Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meditation training

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.



Mirlen101 said...

I've been reading a bit about meditation . Sounds very interesting . Been thinking of trying it myself . If you know of a good simple training video or website etc. on the subject let me know ;-) Or were you just slacking off ? ;-)

Ann said...

In fact, meditation is quite beneficial, as you must have read, not only for the obvious reasons: producing - after you learn how to do it - a calmness, tranquility or "peace of mind," but also for the body.

Meditation tends to remove stress, which we may or may not be consciously aware of. And, stress interferes with our bodies' health - this has been repeated again and again by different medical and health authorities for years.

Meditation allows our nervous system, which controls all our bodies' organs and systems, to function in a certain way. Our nervous system can be broken into 2 parts, or what is called, the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. These two parts usually work together to make our bodies function normally. But, when we're stressed the sympathetic nervous system sort of takes over. The sympathetic nervous system deals with "fight or flight" response. It allows our bodies to deal with stress, things we must do, work through, get over, just to perform in our busy everyday lives.

The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, allows our bodies to rejuvenate, to refresh itself, such as allowing our immune system to do its stuff to its fullest extent. And, meditation by mentally removing stress allows this sort of bodily action.

Needless to say, meditation is something we learn to do and how we it, improves the more we do it. It takes practice.

Matthew said...

I have a free course Mirlen101, feel free to check it out by clicking on me name. Have fun Xeno, rightly said, it's surprising how much there is to observe when you sit still. Most of us are too busy doing something to really notice anything. : )

arjay001 said...

I am doing an inventory control assignment for a few weeks on a temp work assignment. All I do is count for 10 hours a day. Interesting, I can't day dream at all and I have no interaction with people for hours at a time. Seems to have the same calming effect as meditation. Good luck with training. I hope you find it rewarding.

Mirlen101 said...

Thanks I'll check it out ;-)

Ann said...

We're all different. Some people may actually have "anxiety attacks" from repetitive, mindless work. While in school, I did this sort of work, but I couldn't get it out of my head that I was doing slave-work. I hated every minute, every second of it, although I did it well - too well, I thought: my bosses liked me! All I really wanted to do was quit, but I wasn't in a financial situation to do so. The only enjoyment I got was getting paid, but it was never near enough what I thought I should be getting.

But, arjay001, you're right it can be a form of meditation. It can be as zen meditation:

It apparently this form of work-meditation was done by others as well.

arjay001 said...

I felt the same way years ago. Somewhere along way I guess I came to feel all work is slave-work. The hardest master being yourself if your self employed. The mindless part is the killer. Much nicer to feel your work is worthwhile and benificial to mankind. For teachers, they tend to be paid less then you would care to make, then the slave-work thing comes back into play. Now it is just a work. I don't hate it but I don't look forward to it. Lucky it is only a temp month to go :-)