Thursday, March 5, 2009

We are not our thoughts

Great question... I have been asked to expand on the concept we touched on in our first class.
Where I mentioned the quote:

"Yogas citta-vritti-nirodhaha"
Where yoga/meditation is described as ... 'the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.' [Patanjali - 8 limbs of yoga in Yoga Sutras]

In this class, I mentioned that if we were our thoughts - we would remember clearly what thought we had precisely this time last night/day. If our thoughts were the true essence of who we are - why can't we remember that thought, we had at that time? If we were our thoughts, we would 'be' that thought now, in this present moment, right?

This is a great question, thank you. I'll do my best to expand on this. This question has come at the right time, as we have been exploring this week - our thoughts, our beliefs and perceptions of ourselves. Which has been our natural progression from realising we are not our thoughts, to watching our thoughts and creating space to allow them to settle, then till now - where we have been noticing our thoughts. What they reflect in our perception of ourselves and then creating new thoughts to align ourselves to our true essence of being ie. who we are originally when were born - an abundance of boundless potential and love. Which is also who we are now, when we peel away the layers of labels, beliefs and conditions that we have painted ourselves with.

My question is then, if we can notice our thoughts, notice what each thought represents in terms of what we perceive ourselves to be. Then… who is this “I” the entity that can notice that there are thoughts in the first place? The 'I' that can choose which thoughts serve us the best, in a given moment? We tried to define this “I” last week in our activity. Was there a clear definite answer to “who am I?” An answer that we can use 100% of the time that all encapsulates the whole essence of who we are? When we sit in our stillness - is there any definition or boundaries that define this space?

Last week, we spoke of being ‘undefined’ when we are fully present in a given moment. The example given was when we are in love, and am fully present in the moment - there are no other thoughts in that given moment. We are not thinking what show is on tv, or analyzing how our partner dresses etc. We are so fully focused on just being in that moment, we act according to how we feel in that moment. There are no other thoughts that do not relate to that moment. We are so present in that moment, we are ‘undefined’. Of course, we can give ourselves the labels, ie our names etc. but the thought “I am Benjamin” is not constantly ringing in our heads as we interact with a loved one. The “I” in that moment can be felt, as we are there to experience that moment, but the “I” was not attached to any label or thought at the time.

This undefined presence or “I” can be described as various terms by various spiritual books and paths. Some call this the ‘soul’, ‘inner-self’ - the undefined ‘space’ that we ‘are’ when we create the stillness in our meditation. It is the ‘I’ that has been noticing the thoughts, the ‘I’ that has been noticing our senses, the “I” that has been choosing how we experience each moment through our thoughts and perceptions of ourselves. It is the "I" that remains undefined, that creates and experiences life as we know it.

Eventually there is no duality between "I" and our experiences - as we are complete... lets expand on this last point in future courses. =>

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sit with the Madness

This posting for those who are finding it difficult to meditate lately. Including myself.
Whether we are beginners or well-seasoned practitioners in meditation - we are always going to experience times where it is not 'easy' to sit in our stillness.

There are going to be times when you're so clouded with emotions, stress, anxiety, restlessness...
meditation seems virtually impossible or the last thing we feel like doing. Or our minds have created stories for ourselves why we dont have time for it etc. In times like these naturally we seek comfort in the situation through comfort foods, coffee, sugars, or other habits we have
to make us feel somewhat more content or happier about ourselves temporarily, yet we are still left with the emotional turmoil or dis-'ease' we felt in the first place.

Sometimes the best way to deal with the discomfort in our thoughts and emotions is to 'sit right in it'. To sit down regardless how you're feeling at the moment, commiting this time to sit and watch the emotional tornado fly through. Too often we feel we need to 'do' something to feel better. Yet, the only solution I have found is to sit 'in it'. As we sit in the emotions and thoughts that are swirling around us, we notice the speed and chaoticness of these emotions and thoughts. We see how cloudy we feel, unable to think clearly or rationally. It may not feel the most comfortable position to be in at that moment, in fact, it can feel the most tormenting thing one can do to oneself sometimes. To sit in ones chaotic state. It can be very confronting. Yet as we notice the swirls of chaos, noticing the cloud of emotions we are in - in that very moment, we have stepped out of the clouds of emotions. Huh? How? What does this mean, you ask? If we were still stuck in and amongst the clouds - how could we realise that there is a cloud of emotion in the first place - wouldn't we be so trapped in the turmoil to even notice?? Think about this one. It takes a little to digest. That as soon as we make contact with the fact that we are no longer 'IN' a cloud of thoughts and emotions because we can 'see' or 'notice' that there IS a cloud in the first place.

As we sit watching the cloud of thoughts and emtions swirl, we eventually watch the movements slow down. Knowing that these thoughts and emotions do not define who we are in this present moment as we sit - they are just movements in our thoughts/mind which we've created during the day. I guess this is similar to the analogy in class about watching the sediments in the murky water settle. Yet, sometimes its easier said than done.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Duality of Mind

Week 4 - Class content

Today we recapped what we have covered over the weeks.

The first stage of meditation is to cease distractions and make our mind clearer and more lucid. This can be achieved through the various techniques we have tasted and practiced over the weeks. ie. using different objects of meditation eg. breathing, senses, mantra etc. Perhaps, this is more about creating the time and space within our lives to experience ourselves in our true nature. Sitting with ourselves.

At first the mind will be very busy. You many even feel meditation is making our mind busier, but in reality we are just becoming more aware of how busy our mind actually is. We may be tempted to follow different thoughts as they arise. We eventually lose the need to follow these thoughts and remain focussed single-pointedly on our sensations of breath. If we realise our mind has wandered, and followed our thoughts, we immediately come back to our breath - eventually the mind settles on the breath. We practice patiently in this, gradually distracting thoughts will subside and we shall experience a ssense of inner peace and relaxation. Our mind will feel lucid and spacious and shall feel refreshed.

Creating this stillnesss, has allowed us to 'let the sediments in the murky water to settle'. Referring to the analogy of meditation being a process where through creating the space or stillness, we can let the flying thoughts in our chaotic mind or 'sediments in the murky water' to settle. Allowing us to see with clarity. Clarity to see who we are defining ourselves as and our environment. Lets keep this in mind... that the stillness creates clarity...

From this we moved on to the concept of the 'duality of the mind'. It can be defined as having two components the conscious and subconscious. This is explained more in this week's class notes. The concept of the mind and its functions have been described in many forms. We have called the Conscious Mind as consisting of whatever is occupying your awareness at any one moment, whether this be thoughts, sensations, feelins or emotions. The conscious mind - consciousness - is essentially the part of the mind in which we feel ourselves to live. eg. the gardener as per class notes.

The Subconscious consists of those mysterious depths which are generally inaccessible to the conscious mind without the use of appropriate techniques (hypnosis, dreaming and , above all, meditation). This we referred to as the 'bed of rich soil' which helps grow all kinds of seeds to sprout and flourish, whether good or bad. In class we discussed, if we ow thorns, will we gather grapes? If we sow thistles, will we harvest figs? So every thought is a cause, and every conditions is an effect. This is the reason it is so essential that we take charge of our thoughts. In that way, we can bring forth only desirable conditions.

In class, we did the 'who am I?' exercise. Where we were not allowed to think but to automatically write down the first thing that comes to mind, each time we are asked 'who am I?' We touched on the topic of when a child is born, it is born of no definition and a truth of boundless potential. As adults we forget we are still this boundless potential but for some reason or other we have forgotten our boundless potential and restricted by definitions we have placed upon ourselve or by others.

So this week's homework, in addition to practicing our stillness, is to see and notice how we choose to feel or meet our external experiences. Firstly, to notice who or what we define ourselves as, what labels have we placed upon ourselves? Then to see with clarity, if these definitions/labels are applicable in the greater scheme of ourselves. Do these labels serve us in defining who we are or want to be?

One example we used was that one who affirms to oneself 'I am trying to be a writer' will naturally struggle and experience the difficulties of 'trying to be a writer'. When another 'label' or definition that can serve oneself better is "I am a writer" - rather than confirm an sense of inadequacy as a writer.

So I have suggested to just observe what labels we place upon ourselves during the week and more importantly, see if we can change one of these 'labels' or thoughts of ourselves that do not serve us. Some examples used in class were "I am confident", "I have plenty of time", "I am a natural writer", "I am true to myself", "I am complete as I am".... whatever is applicable for you. But just commiting this week to choosing one 'affirmation' and seeing how this affects our experience of life internally and externally ie. our experiences with others, and what emotions we experience within - is it dependant on the situation and circumstances or is it determined by how we feel inside, eg. at peace with ourselves.

Lots covered this week. Many things to contemplate and experiment. Its an exciting week to explore our current reality. Looking forward to sharing your experiences. Hope this makes sense, it is a bit late afterall - please feel free to call or email to discuss.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What is Meditation? - Meditators Perspective

Week 4 - Post Class Notes

As psychological research tells us so little about the actual experiences of the meditator, the sensible thing is to go to meditators themselves and ask them to tell us in their own words the effect that meditation has upon them. Following are two examples from westerners who have studied meditation under Eastern meditation teachers.

From Jane Hamilton-Merritt, an American writer who spent some time in intensive meditation practice in Thai monasteries:
"Meditation... is among many things a learning to still the mind, to control it, to center the mind's potential energy... ther mind expands and is capable of producing more acute realisations... the body and mind seem to come together in a harmony or centring because separateness, or duality, of the body and mind which prevents humans from knowing their true self and is consequently the source of much struggle, of much unhappiness, of much suffering. The process of meditation seems to involve a shedding of desires, of the need for unnecessary possessions, of a demanding ego..when these fall away.. it becomes possible to know something of the true self. In this new state minus all these hindering distracting trappings, the mind can be centred and achieve personal equanimity." - [A Meditator's Diary, p.142]

On the subject of this personal equanimity, Hamilton-Merritt confirms that 'there is a calmness, an understanding, a harmony in my life which has developed as a result of meditation'.

The second example is by Timonthy Ward, another American who studied in a Thai monastery, and gives us a tasted of the experience of 'samadhi', a deep level of meditation.

"My breath came through clearly, easily. It sustained itself with a perfect concentration never before achieved. Thoughts arose from time to time but they could not intrude. I was aware only of balance, of ease... It was a surprisingly active state of mind, nieghter automatic or trancelike. Only moment by moment concentration could sustain it. It required energy but produced no stress... I felt I could sustain the state indefinitely.. What I cherished was the feeling of ease." -[What the Buddha Never Taught', p.150]

Both these examples describe something over and above what emerges from techniques like relaxation training, no matter how similary the physiological effects may be. The literature produced by relaxation training contacins no accounts of the knowledge of the 'true self' gained by Jane Hamilton-Merritt, no accounts of the samadhi experienced by Timothy Ward. Evern the literature produced by those who have undergone the various psychotherapies developed in the West contains nothing directly comparable.

The literature produced by meditators is full of similar examples. The more one delves into this literature and talks to and observes practising meditators, the more one becomes aware that here is a tehcnique like no other technique, a practice like no other practice. A practice that can transform, that brings with it a richness of understanding and imparts a wisdon hard to put into words but which transports thow who sample it into a deeper dimension of experience.

For in the way that my first tentative attempt at meditation subtly transformed the shapes and the colours of the room around me, so meditation alters not only the perspective one has of oneself - the way one thinks and feels about and experiences oneself - but also the perspective one has of the outer world. There is a shift not only in one's mental and emotional condition but also, as it were, in one's sense perception. One becomes more open to the environment, more aware of the beauties and colours of nature, of the joys and sorrows of others. One 'feels' the texture of life, in the way that a parent feels the smooth warm skin of a baby, or the potter the clay on the wheel, or the gardener the petals of an opening flower.