No posts this weekend as I'm completing a two day meditation training. Sitting for hours and "doing nothing" is more interesting and worthwhile than most people would guess.
Results: I have become enlightened and also ... I have soreness in my left shoulder, right hip and right foot from sitting for cross legged for about 6 hours total each of the last two days.
The type of meditation I was practicing in my Level I Shambhala Training was a combination: breath focus and simultaneous mindfulness or being in the present. The idea, in my own words, is to simultaneously observe your breath, feel your body, relax, be aware of your thoughts, but don't get captured by them, so you stay present. It only takes a few minutes for the mind to wander, typically.
I went into this training with the awareness that the brain goes through 90 minute cycles of left, right hemisphere dominance and that with this cycle comes a change in the side of your nose that you are breathing out of and also frequency of day-dreams. Therefore, you can't win. That is, you can't to stop your mind and you should not try. Actually, I thought at one time because I learned it from a different tradition, that the object was to stop your internal dialogue, to "become the breath". That was something I worked at years ago and was able to eventually do, but the result was not good. I ended up having flashbacks during my waking life where my internal dialogue would stop in the middle of a conversation. That was pretty weird. I no longer practice losing my train of thought. That is a dead end.
Instead, let what thoughts happen happen, but don't let them take you completely away from the present moment. This is what I call mindfulness. It is very easy and also very difficult. When you are in the room meditating, you are not spaced out or lost in some vision, you are right there. You are there with your breath, with your body. In the type of meditation I practiced, your eyes are open, soft focused about 4 to 6 feet in front of you. Sights and sounds are included in your experience, but you stay present, with your breath as your primary (but not exclusive) focus.
The idea is to not "space out", let your mind start to run in whatever direction it wants, but bring yourself gently back to the present each time. This was the type of meditation I was practicing.
I continued this Monday morning, meditating for 10 minutes, then having my yoga instructor design some exercises to help me with my sore parts. Then I had enough energy to lift weights and run a mile. Feel pretty great today.
There are many styles of meditation. I've tried Transcendental Meditation, for example, where you chant a mantra, but again, I have a fundamental belief that you get got at what you practice. Therefore, the normal breathing and being present and relaxed with your thoughts that the secular Shambhala centers teach seems the most useful to me in daily life.
Attention is a mental muscle. Strengthening it brings benefits in all areas of our lives. Obsession is too narrow a focus and this is a form of closing down. The idea is not to close down, it is to stay present and open to what is really going on, inside and out. Notice the things you enjoy, the sensations that are good. I like to feel myself relax with every exhalation, which is something I do in self-hypnosis, but that is not really part of this type of meditation.
They guy in the picture above is the current spiritual leader, Sakyong Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche who is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and Shambhala International, a worldwide network of urban Buddhist meditation centers.
I am not myself a Buddhist. I do not find the presented evidence for re-incarnation compelling enough to make me think it is anything more than the result of pre-existing belief and wishful thinking. I also had difficulty with the concept of "basic goodness" because I believe that "good" and "evil" are both human inventions. But this weekend I learned that basic goodness is more basic "is-ness," that the good in basic goodness is not the type of good that is the opposite of evil. I can buy this. Things are what they are and that is "good".. or rather, it is not bad.
Most people in my group were struggling with "tapes in their heads" (things they tell themselves) which were causing them to suffer. Although I certainly have my moments, I do not generally have this problem. I've spent years fixing my tapes with self hypnosis which I let spill into my day to day thoughts. I'm pretty free and happy for the better part of most days.
We get good at what we practice. Doing something repeatedly increases the chances that we will do more of it in the future.
The point was made that meditation is not a self-improvement project, but I am very utilitarian.
Here is one benefit I see: When I am sitting there and there is an itch that is seemingly caused by nothing, I can just feel it, stay present, watch the itch and it will pass. This is a skill you can learn, and it is something quite powerful that can be applied to cravings we have for things we are trying to give up, and also to our fears. Observe, but stay present, stay calm. If the fear or craving is something that keeps you from a long term goal, you can just allow it to wash over you, to dissolve. You will still be there, and the itch will be completely gone, without having been scratched.