Saturday, September 28, 2019

Aspects of Meditation



This article is an overview of my most current views on meditation. Detailed instructions on how to meditate can be found on my meditation web page.

It can be helpful to be aware of these aspects of meditation:

  • Relaxation - Letting go of stress and unpleasant emotions.
  • Concentration - Staying lucid.
  • Half-smile - Relaxing meditation may feel so pleasant it makes you want to meditate with a half-smile. Smiling can unleash your natural state of happiness.
  • Surrender - When you stop fighting against your emotions you may feel a new sense of freedom.
  • Practice in Daily Life - Practice in daily life to reinforce and maintain the benefits of meditation throughout the day.
  • Diet - Meditation depends on the brain. The brain has to have the right nutrients to function well.

Relaxation

You can get a lot more out of a meditation session if you do relaxation exercises before you meditate. Below are some relaxation exercises that are very effective when done in combination. These relaxation exercises can help you become very relaxed and put you in a pleasant relaxed mood. They can turn off the body's response to stress. When you deeply relax, you may find that unpleasant emotions disappear.

  1. Progressive muscular relaxation - Move each part of the body five or ten times. This can be done, standing, sitting, or lying down depending on the movements you use.

  2. Hypnotic induction - Mentally relax each part of the body making it feel "relaxed and heavy".

  3. Visualize each color of the spectrum Visualization produces theta brainwaves. You may feel yourself becoming more and more relaxed with each visualization.

Do these exercises in order. Exercises #2 and #3 can be done sitting but are most effective if done lying down. After #3, count ten breaths and repeat from #2.

When you are deeply relaxed and feel like you are floating or are in the hypnogoic state (experiencing vivid imagery and it is hard to concentrate for more than a few seconds),  you may feel yourself shift into a pleasant mood and find that unpleasant emotions have disappeared. Sometimes this happens automatically - you may feel a wave of relaxation flowing through you. Other times if you open your eyes and look around noticing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you breathe in a relaxing way, and half-smile, focusing on the pleasant feeling may shift you into a pleasant relaxed mood.

Spend a few minutes letting the pleasant relaxed mood stabilize.

  • Relaxation can cause you to let go of unpleasant emotions. Relaxation puts your mind and body in a suitable condition for the next steps.

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Concentration

Count the breath. The right level of concentration is important. Too much interferes with relaxation, too little and the wandering mind will prevent relaxation and everything else about meditation. When your mind is very quiet, you may stop counting and just notice the breath if you prefer. Concentration helps you to stay lucid.

  • Concentration quiets a turbulent mind and produces a state of peace, non-attachment and equanimity.
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Half-smile

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, "... practice breathing with a half-smile. You will feel great joy.". If you don't understand this, try it and see what happens. But too much joy can be tedious. You can learn to adjust it to just "pleasant". Smiling in meditation is not a forced smile, the feeling of relaxation during meditation is pleasant and should make you want to smile - like resting in a hammock on a warm summer's day, or slipping into a warm jacuzzi.

Smiling releases pleasant feelings, observing them produces a feedback loop in the brain generating more pleasant feelings. At first it may be interesting to experience a high intensity of these feelings. In time that may become tedious and you can learn to tone them down to a relaxed pleasant mood by balancing (reducing them not eliminating them) them with more relaxation and concentration.

In fact, intense states of bliss not really necessary, simply practicing this relaxing meditation can produce the same pleasant relaxed state. By practicing getting into and maintaining this state during meditation, you can learn to maintain this relaxed pleasant state during daily life when you are not meditating.

  • Relaxing meditation produces a pleasant relaxed mood characterized by feelings of compassion, good will, aversion to harming other people or other living things, and an absence of ill will.
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Surrender

Surrender is a way to let go of unpleasant emotions. Surrender is the feeling you get when you realize you are trying to ignore or suppress an unpleasant emotion and you relax and stop resisting it. You stop fighting it.

  • You let yourself feel the emotion. You let it express itself in your body without letting it take over your mind. You observe the sensations in the body that comprise it.

  • You allow your conscious mind to recognize the emotion. You acknowledge unpleasant truths and let yourself think the thoughts you have been trying to ignore.

  • You understand that you can't control everything in life and you accept with equanimity that things you don't like will happen.

  • You use other aspects of meditation: relaxation, concentration, half-smile, practice in daily life, etc., to produce and maintain a pleasant relaxed state of mind which makes it easier to release unpleasant emotions by counterbalancing some of the unpleasant feelings that may occur when releasing emotions.

Surrender means you are lucid with respect to your emotional state. When you are angry, you know "This is anger, this is what it feels like, this is how it affects my mind." The same is true for other emotions, anxiety, sadness, etc. Being conscious of emotions helps to prevent them from taking over your mind. From repeated observations, you learn what emotions are and how they come and go and this helps to make it easier to let go of them.

If surrender does not eliminate an emotion entirely, it may change the emotion from an unpleasant experience to a neutral sensation in the body.

Surrender is not just a thing to do, it is an attitude for daily life. By surrendering to unpleasant emotions that may arise, you can also learn to keep the surrender attitude even if you are not feeling anything unpleasant.

The attitude of surrender is letting go of identity view. Surrender means you relinquish the need to defend your ego (your "self"). Unpleasant emotions occur when an ego attachment is threatened. An ego attachment is something you consider you or yours. It can be something close to you like your beliefs, or it can be something somewhat distant like your favorite rock band. Not defending your ego does not mean you ignore problems. It is not referring to physical action it is referring to psychological defense against unpleasant emotions. It means that if you stop fighting against emotional pain, if you do not need to defend your ego, you can decide what to do about problems using logic and compassion without selfish emotions clouding your judgment.

Surrender also means you don't have to be perfect. This includes being perfect at spiritual practices. Having an attitude of surrender means you don't have to perfect at surrendering. It means you don't have to be perfectly non-attached. You don't have to have perfect concentration. You don't have to be perfectly relaxed. You don't have to filled with joy all the time. It means you don't have to have perfect equanimity. You will actually increase your equanimity by allowing yourself to have imperfect equanimity.

The pleasant mental state and feelings of compassion, non-attachment, happiness, and good will produced by relaxation, concentration, and a half-smile help you to surrender. When you are happy, you don't want anything. You are self sufficient. You are strong. You don't need to hide from anything. You are emotionally resilient so you don't need to defend yourself emotionally. You can accept reality as it is.

If you practice keeping the attitude of surrender during and after meditation sessions, you will get better and better at it.

It feels very nice to have the heavy responsibility of defending your ego lifted off your shoulders. You do not need to defend your ego.

  • The attitude of surrender is letting go of identity view.

After a session of meditation try to continue doing this practice mindfully during daily activities. If you find life's stresses disturb the pleasant relaxed mood, you can try to meditate to get back into it as soon a it is practical to do so.

One thing nice thing about this practice is that you get benefits (relaxation, elevated mood) from the first time you try it, and over time you get benefits (increased equanimity and compassion) in proportion to the effort you put in.

This practice will cause increases in equanimity, compassion, non-attachment and reduce self-centeredness (freedom from identity-view). These factors may lead to gradual enlightenment.

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Practice in Daily Life

Finding ways to practicing meditation and mindfulness in daily life can help you to reinforce and maintain the benefits of meditation throughout the day: the pleasant relaxed state and feelings of compassion, good-will, non-attachment, and surrender produced by meditation.

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Diet

Meditation depends on the brain. The brain has to have the right nutrients to function well. Metabolism varies from person to person so it is not necessarily possible to describe a diet that will work for everyone. What I say on this subject is not meant to be definate truth, but more of a suggestion for readers to consider if they are experiencing problems. ...

  • It is my opinion (and it is just an opinion - other people may have different experiences that lead to different opinions) that for optimal meditation one should refrain from anything that can affect consciousness: recreational drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine.

  • Sugar and carbohydrates can also be problematical. Too much or too little may result in problems. Different types of carbohydrates (different foods) may have different effects that would vary among individuals. For more information, look into the effects of carbohydrates and protein in the diet on serotonin levels in the brain.

  • I also do not advocate a vegetarian diet - again that is my opinion, others may have a different opinion, but in my experience it does not lead to optimal brain function. I don't mean to imply anyone should stop being a vegetarian, only that I don't advise it or believe it helps meditation or is necessary for spirituality.

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Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Surrender


Surrender is an aspect of letting go of unpleasant emotions. Surrender is the feeling you get when you realize you are trying to ignore or suppress an unpleasant emotion and you relax and stop resisting it. You stop fighting it. You let yourself feel it. You let it express itself in your body without letting it take over your mind. You observe the sensations in the body that comprise it. Surrender often changes the emotion from an unpleasant experience to a neutral sensation in the body.

Surrender is not just a thing to do, it is an attitude for daily life. By surrendering to unpleasant emotions that may arise, you can also learn to keep the surrender attitude even if you are not feeling anything unpleasant. The attitude of surrender is letting go of identity view. Surrender means you relinquish the need to defend your ego (your "self"). If you practice keeping that attitude during and after meditation sessions, you will get better and better at it.

It feels very nice to have the heavy responsibility of defending your ego lifted off your shoulders.


Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Gradual Enlightenment


In The Science of Enlightenment, a book written by Shinzen Young, Shinzen says that people can become enlightened gradually without knowing it.

He writes:

... in my experience as a teacher, enlightenment usually sneaks up on people. Sometimes they don't quite realize how enlightened they've become over time because they have gradually acclimatized to it.

This intrigued me so I searched for more information on it. I found a file on the Shinheads facebook group, (Shinzen Enlightenment Interview.pdf) that discussed this in greater detail and I have quoted the relevant excerpt below.

What Shinzen describes seems to be that the effects of meditating over a long period of time produce the changes in a person that constitute enlightenment, whether you know it or not, whether or not you have the insight reported by people who experience sudden enlightenment. Evidently, being released from the fetter of identity view is not necessarily something that has to be conscious - it does not necessarily require an insight.

If this is the case, then one can simply meditate and not worry about having any particular insight or crossing any particular milestone.

It may be that the key ingredient in sudden enlightenment is not the insight into not-self, but the attitude of non-agency that insight produces. And it's possible that you can get that attitude of non-agency from meditation without the insight into not-self - just by observing how you don't really control your own mind. Every time you are meditating and you notice you are distracted by a stray thought, it is a lesson in how little control you have over your own mind. Over time recognition builds up and gradually sinks in and changes your attitudes and beliefs about reality.

When your sense of agency is reduced, you understand yourself and others better, you start making all sorts of allowances for yourself and others, you stop overreacting, you feel compassion.

You can judge your progress and the effectiveness of your meditation practice by your own observation as to how it helps you to live with increasing equanimity and compassion. If you find your equanimity and compassion are increasing over time, then you are probably doing it right.

Here is the excerpt from Shinzen Enlightenment Interview.pdf

However, for most people who’ve studied with me it doesn’t happen that way. Not suddenly. What does happen is that the person gradually works through the things that get in the way of enlightenment, but so gradually that they might not notice.

You remember that I said in traditional Buddhism it’s very significant that it’s formulated that something passes away and it’s not something that you get? So what typically happens is that over a period of years, and indeed decades, within that person the craving, aversion and unconsciousness -­-the mula kleshas (the fundamental “impurities”), get worked through. Because it’s gradual, they may not realize how much they’ve changed. As the mula kleshas get worked through they suffer less and the fundamental alienation between inside and outside diminishes. But because all this is happening gradually they’re acclimatizing as it’s occurring.

In acclimatizing they may not realize how far they’ve come. However, they often do notice it when “the doo doo hits the fan”. Like a major bereavement, a major illness like cancer, a serious injury, or their life is somehow threatened. Then they notice how everyone around them is freaking out and how much less they’re freaking out. Then the contrast becomes suddenly very evident. That’s when they would tend to notice it. That’s why I like telling the story about the samurai.

“This samurai went to the Zen temple on the mountain and lived there for many years. He didn’t seem to be getting anything out of the practice. So he said to the Master, ‘I think I need to leave. Nothing’s happening as a result of this practice’. So the master said ‘Okay. Go.’

As he was coming down the hill one of his former comrades, a fellow samurai, saw him in the tattered robes of a Buddhist monk –which is equivalent to a glorified beggar from a samurai’s point of view –and he said ‘how could you be so undignified to join the counter-­-culture of Buddhist beggars?’ and he spit on him. Now in the old days the samurais were extremely proud. Any insult to their personal dignity meant a fight to the death. So the monk who had formerly been a samurai just walked on and after he’d walked a certain distance, it occurred to him that not only did he not need to kill this guy, he wasn’t even angry.

As the story goes he turned around and bowed towards the mountain three times where he had practiced. He bowed in his recognition of all that he had worked through. He recognized he no longer needed to kill someone that had offended his dignity. He noticed how fundamentally he had changed as a human being.”

Of course, it’s not just samurai in 16th century Japan. The same things apply to 21st century North Americans. Maybe they’ve been practicing for 10, 20, or 30 years and it doesn’t seem that much has changed. And then something big happens and then they realize how different they’ve become compared to ordinary people. I’ll give you an example that happened just a few weeks ago. Someone who has been coming to retreats for quite a while went to have a biopsy to determine whether they had a serious cancer or not. While waiting for the results this person noticed they weren’t worried. Anyway, it turned out that the biopsy was negative. So all the unnecessary suffering that would’ve happened but didn’t, that was the effect of that person’s years and years of practice. It’s my impression that many more people have that gradual unfolding than have the sudden...



Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Coming and Going


When you meditate and observe the activity of your mind, you see that thoughts, emotions, and impulses arise from the unconscious unasked for, uninvited, they aren't yours. They exist for a time and fade away. They have no substantial existence. They aren't real, they aren't reality. They are illusions.

It can seem like you are just awareness observing.

But you can observe yourself observing.

Then you realize the observer is an illusion too just like any other thought, emotion, or impulse. There is observing but no observer.

When you are trying to solve a problem, figuring something out, it can feel like you are in control of your mind. You are using it intentionally.

But when you observe yourself trying to solve a problem, you see that your intentions are no different from any other thought, emotion, impulse, or "observer". They are not yours, they are illusions too. The feeling of control over your mind is an illusion. There is thinking but no thinker.

The same is true when you are speaking, you feel like you are thinking of what to say, like you are in control of your mind. But when you observe yourself speaking, you see your intentions are illusions too.

The same is true for any intentional activity. There is doing but no doer.

When you are immersed in experience and feeling emotional pain or other discomfort, the unpleasantness seems real. But when you observe yourself having that experience, you see the emotional pain or discomfort and the experiencer are illusions too, just like any thought, emotion, impulse, "observer" or "controlling self" you might observe. There is experiencing but no experiencer.

When you are focused in meditation, you are observing something. When you get distracted and find yourself lost in thought, you are "immersed" in your thoughts. They seem real. The same is true of emotions. You can be immersed in them and they seem real or you can observe them and see they are not yours, not real. The same is true of self. Where ever you find a self, an observer, an entity controlling the mind, a doer, an experiencer, if you observe it, if you understand how all other thoughts emotions and impulses are illusions, you can see that self is an illusion too.

And you can see how the mind creates this illusion, alternating at will between immersion and observation you can create and evaporate the self as you choose.


Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Enlightenment: What is it? And What Causes It?


I have been having discussions on an internet forum where enlightened people hang out, discussing what enlightenment is, the process by which it happens, the effects of awakening, and how awakening produces those effects. With that knowledge, it is possible to understand how different meditation and spiritual practices help cause enlightenment. With the knowledge of how different practices cause enlightenment, each person can choose or develop a practice that works for them - a practice they think they will be able to stick with because it is congenial and meaningful to them.

Based on those discussions I have put together the following:

    Enlightenment Is Giving Up Your Concept of Self

  • The source of unenlightenment is a person's mental model of self that develops in stages from infancy to adulthood. At a certain age an infant develops the ability to recognize objects, later it understands the objects continue to exist even if they are out of sight, later it learns to recognize itself in a mirror - it understands itself as an object, at a later age it understands it can influence the environment around it. Step by step the concept of self is constructed.

    Meditation and Spiritual Practices Help You To Give Up Your Concept of Self

  • Meditation and spiritual practices help produce awakening by helping a person to realize their mental model of self is constructed.


    When You Give Up Your Concept of Self, You Realize You are Just Awareness Observing, You Stop Distinguishing between Self and Not-Self, and You Stop Overreacting to Emotions That have Ego at Their Root.

  • When a person sees how their mental model of self is constructed, it no longer filters their view of reality. They realize they are just awareness observing events in the environment around them and thoughts, emotions, and impulses that arise spontaneously in their mind. And they no longer make a distinction between self and non-self, they feel that there is no distinction between them and the universe and everyone and every creature in it.

    Like the optical illusion below which can be seen as a duck or a rabbit, the new way of seeing reality was there all along, it is just a different way of seeing the same thing.


  • The "suffering" that awakening "cures" is our overreaction to emotions. Awakening does not end emotions it changes our understanding of them in a way that stops us from overreacting to them. We see that emotions arise from the unconscious unasked for, uninvited, they exist for a time and fade away. They have no permanent existence. They are not true, or real or reality. They are subjective, they are illusions.

  • When the mental filter of self is removed, "suffering" is also diminished because the roots of all that overreacting are perceived threats to the self (to the ego) such as being insulted, losing, being embarrassed, not having what someone else has, someone else having what you think should be yours, etc. etc. When the filter of self is absent, there is no ego to react emotionally. The result is a profound equanimity.

    How Meditation and Spiritual Practices Help Free a Person From Their Concept of Self:

  • Practices can help a person to give up their constructed filter of self in various ways:

    • Allowing yourself to feel emotional pain is the way to let go of it and that weakens the ego (the feeling of self). For example, if someone says something nasty and a person relaxes and observes the emotional pain, letting themselves feel all of it without looking the other way, the pain lasts a short time and is gone and they don't feel any need to react defensively or vengefully because their feelings are not hurting them. Like if a child having a temper tantrum says "I hate you", the parent laughs it off. If there is no emotional pain, there is no ego.

      The same applies if you lose in a game or in some competition, if someone makes you feel inferior, if you are embarrassed, in any situation where ego is normally involved. Ego is really a reaction to hurt feelings. If your emotions are not a problem for you, there will be no ego arising.

      When you observe the activity of the mind you are "lucid". Like in a lucid dream where you know you are dreaming, and in a regular dream you think it is real, when you observe the activity of the mind you know you are just observing the activity of the mind, otherwise you are immersed in your thoughts, emotions, and impulses and you think they are real. You can learn to be lucid when ever possible (through sitting meditation and mindfulness in daily life) so that you do not become immersed in thoughts, emotions, and impulses, so that they do not take over your mind. When you are immersed in emotions and they take over your mind, you think the problem is what caused the emotion and you focus on that as a problem needing a solution. When you are lucid, you realize the problem is your overreaction. You can let yourself feel emotional pain (which is how you let go of it) without overreacting or becoming fixated on the external cause of the emotion.

    • Practices that quiet the mind slow down the mental processes and make it possible to see more clearly what is happening in the mind.

    • Practices that induce relaxation can help you let go of emotional pain. When we feel emotional pain, we become tense as the body reacts to stress. Relaxation turns off the body's response to stress reversing one of the effects of emotional pain helping us to let it go.

    • Types of meditation that produce pleasant emotions can help you let go of emotional pain. Pleasant emotions produced by meditation can alleviate emotional pain making you more willing to allow yourself to experience it.

    • Observing the activity of the mind:

      • Can help you notice when emotions are produced by thoughts and that these emotions are accompanied by sensations in the body - tensions which if relaxed helps you to let go of emotions.

      • Helps you see that emotional upsets have ego at their root.

      • Allows you to see that you are just awareness observing thoughts, emotions, and impulses, and events around you. Ordinarily you are immersed in your thoughts, emotions, and impulses. They seem to be reality. Immersion creates an illusion that they are yours, that they are part of you. Particularly if you are thinking - trying to solve a problem, it seems like you are intentionally producing thoughts. But if you observe your mind so that you are not immersed in thoughts, emotions, and impulses, and observe the thoughts, emotions, impulses arising in your mind, you see that they arise from the unconscious, exist for a time and pass away. They are not really you or yours. You are just awareness observing.

      • When you observe everything that appears to your consciousness: sense perceptions, thoughts, emotions, various other kinds of feelings, impulses, and intentions, you may also notice the cause and effect relationships: sense perception - recognition - thought - emotion - impulse - intention - action. If you are immersed in this process, it seems like you are in control. But if you step back and just observe this process, it seems like it goes by itself. You see that when you are immersed, the "self" exists, but when you are just observing, there is no feeling of self. This is how the sense of self is produced and how, by observing the activity of he mind, you can learn to see reality without the filter of self. From this you realize that your inner reality is a creation of the mind and you are no longer attached to your emotions, you see they are not you or yours, and you no longer overreact to them.

      • Shows a person that if they look closely they cannot find a self anywhere they look for it.

      • Helps a person to get closer to a state of consciousness without the mental filter of self.

    • When mental activity is greatly reduced during some types of meditation (for example: concentration meditation, or self-enquiry) , the action of the filter is also greatly reduced and it can help you to see through the filter of self.

  • Each person should choose the type of practice they feel is most congenial and meaningful to them.

    Three aspects you shoulder consider are:

    (These ways of being are not just for meditation sessions but for daily life as well.)

    • Relaxation:
      • Turns off the body's response to stress, the fight or flight response. This prevents some unpleasant emotions like fear and anger from arising.

      • One of the effects of emotional pain is stress. Turning off stress helps us to reverse the effects of emotional pain which helps us to let go of it.

      • Relaxation helps prevent overreactions to emotional pain.

      • Relaxation helps to prevent you from suppressing thoughts and emotions. Suppressing usually involves some type of tension. Relaxing prevents this.

      • The importance of learning to relax should not be overlooked. No practice can guarantee that any particular person will become enlightened, but almost everyone can learn relaxation and experience great benefits from it.

    • When you are lucid:
      • You can relax and allow yourself to feel emotional pain (which is how you let go of it) without overreacting and without becoming distracted by fixation on the external cause of the emotion as a problem needing a solution. Being lucid reduces "suffering" by eliminating emotional overreactions, and it weakens the ego by allowing you to let go of emotional pain.

      • When you are lucid, you are not immersed in thoughts, emotions, and impulses, they do not take over your mind, you do not feel like thoughts emotions and impulses are you or yours, you see reality without the filter of self.

      • By contrast you also see when you are immersed in thoughts, emotions, and impulses, the belief that they are reality, that they are you or yours, is how the mind produces the feeling of self.

      • When you are lucid, you can see that sense perception, recognition, thought, emotions, impulse, intention, and action and the cause and effect relationships between them are a product of the mind. You see that your inner reality is a creation of the mind. When you see this, you are not attached to emotions and you do not overreact to them.

    • Allowing yourself to feel emotional pain is how you let go of it. As explained above here and here, letting go of emotional pain:
      • Reduces suffering by reducing your overreactions to unpleasant emotions.

      • Is equivalent to letting go of attachments and aversions.

      • Helps to reduce the ego because most emotional pain has ego at its root.

  • You can understand the reason awakening is so difficult to achieve by considering what it would take for you to respond with equanimity to assaults to your ego - to react with equanimity to losing your job, breaking up a relationship, being embarrassed, etc. etc.

    Fear can also be an obstacle to awakening. The thought of really experiencing oneness, of not making any distinction between self and not-self, of not making any distinction between yourself and other people, can be frightening.

  • After a person first sees that the filter of self is constructed (the first stage of awakening in Buddhism), the effects are large and permanent even though the person still has a lot of work to do to stabilize that view to make it a persistent state of consciousness. This process has different names in different traditions, Buddhists may call it awakening or enlightenment, in yoga it is called self-realization, in Zen Buddhism it is called understanding your true nature.
(I would like to thank those enlightened beings who so kindly answered my questions. If I have accidentally misrepresented anything they have said the fault is entirely my own.)

Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Monday, August 19, 2019

"The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer



Contents

Introduction

I highly recommend the The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. In his book, Singer offers a somewhat different perspective on certain ideas that students of Buddhism may be interested in. Singer's background is in yoga and he writes about many of the more esoteric and mystical aspects of the mind in a way that is much easier to understand than the way they are presented in Buddhism.

Singer cuts through a lot of the obscure verbal gymnastics you find in Buddhism and explains very clearly how understanding the mind can cause awakening. He does not give any specific meditation instructions in the book, but if you are already meditating, the information in the book can help you understand how meditation and mindfulness practices should work and how to do them correctly. What Singer is saying is not much different in essence from my own practice (observe the mind, relax, let go of unpleasant emotions) but Singer gives a clear explanation of the nature of the mind and how to use that understanding in combination with letting go of emotions to achieve awakening.

Singer's approach is somewhat different from Buddhism's. In Buddhism you are told to meditate and someday if you are lucky something magical will happen and you will get enlightenment and your suffering will end. Singer says you have to confront unpleasant emotions to let go of them and that process leads to enlightenment.

According to his biography "He had a deep inner awakening in 1971 while working on his doctorate in economics and went into seclusion to focus on yoga and meditation."

Contents

What You Are

In the book Singer explains that you are just awareness. Thoughts and emotions and events around you are things you observe.

Singer uses the analogy of a lucid dream to explain how to experience yourself as just awareness.

In a lucid dream you know you are dreaming. In a regular dream you are immersed in the dream, you think it is real.

When you meditate or practice mindfulness, you know you are observing, like you are watching a movie, you are mindful, you are lucid. But if you get distracted by thoughts and get carried away by them, you become immersed in them, you might notice after a while that you are thinking about something and not meditating, you are not lucid. It is like when you are watching a move and you become so caught up in it you forget your surroundings. The thoughts have taken over your mind.

By practicing meditation and mindfulness you can learn to be lucid during daily life. In an interview with Yoga Journal Singer describes this process. He does not suppress thoughts he observes them, "I just allowed whatever thoughts needed to arise, to arise, and simply tried to relax instead of engaging with them. No struggle, just deep relaxation..." By learning to be lucid, you can be what you are: awareness observing.

Contents

Awakening

If you allow yourself to experience emotional pain (Buddhists say "suffering") you will learn to let go of it and that leads to awakening: the end of suffering. But you have to confront your emotions from a lucid state of mind or you will not be able to let go. When you experience emotions and you are not lucid, you are immersed in the emotions, they will take over your mind, like distracting thoughts during meditation. You will see the event that caused the emotion as a problem needing a solution and you will be focused on that. But when you experience emotions while you are lucid, you are not immersed in them, you see an emotion as something you are observing, not necessarily as a problem that has to be solved. Because you are detached, because the emotion has not taken over your mind, you can just relax and allow it to exist until it naturally ends which is the way to let go of emotions - relax and allow them to exist until they cease naturally. When you are lucid, if there is a problem that needs to be dealt with, you will be able to do so without emotions clouding your judgement.

Allowing yourself to feel emotional pain can be difficult, but understanding that the process is beneficial can change your attitude and motivate you to embrace it so you can reap the benefits of letting go. You also quickly learn that most daily upsets are not too bad and that you can endure them quite easily. And if you observe the emotional pain from a lucid state you see emotions as something you are observing rather than a problem.

Being lucid during daily life is useful because we are bombarded with stresses that can cause emotional upsets all day long. In order to be able to let go of unpleasant emotions as you encounter them, you have to be lucid all the time.

Letting go of emotional pain does not just free us from suffering, it changes our basic understanding of who and what we are. Over a lifetime we have built up a "reality" in our mind with thoughts about who we are, what we are, how we relate to the world, how other people should act, what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is bad etc. etc. But this is not reality. It is just thought. And it limits us. To escape beyond our self constructed boundaries we have to disassemble our mental prison. Allowing ourselves to experience emotional pain can help us disassemble this illusory reality. When things in our experience don't match our expectations, we feel threatened, we feel emotional pain. We protect our mental model of reality by pushing away pain or by clinging to our ideas, Every time we feel emotional pain it is telling us about a flaw in our model of reality. Emotional pain can help us to deconstruct the illusion of reality if we allow ourselves to experience the pain and let go of it because by doing that we are accepting that our mental model of reality is flawed and in time it will be so weakened by so many accumulated flaws that we will be able to see through it. That is awakening.

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Keep Your Heart Open

Singer frequently says you should always keep your heart open. Never let it close. When he refers to the heart closing I believe he is referring to the feeling one gets when one feels an unpleasant emotion arising and feels anger, resentment or something that puts an emotional barrier between the person and something or someone else. It is possible to be mindful and notice when you are putting up emotional barriers and in some cases you can decide not to do it.

Singer is not advocating suppressing unpleasant emotions. In The Untethered Soul he frequently says you should observe emotions from a lucid state so they do not take control over you, but you should allow them flow freely. Don't try to stop them or distract yourself so you don't feel them. Always just let emotions flow in meditation and in daily activities. It should become a way of life. If you do this, emotions arise and pass away and you don't bottle them up or put up defense mechanisms. This is a central theme in the book. The numerous times Singer discusses the subject shows how important he feels it is.

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Letting Go of Emotional Pain

Singer says you should try to let go of emotional pain during meditation and in daily life. If you want to try it, here are a few reminders that may help you to stay lucid and let go.

Remember:

  • You are just awareness observing thoughts and emotions.

  • Stay lucid - don't let emotions, thoughts or impulses take over your mind. Do this by observing them, not by suppressing them.

  • Start with small things. Once you see that emotional pain will cease naturally if you just allow yourself to feel it, you will come to understand and trust the process and it will become easier to tackle the more difficult issues.

  • Try to be relaxed as much as you can. If the situation permits do relaxation exercises or a relaxing form of meditation to enter a deep state of relaxation.

  • If possible allow yourself to feel the emotional pain until it naturally ceases. Depending on the situation it might be more appropriate to do this later in private. Feeling emotional pain until it ceases naturally is how we let go of it. and doing that frees us from the delusions that separate us from enlightenment.

  • Unpleasant emotions are not "true", or "real", or "reality". They are illusions. They arise, exist for a time, and fade away - they have no permanent existence. One person may feel an unpleasant emotion, but another person in the same situation might not. You might notice that when you are lucid you do not have the same intense emotions that you do when you are not lucid and thoughts and emotions have taken over your mind. Unpleasant emotions can be eased by relaxing types of meditation. Unpleasant emotions are temporary, and subjective, they are not true, or real, or reality. They are illusions.

  • If your mind becomes turbulent, just relax and watch your mind be turbulent, watch it go round and round trying to figure out what to do, but stay lucid, don't let thoughts, emotions, and impulses take over your mind.

  • If it is too much, take a break and do a relaxing form of meditation.

  • It may also help to develop a daily meditation practice that helps you to relax and lifts your mood which may counterbalance the emotional pain to some extent.

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Meditation

In this interview in Yoga Journal, Michael Singer explains a little bit about how he would meditate, it involved deep relaxation:
https://www.yogajournal.com/meditation/surrender-experiment

YJ: How did meditation quiet the voice for you? Singer: When I first started to meditate, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just wanted to shut up that incessant chatter in my head. So I took the time each day to sit by myself in a meditation posture and use my will to either push away the thoughts or struggle to turn my attention onto something else -- like a mantra or visualization. That created some quiet, but it didn’t last, and it was a struggle to get into a really quiet state.

As I matured in my spiritual practices, I began to surrender inside, just like I was doing in my outer life. I just allowed whatever thoughts needed to arise, to arise, and simply tried to relax instead of engaging with them. No struggle, just deep relaxation -- regardless of what the voice was saying. Over time, like magic, my awareness lost interest in the thoughts and ceased to become distracted by them. If I walk into a room with a television on, I can notice it is there, but I don’t have to actually watch it. Likewise, I can notice that the voice is saying something, but I don’t have to actually listen to it. That became my meditation: deeply relaxing and not engaging in anything the voice of the mind was saying. Over time, as I let go of the chattering mind, I began to fall into beautiful states within, like deep peace or waves of joy and love. This began happening both during meditation and during daily activities. Interestingly, when the inner state becomes beautiful, the voice of the mind has much less to say. It’s as though the vast majority of its talking was about how to be OK. If you are already OK, both the heart and the mind become still and melt into the beauty of the moment. That is the gift of yoga.

...

Though I have consistently maintained daily practices, my true practice of yoga is done inside at all times. It is this internal practice of constantly letting go of whatever disturbance arises within that has allowed me to stay centered through these amazing situations life has presented to me. Yoga is like a fine wine that becomes better over time. You start by letting go of the little things that irritate you for no reason, like the weather, or someone else’s attitude. Of what purpose is it to get disturbed by things that are just passing by and are pretty much out of your control? So you begin the practice of allowing the shifts in your inner energy to just pass through internally. You do this by deeply relaxing and giving them the space they need to pass. It is very much like relaxing into an asana. The more you relax, the easier it becomes, until at some point it becomes an enjoyable experience. It can be the same inside if you begin relaxing and releasing early enough in the process. Then something bigger happens in life that challenges your willingness to relax and let the reactionary disturbance pass by within. Your tendency is to resist the uncomfortable feeling and control your environment so that you don’t have to deal with the inner disturbance. But your commitment to yoga demands that you let go and use each situation life puts you in to go beyond your comfort zone. This is the true practice of yoga, and it becomes your way of life.

A more clearly defined form of meditation that would also be a good compliment to the book is this:
https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-meditate-dzogchen-ponlop-rinpoche-on-mahamudra/

In this type of meditation you first sit quietly and relax for a little while. Then begin to notice any thoughts that arise. Observe a thought but do not continue along in a train of thoughts. If there are no thoughts, just sit being aware of awareness. If you are not sure what "being aware of awareness" means, think any random word for example "automobile", when you are thinking it, you are observing a thought, when the thought is over, you are left being aware of awareness. If any unpleasant feelings arise, go back to relaxing for a while and return to observing thoughts and awareness when you feel more at ease.

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Surrender

Singer also discusses the subject of surrender. That subject can be best understood by reading another book by Singer, The Surrender Experiment. What Singer means by surrender is that you should not resist what life brings you. The Surrender Experiment is an autobiography of Singer's life in which he decided early on to always take the path that life presented to him without regard to his personal likes or dislikes. The result was that he started out meditating in the woods and step by step, trying to help people who came to him, he ended up the CEO of a billion dollar company and the director of a spiritual temple where yoga and meditation were practiced and taught.

Singer had bought a parcel of land in the woods in which he planned to mediate in seclusion. After he built a house for himself on his property, someone in his community asked him to do some construction work. That led to more requests from others and Singer eventually formed a construction company. Singer funneled the proceeds into building a temple on his property where people from the community met to practice yoga and meditate.

When Singer bought one of the first models of personal computer on the market, he wrote programs for himself until the owner of the store where he bought it asked if he could refer clients to Singer. That eventually led Singer to form a software company. The software company grew and grew and merged and merged until Singer was CEO of a billion dollar company.

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The Untethered Soul

The Untethered Soul web site is here:
https://untetheredsoul.com

If you are interested in the book and have access to e-books from your library, you might be able to borrow a copy. I borrowed the e-book through hoopla (hoopladigital.com). It is also available to borrow from overdrive.com but there was a waiting list when I checked there.

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Further Reading

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Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Relationship of Serenity and Insight


The type of meditation I recommend can help you to be more relaxed and produce a pleasant, serene, contented mood. Developing this skill can improve the quality of your life. This type of meditation is sometimes called serenity meditation.

You can experience further improvement in your quality of life by taking your meditation practice one step further: by developing insight.

The pleasant state produced by meditation can be used to practice another type of meditation called insight meditation. One way to define insight meditation is that it is the process of observing the source of unpleasant emotions. Unpleasant emotions are often accompanied by physical sensations within the body. Noticing these sensations will help you to become aware of changes in your emotional state. When the mind is quiet and unpleasant emotions arise, the mind will also notice what caused the unpleasant emotions to arise. In many cases the mind will observe that the mind itself is the source of thoughts that caused the unpleasant emotions.

(Some unpleasant emotions might be caused by innate biochemical factors and not thoughts - I am not referring to those type of emotions here).

When you are in a relaxed, quiet, pleasant mood, any type of unpleasant mental state that arises and disturbs your pleasant mood will be very obvious to you. The pleasant state produced by meditation provides a background against which unpleasant emotions are readily noticeable. Being observant while meditating and throughout the day of what disturbs the pleasant mood produced by meditation will cause the mind to learn how it causes unpleasant emotions and it will learn to change the way it thinks in order to stop creating unpleasant emotions.

Related Reading


Copyright © 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.