center, is located at street level on a noisy, busy city street.


Establishing a relatively quiet place to meditate is helpful, but meditation can occur virtually anywhere. I frequently meditate while sitting at the gate at an airport waiting for my flight to board, while in flight, or in a car when I’m a passenger on a long trip. When the weathers nice I like to meditate in my back yard, with the breeze blowing, with noise from traffic barking dogs, and planes passing overhead prevalent. In fact, I find meditation in real-world settings to be particularly beneficial. After all, meditation is useful only to the extent that it transfers to the real world. If meditation only produced effects that only occurred in a quiet room, it wouldn’t be very useful. For meditation effects to transfer to real life, what psychologists call generalization, then the more similar the meditation environment is to the real world, the better. It can be difficult to meditate with all the hubbub and distraction of the real world, but you can learn more, practicing observing without judgment when there’s lots present that you normally judge.


The media also presents images of meditating people in perfect lotus posture, with serene, peaceful, and blissful expressions. But, meditation is rarely blissful. It’s wonderful when it is. But, this is the rare exception, not the rule. For that matter it’s rarely peaceful and serene. Once again, it’s great on the rare occasions when it is, but this is not the usual experience. Meditation is often chaotic, sometimes stressful, sometimes troubling, but, if you take an open attitude, it’s always beneficial. That is not to say that meditation does not bring serenity, happiness, and occasional bliss. It does. But, not at first and not with every meditation. These states grow over time. I had people commenting about how I’d changed before I even realized it myself. Be patient. It will happen.


Also, very few meditators can comfortably maintain a lotus position. Most find that they are better off sitting in a chair, kneeling with a bench, sitting with a back-jack, or with their feet up in a recliner. We’re taught that getting too comfortable promotes sleepiness and therefore erect sitting postures on a mat are preferred. What is not taught is how excruciating painful these postures can be and how pain is not conducive to meditation. The truth is, each individual needs to experiment to find what works best for them and discard the media’s image of what should be. Meditation is best when the individual is alert but comfortable. Every individual needs to find the position and posture that produces this state of alert comfort best for them.


One of the most frequent misunderstandings is that meditation produces a quiet mind. This is generally what is taught and expected with meditation. It’s true with continued practice the mind does settle down and occasionally becomes quiet. But, again, this is not the typical experience, particularly for new meditators. I have frequently asked groups of people who are not practiced meditators to simply try to close their eyes and count breaths while concentrating on their breathing for two minutes. They are often astounded to find that they can’t do this. Within a brief time after beginning their minds wander. I point out to them that they were unable to control their mind even for two minutes. It’s important that the beginning meditator should take note that they can’t control their mind and reflect upon the fact that their notions of control are delusions. They are not in control at all. This is eye opening. It is rarely taught to the beginning meditator, but is perhaps the most important teaching of all before entering into a meditation practice. You can learn from looking at what the mind does rather than trying to quiet it and getting frustrated. You can learn a great deal from the so called “monkey mind.” Fighting it is doomed to failure. Instead watch it and learn. Learn that you are not your mind!


It is important that we teach the realities of meditation rather than the ideal. Beginning meditators need to be instructed not to expect to be able to control their minds, but to relax, learn from the internal chaos, don’t fight it and don’t invite it in, just observe it. Don’t worry about perfect posture and position. Explore what works best that produces a state of sustainable alert comfort. Don’t only meditate in quiet comfortable surroundings. Rather, meditate where you are when reflective time is available. It doesn’t have to be for a fixed period of time. Again, experiment and find what works and don’t be afraid to change it. Think of meditation practice as an experiment with one participant. See how it goes, keep what works, and change what doesn’t. Finally, leave expectation at the door. See for yourself. Be open. Let it flow. The benefits will come but only when you stop trying to make them happen.


 “‘It is hard to have a balanced view when the media is full of articles attesting to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. We need to be aware that reports of benefits are often inflated … whereas studies that do not discover significant benefits rarely pick up media interest, and negative effects are seldom talked about.” – Catherine Wikholm


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


What to Look for in Meditation

“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.” – Deepak Chopra –

Over the last week we’ve posted descriptions of meditation and a few meditative techniques. (see below). Today we will discuss what you should look for and explore in meditation.

Meditation is much more complex than it appears on the surface. Beneath the calm resting outward demeanor of the meditator a storm can be raging. If you have tried meditation at all then you’re well aware of this. I love the ocean metaphor of meditation. On the surface there may be storms and turbulence, but go just a few yards below the surface and everything is calm, peaceful, and deep. This is how you should view meditation. Let the storms rage on the surface, but look into the depths.

One of the first things that you should notice in your meditation is the fact that no matter how hard you try the mind wanders off, not just a few times, but repeatedly meditation after meditation, day after day, week after week, etc. There is a tremendous insight here just waiting to be noticed and that is that you cannot control your mind. When given a very simple task to do, simply follow the breath, perhaps with counting, over a very brief period of time, you find that it is almost impossible to do. Reflect on this fact. It is very important and the beginning of the wisdom that emerges from meditation.

Think about it; you cannot control your mind! An implication of this is that it is not under your control. Well, then who or what is controlling it? After a while it begins to dawn on you that the mind is simply the operation of the brain, a biological entity that has been programmed by experience and the genes. Viewing the mind is no different than viewing a computer screen and the operation of this very complex electronic entity. When you’re meditating, you’re just watching your internal computer doing its thing.

Look then at what you’re trying to do when you attempt to control your mind in meditation. You’re asking your mind to control your mind. You’re trying to use an uncontrollable entity to control an uncontrollable entity. No wonder you repeatedly fail. You’re watching the uncontrollable surface of the ocean. You need to go deeper!

Note that we’ve been saying that you cannot control the mind, that you’re watching your own biological computer at work, and that you need to go deeper. Look at this statement. Think about it. What is the “you” that is trying to control, that is looking, that is trying to go deeper. Think about Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment“ and ask yourself what is it that’s paying attention. In fact as who or what is doing the asking.

It should be becoming evident that there is something much deeper than the mind. The mind is just the surface turbulence. The true “you” is simply aware of all this froth. It is not the froth. It is the ocean of awareness. Later you’ll come to see that the ocean of awareness also contains the surface and the whitecaps. But for now, separate them and look simply at what’s looking, what’s hearing, what’s feeling, what’s noticing the thoughts. Spend time in meditation just doing this. Look for what’s looking.

You’ll note that you can’t find what’s looking. It’s like a camera trying to take a picture of itself, a microphone trying to hear itself. What you can do is get a sense of it. You can feel its presence by noting that no matter what is going on, its calm presence is always there simply observing, being aware. Note that it is just watching and aware of the present moment. It’s just aware of sights, sounds, feelings, thoughts, rising up and falling away, coming and going. This is what you should be looking for in meditation; not what’s being perceived, but what’s doing the perceiving. When you are able to do this you are now becoming aware of what the “you” truly is, what “you” really are.

Abide there! Spend time there, even though your mind takes you away again and again, hundreds of times. Just keep coming back. Be entranced and amazed by the presence that is your true self.

“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in eternal awareness or pure consciousness.” – Swami Sivananda

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/

In prior posts we discussed the preliminaries for meditation


, http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/21/beginning-meditation-1-preliminaries-2/,

and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/22/beginning-meditation-getting-started-1-positions/

Breath Meditation http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/23/208/

and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/24/beginning-meditation-getting-started-3-breath-following-2/

Open Monitoring Meditation http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/25/beginning-meditation-getting-started-4-open-monitoring-meditation/

Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) practice http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/26/meditation-techniques-loving-kindness-meditation/

And Body Scan Meditation http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/27/meditation-techniques-body-scan-meditation/

Meditation Techniques – Body Scan Meditation


“It’s amazing to me that simultaneously completely preoccupied with the appearance of our own body and at the same time completely out of touch with it as well.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

In prior posts we discussed Breath Meditation



Open Monitoring Meditation



and Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) practice.



Today we will discuss another meditation technique, Body Scan Meditation. This technique is excellent for bringing present moment awareness to all of the sensations throughout the body. It can help to increase your awareness of precisely how each part of your body is feeling at the present moment. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

Many people go through their day with very little awareness of the feelings and sensations from their bodies. This can be a major problem as these sensations carry important messages. They can reflect your state of health or even reveal emotions that you were unaware were affecting you. It can make you much more aware of when you’re experiencing stress, allowing you to better manage it. It can heighten your awareness of the non-verbal cues that you may be sending others, allowing you to better understand other peoples’ responses to you. As the proverb goes “know thyself” and Body Scan meditation can help.

To begin the meditation lie down on the floor on a mat or pad on stretched out on your back with your hands alongside your body. Gently close your eyes. There will be a tendency to fall asleep during the practice as the deep relaxation takes its toll on your awakeness. Don’t be concerned if you do fall asleep, many people do. But try to “fall awake” and really focus your attention. If you can feel yourself getting very sleepy you might try opening your eyes.

For a couple of minutes just relax and move your attention to the sensations from throughout your body, skin, muscles, joints, and internal organs. Feel the energy of life throughout. Now move your attention to the toes on your right foot. Feel the sensations from your toes, noting any tension, pain or discomfort, but particularly just become aware of everything you feel from your toes. Try to watch your breathing and imagine the air moving into and out of your toes on its way to the lungs with every breath. If you don’t feel anything, don’t worry, just note it and move on.

Now do the same thing for the bottom of your foot, moving your attention to the sensations from the top of your foot and then breathing through it. Take your time and fully appreciate the sensations. Then move on and repeat the process for the bottom of the foot, then the ankle, followed by the lower leg, the knee, the upper leg and thigh, the pelvis, and the hip. The entire process is then repeated for the left leg moving from toes to hip.

After completing the scan of the left hip repeat the process for the abdomen, the lower back, the upper back, the chest, the shoulder blades, the armpits and the shoulders. Then moving on to the sensations from the fingers on both the left and right sides simultaneously, back of the hands, front of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, and upper arms. Then move your attention to the sensations from the neck, the throat, the jaw, the lips, the nose, the cheeks, the ears, the eyes and eyelids, the forehead, the top of your head, and the back of your head.

After completing the scan, just relax like you did in the beginning, feeling the sensations from throughout your body. Just lie there for a few minutes silently enjoying the peace and quiet, with full awareness of your body and all the sensations from all over it. Experience the wonder of your body. Experience the awesome vehicle of your life. Feel the life everywhere throughout. Luxuriate in the sensations and simply enjoy being alive.

There are many variations of the body scan. You might do well to find a guided body scan meditation on the web and use it to guide you initially. But, eventually move on to doing your own body scan as you find it works best for you. Remember that this is a practice and must be repeated on a regular schedule. But if you do, you’ll be amazed at the relaxation and stress relief it brings, the ongoing awareness of the sensations from your body, and the appreciation for your living body.

So, practice the Body Scan meditation and get in touch with your body.

“Through practising body scan awareness meditation, we can greatly reduce the detrimental effects of stress and make our working lives pleasant and enjoyable.” ― Christopher Dines

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Meditation Techniques – Loving Kindness Meditation


In the last posts we discussed beginning meditation practice building up to open monitoring meditation practice.

Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 4 – Open Monitoring Meditation



Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 3 – Breath Following 2


Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 2 – Breath Following 1


Today we will begin to discuss other meditation techniques and practices, starting with Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). This is a simple but very powerful practice. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. This is a seemingly ridiculously simple technique, but research has demonstrated that it is very impactful. This is true even if you are already a kind and compassionate person. Engaging in the practice will further reinforce and enhance it further. (see Loving Kindness Meditation and the Disease of the West http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/loving-kindness-meditation-and-the-disease-of-the-west/

In western culture it is quite common for people to have a negative view of themselves, often feeling inadequate and unworthy or simply disliking themselves. So, for westerners, practicing loving kindness to themselves is particularly important. It is essential that we learn to be kind and compassionate toward ourselves. This is the foundation for honest and sincere kindness and compassion for others. So, pay particular attention to and carefully practice LKM toward the self.

LKM starts exactly like every meditation in a comfortable posture with the eyes lightly closed. Begin whatever meditation practice is your current practice and continue for a couple of minutes until you feel calm and focused. Then begin by bringing lovingkindness to yourself. Envision a time when you felt completely loved and accepted. Let yourself fully engage in the memory, feeling what it was like, feeling the inner sensations and the ease of well-being. Once you have this fully present begin slowly and meaningfully to say to yourself while maintaining the lovingkindness feelings:

“May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.”

With each statement use the lovingkindness feelings to reinforce the wish to yourself. Wholeheartedly engage in honestly wishing yourself well and visualize how it would feel to truly be happy, well, safe, and peaceful. Sincerely make these wishes in the unshakable knowledge that you deserve to be happy, well, safe, and peaceful. Repeat the process around three times. But, you can adjust this as you get experience with the meditation to a number that is comfortable and seems appropriate to you.

After completing sending lovingkindness to yourself move on to wishing lovingkindness to others. Start with someone who you are close to and care deeply about. Visualize that person and hold him/her in your heart and repeat the lovingkindness phrases with sincerity, truly wishing them well. Repeat the process around three times.

Now move on again to a person you know who may be going through hard times and difficult challenges. Visualize that person and hold him/her in your heart and repeat the lovingkindness phrases with a heartfelt desire that they feel happy, well, safe, and peaceful. Repeat the process again around three times.

Next move on to someone you know but are not particularly close or have strong feelings about, perhaps a neighbor or a work associate. Visualize that person and hold him/her in your heart and repeat the lovingkindness phrases with a heartfelt desire that they feel happy, well, safe, and peaceful. Visualize that your words actually take effect within that person. Repeat the process again around three times.

Finally comes the most challenging practice. Think of someone who you truly dislike or who has harmed you or simply someone who you have a particularly difficult time with. Visualize that person and hold him/her in your heart and repeat the lovingkindness phrases. See that person as a human being who, like everyone, needs happiness, wellness, safety, and peace. This may be difficult but recognize that for you to be a truly compassionate person you must really want everyone to be well, unconditionally.  Repeat the process again around three times.

Depending upon the length of your meditation you may repeat this whole process by going back to wishing happiness, wellness, safety, and peace to yourself, to a loved one, to someone in need, to a neutral person, and again to a disliked person.

There are many variations of the lovingkindness words. Find a set that feels comfortable, natural, and real for you, a set that you can repeat without having to think about it or search memory for the exact words. In fact the actual words don’t matter. It is the engagement in wishing well and really feeling it that is most important.

Try this practice. You may be amazed at how good it makes you feel and how much it alters your view and approach toward yourself and others. Remember that it is a practice and has to be engaged in repeatedly over time to be effective.

So, practice lovingkindness meditation and strengthen your compassionate nature.

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 4 – Open Monitoring Meditation


In the last two posts we discussed breath meditation practice.






Today we will discuss open monitoring meditation. This is the next logical step in the development of your practice. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

We left off with following the breath meditation practice. As we moved from counting every inbreath and every outbreath to silently following the sensations associated with breathing we moved from a very focused task with internal speech (counting) to a silent, much more unfocused, task of attending to all of the body sensations associated with breathing. The idea is to remove the mind from the process and thereby let the mind quiet.

Open monitoring meditation goes one step further. In this practice we open up our awareness to everything that we’re experiencing regardless of its origin. We still pay attention to the sensations associated with breathing but open it up further to all bodily sensations, including the feelings from the skin of touch, coldness or hotness, the pressure exerted by gravity on our rear ends sitting on the chair or cushion, tingling sensations on the skin and elsewhere, sensations from muscles and joints, sensations of balance and body position, the subtle feeling of our heart beating with the consequent blood pressure surges, and the feelings from our internal organs such as from our stomachs, bowels, bladder, etc.

In addition, we open up our awareness and pay attention to external stimuli, sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. Even with our eyes closed we can perceive visual stimulation, some due to light penetrating the eyelids and some due to spontaneous activity in the neural systems underlying vision. In open monitoring meditation we let it all into awareness and don’t try to focus on any one thing or exclude anything.

The openness extends to thoughts. Although we don’t try to engage in thinking, thoughts will inevitably arise anyway. In open monitoring meditation we don’t try to stop them. We just watch them rising up and falling away. As a friend remarked we let them in the front door and out the back and don’t serve them tea! We don’t judge them or censure ourselves for having them, no matter what their content. We just observe them and let them go.

There’s a lot going on and it is impossible to take it all in at once. You just let it happen. Let attention go where it may. But, don’t hold onto anything. Just let it naturally flow. Don’t try to pay attention to one thing or another. Just let whatever captures attention capture it and allow it to shift whenever it does. Don’t judge the experiences that you have as pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad, right or wrong, interesting or dull. Just experience them as they are.

As Adyashanti likes to say, we simply “let everything be as it is.” This sounds simple but it is devilishly difficult. The mind easily drifts away and our mind wanders. There is nothing to hold it, nothing to entertain it, so it wanders away. This meditation involves frequent mind wandering. This is different than simply watching the thoughts. You’ve been taken away by your thought and aren’t watching them, you’ve become them. But, don’t worry. This is what happens normally and to some extent will continue even after years of practice. When you notice this happening, just gently return to your open awareness feeling grateful for reentering a peaceful state.

Be patient, slowly but surely, the mind wandering will happen less and less often for shorter and shorter periods and open monitoring will increase in duration. All of the mind activity will slowly dissipate and you’ll open up to a beautiful, peaceful, quiet experience.

After you’ve completed the proscribed length of the meditation again review your experience. Ask yourself what thoughts arose and why. It may be as simple as some sight or sound captured your attention and the mind followed, dwelled on it, and free associated to it. But often there are repeating themes that can be seen as indicative of your wants and needs or unresolved issues. It can be very illuminating to follow up on these. Ponder them for they can be very revealing.

Often during the meditation you will begin to go deep into the experience when suddenly the mind takes over and tries to control the experience. This sometimes occurs with an overt sensation of fear. Take a careful look at this. The mind may be acting as if it’s threatened and doesn’t want you to proceed further. This is a wonderful indicator that you’re really making progress. You may not think so, but it is. Deep, deep, meditative states are often resisted by the mind. When this happens take it as a sign that you’re on the right track.

The mind will often subtly silently take control and direct your attention to one thing or another. It takes some experience to detect the difference from true free open experience and that directly silently behind the scenes by the mind. You may think that you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be. The mind can be tricky. Stay with your practice and persevere. These mind takeovers will occur less and less often.

Practice open monitoring meditation and begin to see things simply as they are.


Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 3 – Breath Following 2


In the last post we discussed breath meditation practice as a beginning point for the development of meditation.



Today we will discuss breath meditation further and suggest some next steps. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

After you feel comfortable with counting the breaths on both the inhale and the exhale, the next step is to just count on the exhale and do not count on the inhale. So, it becomes inhale, exhale “one”, inhale, exhale “two”, etc. up to ten and then back to one. This is slightly more difficult than counting on both inhale and exhale as this provides the mind more opportunity to drift off.

You will note that we used the expression when “you feel comfortable with” as opposed to when “you master.” This is because you probably will never completely master any of the practices. That is not the point. The techniques are aides to quieting the mind and they work to a degree. But, the mind is far more out of control than can be tamed by these simple methods. Just look for progress, where the mind becomes quieter than it previously was. Don’t expect to perfect it, or even do it very well, just develop longer periods of quiet over time.

You can probably extrapolate what the next step should be after you become comfortable with counting the outbreaths only. You begin to just follow the breathing without counting at all. In this practice you try to pay close and continuous attention to all of the sensations associated with breathing. You pay attention to the movement of you belly, diaphragm, and chest as they expand and contract. You pay attention to the sensations of the air moving through your nostrils and windpipe. It’s simply paying attention to all of the sensations arising from the process of breathing. You can even take note of how the sensations in your belly arise and fall and then for a moment disappear only to reappear shortly after.

This like all of the preceding practices is focused, but there is now a wider focus on the entire process of breathing and all of the sensations arising from throughout the body as you breathe. This is even more difficult to maintain. At the beginning there is a lot to occupy the mind, but as you continue the mind gets bored and inevitably drifts away. As we tell everyone, be prepared to fail. This form of meditation is a continuous process of focus, mind wandering, detecting that the mind has wandered away and a return to focus.

Don’t feel bad. This is what happens to everyone. Just look for a slow increase in the amount of time you are focused and a decrease in the time spent mind wandering. This can take a while, sometimes many weeks. But, if you stick with it, it will happen. It is sometimes a good strategy when your mind is busy and focus is difficult to return to the previous practice of counting the breaths for a brief period to regain focus and then go back to simply following the sensations of breathing.

At the end of each session, spend a few minutes reviewing what you have just experienced. You can note as before that is extremely difficult to control your mind. Look though at what you’re trying to do. You’re asking your mind to control your mind. You’re trying to use an uncontrollable entity to control an uncontrollable entity. No wonder you repeatedly fail.

Eventually in meditation practice you will need to completely give up trying to control the mind. But, this is for a later practice. For now, do the best you can trying to quiet the wild creature that you call your mind.



Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 2 – Breath Following 1


 “Meditation is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body. Like exercise, there are many good ways to do it and you can find the one that suits you best.” – Rick Hanson.

 In the last post we discussed some thoughts on various meditation positions to use in beginning meditation.


Today we will discuss what meditation technique you should use in starting out with practice. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

 “The best meditation of all is . . . the one you will do.” – Rick Hanson.

There are literally thousands of meditation techniques and it can be very confusing sorting out which are best for you. We recommend, though, that you start out with a very simple form of focused meditation; following the breath. Later we encourage you to explore some of the other forms of meditation to discover what works best for you and your particular goals. We’ll be discussing some of the other techniques in future posts.

Keep in mind that the most fundamental goal of meditation is to quiet the mind, to quiet the incessant internal voice that is constantly giving instructions, criticizing, planning, ruminating, and just simply jabbering in a repetitive and persistent fashion. The basic idea is to reduce this implicit speech, quieting the mind so that everything else that is here in the present moment becomes much more aware.

Following the breath is a great way to begin. It is simple, yet it can be very effective. The mind is always looking for something to do. Following the breath gives it something to do and can thus be of great assistance in quieting the mind. Later, you should begin to withdraw from giving the mind even this simple task to do as doing this tends to reinforce the mind’s belief that it can control everything and the implicit speech that is doing the counting. But, for now, we can use it against itself.

The breath is always there. So it can be used as a meditative anchor regardless of what else may be going on, where you are, or the state of your body. It is obvious and thus doesn’t take any special ability to notice and follow it. Even when you’re a very advanced meditator starting a meditation following the breath is helpful in centering and moving into another form of meditation or when concentration drifts, as it inevitably will, the breath provides a wonderful reentry point to transition back to the current meditation.

To begin a focused breath meditation, sit in your preferred posture, in a quiet place, and close your eyes and relax. Let your breathing be natural. Do not try to control it. Your task will be simply to watch it. Every time you breathe in or breathe out count, starting at one and continuing up to ten. Breathe in count “one”, breathe out count “two”, breathe in count “three”, breathe out count “four”, etc. until you get to “ten” then return to “one and begin again. That’s all you do. It’s that simple.

As you continue this simple task, your experience will be a revelation! You will inevitably find that very quickly your mind drifts away from counting the breaths and engages in all kinds of thoughts, perhaps plans for the future of reviewing the past or in response to some event in the immediate environment. Regardless, you mind drifts away from its designated task. When that happens, as it often will, and you recognize that your mind has drifted off, simply return to counting the breaths, either picking up where you left off or starting again at “one”.

It is important that you don’t feel recriminations for going off task. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Understand that this is normal and happens to everyone, even experienced meditators. Instead, congratulate yourself on detecting it and return to you object of focus, the breath. Gently go back to counting the breath, feeling good that you’re returning.

Don’t be surprised if you lose concentration before you can even get to finish the first ten. Don’t be surprised if this happens over and over again. It will and it will for many meditations to come. Just know that this is the natural course of meditation and is perfectly normal.

Continue the meditation, following the breath, drifting off, going back to the breath, drifting off, going back to the breath etc. until the allotted time is over.

Following the meditation it is useful not to immediately get up and resume your day but to spend a few minutes reflecting upon what you have just experienced. There is a tremendous insight just waiting to be noticed; you cannot control your mind. Given the task to control your mind performing a very simple task over a very brief period of time, you find that it is almost impossible to do. Reflect on this fact. It is very important and the beginning of the wisdom that emerges from meditation.

In the next post, we’ll discuss the next steps in developing your meditation.


Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 1 – Positions


Meditation allows us to directly participate in our lives instead of living life as an afterthought.” ~Stephen Levine


In the last couple of posts we presented some thoughts on things to consider prior to beginning meditation.



Today we will discuss finding a comfortable position for meditation. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

It is essential for successful meditation that you find a comfortable position that you can maintain throughout the meditation period. It shouldn’t be so comfortable that you’re liable to fall asleep, or so uncomfortable or painful that you can’t relax and pay attention to something else other than the pain or how uncomfortable you are. You should adopt a position that you can sustain comfortably and pain free for the entire duration of your practice. Keep in mind that being a little uncomfortable at the beginning may be OK as you’ll adapt to it and it will get more comfortable as you continue practice. But, don’t endure pain. Back off if it hurts.

Sitting cross legged on a cushion on the floor or a meditation pad (lotus or half-lotus position) can be challenging for many. If you can do it comfortably then this is the position that you should use as it is a highly recommended position for meditation. See http://horakuan.net/zazen/ for descriptions of the various positions. Here is a link to an excellent video entitled “How to Sit For Meditation – Meditation Postures” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlVpirusD0M

But we recommend that you don’t adopt this position initially if it is not comfortable. You can work on it later. But, many people will either not try meditation or stop after only a few sessions because they find this lotus or half-lotus position too challenging or painful. It is more important to meditate comfortably than to adopt an uncomfortable position even one that is highly desirable and recommended.

Another alternative is a kneeling posture. This is the posture that I personally prefer. It is comfortable for me and it leaves my spine straight and my breathing unrestricted. But, everyone has to find the correct on for their body and flexibility. Here is a link to an excellent video entitled “Using a Meditation Bench” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGzE6BQb1xY. Often people find a kneeling posture difficult to maintain and painful to the knees. It, like all meditation postures requires practice. If it’s not comfortable to you initially, then don’t use it. You can experiment with it later.

For initial practice we like to recommend sitting in a chair. This should not be considered as the position that you stay with forever. Rather, it is a simple place to start. Here is a link to an excellent video entitled “Meditation for Beginners -Sitting on a Chair” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgO6erMHHS0

Regardless find a position in which your spine is straight and the head sitting evenly on top of the spine. It should be like there’s a string hung from the ceiling that goes through the top of your head and without bend continues down the spine to the pelvis. The fewer restrictions there are on your breathing the better. So, try to find a position where the back behind your lungs is free and unrestricted. Better yet are positions where there is nothing touching the back. Try to adopt a position with the neck straight above the spine with the chin tucked in slightly to minimize the strain on the neck. But, most importantly, find a position that you can stay in comfortably for the duration of your meditation session.


Beginning Meditation 1 – Preliminaries 2

Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” – Saint Francis de Sales

In yesterday’s post


we discussed some of the preliminary considerations before initiating a meditation practice. Today, we will discuss some additional considerations. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

It is important in beginning a meditation practice to set aside a place to meditate. Select a single place to meditate. You can meditate outside of this space, but use it for the majority of your practice. It is possible to meditate anywhere. But, I recommend that to begin with you pick a quiet place where it’s unlikely that you’ll be interrupted. By having a quiet consistent place there are fewer distractions and it becomes easier for your mind to settle.

In you meditation space learning will occur. The objects, sounds, smells and feel of the place become associated with your meditation. Conditioning will happen slowly and unconsciously. If your meditations are pleasant, the stimuli in the space will become associated with that pleasantness such that as soon as you enter the room you begin to feel good and relax. Even the meditative state becomes associated with the space and in this familiar place you more easily quiet the mind and slip into a peaceful state.

It is important to make meditation pleasant. Don’t set it up at a time and place that is uncomfortable or rushed. There are some forms of meditation that suggest that you must endure and withstand discomfort to progress. I don’t subscribe to that notion. Progress occurs more readily when you’re comfortable, relaxed, and relatively pain free. So, decide in advance that you’ll make it pleasant and not make it a physical challenge or an endurance test. If you are uncomfortable or in pain during meditation then you should consider changing something, perhaps shortening the time of meditation or changing your position or posture. We’ll discuss this in a later post.

There are often questions as to whether it is better to meditate in a group (class, sangha) or alone. I find that it’s useful to do both if possible. I recommend that you start off alone and establish the practice. Starting off in a group can be difficult as you’re often immersed with experienced practitioners who will meditate for longer than you’re presently comfortable. A group or class with beginners like yourself could be a good place to start. But, it is often difficult to locate an appropriate one. So, for most people it is best to start off by yourself until you feel comfortable with meditation.

Later finding a meditation group that you can sit with on occasions can be very beneficial. This should not replace your daily practice alone but rather should supplement and support it. When you’re ready the group can be of great assistance in your progress. The support and companionship of others on the same path can be a tremendous help. Interacting with others can reveal that they are struggling with the meditation as much as you are and can make you feel more comfortable with your own experiences. There is also a subtle group pressure that can provide extra motivation to keep you practicing. In addition, there can be great power and energy produced by the group that can subtly, positively, and unconsciously affect your meditation and experience.

A final note in preparation for beginning your meditation practice, it is helpful to begin reading about meditation. Select some good books written by teachers and experienced practitioners and spend a few minutes each day reading. Meditation can produce some unexpected twists and turns and sometimes it can be psychological and physically troubling. Reading prepares you for the journey by learning in advance the kinds of things you might experience. Hearing of others experiences can also be helpful in coming to understand that what you’re experiencing is not unusual but shared with many meditators.

Now you’re ready to begin your meditation.