Want quicker results from your meditation? Start where you are.


Earlier today I was drinking tea and half-watching my (borrowed) cats. One of them made her happy Meow sound at me, and I felt a sudden surge of love for her, thinking “May she find temporary and ultimate happiness.” I then felt like meditating, and my heart-mind was in just the right place for it to be a good one. Truth is, I always start my meditations by connecting to something immediately present and taking it from there, which could be why I never have any problem wanting to meditate.

Buddhist meditation is about training in happiness — authentic happiness that comes from a peaceful and positive mind as opposed to the excitement that arises from attachment and/or the ephemeral pleasant feelings from worldly pleasures that are actually changing suffering. (For more on changing suffering, see the beautiful big Lamrim book, Joyful Path of Good Fortune.)

The Tibetan word for meditation, “gom”, literally means “to familiarize” – so meditation is familiarizing our mind with positive, beneficial ways of looking at the world and other people. We can do formal meditation sessions on our meditation seats, and — luckily for us in our crazy time-consumed lives — we can also learn to stay positive all day long whatever we are doing. We don’t have to spend hours and hours in meditation sessions or be fantastically proficient at single-pointed concentration to familiarize our mind with positivity; we simply need to watch our mind throughout the day and check that we are always coming back to our heart as a starting point of positivity and peace.

To be able to come back to a place of positivity and peace, we need to know what that feels like! In other words, we need to get happy as our first priority. Being a miserable meditator is a contradiction in terms. If you feel that you are a miserable meditator, you might want to change your approach.

Every morning before the day’s activities have fully kicked in and we have even five or ten minutes of free space, we can meditate on happiness in a meditation session. We can do this in any number of spectacular ways by meditating on the stages of the path, training the mind, or Mahamudra… slowly but surely over the years we fill a huge reservoir with blissful liberating nectar-like meditations that will always be there for us to draw upon.

But however advanced we feel we are along the spiritual path, it is always very effective to start each meditation session simply by connecting to a happy mind that we are already familiar with. (You can do the following before or after a simple traditional breathing meditation if you wish.)

If you have faith in any holy beings, you can invite them into your heart and feel that your mind flows into their cosmically blissful and loving mind like a small stream flowing into a vast ocean, and feel as blissful as you can. And/or, for example, you can manifest your mind of love, which is guaranteed to come with happiness.

We already have the seed of universal love in us and we can water it with no further ado by bringing to mind someone whom we love already. This can be anyone – a niece, your mother, your best friend, your cat or dog. Think about how lovely they are, how they look at you, and how much you want them to be happy. Allow a feeling of warmth to arise in your heart and hold it there for as long as you can. Identify with that happy affectionate feeling, thinking,

“This is me; this is part of my sky-like Buddha nature. All my agitated, unpeaceful states of mind are not me — they are like clouds in the sky, not the sky itself.”

Then do your meditation, however long or short it is, from that starting point. What a big difference it makes! In other words, use what you have inside already, which is a lot. Don’t feel the results you seek are somewhere else and you need to strain in contemplation and meditation to bring them about. That dualistic way of meditating is no fun and sooner or later you’ll tire of it as it is like trying to sail to an ever-receding horizon.

Then throughout the busy day, check just one thing: “Am I happy?” We have a motto in the Kadampa tradition:

“Always rely upon a happy mind alone.”

If our mind is not happy, I think it is fair to say that we are not being mindful of any meditation object, even if we are superficially going through the motions of virtue. On the other hand, if our mind is relatively contented or happy (not excited, remember, but peaceful spacious happy), we can know for sure that we are practicing meditation and making progress.

Throughout the day we can adjust and fine-tune the mind so that we are relying upon — or only trusting — a happy mind alone. If we notice our mind becoming agitated, we know not to rely on the evidence that mind seems to present us with, because delusions distort reality like a storm destroying the accurate reflections in a still ocean. We can pause for a few valuable minutes to reconnect to whatever can instantly bring us joy, such as love for our dog with those big brown eyes. And then carry on.

Talking of dogs, my close friend and excellent Buddhist teacher uses the analogy of taking a dog for a walk. The main part of your attention is on walking along, enjoying the scenery and getting to where you have to go, but one part of your mind is always aware of what the dog is up to. It is possible that he will need to be called to heel before he wreaks destruction in someone’s flower bed or eats a pigeon. In the same way, in our daily life we need to focus on what needs to be done at work and so on, but with one part of our mind we are checking to see whether or not we are happy and, if we’re not, we can do something about that.

Comments most welcome! Please share this article if you like it.

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Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 35 years' experience, I write about applying Buddhist meditation to our everyday lives. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

20 thoughts on “Want quicker results from your meditation? Start where you are.”

  1. Ok. I never realised this!. I’ve always tried to do analytical med from the texts and often struggled to get the strength of feeling for placement. I think this will help a lot.Thanks 🙂 xx

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  2. This was a powerful moment in your writing: “If we notice our mind becoming agitated, we know not to rely on the evidence that mind seems to present us with, because delusions distort reality like a storm destroying the accurate reflections in a still ocean. We can pause for a few valuable minutes to reconnect to whatever can instantly bring us joy, such as love for our dog with those big brown eyes. And then carry on.”

    Thank you for that.

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    1. It is something i’ve thought about ever since I first heard the words “Always rely upon a happy mind alone.” That Kadampa expression has been possibly the most helpful one of all for me over the years, which is saying something!

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  3. Thanks Luna
    I found this particularly interesting and helpful. I find I am tired a lot of the time when I try to do formal practice. I am encouraged now to try again to start each day with some meditation and then keep trying to tap in to some peace through the day. I am fed up with being a miserable meditator. I will try without grasping to be happy.

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  4. What a wonderful article. What comes to my mind in reading it is the value of using our imaginative abilities to create something real and joyful. Then being able to return to it as reality anytime day or night. Of course this is possible for anyone but combining it with meditation is constructing a lasting image.

    I was directed to your article from the Huff-Post where I posted as ljsco. Thanks again!

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    1. Hi Bill, thank you for your comment. You are spot on — everything begins in our imagination as to exist is to be imputed by conceptual thought. And with the addition of concentration and meditation, we can literally recreate our world by being able to maintain “lasting images”, as you put it — and experiences that we ourselves have decided to create (blissful ones!) That is all explained in the practice of Tantra. I hope to read more comments from you in the future.

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  5. This is such a wonderful and encouraging article. Thanks so much for sharing. I especially found the line “If our mind is not happy, I think it is fair to say that we are not being mindful of any meditation object, even if we are superficially going through the motions of virtue” really helpful.

    Thanks so much!

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    1. I’m glad you liked that sentence. It is helpful to remember that meditation is happiness training, not pushing and straining all the while identifying with being miserable, even if we feel kind of “virtuous” because we are supposedly engaged in virtuous actions.

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  6. I sometimes feel afraid of the feelings inside my heart, my troubled minds, the anxieties, the strong desires, the flashes of strong anger, loneliness and the fear itself. But this morning i awoke at 5…well Amelie my one year old woke me up for milk..afterwards i sat and looked inside with braveness, i faced all the darkness, i sat inside the pain and simply observed…told myself ‘this is not me, this is also not me…’ Then i realised what was the cause, if i look long enough my wisdom tells me..it’s not a new house i need…or friends… or a partner to love… or more sleep! But contentment, acceptance of my predicament, that i am at present trapped in MY own Samsara, then Renunciation and patience arose.

    I think what was different was that i really believed that contentment is always there in me, it can’t go away but the delusions can, i gave the mind of contentment power to remain and like boiling water when it cools i found the stillness within the calm waters of my mind had shown me my true face… of inner peace…i went with it followed that peace and found the nature of my mind..spacious empty and allowed it to expand limitlessly..no one to grasp at… no one to be afraid…. i could relax… i thought this is liberation… this is Nirvanaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

    I also forget the most simplest of ways to begin my meditation and that is my love for my daughter, oh how i love her! Why did i ignore that when i begin to meditate? I think it’s because i often make my delusions bigger and so feel as if i am going into a war situation brandishing my weapons of patience and wisdom to fight a real foe. I don’t see them as illusory..my feelings and my state of mind are only mere appearances to my mind..actually when i use something immediately present like my love for Amelie then they all disappear like i have just put the light on.

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