Author Topic: A beginner's questions on meditation  (Read 4487 times)

eternalbeginner

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A beginner's questions on meditation
« on: October 30, 2007, 06:22:37 PM »
Hi everyone,

I've just started trying to calm my mind using the vipassana technique of concentrating on my breathing. I've read a little bit here and there on the Internet, and I'm using "Mindfulness in plain English" as a guide.

I've noticed that my mind isn't a bit calm, and I understand it will take quite some time to calm it down.
But when I read about this, I start to wonder if there's even a remote possibility of ever becoming truly mindful. It says everywhere that it takes a lot of work and patience, and concentration. And I'm not planning on becoming a monk (nun). Is there a point in trying if I don't plan to spend many hours every day meditating? I'm thinking all I'll do in the foreseeable future is maybe 30 minutes twice a day. I doubt that will enlighten me. Though I shouldn't think negative thoughts (only if I'm mindful about it).

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is probably that I'm looking for a method of becoming more content and happy, and I'd like it to pay off. Preferably within a couple of years or so. I guess this is completely wrong when starting to meditate. But how can I ever tell if it's useful or not, without spending 30 years doing it, and then realizing, "hey, I'm still the same old worrier"?

I don't know, it just feels like a bit of a too big a challenge... especially since I'm not planning on becoming a monk (maybe I should say nun).

Regards,
Frida

Matthew

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2007, 07:29:12 PM »
Dear Frida,

Certainly an investment of 20 minutes (2 x 10 minutes) a day into your happiness and calm through meditation will pay off. If you think you may invest an hour a day even more so. Meditation is cumulative in effect and will pay off much sooner than in two years. It will also be beneficial to all those around you too as when you change you change the way you affect other people near you. This isn't magic - it's just nicer and more fun and more fulfilling being around people who are calm enough and have enough insight to see themselves and to see you without so much mental "noise" and habit in the way.

Having gotten aware of how unruly your mind is at this point you are in a good position to make the most of your meditation practice. The calming side of meditation generally is called Shamatha or Samatha. Vipassana or Vipashyana is more to do with gaining deeper insight into the processes and habits of body and mind through applying the calm and focussed mind to noticing more and more of those processes - how they arise and fall, where they come from and where they go to.

The two go together though in reality - all the while you are calming you will be gaining insight and you won't gain insight without calming - that is my experience of how meditation works. That is why in many Buddhist traditions it is called Shamatha-Vipashyana or Samatha-Vipassana.

I don't think you need to be trying to be a Buddha to gain benefit from meditation and also if you are trying to be a Buddha you almost certainly will not arrive there either! And there is certainly no need to become a nun for meditation to be a beneficial practice in your life. The Buddha taught many householders how to meditate so there is a long history of "lay" persons practicing meditation and benefiting from it.

If you start gently and work it into your routine in a manageable way and build from there so your practice becomes a solid and regular part of your routine I would be very, very surprised if you are not noticeably calmer, happier and insightful within a few weeks and months. try an experiment and don't tell some people you are doing this and see what happens - see if they start noticing or commenting in some way, "hey you seem calmer".

I'm not a betting man but if I were I would bet on it.

The great thing about Buddhist meditation is that the Buddha was very clear on the subject: Don't believe it longer than you need to, instead try it and prove for yourself whether it benefits you or not. He stated quite plainly that the only place for belief in his system of meditation was to believe in the techniques of meditation long enough to try them and see for yourself that they work or not. That is why I describe Buddhism is a DIY-Toolkit for self-knowledge and satisfaction - on a deeper level than any amount of material goods or wealth can deliver.

Keep at it and don't be put off by the fact that your mind seems very un-calm. You will start taming your mind sooner than you think.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Jimmy Coconuts

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2007, 09:56:05 PM »

Keep at it and don't be put off by the fact that your mind seems very un-calm. You will start taming your mind sooner than you think.




That was my experience.  When I started I was quite surprised to find that my mind was truly out of control!  As you continually bring your attention back to your anchor the mind will naturally settle down. 

eternalbeginner

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2007, 08:13:39 AM »
Thank you for your encouraging answers.

I can't seem to formulate my thoughts properly. I understand that vipassana can lead to liberation, which I think is an unrealistic goal for me. Is there another form of meditation that would be the most suited for a layman? Or is vipassana as good as any?

In everything I do, I always try to find what's best. If I bake a cake, I want to find the best recipe. If I paint my windows, I want to use the best paint. This is all a bit difficult, since there are different opinions on what's best. And in the example of the cake, I have to find a recipe that is the most suitable for my palate, and can't take advice from others. I've also found out that sometimes what's best, can be too difficult or overwhelming if you're not trained in it.

As I said, I have a hard time expressing myself properly. But I guess my question is a bit like this: From what I've read, vipassana is very difficult, but it can lead to liberation. In that sense, it seems to be one of the "best" methods (I don't want to start an argument here...). But what would be the "best" method for someone who's not likely to ever be liberated?

Aww, it doesn't come out right. Never mind, I'll just continue and see what happens. But I'd be happy to hear of other forms of meditation that could suit a lay person.

Regards,
Frida

Paul

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2007, 09:59:47 AM »
Welcome to this site Frida!  I know so well where you're coming from - I started meditating this April and was asking myself exactly the same questions! 

For your choice of meditation, I think the starting point will always be mindfulness on breathing.  This is the way in which you'll start calming your mind and increasing your concentration.  In my experience its not worth trying anything else at the start.  What you might want to do to help concentrating on your breathing is this:

Divide your meditation session into 4 sections, say 4 sections of 5 minutes to start with.

In the first section, breathe in, then out, at the end of the out breath, count 1.  Continue this going up to 10.  Don't modify your breathing in any way, just let it happen.  Once you get to 10, go back to 1 and start again.  If you lose where you are, go back to 1.

In the second section count 1, breathe in, then out.  Continue like that up to 10, then go back to 1.  This is subtely different to the first section!

In the third section, just focus on your breath, don't count any more.

In the fourth section focus on the sensation of the air entering into your nostrils when you breathe, exactly as explained in Mindfulness in Plain English.

You'll see as the days go by, as you continue, that your mind will start calming, and your concentration will increase.  You can just try it and see.  You'll maybe make it to 3 or 4 at first before the mind starts wondering.  Then 6 or 7.  Then a few sets of 10.  You can concentrate purely on this method for a couple of weeks, but you'll probably use some form of mindfulness of breathing throught your meditating life.

After, to move on to the next phase of Vipassana, you can go on a retreat, or if you don't have the possibility to do this you can do courses online, or you can learn a lot from books too, there are some really good ones out there.  As someone who hasn't been able yet to go on a retreat, I can recommend an online course and some excellent books....but if you can go on a retreat all the better.

Wishing you a fantastic start to your meditation practice!

Paul



eternalbeginner

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2007, 11:16:53 AM »
Thank you Paul, I'll try your method.

By the way, I've read some horrible stories about the kundalini power that could be prematurely activated by meditation, yoga, qi-gong, breathing excerises and so forth. All this sounds terrible, and not something I would want to stumble into.

Could calming the mind and proceeding to vipassana meditation be dangerous?

Frida

mettajoey

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2007, 11:45:26 AM »


Could calming the mind and proceeding to vipassana meditation be dangerous?

Frida

Hi Frida,

No, calming the mind just makes one more aware.  And the essence of Vipassana is to just notice what is actually happening with your thoughts and within yourself. 

The most important thing with this practice is to accept what is with craving or aversion.  In other words, you are not trying to change anything, just seeing and observing "things" as they are.  The changes will take place naturally. 
Please write in with any questions about your experiences.  That's what we all do here.

Warmly,
The best type of meditation is the one that you'll do

Matthew

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2007, 01:30:56 PM »
Frida,

With regards to unwanted kundalini intrusions I suggest you stick to simple sitting breathing meditation practices such as Paul has recommended.

Specifically I would recommend you and all beginning meditators avoid "Metta Bhavana" or "Tonglen" type practices where one tries to direct positive thoughts/energy to others.

These practices do present dangers of unwanted kundalini intrusion and are therefore best left to a mind very strongly established in calming meditation techniques or just left alone altogether.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew

~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Paul

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2007, 01:42:55 PM »
Frida, Joe and Matthew beat me to the reply  :)

Matthew, what's this about kundalini and metta bhavana? I've never heard of such a link.  I split my meditation time in two and spend half of it practicing metta, sympathetic joy, compassion and equanimity and the other half practicing vipassana.  I haven't experienced any kundalini unless a mild feeling of clairvoyance (which might well have been as much my imagination as reality) could count as this.  If you can give me any more info I'd be really interested to know more.....

eternalbeginner

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2007, 01:57:08 PM »
Matthew, thank you for warning me, but obviously your post raises a ton of questions... :) I thought directing positive energy was... positive.

But I think I'll come back later for more info, when I've practiced breathing meditation a bit.

Frida

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Staff
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2007, 02:52:52 PM »
Matthew, thank you for warning me, but obviously your post raises a ton of questions... :) I thought directing positive energy was... positive.

But I think I'll come back later for more info, when I've practiced breathing meditation a bit.

Frida

Frida,

Every answer raises seven questions. Learning to sit and be and breathe - without interruption from the mind - is the solution you seek. You are absolutely right to simply sit and it will be vastly beneficial. The less interest you take in enlightenment and all other concepts the faster and further you will really get to know yourself.

This is the fundamental "problem" we are trying to solve: We grow up being told this and that and the other about ourselves .... words, words, words. The natural tendency of the human mind to tell stories in order to make sense of the world around us is the greatest conditioning we suffer. It sucks in all the stories and repeats them over and over and tries to make sense of them ... and we end up with a mind running wild telling itself stories about what is and what is not and etc.

And all the time the truth, or more importantly living in truthfulness, evades us - because we are caught in this linguistic mindfield (pun intended) - and the only way to truly comprehend ourselves is to know ourselves by looking within - as all the great sages have taught.

But first, in order to look within one must develop a calm and one pointed mind. Sitting and simply being and breathing, one breath at a time. Forget enlightenment completely, forget all about it. Contemplating it with thoughts, through thinking, is the one certain way of avoiding even tasting it - and in any case it is not your intended goal. As you say and said in your introduction you want to calm your mind for your own well-being and those around you especially your son if I recall.

You are starting in the right place with sitting.

Now I will answer Paul's question.

Keep doing what you are doing. It's fine. Generating a sense of compassion in this way works solely on your own mind and will not cause harm. There are other more complex forms of these meditations which need approaching with more caution.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
« Last Edit: October 31, 2007, 05:14:59 PM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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eternalbeginner

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2007, 03:03:39 PM »
Will do :)

No, I don't have a son, at least not yet  ;)

Frida

Paul

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #12 on: October 31, 2007, 03:19:55 PM »
Thanks Matthew, phew all that and its the 31st October too  ;)

Matthew

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  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2007, 05:10:28 PM »
Will do :)

No, I don't have a son, at least not yet  ;)

Frida

Sorry Frida .. getting members mixed up already ... been a busy week and I'm in hospital so ... have some excuse for my lack of mindfulness. Sounds like you have no objection to having a son in principle ... one day :D

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

eternalbeginner

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Re: A beginner's questions on meditation
« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2007, 08:25:23 AM »
Oh, I hope you get well/better soon...