Practices I don't want to forget

J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago at 8/11/12 9:45 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 8/10/12 11:38 PM

Practices I don't want to forget

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
These practices were my introduction to effective meditation. They came from an old book a friend loaned me, which a contractor mistakenly threw away. I can't remember the book's or author's name, and I doubt I'll ever see another copy. So here I'm recording what I can remember of these instructions, the ones which first brought me into Mind and Body & Cause and Effect, before I forget them.

These are instructions for a sequence of different meditations, designed to teach anyone how to learn concentration, relaxation, and mindfulness. I hope they may be of use to anyone interested in learning about mindfulness of thoughts and mental states.

Before dedicated sitting meditations:
Clean the body, which is the foundation of your life on Earth. Ideally this entails slowly and mindfully bathing, brushing the teeth, putting on clean clothes, and going to a clean space to sit for meditation. More simply, it could just mean rinsing the hands and splashing the face with some water, and perhaps using some mouthwash.
This step is not necessary, but it is a nice ritual to use before a daily sitting meditation, as it provides a buffer against the concerns of everyday life. It becomes a signal to the mind that indicates the need to slow down and gently pay attention.

Next, do Progressive Muscle Relaxation. (I have not added PMR instructions here because they are very easy to find on any search engine.) The first 2 or 3 times you do it, it may take a while to make it through all the parts of the body. Once you get the hang of it, you can get fully relaxed in just a few minutes.
>This step is very important. It should not be skipped. Even if you have only have 5 minutes to meditate, you should spend the first 2 minutes doing PMR mindfully, then the remaining 3 minutes practicing the instructions.

Meditations:

1.)
Become aware of your thoughts. Notice what senses they take the form of: many are the "inner voice," verbal/auditory thoughts. Many people also have visual thoughts, which are like pictures or movies in the mind.

2.)
Notice the spaces between the thoughts. Consider that the mind is like the sky, and thoughts/images are like passing clouds that obscure some of the sky as they pass, but the open and clear sky is always there even if very many clouds are temporarily covering it up.

3.)
Intentionally think some thoughts. In other words, take control over the inner voice, e.g. by reading this text in your inner voice. See if you can increase the pauses between the thoughts, little by little.
Whenever an unintentional thought distracts you, intentionally subvocalize a different sentence, and try not to pause so long before (intentionally) thinking your next thought. Eventually, you'll be able to notice a moment before a distracting thought is about to come, and you can quickly think an intentional thought to prevent the distraction from ever happening in the first place.
This practice builds concentration and mindfulness, though not at a level required for stream entry. It's like "training wheels" for meditation, as the skill of noticing a distraction before it distracts you will come in handy during more advanced shamatha or vipassana practice.

4.)
Expand the space between your thoughts a little longer. This simply means to keep practicing what you were doing above until you can get at least 5-10 seconds in between each intentional thought, with no unintentional thoughts interrupting.

5.)
Notice the wide open, clear quality of the mind, which is very easy to observe during the space between the thoughts. Now see if you can maintain an awareness of that openness, calm, and clarity during the thoughts themselves. In other words, pay a little attention to the spaciousness of mind even during thoughts.

6.)
Only think an intentional thought as needed to interrupt/prevent unintentional thoughts from distracting you. Your goal is to maintain focus on the mind's spaciousness for the entire meditation. Or focus on clarity. Or relaxation -- attending to relaxation is very helpful if you have frequent distracting thoughts, as such thoughts are preceded by some tension arising in the mind or body. Relax the tension, prevent the distraction.
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The above is as close as I can get to reproducing the book's exact instructions. My practice notes are as follows:

PMR is truly a revolutionary technique to facilitate concentration and mindfulness. The instructions for PMR are to pay attention to the way a body part feels for a few seconds. Then tense all the muscles in that body part really hard and hold the tension for 5-10 seconds, noticing how the tension feels. Then suddenly release all the tension and let that body part become completely limp, noticing how that limpness feels. Repeat until you've relaxed every section of the body at least once.
In other words, it's a body scanning practice, except you actually have something interesting to DO with each body part, and you can notice how the physical movements have an effect on the sensations in that area. It greatly increases relaxation (read: decreases the hindrance of Agitation/Worry), while also being interesting enough to prevent that slippery slope from boredom into sleep.
I struggled immensely with jhana for a year and a half. When I finally succeeded in learning how to reliably enter the first 4 jhanas, one of the big changes was doing PMR at the beginning of every sit.

On the subject of the actual meditations listed here, they hand-hold a beginning meditator all the way from "monkey-mind" to the level of concentration and mindfulness required for serious noting. If you can voluntarily "change the subject" of your thoughts to prevent unwanted thoughts from distracting you, it is trivial to make your intentional thought into a label instead of something random, which means you're now noting the distractions. From there, it's also easy to start noting sensations from any sense door, not just thought.

I found the thought-changing instructions also work for getting rid of songs stuck in your head. The song bothers you because you can't control it. So, intentionally listen to a different song in your head. Then change to yet another song. Then try turning the volume up on the song. Then try turning the volume down. Finally, switch from songs to ordinary, speech-like thoughts. From that point, follow the procedure for stretching out the spaces between thoughts until the mind becomes almost completely quiet.

If any beginning meditator were helped by any part of these instructions or notes, I would be delighted. My heart goes out to all the people who have just learned about seriously approaching enlightenment, but haven't gotten real results from the traditional breath-mindfulness practices. (Lord knows, the breath is VERY boring to someone who hasn't learned to make it interesting.) There IS hope out there -- you don't have to practice for years on end before you can shut up those distracting thoughts! If these instructions don't work, something else will, especially if you find a good teacher to help you out with some personalized advice.
Change A, modified 10 Years ago at 8/11/12 8:44 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 8/11/12 11:22 AM

RE: Practices I don't want to forget

Posts: 791 Join Date: 5/24/10 Recent Posts
J Adam G:
These practices were my introduction to effective meditation. They came from an old book a friend loaned me, which a contractor mistakenly threw away. I can't remember the book's or author's name, and I doubt I'll ever see another copy. So here I'm recording what I can remember of these instructions, the ones which first brought me into Mind and Body & Cause and Effect, before I forget them.


These practices look like they can be very effective. Thank you for posting these. I would like to read the book as well, so if you recall the name, please let me know. Also, if someone else knows about the book from which these instructions come, please let me know.

J Adam G:
Next, do Progressive Muscle Relaxation. (I have not added PMR instructions here because they are very easy to find on any search engine.) The first 2 or 3 times you do it, it may take a while to make it through all the parts of the body. Once you get the hang of it, you can get fully relaxed in just a few minutes.
>This step is very important. It should not be skipped. Even if you have only have 5 minutes to meditate, you should spend the first 2 minutes doing PMR mindfully, then the remaining 3 minutes practicing the instructions.


I do kum nye exercises which I think is somewhat aligned to PMR. It helps to release the deeply held tensions in the body. A relaxed body makes meditating much easier.


J Adam G:

Meditations:

1.)
Become aware of your thoughts. Notice what senses they take the form of: many are the "inner voice," verbal/auditory thoughts. Many people also have visual thoughts, which are like pictures or movies in the mind.

2.)
Notice the spaces between the thoughts. Consider that the mind is like the sky, and thoughts/images are like passing clouds that obscure some of the sky as they pass, but the open and clear sky is always there even if very many clouds are temporarily covering it up.

3.)
Intentionally think some thoughts. In other words, take control over the inner voice, e.g. by reading this text in your inner voice. See if you can increase the pauses between the thoughts, little by little.
Whenever an unintentional thought distracts you, intentionally subvocalize a different sentence, and try not to pause so long before (intentionally) thinking your next thought. Eventually, you'll be able to notice a moment before a distracting thought is about to come, and you can quickly think an intentional thought to prevent the distraction from ever happening in the first place.
This practice builds concentration and mindfulness, though not at a level required for stream entry. It's like "training wheels" for meditation, as the skill of noticing a distraction before it distracts you will come in handy during more advanced shamatha or vipassana practice.

4.)
Expand the space between your thoughts a little longer. This simply means to keep practicing what you were doing above until you can get at least 5-10 seconds in between each intentional thought, with no unintentional thoughts interrupting.

5.)
Notice the wide open, clear quality of the mind, which is very easy to observe during the space between the thoughts. Now see if you can maintain an awareness of that openness, calm, and clarity during the thoughts themselves. In other words, pay a little attention to the spaciousness of mind even during thoughts.

6.)
Only think an intentional thought as needed to interrupt/prevent unintentional thoughts from distracting you. Your goal is to maintain focus on the mind's spaciousness for the entire meditation. Or focus on clarity. Or relaxation -- attending to relaxation is very helpful if you have frequent distracting thoughts, as such thoughts are preceded by some tension arising in the mind or body. Relax the tension, prevent the distraction.
-------------------------------


This is an excellent advice. I tried it and really liked it.

Thanks for posting.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago at 8/11/12 3:21 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 8/11/12 3:20 PM

RE: Practices I don't want to forget

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Aman A.:

I do kum nye exercises which I think is somewhat aligned to PMR. It helps to release the deeply held tensions in the body. A relaxed body makes meditating much easier.


Yes, that's exactly my experience with PMR. It gets rid of all the muscle tension, most of which I didn't even know I had. One would expect this sort of deep relaxation to help with the hindrances of agitation and worry, but what surprised me was that PMR was also an antidote to sloth and torpor.

Later, I realized that relaxation of tension in and around the skull could actually help with any of the hindrances. Craving and lust, aversion and anger, doubt and discouragement... all of these are related to an "inner tension," the dissonance between what "I" want my experience of the world to be like versus what it currently is like. Muscle tension is a result and also a cause of inner mental tension, and relaxing it will do wonders for the hindrances.


I tried it and really liked it.

Thanks for post.


I'm very glad you liked the practices.

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