Sunday, May 24, 2020

Varieties of Non-Self and Non-Dual experiences.


Someone on a discussion forum asked about scientific studies of no-self experiences. I referred them to an article which discusses a student report on the subject that includes informative references.

I also replied that there are several different types of not-self, non-self, no-self, and nondual experiences and I think each would have a different physiological correlate. It is helpful to recognize this if one is going to research the scientific studies on the subject.

Some people might point out that nonduality is not the same as no-self, since nonduality can recognize unity as a self. Another way of looking at it is that if you experience unity then your ordinary self is not the complete understanding of self, so nonduality can be considered a type of no-self experience. Also, from the experiencer's point of view, there is a blurring of distinction and an overlap of the two types of experiences. And if your interest in non-self is because you are interested in understanding how the ordinary mundane self might not be the only way of experiencing reality, then nonduality may also be of interest. For all these reasons I am combining both types of experiences in this article.

  • One type of experience is when the distinction between observer and the observed disappears. When this happened to me I lost awareness of body after many hours of meditation and it seemed like all that existed was what I was looking at. Since I existed I must be the thing I was looking at. I think this is what the article I linked to above is about.
    https://sites.google.com/site/chs4o8pt/mystical_experiences#mystical_kensho

  • Another kind of experience happens sometimes after a meditation session when the mind is very quiet from meditating, the absence of mental chatter creates a feeling that something is missing, there is a feeling of a kind of emptiness, a hollowness where the "person" is missing. I call it "feeling like a doughnut". One is aware of the body but doesn't feel like there is anyone in there.  It doesn't sound logical. I am not trying to be logical - I am trying to describe a feeling. Feelings are not necessarily logical.
    https://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2019/06/no-one-to-be-offended.html

  • Another kind of experience is when you observe the activity of the mind and see that thoughts, emotions, and impulses arise from the unconscious unasked for and uninvited. Every time you are trying to keep the mind focused in meditation and you become distracted by an interrupting thought, it is a reminder that you don't control your mind. It may seem like the self is only pure awareness observing thoughts emotions and impulses. But then if you consider that the feeling of being an observer is just like any other thought, emotion, or impulse, you are left with nothing. You can get a feeling of intentionally using your mind when you are trying to solve a problem, but where did the intention to solve the problem, to use your mind, come from? Buddha said consciousness is like a magician's trick. I think this is what he was talking about.
    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2019/09/coming-and-going.html

  • Here are some of other types of experiences:
    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2015/02/joy-during-meditation.html
    • [This type of meditation] also creates a kind of synesthesia where everything I see and hear, I also feel in my body as if they are part of me. There is an effect like the brain is a virtual reality machine and what I see is really a movie inside my head projected on the unchanging screen of pure awareness, like my mind contains the whole universe including me walking around inside it. Other times I feel like my self and its boundaries are dissolving and I am expanding to merge into infinite space

    • You can learn to be so relaxed that you don't feel defensive. You don't feel the need to defend your boundaries. You feel like an interconnected part of everything and everyone. Like each part, including yourself, is (joint owner of?) the whole. This state is resistant to unpleasant emotions because it affects your feeling of identity. It changes your opinion of what is "me" and "mine". If you are everything, you are not any particular thing. There aren't things outside you that affect you. There just is what is. It feels like unconditional good will and compassion and the absence of self-importance.

  • Another type of experience may occur if you just sit and notice your perceptions: what you see, hear, and smell around you, what you feel inside your body, the activity of your mind - thoughts, emotions and impulses. Doing this, you might be puzzled about what exactly you should pay attention to. Should you check each type of perception in a specific sequence? Should you just watch your mind and see what happens? If you just watch, who is it that is deciding what you notice? This question is significant because it shows that despite popular belief, there is not an obvious continuous stream of consciousness or a controlling consciousness. You may notice that consciousness is really just a series of distinct moments of awareness. There is nothing that is continuous from perception to perception. There is no continuous self in it. There is awareness of this perception, then that perception, then another perception etc.

    This isn't meant to be a logical explanation that might be true or false - it is a description of a feeling that some people have. It is not meant to help you understand or believe something, it is meant to help you feel something or recognize what you might be feeling.

    Observing experience in this way can help diminish suffering because if you are experiencing something unpleasant, by spreading your awareness around different external and internal sensations and mental activity you spend only a small fraction of the time aware of the unpleasantness. Additionally, observing unpleasant emotions along with other types of perceptions has a dissociating effect where the experiencer feels more like an observer than the one who is suffering. This eases suffering and is a type of non-self experience similar to one mentioned above.

  • This next link is also relevant, it describes nondual experiences/beliefs in many different cultures: Christian, Sufi, Native American, Jewish, Spiritualist, an atheist, etc.
    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2015/03/realizing-ultimate.html]http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2015/03/realizing-ultimate.html

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

An Overview of How To Practice Meditation and Mindfulness


This article is an overview of how to practice meditation and mindfulness.

1) Use meditation and relaxation exercises to produce a pleasant relaxed state (jhanas are optional) and try to maintain that state when possible after the meditation session by living and doing things in a quiet relaxed way, living mindfully (lucidly - especially with respect to emotions). The pleasant relaxed state is not an end in itself, it is a tool, it provides a neutral background upon which dukkha (unpleasant emotions / stress) is more easily discernible.

2a) Notice when unpleasant emotions arise (2nd noble truth = origin of dukkha) that interfere with the pleasant relaxed state - during meditation and after the meditation session when returning to daily life. Things that interfere with the pleasant relaxed state can involve more than just thinking about the past or future, or events that occur in the present. It can involve things like diet, types of exercise, intoxicants etc.

2b) Notice what is conducive to  returning to the pleasant relaxed state (3rd noble truth = cessation of dukkha). This may involve more than just meditation and mindfulness. It could involve diet, types of exercise, renunciation etc.

3) Notice that allowing yourself to feel unpleasant emotions is less unpleasant than resisting the situation or resisting the emotions. (When you are ready to surrender you have won.) This is easier said than done but relaxation helps. (Also, some emotions may disappear when you become completely relaxed.)  Surrender means that you understand you are going to have unpleasant emotions and being aware of them lucidly is preferable to the alternatives of suppression, overreaction, or struggling against or denying reality. The point of surrender is not to ignore problems that need attention but to be able to respond to them with compassion and reason rather than out-of-control emotion.

Most of the "action" of this practice occurs in daily life. The role of meditation is to 1) produce a pleasant relaxed state which acts as a background upon which unpleasant emotions become more noticeable. 2) To quiet the mind so one has the presence of mind to practice in daily life. 3) To slow down the activity of the mind so one can see what is happening.

Be aware of certain pitfalls:

 A.) It is possible to overdo dwelling on unpleasant emotions. You might train yourself to produce them or you might produce a feedback loop kind of like a jhana of unhappiness. The balance between feeling emotions without over dwelling on them is something each person has to find for themself.

 B.) Another pitfall is inadvertently suppressing an emotion when you think you are letting go of it by relaxing or allowing yourself to feel it. This kind of suppression may be recognized because it may produce tension and irritability.

One should make a distinction between emotions that you can notice arising as a result of specific thoughts and situations and some emotions that are more constant. Constant emotions can also be from thoughts and situations but sometimes they are just due to biological causes that are not going to be helped much by meditation and mindfulness practices. (For example, I find that my diet affects my mood, for good or ill in ways that meditation cannot influence.) However unpleasant emotions due to biological causes can cause additional emotional reactions (such as annoyance at or attachment to having the emotion) that can be eased by meditation and mindfulness practices. 

The ultimate goal, the ideal, of the practice (although I don't claim it is possible to reach perfection) is to be relaxed (equanimous) in every situation. With equanimity comes compassion and good will which arise naturally when one is able to let go of unpleasant emotions.

Other points:

Dukkah = stress, letting go = relaxation.

When you observe unpleasant emotions arising you are observing dukkha in action, and learning to let go of emotions by relaxing and by surrendering is the cessation of dukkha.

One of the things I like about this practice is that it addresses the essence of Buddhism, the cause of dukkha and the cessation of dukkha, yet the practice is very simple and easy to do and the mechanism by which it works is very easy to understand. Another thing I like is that the practice doesn't require a lot of will power to keep up because you feel better when you do it. It is an fundamental principle of psychology that an organism is more likely to repeat behavior if it produces a reward. Feeling better is a reward.


Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Friday, April 17, 2020

The Relation Between Samatha and Vipassana Meditation


Someone on a discussion forum wondered if practicing samatha (serenity) meditation would lead to a self-anesthetized state that would lead one to neglect vipassana (looking at the activity of the mind to produce an understanding of the origination and cessation of unpleasant emotions). They asked if anyone experienced that.

This is approximately how I replied:

That is not my experience. Observing the breath to produce tranquility does not distract me from vipassana it enhances my practice of vipassana. If you try to stay self-anesthetized 24 hours a day you will inevitably fail and you will notice what upsets you and you will notice how you get back to the anesthetized state - you will observe the origination and cessation of dukkah (unpleasant emotions) - this is the essence of practice. You can't escape it. The deeper the anesthesia, the more subtle the disturbances you will notice. The anesthesia is not putting you to sleep, it is actually making you more aware (of subtle mental activity) by turning down the volume of the activity of (the noise in) your mind.

(The pitfall that I find can happen is that one can be suppressing thoughts and feelings by concentrating too hard or by trying too hard to self-anesthetize. The sign that this is happening is that meditation makes one tense and irritable. It can be a bit tricky to find the right balance between relaxation and allowing yourself to be aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions (dukkha). You think you are relaxing but the result is the opposite. If that is not happening you are probably okay. Finding the balance is complicated because you don't want to suppress but you don't want to wallow in self-pity or train yourself to be unhappy, or create a jhanna like amplification of unpleasant emotions by focusing on them too intently. If you can relax while noticing unpleasant emotions that is probably the right way to do it.)

Self-induced anesthesia is a pretty good description of what the sutras call for (see below). The point is that when you are calm you can observe better the activity of the mind - the origination and cessation of dukkha - because the mind is calm (Dukkha = stress).

What I find is that when my mind is calm and peaceful and I am in a pleasant relaxed mood (the result of samatha meditation) then I notice very easily anything that disturbs that state (the origination of dukkha) and I notice what brings me back into that state (the cessation of dukkha), when I am meditating and during daily life. The "self-induced anesthesia" provides a neutral background against which it is easier to see the origination and cessation of dukkha. 

Here is an excerpt from the Anapanasati Sutra translated by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book "Breathe You are Alive": It shows that self-induced anesthesia is exactly what one should be doing:

8. I am breathing in making and making the activities of the mind in me calm and at peace.

...

10. I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace.

This article (below) also discusses the relationship between samatha and vipassana.

https://accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/onetool.html

One Tool Among Many
The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

...

But if you look directly at the Pali discourses — the earliest extant sources for our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings — you'll find that although they do use the word samatha to mean tranquility, and vipassana to mean clear-seeing, they otherwise confirm none of the received wisdom about these terms. Only rarely do they make use of the word vipassana — a sharp contrast to their frequent use of the word jhana. When they depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying "go do vipassana," but always "go do jhana." And they never equate the word vipassana with any mindfulness techniques. In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together.

You cannot really separate samatha and vipassana. Whenever you are meditating on the breath and your mind wanders for a moment or you notice a thought arising -  you are observing the activity of the mind. You can't escape vipassana unless you have perfect concentration and your mind is perfectly still. The very fact of thoughts arising while you try to focus on the breath is a repeated reminder that you don't control your mind, that your mind is not "yours". You realize that other people experience the same thing - they don't control their mind - this understanding gives you compassion and reduces your ego. Even if you are not aware of that angle, it works on you unconsciously producing changes you might not be aware of.


Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Monday, April 13, 2020

Forgiveness: Much unpleasant emotion would cease if you would/could forgive.


A lot of dukkha (unpleasant emotions) would cease if you would/could forgive.

Forgiveness is easier said than done. How do you do it?

Like metta or the jhanas.

Look in your mind/body/heart and see if you can find an inkling or memory of the feeling of forgiveness.

Meditate (focus your attention) on that spark, on that glimmer of forgiveness.

Think of all people you could forgive, including yourself, and as well as the universe, fate, fortune, and/or God.

Notice how much better you would feel without all those unpleasant emotions.

Practice.


Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

How to Practice the Seven Factors of Awakening


If you meditate using the technique I describe on my website, it can be helpful to have an overall idea in mind of what you are trying to do otherwise it is easy to forget to do some part of the meditation technique. When I reviewed the seven factors of awakening the other day, I realized here was a list of the different aspects of the meditation technique. If you remember this list you won't forget anything when you meditate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Factors_of_Awakening

In Buddhism, the Seven Factors of Awakening are:
  • Mindfulness. To maintain awareness of reality.
  • Investigation of the nature of reality.
  • Energy also determination, effort.
  • Joy or rapture.
  • Relaxation or tranquility of both body and mind.
  • Concentration, a calm, one-pointed state of mind, or clear awareness.
  • Equanimity. To accept reality as-it-is without craving or aversion.

Thich Nhat Hanh translates the word for equanimity as "letting go". I like that because I see letting go of attachments and aversions as a consequence of relaxation: to let go of something you are holding on to, you relax your grip on it. When I am relaxed I do not experience attachments or aversions (unpleasant emotions).

I also prefer "determination, effort" to "Energy" because to me, in English, 'energy' evokes a sense of hyperactivity which seems to contradict relaxation.

In my practice I find myself "noticing" and "observing" which is the same as investigating.

I find concentration and relaxation are interrelated. When you concentrate the mind, that calms mental turbulence which is part of relaxation. When you relax, that also calms mental turbulence which aids concentration.

When you begin a meditation session you can easily remember the complete technique by remembering the seven factors of awakening. (I think of them in this order):

How to meditate:

  1. Relaxation (Factor 5, breathe in a relaxing way somewhat slower and deeper than normal).
  2. Concentration (Factor 6, count the breath if your mind is turbulent, or observe the breath if your mind is calm).
  3. Joy (Factor 4, observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale, this can trigger the a feedback loop in the brain that produces feelings of happiness).
How to handle interrupting thoughts, emotions, and impulses:

  1. Be lucid (Factor 1, mindfulness, observe thoughts, emotions, and impulses as they arise but don't get so carried away that you become distracted and stop doing the meditation technique).
  2. Allow yourself to feel unpleasant emotions (Factor 2, investigation).
  3. Let go of unpleasant emotions (Factor 7, equanimity, letting go of attachments and aversions).
What to do after the meditation session:

  1. Continue practicing in daily life after the sitting meditation session is over (Factor 3, energy, determination, effort).
I don't recommend practicing super-intense concentration. If the mind is completely still, there is no investigation. I find some concentration helps with relaxation, elevating my mood, and mindfulness, but too much and it begins to cause problems such as suppression of thoughts and emotions which causes irritability.

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

My Views on Gradual Awakening


I.

Traditionally, awakening is defined in four stages of increasing freedom from the ten fetters. I have posted before on gradual awakening and the fact that people can become awakened so gradually they don't notice it. This fact has some very important implications about what awakening is. It implies that the stages of awakening are not like a series of steps where you only get benefit when you have stepped up on the first step. Awakening is like a ramp where any level is possible. Most people already have some level of awakening (some level of freedom from the ten fetters) and you can increase your level gradually and continuously by meditating regularly.

The dictionary definition of gradual is: "moving, changing, or developing by fine or often imperceptible degrees"

Shinzen Young, and others, say people can awaken so gradually they don't notice it happening.

If that is right, then the moment of awakening can be imperceptible.

If the moment of awakening can be so subtle that it may not be noticed by the experiencer, then the change from not awakened to awakened can also be so small that it is imperceptible. If the change can be so small, someone who has just passed stream-entry (the first stage of awakening) might not be significantly different from someone who is just a little bit less awakened and has not passed stream-entry.

The development of awakening is not like a stairway with discrete steps. It is like a ramp where any level is possible. There aren't natural divisions or steps to awakening.

Awakening is a lot like equanimity. Everyone has some level of equanimity. Some people have little equanimity, some people have more equanimity and others have a lot of equanimity. Awakening is like that. Everyone has some level of awakening. Some people are little bit awakened, some people are more awakened, and others are very awakened. If you look at the definitions of the ten fetters, it should be obvious that different people will have different levels of attachment to them.

As I have shown above, someone who has passed stream-entry may not be significantly different from someone with a little bit less awakening who has not passed stream-entry. This indicates hat stream entry is an arbitrary level.

The stages of awakening divide the path into artificial and unnatural steps which causes people to become distracted into focusing on how to get to the first step. Instead followers of the path should be observing the activity of their mind and trying to see the origination of dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.

Everyone already has some level of awakening - some level of freedom from the ten fetters. People don't need to obsess about how to get awakened. If they will just practice meditation and mindfulness and observe the origination and cessation of dukkha in their own mind, they will get more and more awakened (more and more freedom from the fetters) gradually and easily, they will develop more and more compassion, good-will, equanimity and their ego will become less troublesome. When people understand this, they will see that arbitrary steps are irrelevant and a hindrance and they will let go of any attachments to those steps, and they will benefit more from their correctly focused practice.

II.

I posted a reply on a discussion forum to someone who complained that he had lost faith in awakening.

Did you ever hear that some people get enlightenment gradually instead of suddenly, and sometimes it is so gradual that they don't even know they have become enlightened?

Shenzen Young and others have said that it happens.

This means that enlightenment is not like a series of steps - it is like a ramp where any level is possible.

It is like equanimity - some people have little equanimity, some people have more, some people have a lot. And you can increase your level of equanimity gradually by meditating regularly. If people can become enlightened so gradually they don't notice it, then enlightenment must be like that too. Everybody has some level of enlightenment. Some people have little enlightenment, some people have more, and some people have a lot. And you can increase your level of enlightenment by meditating regularly .

So my advice is to try a kind of meditation that will reduce your suffering today (not sometime in the future maybe) and over the long term can increase your level of enlightenment (compassion, good will, equanimity, and unselfishness).

Stop worrying about that first step to get enlightenment. You are right it is a load of crap. It was invented to keep the monks organized. It is of no use the the average person.

Everybody including you already has some level of enlightenment. If you want, you can increase your level of enlightenment as much as you want by practicing meditation and mindfulness. Watch the activity in your mind and study the origination and cessation of dukkha.

Don't waste time expecting the earth to shake and the heavens to open and Buddha to jump down and shake your hand and congratulate you for becoming awakened. It doesn't necessarily happen like that. It sells books and retreats and makes money and gains followers for them, but it is not much help to anyone else.

III.

I also posted something approximately like this:

If your goal is enlightenment and you are expecting the BIG CHANGE to herald your awakening, then you wonder, "What do I have to do to get it? Go on a retreat? Read a book?

If you learn that people can get enlightened gradually without even knowing it, that you can be enlightened without experiencing the BIG CHANGE, then it makes sense that everyone already has some level of enlightenment and the purpose of practice is to gradually increase your level of enlightenment. You are not waiting for the BIG CHANGE, when you experience unpleasant emotions (dukkha) you do not think you need to go on a retreat or buy a book. Instead you watch your own mind during sitting meditation and during daily life. When you experience unpleasant emotions you wonder, Why am I not more compassionate? Why do I not have more good will? Why do I not have more equanimity? Why is my ego so troublesome? You examine the origination of dukkha. You observe the emotions in your mind and body and observe when they go away. You observe the cessation of dukkha.

When you are waiting for the BIG CHANGE, that is the focus of your obsession. It is distracting you from practicing correctly. And the BIG CHANGE itself is not what most people think. After the BIG CHANGE you still have emotions, what is different is that "they don't stick in your mind" or "you don't overreact" or "it is the aggregates that have the emotions". This is just what it is like for people who have a regular meditation practice for many years without a BIG CHANGE. You still have unpleasant emotions after the BIG CHANGE and you still have to practice if you want to experience the end of suffering. If you have the BIG CHANGE or not, you still have to keep practicing and observe the origination and cessation of dukkha.

When you understand the BIG CHANGE is not the only way to enlightenment, that it is not necessary, but is promulgated because it sells books and retreats and gains followers, then you can practice correctly: Just watch your mind and observe the origination and cessation of dukkha and you will gradually increase your level of enlightenment, your compassion, equanimity, and good will will increase and your ego will become less troublesome.

IV.

Then I posted this:
Some people have an insight all at once and are astonished.

Others have the same insight but realize it little by little over time so when they get the full idea it doesn't astonish them.

Some people see a sunset and are overwhelmed, all they want to do is to write poetry and sing songs about sunsets and tell everyone they can how beautiful sunsets are.

Other people see a sunset and think, "That's nice" and they are not overwhelmed.

But they are seeing the same thing.

Whether it's worth it or not is an individual choice.

Personally, I would not practice a form of meditation that might give me enlightenment some day in the future unless it also provided some benefit for me today in the meantime.

I started meditating to help me feel better after a meditation session, less stressed, more serene, long before I ever heard about enlightenment.

My attitude toward enlightenment now is that it's something that is incidental to meditation. If I advised someone to meditate, it would be to help them feel better after a meditation session. I believe everyone already has some level of enlightenment and that level will increase gradually if they meditate regularly - but passing some arbitrary threshold is not really something anyone needs to be worried about.

Passing an arbitrary threshold (stream-entry) only has utility if the stages of enlightenment are like a series of steps - you don't have any benefit until you step up on the first step. But if enlightenment is not like steps but is like a ramp where any level is possible, then you can get a lot of benefit even if you have not passed that arbitrary threshold because as you approach it your level of enlightenment increases gradually and continuously.


Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.


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.

Top

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.
Top

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.
Top

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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