Sunday, October 23, 2011

Practical Challenges in Meditation

Bear in mind that the process being undertaken is gradual, so concentration will improve with practice. That’s why it’s called bhâvanâ or cultivation, development. We don’t need to be perfect on the first day, and we will need patience and determination to sustain our efforts when our mind wanders. Simple acknowledgement and returning to a focus on the breath is all that is needed.

It’s not a question of rejecting or fighting against our “monkey mind”, or of blocking thoughts or trying to blank them out. Samatha meditation is more about accepting what is in our mind and gently determining to return to the object of meditation, rather than getting upset or frustrated.

The good news is that the moments of pure concentration and one-pointedness will become longer and more frequent with practice, and the distractions will become less prominent and less frequent.

Avoid attaching too much significance to the thoughts and images that arise, or trying to analyse and investigate them. Images of people, places and colours are not unusual, and can arise for many reasons. However, they have no intrinsic essence – being transient and uncontrollable – and may simply be our mind’s way of trying to find something more interesting for us to consider. Since our concentration cannot stay fully on two different objects, we need to return to the breath.

If particular urges arise, you can review the best time to practice. If these become disturbing, consider reading some Buddhist texts or some simple rituals, like short chants or pujas, before beginning the following sessions.

Tiredness can be an issue, so it is best not to meditate straight after a meal. It is also possible to practise with the eyelids slightly open if one is very tired. Having good ventilation, an upright posture and adequate sleep are better than forcing alertness artificially, such as with coffee.

Finally, it is important to remain determined to practise regularly and with dedication over an extended period. In this way we will develop the skills of concentration and awareness that we need to build our meditation practice further. While it is simple to find reasons to put off the next session, like longing for the perfect conditions to meditate, we need to develop the habit of daily meditation to make the work more fruitful.