We had a meditation class last Saturday; a "Day of Peace." It’s a monthly occurrence here at Vimutti and it was my first formal meditation class. The schedule was an introduction and explanation @ 8:30, followed by time spent just sitting, quieting down and relaxing until 9:15. We were encouraged not to speak throughout the day, to aid in cultivating a quality called "mindfulness," which I’ll touch on later. Our first meditation was a guided sitting meditation. Here Ajahn Chandako gave us advice on breath meditative techniques as we all slipped into the collective trance. During meditation, we’re to focus on one specific idea, word, sensation…Anything really. And in this case, it was the breath itself, and we worked on keeping the mind focused solely on that and preventing it’s natural tendencies to wander. It’s…Rather difficult.
Try it. Find a comfortable position, sitting upright, back straight, hands at your sides, eyes closed, and start taking deep, regular breaths. And focus on the breath. Just the breath itself, not the number of breaths, your lungs, or anything else that crops up. Your attention invariably wanders, and then we get to the crux of the exercise, which is to recognize when nit does and direct it back to the breath. Generally, the more time passes, the more difficult it becomes.
At 9:15-10:00 we performed a guided sitting meditation, then from 10-10:45, we performed a walking meditation. During the walking meditation, the meditative object is generally a single sensation associated with walking outdoors, such as the feel of one’s feet on the grass or the sun on one’s skin. But again, the idea is to focus, and not to look at the insects buzzing about or listen to birdsong, unless they were the meditative object to begin with.
Interestingly, the meditative object matters less than the focus found in mindfulness itself. You could meditate on the flavor if pepperoni pizza if you wanted to (mmm…pizza…); it’s the focus that’s truly important.
At noon we then performed EATING meditation, which is an analysis of our thought processes and actions during the meal while eating in silence; eating MINDFULLY (sensing a pattern?). I enjoyed this one most of all,and not just because I love home cooked Thai food which was in abundance. For instance, I noted first my strong recurring desire for the line to move along. A space develops between the man in front of me and the person in front of him and I wish he’d step forward before someone else cuts in line; that poached fish looks too good, I hope there’s some left for me; is that Pad Thai? Ahhh…That bite was delicious…Followed by a decline of endorphins as the rush of flavor dissipates and I hope to find it once more with a second bite. Ohhh…That wasn’t fish…And it’s SPICY. Too spicy. Yuck; put it aside. How disappointing; need more endorphins…More Pad Thai…All the things we do without realizing it. Our unfocused minds a blur, moving from one fleeting thought to the next.
At 1:15-1:45 we had a question period where I asked about a sensation I had during the first sitting meditation…After Ajahn rang the small bell to signal the end of it, I came to only to realize that I had no sense of passed time. I hadn’t been sleeping but I wasn’t being mindful either, it was weird. It was a "void" sensation, as I described it. I didn’t get an entirely satisfactory answer but it sounded like I reached a beneficial state for wellness, though useless for the development of mindfulness. I’ll take what I can get though; generally after 10-15 minutes my mind wanders far too much and I can’t continue. Still new at this after all. 1:45-2:30 we had another walking meditation period, and then from 2:30-3:15 we had a final sitting meditation. Lastly at 3:15 we had tea and final discussion and questions.
The practical study of consciousness, which is what meditation comes down to, is becoming fascinating. I’m already finding benefits from practiced mindfulness. For one, I’m starting to remember my nightly dreams, rather than losing them in the haze of waking. I’m considering starting a dream/deja vu log to further develop my study. I took pictures but I can’t upload them at the moment. Check this space in the future.
Notes taken from Alex’s papers on Shamatha (Peaceful Abiding) before he had to leave due to allergies…
– prepare one’s mind by assessing how one feels before each session; energy level, hunger, pain, feeling
– imagine a string attached to one’s head, spine being pulled erect. Hands on one’s thighs, palms downwards. Tuck chin in gently and relax the jaw, tongue relaxed and against upper teeth. Mouth slightly open, gaze downwards with eyes closed or half closed.
– be aware of the breath. Stay with the feeling. If you space out or lose track, try counting the in and out cycles of breathing. Once focus is gained, concentrate on air movements, in and out. Try shifting your idea of the breath from your mouth and nose to the breath being a connection to a greater force; the movements of breath coming in from all around; shifting awareness
– point is to synchronize body and mind
– acknowledge distracting thoughts and allow them to dissipate, then return to the breath
Level One: 21 breath cycles without distracting thoughts
Level Two: 108 breath cycles without distracting thoughts
Level Three: Stability. "Catching thoughts before they occur."
Level Four: Complete non-distraction but not as good because it could be dangerous; it feels so good we can be fooled into believing it’s the perfect stage.
Level Five: Marked by bliss. True fruits of a tamed mind. (note: very vague as to when revealed and what the results truly are.)
Level Six: Complete domination (?) over untamed mind, time to shape it (?)
Level Seven: Even the slightest thoughts must go. Rid of attachments to how good meditation feels.
Level Eight: Cannot be distracted. Still takes slight effort to attune oneself to breath.
Level Nine: Waking meditation; the perfect mind.