Wednesday, September 30, 2020

When you can't find Tranquility

Sometimes it is hard to concentrate during meditation, or reach a state of pleasant abiding through meditation, even if you prepare for meditation by doing relaxation exercises first. If something is on your mind and it keeps going round and round and you can't focus in meditation, or if you are feeling a persistent unpleasant emotion, it can help to use the following method described by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. He uses anger as an example but it can be used with any emotion.

The Path of Concentration & Mindfulness
Thanissaro Bhikkhu


One technique I like to use — when anger is present and you're in a situation where you don't immediately have to react to people — is simply to ask yourself in a good-natured way, "Okay, why are you angry?" Listen to what the mind has to say. Then pursue the matter: "But why are you angry at that? " "Of course, I'm angry. After all..." "Well, why are you angry at that?" If you keep this up, the mind will eventually admit to something stupid, like the assumption that people shouldn't be that way — even though they blatantly are that way — or that people should act in line with your standards, or whatever the mind is so embarrassed about that it tries to hide from you. But finally, if you keep probing, it'll fess up. You gain a lot of understanding of the anger that way, and this can really weaken its power over you.

It is often very helpful to keep digging this way because often the things you are not thinking about and are not conscious of are the real trouble makers.

This has some important implications for awakening. Letting go of attachments and aversions results in less suffering. And while it seems obvious that we might have a hard time letting go of attachments to those aspects of self we like and or want to protect: the body, our opinions, social status, possessions, people and groups we care about, what is less obvious is that to let go of the sense of self, we have to be conscious of it, and often those aspects of our sense of self that we don't like, our faults, failures, and unpleasant past experiences etc. sometimes get pushed away out of the forefront consciousness. So some of the big aversions we need to let go of, the things we need to surrender to, are hidden or pushed to the side unless we really go looking for them. This hidden aspect of the sense of self is one of the things that makes awakening such a difficult undertaking, and facing the emotional pain of acknowledging our faults, failures and unpleasant past experiences is one of the things that causes dark nights, and difficulty in maintaining a consistent and continuous meditation practice.

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