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.

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