Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book: Chapter Six

And it's finished. The PDF will be available here.

Chapter Six: Daily Life

In this final chapter, I will outline some of the ways in which we can incorporate the meditation practice into our daily lives, so that, even when we are not formally meditating, we can still maintain a basic level of mindfulness and clear awareness.

Before explaining how to practice meditation in daily life, it is important to discuss those things from which it’s going to be important for us to abstain if our meditation practice is to be effective and bring sustained positive results into our lives.

As I mentioned in the beginning, meditation is a mental equivalent to medication and, as is well-known with most medication, there are always things that one must avoid taking in conjunction with the medication itself; certain things that, when taken together with the medication, will nullify the positive effects of the medication or, worse, are contraindicative to and will actually spoil the medication.

So when we take medication, there are always those things we will have to remove from our diet while we take the medication. Correspondingly, with meditation there are also certain things we will have to refrain from if we intend to incorporate it into our daily lives.

Meditation is meant to bring a state of clarity, of natural purity to the mind; to bring our minds back to a state of sobriety that is free from addiction, aversion, and delusion, and therefore free from suffering. Since certain actions, by way of body or by way of speech, are inevitably bound up in addiction, aversion, and delusion, these actions are invariably contraindicative to our meditation practice, since they have the opposite effect, creating a more muddled, a more defiled state of mind.

So certain actions we’re going to have to take out of our diet, so to speak, if our meditation is to be effective.1

1.The first mode of behaviour we have to do away with is killing; we have to make a promise to ourselves that we’re not going to kill living beings - not ants or mosquitoes or any sort of living animal.

2.The second is that we must abstain from theft. If our meditation is to be effective we have to be able to respect the possessions of other people and not to take things without permission.

3.Number three is to abstain from committing adultery or sexual misconduct, engaging in romantic relationships that are emotionally or spiritually damaging to other people, due to existing commitments of the parties involved.

4.Number four is to abstain from telling lies, deceiving other people, leading them away from reality.

5.And number five is to abstain from taking drugs or alcohol, those substances that will intoxicate our minds, taking us away from our natural, clear state of mind.

It's very important that we make a commitment to abstain from these actions completely if our meditation practice is to be successful, due to their inherently unwholesome nature, and the necessarily negative effect they have on our minds.

There are certain other things that we can be partake of, but must partake of in moderation, if our meditation is to be successful. These things are not necessarily unwholesome but, when undertaken in conjunction with the meditation, they take away from the clarity of the mind and therefore lessen the benefit one might otherwise gain from the practice, if they are undertaken out of moderation.2

One such occupation is eating; if we wish to progress rapidly in the meditation, we have to be careful not to eat too much or too little. If we’re all the time obsessed with food, it can be a great barrier to our progress in meditation since, not only does it become an obsession in the mind, over- and under-eating can create debilitating states of drowsiness and laziness, both in the body and mind. We should remind ourselves that we have to eat to stay alive but we are not alive simply to eat.

Another is entertainment; watching television, watching movies, listening to music and so on. These occupations are not unwholesome in and of themselves, but when undertaken in excess they can easily create states of addiction, states of insobriety in fact, in the mind, taking the mind out of its natural state of clarity. Use of the Internet, for example, to socialize, watch videos, etc., should be undertaken in moderation as well.

The third occupation to moderate is that of sleeping. Sleeping is one addiction that we often overlook and we don’t realize that we can become quite attached to sleep as a means to escape from the problems of the reality around us. Some people actually become insomniacs because they’re so obsessed with sleep that they think they are not getting “enough” sleep, which in turn leads them to increased stress levels and even more difficulty falling asleep.

In actual fact, we will find that, through the meditation practice, we need much less sleep than before. Lack of sleep for a meditator is not a real problem because when one is meditating one's mind is calm and pure at all times. So, when we cannot fall asleep, we should simply practice lying meditation, watching the stomach rise and fall, reminding ourselves “rising, falling”, all night if necessary. We will find that when morning comes we are as rested as if we had slept soundly all night.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that, to truly gain results in the meditation practice in a short time, a meditator should set aside at least a period of time to remain entirely celibate, rather than simply avoiding unwholesome sexual activity, since all sexuality is inherently intoxicating and will be at least a minor hindrance in ones attainment of mental equilibrium.

So, these are the things we will have to either take out of our lives, in the case of the first five, or at least reduce our consumption, in the case of the rest, if the meditation practice is to become a fruitful part of our daily lives.

Now as to the question of how we actually incorporate the meditation into our daily lives, we begin in two ways. First, we focus on the body, since it is by far the most obvious meditation object of all.

The body is generally in one or another of four postures at all times. Either we’re sitting, standing, walking, or we’re lying down. And we can use these four postures as a base for us to mindful of, to create a clear thought in our mind at any time during our day. So when we’re walking, instead of simply walking and letting our minds wander, we can say to ourselves “walking, walking, walking, walking” or even “left, right, left, right”. When we’re standing we can say “standing, standing”; when we sit, we can say “sitting, sitting” and when we lie down “lying, lying, lying”. So, even when we’re not practising formal meditation, we can still undertake the practice of basic mindfulness at all times.

We can practise similarly with any movement of the body, for instance when we bend we can say “bending”, when we stretch “stretching”, when we move the hand “moving”, when we brush our teeth “brushing”, when we eat food “chewing, chewing”, “swallowing, swallowing” and so on. Any movement that we make with the body during the day can be used as an object of meditation.

When we go to the washroom, when we take a shower, when we change our clothes, when we wash our clothes, whatever we do during the day we can be mindful of the movements of the body, creating clear thought based on the reality around us. This is the first way in which we can incorporate the practice directly into our daily lives.

The second way is to acknowledge the senses - seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling. Normally, when we see something we either enjoy it or we are upset by it, and therefore it becomes a cause for addiction or aversion and ultimately suffering. So, as a part of our meditation practice, in order to keep the mind clear, we try to create a clear thought at the moment of seeing, not allowing the mind to create a judging thought. When we see something, we should simply know that we’re seeing, reminding ourselves using the mantra, “seeing, seeing, seeing”.

When we hear something, instead of listening to it and liking or disliking it, we say to ourselves “hearing, hearing”. When we smell, we can say “smelling, smelling”. When we taste, instead of becoming addicted to or repulsed by the taste, we can simply say to ourselves “tasting, tasting” and keep our mind clear as well. When we feel something on the body, hot or cold, hard or soft or whatever feeling, we say to ourselves ‘feeling, feeling, feeling’. In this way, we are able to receive the full spectrum of experience without compartmentalizing reality into “good”, “bad”, “me”, “mine”, etc., and thus maintain a state of peace, happiness and freedom from suffering at all times. Once we have come to understand that this is the actual nature of reality, our minds will cease to react to the objects of the sense as other than what they truly are, and we will be free from all clinging and aversion, just as a bird, when it flies, is free from any need for a perch.

So, these two methods are a general guide for practise in daily life and a way of incorporating the meditation practice directly into our lives even when we are not meditating. Of course we can also be mindful of all of the things that I talked about in the earlier chapters; pain for instance, or the emotions, liking, disliking, and so on. But besides all of those, the techniques discussed in this chapter are an addition that, once we’ve mastered the four foundations I mentioned in the first chapter, we can then add all of these things as well, as a means of making the meditation practice a continuous experience wherein we are always learning more about ourselves and reality around us.