KP: I have a deep interest in practicing meditation. Well, to be honest, I am just a beginner. I saw some online instructional videos on Youtube about Zazen and, tried to practice it by counting the breath 1 to 10 (so on)..but, I am not sure I am doing it right. My mind wanders a lot during this. I have tried to find a good instructor to teach me meditation- but, unfortunately I could not find any. Can you please help me out by telling me how I can practice meditation by myself.And, which meditation would be best for me? (Sorry, I do not know much about differentiation of meditations)
Also, I would like to tell you that sometimes in my life, I get sad, scared and disheartened, so I want to overcome these weaknesses through meditation.
Jay: There are many different ways that different people talk about meditation – a lot of advice and suggestions, practices and techniques for achieving various things.
Let’s take a simpler look at it. In our normal way of moving through life, we are often not able to notice very much. We move quickly. We react. We may even get confused. But we don’t understand what is happening to us because we are going to fast and don’t have enough subtlety of listening.
So if I want to understand myself – the sadness or depression or the hope for something better – it is necessary to slow down and listen more carefully. The easiest way to do this is to sit still.
When I say “listen” more carefully, I am including listening with the eyes, nose, skin, body, heart, mind, as well as the ears. You could also call it seeing or presence or attention. It is being awake to what is going on at this unique moment.
In case you are worried that you aren’t doing this correctly, it is certainly true that you are the only one who can find your way into this current moment. Or maybe it is better to say that all that is needed is for this moment to find its way into you. This is a very simple thing. The current moment is here. How can you miss it?
Don’t worry about the state of your mind, whether there are lots of thoughts or there are few thoughts. Whether you feel happy, strong, sad, or scared. It doesn’t matter at all what comes up, what is seen. The only important thing is the fact of seeing itself. The space of seeing/hearing/feeling. Can you trust this – that it doesn’t matter what the content of the mind is. It is only important that what is going on is seen openly, acceptingly, caringly, without needing to change it or fix it at all.
This is a radical thing because almost immediately when we become aware – in a simple moment of listening – that there is a negative state of mind, the mind reacts and judges it, wants to get rid of it, to fix it, to come up with a grand plan for the future to become better. In all of this reacting, the simple moment of seeing is covered over with confusion and effort and difficulty. This reacting can also be seen as it starts to operate.
The more that is seen, the more intelligence and compassion begins to operate in our lives.
So maybe you can see that nothing special is required to sit down and listen to what is going on. Anyone can do this immediately. It doesn’t matter that what is going on is wandering thoughts or sadness. It is true that when the mind is lost in daydreams, nothing else is really seen. But when the mind is lost in daydreams, there is no one there to do anything about it!! Then in a sudden moment the mind wakes up and it’s clear that daydreaming was going on. In that moment the daydreaming is over, so there is no need to thing, how do I keep myself from daydreaming. I’ve been meditating for 40 years and I can say there is no way to keep myself from daydreaming! But there is always a waking up that happens by itself.
The mind daydreams a lot when it is tired and needs rest and when it has a lot of experience that it has not had quiet time to process. If you would like a little more wakefulness, then give the mind a little more quiet time so that it can do what it needs to do. When it is rested, it will wake up.
I hope you will not feel like trying too hard to overcome sadness, fear, depression. It is a lot of work and can make you tired, sad, fearful, and depressed!! Rather, simply get to know what these feelings really are. You may say that you know that you know them too well and would rather get rid of them. However, it is unlikely that you know them well enough. If you really understood these things at the root, they would not be a problem for you. I don’t mean psychological understanding. I mean watching yourself when these feelings come up. Be carefully in touch with your reactions to the feelings, with the thoughts that go with them, with what brings the feelings up, when the feelings start to fade away, and what keeps them going further.
It takes very patient listening to come to know these things, which means coming to know more deeply what I am. It may take years of listening for these feelings to unfold. Or it may not take any time at all. Listening means without knowing, without looking for some answer. It is listening in the way that a mother sits very, very still holding her baby in her arms while the baby gets the sleep that it so much needs.
So when you feel sad, you can listen and wonder. What is it that’s really going on? If I don’t label this experience right now with the word sad, what is it really? There is breathing going on, maybe shallow, maybe deep. There is a warm feeling in the eyes. Maybe a feeling of some kind in the chest. Some sounds from around me. The feel of air on the skin. All of this is going on without a label. What part of this is sadness? I don’t know.
Listening opens us ever more deeply to what we are. A story is coming to mind. A man lives near the ocean and every day he looks out at the ocean and sees, far out in the water, a patch of darkness. He begins to worry about this patch of darkness. It depresses him and worries him. It is there almost every day. It seems to spoil the beauty of the ocean. He wants to know how to get rid of it. So he finds a boat and rows himself out into the ocean where the dark spot is. He studies it up close. He thinks about it. He worries more. He feels that he knows this dark spot because he has studied it but something is still worrying him. Then one day he rows out to the dark spot and leans over to examine it but he falls into the water! As he sinks under the surface, he looks up and sees the sun shining through the dark spot and lighting up the ocean all around him with amazing beauty. Once he gets back to the boat and to his home, he doesn’t worry about the dark spot again. He had seen!
only the surface before but now he has entered into the depths. Instead of being concerned about the spot, he now knows the ocean itself.
So simple listening is actually profound. It doesn’t bother too much with what is seen but it shines light on everything.
I hope that helps for now. Feel free to write back if you have questions.
KP: Thanks for your wonderful reply.
Let me explain you about my thoughts- well, due to some job and personal life related insecurities, I feel scared of my future. I know nothing has happened so far. To me, this is like an anticipation of the “bad” which have not happened yet. It comes to me, when I am free.
I really like your suggestion about listening and embracing your thoughts without labeling them with the terms- Sad/Happy. And, if I got it right what you said, in my situation I should just observe the root cause of these thoughts and, just let them go without caring/ reacting to them? Am I right? Please clarify me if I got it wrong.
Also, Can you please suggest me a proper meditation method that I could follow daily? I am a person who likes to have a methodology for anything I do. It makes me feel confident.
Thanks and Regards
Jay: Methodology does create a certain sense of safety or comfort. It is good for many things in life where we have to be in control. But for the simple energy of Presence – of being in touch with all of life – methodology doesn’t really help.
You don’t have to believe me when I say this. It’s better for you to experiment with this for yourself. Part of our fear is the fear of not having a safe methodology that we can trust. In fact, this might be a good fear because for much of life, having a known approach is not the best way but we have forgotten what knew as a small baby – how to live life spontaneously in touch each moment.
So sitting quietly in meditation is a chance to relearn what it is to just be alive and in touch. If you experiment, you may find that if you apply a methodology, such as counting the breath, and then you let go of that methodology for a moment, that when you let go of it, you are more aware of what is going on around you. When you apply the counting, your attention narrows down to the counting.
I can’t say which way is best. You have to find out for yourself what it is like to focus on something like counting and what it is like to let go of focusing. You may find that one way feels comfortable because it is “known”, familiar. The other way may feel uncomfortable because there is no strategy to hold on to and it feels unknown. So it is for you to find out for yourself what the unknown really is.
You described the insecurities that you feel about your job and life situation and your fear of the future. It’s true that this is based on things that haven’t actually happened yet. You might examine this to see if part of your fear is of the unknown. When we start to sense the whole area of the unknown – such as thinking about the future – we get afraid. We have no control over the unknown. But we usually do not really experience the unknown for what it is right now. It is simply the realm of existence that includes but goes far beyond what we can put in words and what we can control. I’m not talking about something mystical. It is really very ordinary. For example, if you see a flower some time, you can see that there are some things you know about it. Maybe you know what it’s called, how to grow it, where you can buy one. But then if you just stop and look at it, smell it, feel it, sense the ground that it’s growing in and the sunshine that is shining on it and the air that brings it fresh oxygen, you can see that this phenomenon is so much more than you could ever put a word on. There is nothing to be afraid of in this unknown because it is what we are, just as it’s what the flower is. But like someone who has lived in a prison all of their life, we are afraid to step outside of what we know.
The antidote to this is to become comfortable once in a while with letting go of all attempts to control, to apply a method, and just see if it is possible for a short time to sit and experience what is right here without needing to change it. Little by little you may find that the world begins to open you up.
If you find yourself with thoughts or feelings of sadness or happiness, then, just like with the flower, not to be too concerned with what you know about them. It’s ok to listen to what you know – “I’m sad again. Why am I always sad? How do I stop being sad? Maybe I can meditate and change my sadness.” and so on. That’s what you know about it and how you want to control it by knowing. Then, when you are tired of what you know about it, you can just open to not knowing at all and let everything in.
Is there a root cause of these thoughts? I don’t know. But it is easy to see that the thoughts are very limited and only operate in the tiny realm of what is knowable and controllable.
I hope this addresses your concerns. Good luck and feel free to write back.