Did you happen to make a New Year’s resolution to meditate more?! If so, here is a little encouragement to hopefully help you keep to it.
Over the past 35 years I’ve noticed that meditation classes in January are always packed because people have made the New Year’s resolution to learn to meditate, or to step up their existing practice. (January is also retreat season at Kadampa Buddhist centers around the world, the traditional time to focus on meditation practice.) Meditation means familiarizing our mind with positivity, so we can do it anywhere all day long — I am talking here about so-called “meditation sessions”, where we sit down and close our eyes etc.
If you do want to devote some more time and energy to meditation, there are now quite a few tips and tricks on Kadampa Life to help keep you going — and with any luck even longer than January😉 Sometime ago I talked about a simple breathing meditation taught by Geshe Kelsang, which anyone can learn to do. You can find a series of articles on meditation, including improving your mindfulness and concentration, here.
Off we go!
If you are new to meditation, to begin with it can feel quite difficult because your mind doesn’t seem to be following the instructions. Perhaps you have attended a meditation class where the teacher says, “Merge your mind with your breath”, in a really special meditator’s voice, and you think, “Well, that sounds nice and peaceful, I’m going to do that. And then afterwards I’m going to watch some TV. Oh, what about that thing I did earlier?” And we’re gone. We just go — our mind zooms off into the far reaches of the universe in an instant. It doesn’t really want to behave. In fact it sometimes seems perverse, intentionally insisting: “I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to meditate on the breath. I’m going to think about this boring old thing again instead.”
The more you practice, especially if you are sometimes able to practice together with others, the more you’ll find that you are beginning to really enjoy meditating. After a while, you’re going to really want to meditate, and before too long you’ll find you can’t do without meditating. To begin with it’s like, “Oh I meditated today!”, as if that’s a really special thing, but eventually it will become like, “I haven’t meditated today, no wonder I’m so wacky.” This is because we start developing our own sense of centering our awareness and experiencing inner peace. We see for ourselves the deep healing effect it has on our body and our mind, and as a result how much better our relationships are with others. Everything improves when we get a bit of control over our mind, when our mind starts to get a bit peaceful.
Why is meditation difficult to begin with?
But meditation is quite difficult to begin with. Which, when you think about it, is a bit puzzling. Why should meditation be difficult? Why should placing our mind upon our breath be difficult? Fixing our computer, that’s difficult. Fixing our car, that’s difficult. Twisting our body into some upside-downward dog yoga posture, that’s difficult. But keeping our mind on our breath, surely that should be simple?! That should be like child’s play. What could be a simpler instruction?
And our breath is already here, we don’t have to invent it, we already have the first step. When we meditate on more contemplative objects of meditation, like love or compassion, we first have to spend some time seeking in order to awaken those states of mind, and then we meditate on those. We mix our mind with those to gain a deep pervasive experience of love and compassion. But that’s quite subtle. We have to cultivate love, we have to cultivate compassion. But we don’t have to cultivate our breath. It is already there. All we need to do is put our mind on it and leave it there, like parking the car. I find parking the car to be really quite easy – I just park it and leave it. But try and do the same thing with our minds, and they don’t behave, do they?! Our mind doesn’t stay parked, it trundles away.
In fact, to begin with, the meditator’s main task is to keep bringing the mind back to the breath. Our main task is not so much staying on the breath but reminding ourselves, “Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be meditating. I forgot.” And then we bring the mind back. We do this over and over again. (Luckily, this is training in mindfulness and concentration.)
It is like training a dog. We rein the dog in. The dog goes trotting off. We rein him in again. “Heel!” The mind keeps trotting off. Why? Habit. It is just a question of (bad) habit. That is why meditation is difficult. Our untrained puppy-like mind is used to being undisciplined and, when we begin to meditate, there is a sense in which we are beginning to exercise discipline over the mind. We are beginning to direct the mind.
Meditating on the breath is the beginning of learning to direct our mind to gain some concentration and control, and then we can learn to direct our mind in directions that are positive. Our meditations on love, compassion and so on will take us where we want to go and fulfill all our wishes.
Everything in our life hinges upon the mind. What we see is that, as we begin to gain control over our mind, we begin to gain control over our life. If we can transform our mind from negative to positive, we can and will transform our life.
Talking of transforming our lives, if you are new to meditation and would like to find out more, I recommend reading Transform Your Life ~ A Blissful Journey. Learning to meditate, and gradually getting better and better at it, is a really blissful journey in fact, especially if you stick at it for longer than the first week of January!
If you want to join in a meditation retreat near you, or attend meditation classes, you can find out where your nearest center is through Kadampa.org.
Your turn: Let me know if you want to add something to this, or if you have any questions. And please share this article with family and friends who might be curious about learning to meditate.