In this episode we talk about meditation in general and about some types of meditation in particular.
Recently I taught a course on Shamatha meditation at Yamantaka FPMT center in Bogotá, Colombia. Shamatha means calm-abiding and attentional training through meditation. At the end of several weeks of teaching and practice, we had a meditation retreat to put all the things learned into practice.
Our motivation is what determines whether our meditation practice is a superficial patch to relieve some stress and relax us, or if it is a deeper practice that can lead us to completely free ourselves from dissatisfaction, pain, fear and discover genuine happiness. Moreover, our motivation may be so great that it leads us to practice meditation not only for our own benefit but also for that of others.
I recommend reading the article where I talk about how to structure your meditation session. Thus, when we sit down to meditate we spend the first 1 to 5 minutes of our practice reflecting on the motivation for which we meditate, trying to be honest with ourselves. We reflect on how important it is to train our minds to change habits, to cultivate attention and concentration and to free ourselves from mental afflictions. Think of the benefits of training your mind in attention and wisdom and cultivating emotional and mental balance. Think that your formal sessions are equivalent to going to the gym but in this case what you are training is the mind. And reflect on the positive effects of practicing daily. Thus we are motivated to practice properly.
Reflect on how valuable it is to have health, free time and desire to train your mind, and appreciate every moment in which you can sit and meditate, because you don’t know when disease, old age and death will come. Determine to take advantage of every moment, living in the present with a calm and attentive mind, cultivating a good heart and developing your wisdom.
At the end of our meditation, we commit to continue to be attentive to the motivations that move us to think, speak and act in a certain way. As we become more aware of why we do everything we do, we will realize what the motivations behind our actions are, and gradually we will realize that when we have selfish and self-centered motivations, we will be generating problems and suffering for ourselves and others. So little by little our main motivation will be to make ourselves and others happy.
The word meditation is sometimes used to refer to the act of reflection or relaxation. But in the context of contemplative traditions meditation involves habituating the mind, training it to cultivate specific mental states, habituating it to think or to visualize in a certain way or simply let the mind observe itself. There are also analytical meditations where you begin by reflecting on a topic but once the understanding is reached, you let the mind dwell in that understanding. So, meditation involves staying or arriving through a method to a non-conceptual experience.
Every day you meditate unconsciously, as you repeat and become used to certain thoughts, moods and reaffirm emotions and behaviors. Some of us are experts in meditating on anger, others on visualizing our enemies, self-criticism, and so on. There are also those who have trained to respond with patience and tranquility in any circumstance. But we all know that it is much easier to cultivate a negative habit than a positive one, because we tend to blame others and justify ourselves. Without realizing it, every day we are reinforcing habits and behaviors that cause us dissatisfaction and suffering.
Meditation is also called contemplation. Since it lead us to a state of contemplative or non-conceptual consciousness. This is not something from other world, we have all experienced it, for example when we are concentrated in an activity that does not require much analysis and reasoning, allowing us to enter a state of flux, we lose notion of time because we are totally present and relaxed. Like when we go out on the road and after some time of monotony in which we relax because there is not much to do, the driving is done almost automatically and there are few changes, we enter that state of relaxation that at the same time is very alert, but it doesn’t require a great intellectual process. Some authors speak of the left and right hemispheres, they say that when the left one doesn’t have a logical task to solve, it allows the right hemisphere to take control and this allows a more panoramic perception that includes all details and the relationships between them.
In many spiritual, philosophical, and contemplative traditions this ability of the mind to train itself has been valued greatly, and methods for consciously performing this training have been developed.
However, each tradition has given a different flavor to the contemplative practice, some have made it more devotional to produce certain exalted mental states, others have made it more technical for people who need to follow a technique step by step, others have developed analytical meditations to help people who are very rational to come to a conclusion through analysis and then to let go of the analysis while they rest to the mind allowing the acquired knowledge to settle, so to speak.
Thus, an endless number of different forms of meditation have been invented or discovered, with different aims and conditions.
Meditation is to relax our mind, but at the same time to keep it alert, present, awake and clear. There are many methods for meditation, some rely on visualizations, others on recitations of mantras, etc. But there are many misunderstandings about what meditation is. In the West it is commonly thought that meditation is to stop thinking, or relax until we fall asleep. This is a mistake.
Through meditation we can familiarize the mind with positive mental states, we can also develop attention and concentration and we can develop wisdom. We can become more aware of our negative thoughts, actions and habits and train our minds to become more kind, patient and generous people.
The meditations that I will share with you have different goals but we can group them into three big groups: ethics, attention and wisdom.
In the group of ethics meditations help us to cultivate a good heart, to become less selfish, and to think more about others. So how to work with negative emotions like anger, attachment, jealousy, arrogance, etc. And transform them into patience, generosity, kindness, compassion and equanimity.
In the attention group we have meditations that help us live in the present, freeing ourselves from recurring thoughts about the past and future concerns. They also help us find a balance between concentration and relaxation so that we can live fully without stress.
In the wisdom group we have meditations that help us understand how the world and ourselves exist and to relate wisely to experiences, people and objects around us. Without generating attachment or rejection towards these and without demanding of these a happiness that they can’t give us.
These meditations have their origins in the Buddhist tradition but are universal in the sense that they can benefit us all regardless of our beliefs, race or gender. All these practices have a benefit that we can experience for ourselves and do not require faith.
I recommend you start with the following meditations: