Here’s a link to a recent practice tips article by Ken McLeod encouraging simple meditating. Ken is my one of my favourite writers on meditation as part of a spiritual or developmental path.
I like Ken because he focuses on essentials. In this post he’s reminding us not to look for or value consistency in how our practice, our meditation, goes. He could as easily have called the post Keep It Simple. The essence of practice is to do it as it is each time we sit formally, or each time we look inward in the moment.
The essence of practice is to be aware of a phenomenon whether breath, mind flow or awareness itself in his examples; to notice when our awareness has wandered and then to bring awareness back to our target. That’s all.
His example of confusion between teacher and student in following the breath is wryly amusing. The teacher has instructed that students should watch the breath and count each breath. If they get distracted or when they get to ten, they are to restart the count. The student is worried that she never gets past five and is constantly restarting her count.
The teacher (perhaps a trainee?) wonders why she’s worried as she’s doing exactly what she was taught! (There is a whole other blog (at least) on how unspoken presuppositions get in the way of clear communication.)
Obviously the student has understood, as I did when I first encountered this instruction many years ago, that the goal is to get to ten! Nope. The “goal” is to be aware, notice the movement of awareness, return awareness to the chosen object. That’s all.
As Ken says:
“Consistency, stability, focus, etc. We think of these as qualities that we can develop in our meditation, or in our attention. But when I look closely at my own experience, I don’t find any of these qualities and I haven’t experienced any of them. Subjectively, my meditation is a mess. Stuff pops up unexpectedly all the time. Thoughts appear and disappear, sometimes like a herd of elephants, sometimes like ants, sometimes like mist. Different emotions sing their siren songs. A plane passes overhead, or a car starts up, or the sprinklers turn on. Sometimes I’m comfortable sitting, sometimes I’m not and I’m aware of heat and tension and agitation in different parts of my body. When any of these thoughts, feelings or sensations hook me, I’m in another world and I only realize that I’ve been distracted after the fact.
I’ve given up trying to have consistent attention, stable attention or even a clear focus. When I notice that I’m not meditating, I just come back. That’s all.”
So when practicing, minimise your expecting or desiring of a particular flavour of meditation. Remember: simple meditating! The conscious lesson is in the monitoring of attention and in the unpredictability of each sitting; of each moment. The unconscious learning is simply the growing scope of self monitoring. Changes will happen.
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