As promised, both to myself and those interested in meditation, here are some thoughts about How to Meditate by Pema Chodron. This is the MP3 of a 5 week retreat with Pema Chodron. It has 5 “chapters” or sessions (or songs according to Zune). Each session stresses a different Intention. Pema talks about the intention and does some exercises, then leads a meditation and gives some homework.
The first session is about Stability. Pema says that we have tremendous ability to work with our mind, no matter what state our mind is in. The intention of this session is to help you stabilize your mind.
Pema talked about the goal of the Dharma (whether practice or teaching) is to remove Dukkha. Dukkha is usually translated as “suffering,” but she explains that both pain and pleasure are Dukkha and the idea is that pain and pleasure are just a part of life. And rather than the confusing concept of ego, she explains that suffering (Dukkha) is in the mind.
Pema says we have to grow up to the fact, mature to the fact that there is going to be pain in our lives. “Mood energies” run through all beings, just like weather. How do we work with that? Do we completely identify with that and get dragged down by that or are we just present. Isn’t this pretty much what we were talking about the other day? Moods are like the weather, you can’t change them by wishing them away, they just are. And in the Buddhist philosophy, you have to be present with the mood but not obsessed with it.
She said that Dukkha is constantly being dissatisfied with the state of pain. Feeling somehow that if there’s pain in any form that we want to run away from that, avoid that. Trying to escape pain causes suffering or dissatisfaction. If we work with our mind, that’s the only place that suffering will cease, and that’s the only place that happiness and contentment will happen.
For example, if you are walking on the earth and it is hurting your feet, one solution is to wrap the whole earth in leather – which is impractical. But you could also just wrap your feet in leather, and the whole earth becomes possible to walk on without hurting your feet.
We often approach suffering with the idea that we need to change the external forces that are hurting us. Instead, we can work with our minds to alleviate all the suffering that seems to come from the outside.
I like the idea, though I’m not sure I believe it yet. But I do see where I try to run away from the things that make me unhappy – or at least I want to run away from or escape them. On the one hand, I get that it’s not so much the outside stuff that makes me “suffer” but the way I respond to them. And I know that I can’t change much about these stressful things. I know that I only have control over my reactions to the stressful things. On the other, I feel like I can’t feel okay until the stressful things go away – or until I can escape from them.
So I get the concept, but I’m not sure I believe in it. Yet.
I did the first exercises, which were all about Settling in, being present with what is going on in your mind. When you meditate, explained Pema, the first thing you have to do is settle in – to check in and have a sense of being here and knowing what you brought in with you.
Meditation is the process of staying present. Shamatha is stabilizing the mind; training the mind to be present. Training, over the course of years, the ability to place the mind on the object, noticing when you drift off and coming back to the object (the breath).
Which is where I paused. Next comes the first meditation and I was too tired to try it last night. This morning, oh how does anyone do morning meditation? I suppose it would be good to practice in this state of tired fuzziness. The idea is that you can work with your mind in whatever state it is in. It surely does not feel possible yet.
I learned some things doing the exercises, however. You know how I’ve said that meditation has been on my goal list a long time and I keep not doing it? I realized as I was checking in to what I was feeling and what I was thinking, that I was feeling fearful that I wouldn’t/couldn’t do it right. I’ve done different types of meditation in the past but sitting meditation (Zazen) was really hard for me and I never felt I mastered it. I was doing the exercises and worrying that because I cannot sit in the proper posture, then I can’t do the meditation. And I can’t stay focused – so instead of just being present with that feeling, I started obsessing about how I wasn’t staying present. The same with feeling, really. I felt like I was forcing an awareness of feeling alone and kept drifting back to the thoughts about being able to do this right. And when trying to be present with how I was feeling physically, I started with being present with the physical pain I was experiencing but then focused on how much I wanted to move and how I couldn’t possibly meditate when the pain was there and how I wanted it to go away. It was really hard to just stay present with it. And I suppose that still is about the obsession that I can’t do this right.
So, the next step is to do the full meditation exercises and work on the homework. Or maybe, rather, the first thing is to decide I’m doing this and make time in my life to meditate a little every day.
p.s., by the usual bizarre coincidences that run my life, Leo is writing about the fear of discomfort this morning, too. His focus is on how fear of discomfort, wanting to run away from it, is ruining your life. The universe might be trying to tell me something.