Tag Archives: meditation

Baby steps in meditation revisited

Somebody asked me if – since the birth of Rayana – meditation is still the most important thing in my life. I find it meaningless to answer this question, because I don’t see the need to create a contradiction between my meditation practice and the rest of my life. My intention is for my practice to support my life in the world, and for my life in the world to support my practice. It is more interesting to me to see how my meditation affects life with Rayana, and vice versa.

I have made a choice to sit with Rayana while practicing mediation. I made this choice because I wish her to know silence, as well as the many impressions that life in the world has to offer. Interestingly enough, by choosing to sit with Rayana, I am in some ways experiencing again how it was when I was trying to establish a daily practice during the early days of my study of meditation.

When establishing a daily practice, having a fixed routine (consisting of time of day, place, posture, and sequence for meditation) is an important tool to counteract the anti-meditative habits we have formed. Rayana’s rhythm and preferences change every few days or so. This makes it difficult for me to find a fixed time, place, and posture for meditation with her. Without the a stable routine, it is more difficult to have stability in meditation. Nowadays – and this is the big difference from my early days in meditation – I am able to draw that stability from my practice itself.

To give an example of how my routine is affected by choosing to sit with Rayana: At first she would remain completely calm when lying belly down on my leg while I was sitting in meditation (a pose I jokingly call ‘koalasana’). This made it easy for me to complete my practice without concerns for her comfort. I was pleased to observe that she would relax more deeply as my own meditation went deeper.

After a few days, she started to become restless in koalasana. For the first time in a long while, I did not complete my meditation practice. She was getting uncomfortable, and that was the exact opposite of what I wanted to achieve. This was not much different from my early days practicing. Back then I used to stop my meditation practice when I found the practice itself uncomfortable.

The next day I stopped my practice again when she was starting to get more uncomfortable than I like her to be. I decided not to sit for meditation for the next two days. When I was beginning to practice meditation, the dejection I experienced because I was not able to sit for a few days inevitably led me to choose to not sit for a few days more. The difference is that this time I made that decision consciously, with the clear intent to pick up my practice again on the “third” day.

On that third day, I tried practicing meditation while carrying Rayana in a sling. She remained very calm in this way for almost two weeks, but started getting restless a few days ago. Having learned from my earlier experience with Rayana in koalasana (I was intrigued to see how chaos was slowly but surely creeping back into my mind during those 4 days of not practicing meditation properly), I made sure to practice meditation in solitude at a later time on the same day when it wasn’t comfortable for Rayana in the morning.

I have now found a new pose that is comfortable for both Rayana and me, and am curious to see how this will develop over the next couple of days and weeks.

The strength of the decision to practice, is more important than any other preparation for meditation.

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Practicing in unfavourable circumstances

For those of us who have given the practice of meditation a high priority in our lives, there are a number of situations that can disrupt the rhythms that we have established. If we have a regular job, the mornings and evenings are usually the best times we have available for meditation. Seemingly simple activities like picking somebody up from the airport, having visitors over, attending a party, waiting for a morning delivery, etc. can then be experienced as a great burden because they come in the way of our practice. Our untrained mind, which has the habit of being scattered, can use these situations as a motivation to ‘slack’.

I recently had my in-laws from Taiwan over for a week or two. I quickly started noticing how I started finding reasons for me to reduce my practices: ‘I should spend more time with my in-laws’, ‘there’s much more stuff in the room at the moment and I don’t feel comfortable to practice meditation in such a room’, ‘I don’t want to practice hatha yoga in a busy environment’, etc.

In an earlier article I have mentioned that I lost touch with myself when I allowed myself to slack. This earlier experience was very helpful to me, because I remembered it and naturally did not want to repeat it. I became more aware of the fact that if meditation is really something I want to deepen in my life, then these situations don’t have the power to prevent me from doing that.

I still did try to analyse why I was thinking these thoughts. I found that the one reason is that due to the change of circumstances my mind had become slightly agitated. The agitated mind simply does not want to practice meditation and is also not prepared for it1. In fact, the agitated mind will only create more agitation, unless we choose to do something else with our minds. This is why it’s a common experience to us all that sometimes we don’t want to do something (going to the gym after work for example), but when we are actually doing it we enjoy it and don’t really understand why we were resisting it. We should therefore not blindly trust the suggestions of the mind when it’s in an unpleasant state, because it has the tendency then to lead us to more unpleasantness.

Another reason is that I sometimes tend to be so perfectionistic about my practices that it actually works against my practice. I then get into this type of thinking: ‘If it can’t do it as well as I want to, why do it at all?’ This is actually a sign of making myself dependent on the circumstances, which is the exact opposite of what the spiritual process is about. The reality is that we can only do things as well as the situation allows us to, and there is nothing stopping us from doing that.

It was not my intention to offer any solutions in this article, but I do hope that you can relate to the experience that I’m describing and use it to your benefit.

1: This is also why a peaceful and joyful state of mind is the starting point of meditation, rather than the goal.

中文版本稍後提供。
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Multitasking

A student once asked his teacher: “Do you make efforts in your practice of meditation, master?”
The master replied: “Yes, I do. When hungry, I eat; when tired, I sleep.”

The student asked: “Does not everyone make these same efforts, master?”
The master answered: “Not exactly. When they are eating, they think of a hundred kinds of necessities; when they are about to sleep, they ponder over a thousand affairs.”

中文版本稍後提供。
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What we resist, persists

In Neale Donald WalschConversations with God it is written that what you resist, persists and I recently found a really nice illustration of this principle.

If you are a tennis fan like me, and perhaps even if you aren’t, you might have heard that Marion Bartoli became this year’s ladies’ Wimbledon champion. A BBC journalist made some ‘negative’ remarks about her looks before she was about to play the Wimbledon final. This angered a large number of the BBC audience, which led the BBC to issue a formal apology for the comments made by the journalist (source).

The reason that many people complained about the journalist’s comments is because they find somebody’s looks irrelevant in sports. They want to focus on the sports itself. This is what a somebody posted on the BBC news website for example:

Bartoli won because she was the best player over the fornight. Inverdale’s remarks were a disgrace, a player’s looks has nothing to do with how sucessful they will be on the court.

What I find really ironic about this is that it is actually not the BBC journalist’s comments that took the attention away from the tennis, but the reaction to those comments. If you read the comments section of the BBC article that reports on Bartoli’s victory at Wimbledon for example, you will find that most comments are reactions and dicussions on the remarks made by the journalist. These remarks are receiving so much attention that even politicians are now finding ways to use the comments to their benefit. I was surprised to find an article that continues on this subject on the front page of the evening newspaper as recently as a few days ago.

This is what is meant by the statement what we resist, persists. When we resist something, it persists because we don’t actually stop giving attention to it; instead we start giving negative attention to it. Anyone who practices meditation has experienced that attention is energy and that energy makes and keeps things alive. This is why it is not possible to instruct somebody to not think of the Eiffel Tower for example.

The most effective approach to change something we don’t find useful or meaningful is to accept what we don’t want and then to focus on what we do want.

中文版本稍後提供。
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Reconnecting with myself

It has been almost 3 months since my last article on this blog. My meditation practice deteriorated in that period and because of that, so did my connection with myself. In this article I want to share why this happened.

In the period since the last article Elly and I have from Taipei to London. This was challenging and frustrating at times. To give you a sense of the situations we faced during the move:

  • I had lost my wallet, with my debit and credit cards in it, the day before we moved to London. It became quite difficult for us to pay the advance for our flat in London because of this. Fortunately for us, we had a friend in England who was able to lend us the money!
  • The flat we are renting in London was left behind in an unhygienic state by the previous tenants (there was a strong urine smell coming from several places in the house!). Our landlord was not in the country to inspect the flat before we entered it, so he had not brought the flat back to clean condition before we moved in.
  • Our ISP failed to send us our internet router twice (and almost thrice), which left us without internet access for many days. This is a difficult situation for me because I work from home, and without an active internet connection I cannot do anything at all.

What is more important than what happened, is how we dealt with what happened. Even though we were quite frustrated because we couldn’t settle down, I believe we kept a clear head and just dealt with what we were faced with.

Having said that, the situations we were encountering made sure that I was hardly focused on myself and very focused on everything around me. Meditation did not seem attractive to me at all. In fact, spirituality did not have a high priority at all (which explains my silence on this blog).

The first thing I dropped in this situation is the last thing I should have dropped: regular contact with myself (regular meditation). When I use the term regular meditation, I mean to say meditation at a fixed moment in the day for a fixed duration. My habit for example, is to meditate for one hour directly after waking up.

I was still meditating daily, but the duration and moment were all over the place. One day I would be meditating for 2 minutes immediately after dinner, on another day 20 minutes after breakfast, on again another day 15 minutes on the train. This lack of stability in my practice caused a lack of stability in my mind, and this stability is the stability that I need even more than the stability of my home situation. This lack of stability in my mind caused a vicious circle which I have experienced before in the past. The only method that I know to break this circle is deciding to practice regularly.

I’m happy to see and say that I have made that decision once again.

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Two wings to fly. 雙翅飛翔

God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites so that you will have two wings to fly, not one.
~ Rumi

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 – This article

Last year after my silence practice, I felt like I had never felt before. My meditations were deep and powerful, my mind was calm, my energy level was high and my love for others was intense. I only had positive things to say about my practice. People were surprised when I told them that this year I experienced almost three weeks of intense mental suffering. I would like to share with you what I learned from that suffering and I hope it helps you in your meditation practices.

The two main causes of my suffering were self-condemnation and expectation. Let me try to explain how self-condemnation affected me first. One of the interesting things that I have observed in myself since beginning the practice of yoga, is a very strong idea that I need to improve myself, that I need to become perfect, so that I can experience ‘samadhi’, ‘enlightenment’ or some other over-my-head kind of thing. I do not know if that idea was there before I learned about spirituality or if the practice of yoga gave that idea a chance to manifest itself, but that is actually not so important.

What is important is that this idea of having to improve myself is based on another idea: “I am not good enough”. This idea is one of the most dangerous things I have encountered in my life. The moment that I started accepting this idea, I stopped accepting myself. Not accepting yourself is fundamentally unyogic; the first practice of yoga is the practice of ahimsa (non-violence). Practicing ahimsa means practicing love. Love means accepting all and rejecting none, that means accepting yourself as well as others.

Why does the practice of yoga begin with accepting all and rejecting none? One reason is that meditation that starts from “I am not good enough”, turns into a frantic experience of trying to become something, trying to achieve something and trying to do something. But meditation only happens when effort slowly stops and a calm, relaxed, concentrated, peaceful and joyous awareness remains. The only thing that you become when meditating from the “I am not good enough” idea is depressed and/or frustrated!

That depression and frustration is exactly what I experienced this year. And I experienced it very intensely. Even though I had already let go of a lot of my self-condemnation, that which is still present in me came forward in a very strong way.

There are two reasons that I was able to learn from my self-condemnation. One reason is that by experiencing the madness of trying to achieve something for a long period of time, I began to understand the uselessness of it. Another reason is that, whenever it was needed, Wolfgang reminded me to stop with condemning myself.

Some self-condemnation still comes up in me every now and then, but now it does not influence me as it did before. I do not know if a tidal wave of self-condemnation will rise in my mind on another occassion, but I also do not fear it.

The second cause of my suffering was my expectation. A great teacher of meditation once said that he has observed something very interesting in almost every practicioner of meditation. The first time a newcomer meditates, he has a wonderful experience, the second time he meditates, he has wonderful expectations. The point is that meditation is great the first time because there is no expectation, and the second time it is not because of expectation.

Even though I knew all of this, it still happened to me. Last year I had a wonderful experience and I expected it to be like that again this year. It was in fact worse, I was expecting it to be better! And in this way I created an experience of frustration for myself. I was not getting what I expected (and desired), so I got frustrated.

The most interesting part is that I was realising that expectation is causing problems for me, so I tried to let go of my expectation with the expectation that my meditation will improve! It shouldn’t be hard to imagine how my attempts only blew up in my face because of this.

As with the self-condemnation, I began to understand the uselessness of my expectations better by experiencing the fruits of my expectations intensely. And again, Wolfgang was there to help and remind me of the suffering I was creating for myself.

What’s more, I misunderstood my suffering as me having some sort of defect (more self-condemnation), because I thought that meditation should make me feel wonderful (expectation). A few days before my practice came to an end, I was free of this vicious circle because I realised that everything I was going through is simply a part of my development and learning process. The realisation came from that wonderful Rumi quote that you can find at the beginning of this post, I’d like to invite you to reread it. When I experienced freedom from this vicious circle, I understood the importance of mental freedom, the subject of my previous post.

With this I’d like to end the sharing of the lessons learned from silence this year. Do let me know if it the posts on my silence practice are helpful to you in any way!

上帝將你由一種感受帶往另一種感受,透過彼此相對的感受,祂教導你,使你擁有雙翅飛翔
~ 魯米

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 – 本文

在去年守靜練習後,我有一種前所未有的感受。我的靜坐既深沈又強烈,我的心靈平靜,能量高漲,而且充滿對他人的愛。當時對於我的守靜練習,我只想得出正面評價。因此,當我告訴別人,今年的守靜練習中,幾乎整整三個星期的時間,我飽受心靈折磨,他們總感到驚訝。我想和大家分享我從這些掙扎中所學到的,而且我希望這對你的靜坐練習有所幫助。

我的痛苦,最主要來自於自責與期待。讓我先解釋自責是如何影響我。從我開始練習瑜珈起,我觀察到一件有趣的事就是,在我心中有一個很強烈的想法,認為我應該要改進自己,變得完美,才能體驗「三摩地」、「開悟」或者一些非常高深的事情。我不知道這些想法是否在我開始靈修前就已經存在了,或者是因為瑜珈練習才使得這些想法浮現,但這其實並不重要。

重要的是,這個必須改進自己的想法,是建立在另一個想法之下-「我不夠好」。這是我人生所經歷最危險的事情之一。我不再接受自己。而不接受自己,根本而言是非常不「瑜珈」的:瑜珈的第一個練習,即是非暴力(Ahimsa)的練習。練習非暴力,即意謂著練習愛。愛意謂著接受一切,什麼也不拒絕,也就是接受自己和他人。

為什麼瑜珈練習由接受一切,什麼也不拒絕開始?一個原因是因為,以「我不夠好」想法為基礎的靜坐,會漸漸轉化為試圖成為什麼人、試圖達到什麼成果、試圖做些什麼事的瘋狂想法。但是,只有當你漸漸停下所有刻意的付出,而平靜、放鬆、專注、平和且喜悅的覺知浮現時,靜坐才會出現。當你帶著「我不夠好」的想法靜坐時,你只會變得憂鬱且沮喪。

這份憂鬱和沮喪正是我今年所經歷的、非常強烈的感受。雖然在那之前,我已經放下許多的自責,但那些仍存留在我心中的自責感,依然強烈地浮現。

我之所能夠從自責中學習,有兩個原因。其一,由於經歷過試著達成某件事的瘋狂狀態,我開始了解這有多麼沒有意義。另一個原因是,無論何時,只要我需要, Wolfgang(沃夫岡)總會提醒我,要我停止自責。

現在,我偶爾還是會出現自責的情緒,但它不再像過去一般影響我了。我不知道自責的巨浪是否會在某個時刻再度襲捲我,但我並不害怕。

我之所以掙扎痛苦的第二個原因,來自我的期待。有一個偉大的靜坐導師曾說,他從每個練習靜坐的人身上觀察到一件事:當一個新手第一次嘗試靜坐時,他經歷過美好旳體驗,而第二次的靜坐,他則抱著美好的期待。重點在於,第一次靜坐之所以美好,是因為沒有期待,而第二次之所以不再美好,是因為有所期待。

雖然這些我都知道,但我還是經歷同樣的問題。去年我有美好的經驗,於是我期待今年也會如此。其實今年的經歷是很糟糕的,我卻還期待會有更美好的體驗!因為沒有獲得我所期待(渴望)的,我因而感到受挫。

最有趣的事情是,由於意識到我的期待為我帶來問題,我試圖放下期待,盼望著靜坐會因此好轉。不難想像,正因為這樣的期望,我的嘗試完完全全地失敗了。

透過體會期待所帶來的後果,我開始理解到,期待和自責一樣都是沒有用的。再一次地,Wolfgang(沃夫岡)向我伸出手,他提醒我,這些痛苦都是我自找的。

更重要的是,我將自己的痛苦誤解為一種個人缺陷(更多的自責),是因為我以為靜坐應當使我變感到美好(期待)。就在今年守靜練習結束前幾天,我意識到,我所經歷的一切都只是成長和學習過程的一部分。這份體會來自於在文章一開始的魯米名言。我希望大家可以回頭再讀一次開頭的引言。當我從自責與期待的惡性循環中體會自由時,我了解到心靈自由的重要性,而心靈的自由,正是我上一篇文章的主題。

有關今年守靜的經驗分享在此結束。如果這些分享對你有任何的幫助,請留言告訴我吧!

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Sing like the birds sing. 如鳥兒般歌唱

I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.
~ Rumi

Part 1
Part 2 – This article
Part 3

Dear friends,

Now I have the time to complete the sharing of the lessons learned during my silence practice this year. What I want to share on the blog here is a bit too much to share in one post, so there will be one follow-up post to this one.

The most important thing that I learned in my practice this year, is the importance of remaining mentally free. When I use the term ‘mentally free’, I do not mean something over-your-head. I mean being free from ideas of how life should be and accepting life as it presents itself to you, by remaining free from judgements and expectations. Allow me to illustrate this concept in this post, and explain how I learned about it in the next post.

I have observed that many yoga teachers and students have a very strong idea that yoga, and especially meditation, should be practiced seated on the floor in a cross-legged posture. Some will even go so far as to say that using a chair for meditation is not yoga and that it is wrong! This leads to two kinds of unnecessary suffering:

  1. Physical suffering. In our current times, we are not used to sitting on the ground and we also do not have a lot of physical exercise. The body is then not prepared to sit on the floor, and especially not for a prolonged period of time. When an unprepared body is suddenly made to assume a cross-legged posture, the body will hurt like crazy! Moreover, meditation will simply not happen when the body is suffering without reason.
  2. Mental suffering: First of all, a student will practice a cross-legged posture under the duress of his or his teacher’s idea of what yoga is. Practicing under duress disturbs meditation in a many ways, some of which are hard to notice. Secondly, since the student is not able to practice according to that idea in a comfortable way, he will slowly start to think he is a bad student. I will explain the problems of self-condemnation from my personal experience in the next post.

Being mentally free in the example I just gave means letting go of the idea that meditation should be practiced seated on the floor. Learning to sit on the ground is not essential for meditation. I do not mean to say that meditation on the floor does not have certain benefits, but the choice to learn to sit on the ground should be made

  • freely, willfully and joyfully;
  • free from self-judgements and expectations;
  • when the circumstances allow for it.

My experience is that this kind of mental freedom makes the experience of life wonderful. It does require the courage to let go of all external support, becoming self-reliant and claiming responsibility for how you feel and this is not always easy.

我想如鳥兒般歌唱,不論是誰聽見我的歌聲或他們如何作想,我皆無所憂。
~ 魯米

Part 1
Part 2 – 本文
Part 3

親愛的朋友:

現在我終於可以完成今年守靜練習的經驗分享。因為有太多話想說,所以我將這些想法分篇敍述。

我在今年的練習中學到最重要的事,是保持心靈自由的重要性。我所謂的心靈自由,並非指一些不切實際的念頭。我所指的是放下人生應該如何如何的想法,接受生命在你眼前呈現的面貌,免於評論和期待。在這篇文章裡,我會就此說明,接著在下篇文章裡解釋我如何學習到這點。

我發現很多瑜珈老師和學生都有個很強烈的想法:他們認為瑜珈,尤其是靜坐,應當是盤腿坐在地上練習。有些人甚至會說,椅子上的練習並非瑜珈、是錯誤的。這導致兩種不必要的痛苦:

  1. 身體折磨:在我們的時代裡,我們並不習慣於坐在地上,也沒有太多的運動。我們的身體於是尚未準備好坐在地板上,尤其無法坐上一段較長的時間。當一個沒有準備好的身體突然間被迫成盤腿坐姿時,我們的身體會痛疼得不得了!再者,當身體這樣無來由地痛苦時,我們是無法進入靜坐狀態的。
  2. 心理折磨:首先,在老師或本身對於瑜珈的概念的壓力之下,一個學生會以盤坐的姿勢練習。然而,在受迫的狀況下練習,在很多方面而言,都會干擾靜坐,有些甚至難以察覺。第二,因為學生無法根據自己對瑜珈的想法而舒服地練習,他會漸漸地認為自己是個壞學生。在下一篇文章中,我會從自己的經驗裡,分享有關自責的問題。

在我所提出的例子中,心靈自由意謂著「放下靜坐應當是坐在地上練習」的想法。學習坐在地板上,對靜坐而言並非必需。我並不是說,坐在地板上靜坐不具特殊益處,但是我們應當可以選擇是否要學習坐在地板上靜坐。我們做出這個選擇時,是:

  • 抱持自由、自願、喜樂的態度;
  • 不帶任何評斷和期待;
  • 在情況允許之下.

我自己的經驗是,這樣的心靈自由使得人生變得美妙。但它的確需要我們擁有放下外在支持的勇氣,變得獨立、為自己的感覺負起責任,而這並不總是容易。

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This will pass! 這一切會過去的!

As promised, I will complete the sharing of my experiences during my silence practice soon. I would like to tell you a story that reveals a lot about how I experienced the practice this year. It is an insightful and funny story from Zen Buddhism, told to me by Swami Veda a few years ago when I told him that my meditation is not working and once again after my practice this year!

Once it happened that a student of Zen Buddhism went to his master. He said, “Master, I really do not know what to do anymore! I have tried everything but my meditation is terrible. My body aches all over, I cannot sit still, I feel like I am being choked, I cannot focus my mind at all and there is great irritation inside me.”

The master looked at his disciple and smiled. He said, “Son. This will pass.”

A few months later the student came back to his master. This time he said, “Master! I do not know what you did last time, but since then my meditations have become serene and beautiful. My body sits still like a rock, my breath is calm, my mind is focused and my meditation goes deep, very deep. Thank you master!”

The master looked at his disciple and smiled. He said, “Son. This will pass.”

如之前所說,我會繼續分享我在守靜練習中的經驗。在那之前,我想先和大家分享一個能夠充分表達我今年的守靜經驗的故事。這是一個來自於禪宗,既有趣又深具啟發性的故事。幾年前,當我向韋達大師表示我的靜坐練習並不順利時,他就和我分享了這個故事。

有一個禪宗修行者對他的上師說:「上師,我真的不知道還能怎麼辦!我什麼都試過了,但是我的靜坐還是非常糟糕。我全身痠痛,無法保持靜定,我覺得快要呼吸不過來,無法專注,內心充滿煩燥!」

他的上師對他微微一笑,說道:「孩子啊,這一切會過去的!」

幾個月後,這個學生再度來見上師。這一次,他說:「上師,我不知道你上次做了些什麼,但從那以後,我的靜坐就變得非常詳和且美妙!我能夠如大石一般地靜定,我的呼吸平靜,內心專注,而且我進到非常深層的靜坐狀態。謝謝你,上師!」

大師看著他的學生,微笑說道:「孩子啊,這一切都會過去的。」

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