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FOCUS ON PROPER FORM

Get your desire for results to work for you rather than against you. Once you’ve set your goals, focus not on the results but on the means that will get you there. It’s like building muscle mass. You don’t blow air or stuff protein into the muscle to make it larger. You focus on performing your reps properly, and the muscle grows on its own.

If, as you meditate, you want the mind to develop more concentration, don’t focus on the idea of concentration. Focus on al­lowing this breath to be more comfortable, and then this breath, this breath, one breath at a time. Concentration will then grow without your having to think about it.

PACE YOURSELF

Learn how to read your pain. When you meditate, some pains in the body are sim­ply a sign that it’s adapting to the medi­tation posture, others that you’re pushing yourself too hard. Learn how to tell the difference. The same principle applies to the mind. When the mind can’t seem to settle down, sometimes you need to push even harder and sometimes you need to pull back. Your ability to read the differ­ence is what exercises your powers of wis­dom and discernment.

Learn how to read your progress. Learn to judge what works for you and what doesn’t. You may have heard that medita­tion is non-judgmental, but that’s simply meant to counteract the tendency to pre­judge things before they’ve had a chance to show their results. Once the results are in, you need to learn how to gauge them, to see how they connect with their causes so you can adjust the causes in the direction of the outcome you want.

VARY YOUR ROUTINE

Just as a muscle can stop responding to a particular exercise, your mind can hit a plateau if it’s strapped to only one medi­tation technique. This is why the Buddha taught supplementary meditations to deal with specific problems as they arise. For starters, there’s goodwill for when you’re feeling down on yourself or the human race—the people you dislike would be much more tolerable if they could find genuine happiness inside, so wish them that happiness. There’s contemplation of the parts of the body for when you’re overcome with lust—it’s hard to maintain a sexual fantasy when you keep thinking about what lies just underneath the skin. And there’s contemplation of death for when you’re feeling lazy—you don’t know how much time you’ve got left, so you’d better meditate now if you want to be ready when the time comes to go.

When these supplementary contem­plations have done their work, you can get back to the breath, refreshed and revived. So keep expanding your repertoire. That way your skill becomes all-around.

WATCH YOUR EATING HABITS

As the Buddha said, we survive on both mental food and physical food. Mental food consists of the external stimuli you focus on, as well as the intentions that motivate the mind. If you feed your mind junk food, it’s going to stay weak and sick­ly no matter how much you meditate.

Show some restraint in your mental eating habits. If you know that looking at things in certain ways, with certain inten­tions, gives rise to greed, anger, or delusion, look at them in the opposite way. As Ajaan Lee, my teacher’s teacher, once said, look for the bad side of the things you’re infatu­ated with and the good side of the things you hate. That way you become a discrimi­nating eater, and the mind gets the healthy, nourishing food it needs to grow strong.

As for your physical eating habits, this is one of the areas where inner strength training and outer strength training part ways. As a meditator, you have to be con­cerned less with what physical food you eat than with why you eat. Give some thought to the purposes served by the strength you gain from your food. Don’t take more from the world than you’re willing to give back. Don’t bulk up just for the fun of it, for the beings—human and animal—that provided your food didn’t provide it in fun. Make sure the energy gets put to good use.

DON’T LEAVE YOUR STRENGTH IN THE GYM

If you don’t use your strength in other ac­tivities, strength training simply becomes an exercise in vanity. The same principle applies to your meditative skills. If you leave them on the cushion and don’t apply them in everyday life, meditation turns into a fetish, something you do to escape the problems of life while their causes continue to fester.

The ability to maintain your center and to breathe comfortably in any situation can be a genuine lifesaver. It keeps the mind in a position where you can more easily think of the right thing to do, say, or think when your surroundings get tough. The people around you are no longer subjected to your greed, anger, and delusion. And as you maintain your inner balance in this way, it helps them maintain theirs. So make the whole world your meditation seat. You’ll find that medi­tation both on the big seat and the little seat will strengthen each other. At the same time, your meditation will become a gift both to yourself and to the world around you.

NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL

Mental strength has at least one major ad­vantage over physical strength: it doesn’t inevitably decline with age. It can keep growing up to and through the experience of death. The Buddha promises that it leads to the deathless state, and he wasn’t a man to make vain, empty promises.

So when you establish your priorities, make sure that you give more time and energy to strengthening your medita­tion than you do to strengthening your body. After all, someday you’ll be forced to lay down this body, no matter how fit or strong you’ve made it, but you’ll never be forced to lay down the strengths you’ve built into the mind.


Thanissaro Bhikkhu is abbot of Metta Forest Monastery near San Diego.



SEE ALSO:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu: "The Karma of Happiness"

Thanissaro Bhikkhu: "Creating a Good Ground for Meditation"






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