A choice that meditators sometimes encounter is whether to practice sitting with our eyes open or closed. I recommend changing it up – sometimes meditating with eyes open and at other times closed – depending on what works best for the situation.
A friend asked me about how to use meditation to avoid feeling physical pain. I replied that, yes, classically, there are mindfulness techniques that help us to turn away from and avoid pain, but usually these are just preliminaries to turning towards and fully feeling the pain.
One way to understand meditation practice is to see it as similar to the habit of physical exercise and working out, which is something that more people are more familiar with and able to understand.
We can get liberated with any sensation: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, subtle or strong, dynamic or static, mental, physical, or of the external senses. The point is how we relate to the sensation.
People sometimes ask me my opinion of Transcendental Meditation. This is what I have to say about it:
We can recognize a deeply effective mindfulness technique by noticing that it usually has three aspects to it: concentrating the mind, providing deep sensory richness, and cultivating a calm, steady, equanimous mind.
For many people establishing a meditation practice, buying a sitting cushion of one’s own is a big moment. Many people find that there is something special about having their own cushion…
The technique that I have found most useful for meditation while driving is to simply be present and focused on the sense impressions of the act of driving – to see what is going on around us, to keep our ears open for the sounds of traffic, and to be aware of the bodily feeling of sitting in a car seat holding a steering wheel. We can developing an all-round awareness of what is to our sides and behind us as well as in front, inside our cars and outside, repeatedly releasing wandering thoughts so as to bring ourselves back to the richness of the present moment.
One question that sometimes comes up for people who are learning how to meditate is whether it is a good idea to meditate in the period between climbing into bed and actually drifting off to sleep.
Fifteen years ago, I felt unsettled after reading a transcription of a talk given by one of my Zen teachers, Tenshin Reb Anderson. The piece was entitled “A Ceremony for the Encouragement of Zazen”.
I felt fine about Tenshin Roshi expressing the common Zen teaching that full liberation (and “oneness with the universe”) is not something that we can simply capture or do through our own intentions or efforts, but that we can align with our true place in the cosmos by sitting meditation (called “zazen” in Japanese Zen). What this piece said that I had not heard before, and disliked reading, was the idea that the true meaning of meditation is only realized within the context of a “ceremony”.
A traditional teaching in the Buddhist lineage is that the best times of day to engage in formal, still meditative practice is first thing in the morning, upon waking up from sleep and before the day gets going, or right before sleeping, as the challenges of another day on Earth wind down and slip away. I personally feel best about the practice of meditating first thing in the morning
I believe that breath meditation is the best place for people to start a regular meditation practice; it is the most basic, foundational, beginner meditation practice. This post contains some breath meditation instructions for beginners.
Not only is “mindfulness” a popular trend that’s sweeping the nation, but “mindfulness in the workplace” specifically is too. This post will give you some suggestions for helpful techniques for staying spacious and open when working an office job.
A friend recently emailed me and asked:
I have been running into an insanely simple but complicated problem and wanted to know if you could offer any advice:
Over the years, people have often asked me for recommendations for Buddhist meditation resources for beginners. Here is what I have been suggesting:
A straight up masterpiece. This book is filled with deep, true, authentic Buddhist wisdom, and yet is written in an easy, extraordinarily clear Americanized vernacular. It is a comprehensive introduction for mindfulness meditation practice, filled with clear instructions for the path. The book challenges the reader to go deep and to practice properly, but it also has a simple, patient, humorous, kind, smiling vibe to it. It covers a wide ground, and yet touches on each subject in depth.
Yesterday, we finished our nine day sesshin (meditation intensive). I am been yet again amazed at how deep one can go with this practice.
My experience started with three days of sitting in the meditation hall with the full assembly of monks for the first couple hours in the morning and for the last forty minutes at night, but working in the kitchen in between. I found that, contrary to my expectations, I loved that practice. I cooked six gallons of rice each day, and also ripped chard, sorted beans, chopped vegetables, and washed, dried, a put away a truckload of dishes.
I am finishing this and sending it out on the twenty fourth day out of my ninety here, a couple days past one quarter done. Yes, I am often aware of every day passing while I am here. At times since I have arrived here it has seemed like the days have crawled by (especially when during meditation intensives, missing my friends my friends back in the normal world, or when I have otherwise been lacking ease). Other times, though, I have been amazed at how fast another day has flown by.