A Beginner’s Guide To Meditation
How to take charge of your mind and emotions
By Melanie Richards
To every person who has ever told me they could never meditate because their mind is way too out of control, I have news for you: All of our minds are out of control. That’s why we need to meditate.
Having what meditation masters refer to as, Monkey Mind is so normal; it’s mundane. That crazy, restless, impetuous voice in your head that rules over your life like a depraved King or Queen is present in all of us unenlightened humans and has only two motives:
1.To get what it wants at all costs
2. To avoid pain at all costs.
These are the two main causes of our suffering, according to Buddhism. Craving and aversion dictate our actions and reactions, creating and reinforcing deep-rooted complexes and psychological patterns (samskaras) that perpetuate a karmic cycle of consequences, if we don’t take pause for reflection.
It’s what makes us try and change who we are to receive the pleasant sensations that come with someone (conditionally) loving us and approving of us. It’s what makes us drink too much, eat too much and binge-watch Netflix to numb the unpleasant sensations of shame and rejection. It’s what has us chase the passionate high of a one-night stand and what has us fervently swiping left and right on Tinder when feelings of emptiness or loneliness creep in again. Unconsciously, the mind is conditioned to react to the sensations of the body, chasing and grasping onto what feels pleasant and resisting and averting what feels unpleasant.
What I learned through Vipassana meditation, an ancient technique said to have liberated Gautama Buddha himself, is to observe reality as it is (awareness) without reacting to it (equanimity). According to the description on their website, Vipassana, as taught by the late S.N. Goenka, is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. “It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind.”
Let’s say I have a tendency toward anger and someone accidently jostles me on the metro, causing me to spill coffee down my new shirt. In the millisecond that follows, the familiar bodily sensations of heat and anger boil up inside and without thinking, I start yelling and throwing insults at the baffled stranger. My reaction is disproportionate to the situation because I’m not just reacting to what’s in front of me, I’m reacting to all the times in my life where I’ve had a similar feeling of rage crop up and the current situation is only adding fuel to an already blazing-hot, trigger-happy emotional fire.
Instead through the practice of meditation, I can learn to observe the sensation of anger with present awareness and equanimity, rather than blindly reacting to it and reinforcing the corresponding conditioning of my mind. Observed in this way, the sensation of anger eventually dissipates because the law of impermanence (Anicha) is such that nothing lasts forever. Since I’m not reacting to the sensation of anger, it has no added fuel to go on. Without new fuel, the fire dies down and eventually gets extinguished. The things that used to trigger anger in me on a dime no longer have the same effect and I am now on the path to real inner-peace, happiness and liberation.
Does this mean meditation turns us into a bunch of apathetic pushovers? No, on the contrary, like in the serenity prayer, it teaches us to accept and let go of the things we cannot change and have no control over, while giving us the mental clarity and awareness to creatively and constructively change the things we can and it gives us the wisdom to know the difference through the observation of reality as it is – untainted by our past conditioning. Our present awareness, also known as the Witness or Higher Consciousness, is doing the driving, using our thoughts and emotions as signposts rather than letting them run us off the road.
I can’t change that I have coffee stains on my new shirt but with a calm and balanced mind I can sincerely and compassionately smile at the stranger who meant no harm and say, “These things happen, I know you didn’t mean to bump into me”. Then I can find the best solution to the problem without getting my blood pressure up and ruining the rest of my day by letting the incident play back in my mind and body over and over again like a broken record.
This transformation is not something that happens overnight and meditation does take discipline and practice, but every time we notice that we’re caught up in sensation and its corresponding thought pattern, it’s a small victory. In that moment, we are awake, aware and we have the power to choose equanimity, which will diminish the hold that our past conditionings have on us. When we are faced with unpleasant sensations, we can remain calm and level headed knowing that this too shall pass. When we are blessed with pleasant sensations we can appreciate them more deeply and be grateful for them knowing that this also shall pass. Meditation is a tool that helps us stay centered and peaceful through all of life’s inevitable coffee spills, heartbreaks and magical moments.
To learn more about Vipassana meditation, visit https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/about/vipassana
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