I just wanted to share a few different things on our topic this month of Meditation 101. Some of the things we will cover in the next few weeks will include: What is the difference between mindfulness, concentration, and insight? We will also go over four different aspects of meditation, such as focus, awareness, follow through, and patient beginning anew. We will also go over certain methods of meditation, different types of meditation, and postures. We will also go over some very useful, helpful mantras and affirmations that you can use, or gathas.
So I will start tonight by sharing about how when I first started meditating, I found it very helpful to think of my mind like a movie screen, a wide, blank movie screen. So my thoughts are like the movie-projected light show on the movie screen of my deeper mind. So there's the part of my mind that is the deep mind that just is being and is pure, spacious, and clear, and another part of my mind that is active and thinks and has thought. Okay?
One is not opposed to the other. Sometimes people think you have to get rid of one part of your mind to get to this other part of your mind, and that is not true. You do not need to get rid of one part to get to the other. They are actually simultaneous realities. Both parts of your mind are there. But it is a matter of where you put your attention, where you put your focus, because there is a part of your mind that is silent, spacious, infinite, clear, and vast. There is another part of your mind that thinks, has thought, imagination.
But you don't need to get rid of one to get the other. They are both there. It's just a matter of where you seem to center your self, your identity. Most of us have been trained by society and our upbringing to almost very rarely ever pay attention to the part of the mind that is the vast, spacious, infinite being, clarity. We are always only focused on our identity as the thinking part of us, that ego part of us, the planning part of us, the analyzing part of us.
So in meditation, we try to relax that part which has been overworked and start to remember and relax into and re-identify with the other part that has always been there, the part of us simply being and observing. You could think of the movie projector light as the thinking mind and the movie screen as the being mind. So you do not have to get rid of your thoughts. There are always going to be some thoughts going on.
There may be certain times in your life where you go very deep, where the thoughts just completely vanish for a few minutes, and that feels so great. But eventually you have to have thoughts again because we are human beings on the earth. But it is not about getting rid of thoughts. They will slow down, and we will have times when they cease from time to time, but don't worry about that.
The thing is, whatever that part of the mind is doing, just let it be. What you want to focus on is the other part of the mind, which is vast, spacious, and clear already, like the movie screen. So, imagine that you are watching this movie and then instead of watching the drama of the movie, maybe just notice that there is a blank screen there. And so in the same way when you are meditating, there might be wandering thoughts here and there, random thoughts here and there, but don't focus on that. Just focus on the clear mind, the part of you that is just being present, observing, aware, conscious. And you can use the breath as the primary way of really contacting that part of the mind, breathing in and breathing out.
And the way I usually like to do it is I think of a little ripple on the screen, so breathing in is a ripple up and breathing out is a ripple down. So I am just feeling my breath to just be with that being mind, and then there is a light show going on, but that is not what I want to focus on during meditation, just breathing in and breathing out, being. So if you find that metaphor helpful, please use that.
Now here's the really cool thing. Even if your mind is not fully concentrated or mindful during meditation, you still get great benefit from the meditation just because you put your body into the meditation posture. Just by your intention and follow-through of being in a meditation posture, whether on the chair or on the floor or whatever, it is already bringing great benefit. Because, see, there is a part of your mind that is always out wandering and having random thoughts. That is just normal. But there is another part that is just being, and by making the meditation on a regular basis, you are cultivating great, beneficial energy for yourself and the world.
In fact, there was a great scientific study recently that put wires on people, two groups, and had them meditate, and they asked them who felt like they had a good meditation and who felt like they really had a struggle with the meditation. Well, they had really good results from the group but said they had a good meditation, all the good things physiologically, all the beneficial things that happened physically and mentally were present. But here's the funny thing. The group that also said they didn't think they had such a great meditation, but they meditated anyway, they had the exact same beneficial response from the physiological and mental aspects that they were measuring. Isn't that interesting?
So we just have to stop getting so caught up in the ego mind, because it is always going to have chatter. So if you're focusing on that, you're going to think you just don't meditate well. But if you just let it be and realize that just by doing the meditation, just by regularly putting yourself on this cushion or that chair in silence and stillness, it is bringing benefit because there is still a part of you that is meditating even though your thinking ego mind may not be doing it so much. But there is still a part of you, your body and mind, the bigger part of who you are is meditating.
The reason why I thought of this was because just a couple of days ago on the full moon, I was at a friend's house where he invited all whole bunch of friends for a little ritual, and in the ritual—it took about 15 minutes, but it was very meditative because he was chanting and then we threw some sacred herbs into the fire every minute, and it was rhythmic. Sometimes my mind would wander because it was hot outside when we were doing this sacred fire, but yet there is a power to just doing it, just by taking my little herbs and putting them in the sacred fire over and over and over again, listening to the chanting. And no matter even if my mind was fully present or not. Just doing it created an energy.
So, just do it, as they say in Zen and also Nike, I guess. Just do it. Just do it. And there is great benefit by just doing it. Don't judge yourself so harshly. Every single person on this planet can meditate. Maybe there are different styles of meditation that are better for certain people, but everyone can meditate. That is my true belief, and my mission in life is to encourage everyone: Yes, you can. You can do it. I think Obama came up with that one, too. There are all kinds of universal truths that people pick up on. You can do it and just do it. Yes, you can. So, just do it.
Why don't we do it? Because some people say, "When I did this particular thing, I just loved it, but I don't know why I haven't done it in three years." Have you ever had that happen? It happens a lot. We humans, we may know something is really good for us and makes us feel really good, but we don't always do it. It is just because of habit energies, karma, negative energies, and thought patterns that we may have inherited from generations of ancestors and the society.
But the good news is you don't have to be stuck with that. You can make new choices right here and right now and make a difference, make a change, make a transformation. And that is what meditation helps us to do, because we are accessing and re-identifying with this bigger part of who we really are. We are cultivating that mindfulness muscle more and more, and we are weakening our dependence on the ego mind and strengthening our identification with the Buddha mind, if you wish to call it that. But it takes practice. So just keep at it.
You know, you can't just go to the gym, for example, one time and expect to feel really good and get good results. You usually feel awful and achy, right? But if you keep doing it, your body gets used to it, and you start seeing the benefits. Same thing with meditation.
You know, sometimes I spontaneously have certain insights that come into my mind from the practice, and one of them a few months ago was seven benefits of meditation. You know, sometimes part of my job is to just simply be like a cheerleader. Basically it is to encourage people to do this and to convince them that it is helpful and important. So in many ways, I am just sort of a cheerleader every week, just saying the same thing in different ways over and over again until you really get it. But I think it is important to know what the benefits are, because if you keep that in mind, it will motivate you to keep trying, because sometimes it is not so easy.
So one benefit is physical. There is definitely scientific evidence now of the physical benefits of meditation, like stress reduction. It is very, very healthy for your body-mind harmony. So that has been proven scientifically. There are lots of physical benefits of meditation. So that is one reason to meditate.
Another is there are many mental benefits of meditation. You are more peaceful, less reactive, and when you get angry, you don't stay angry so long. Or when you get sad, you don't stay sad so long. Now being a meditator doesn't mean that you don't feel sad and you don't feel angry or you don't feel afraid. All these are normal human emotions, but you don't get stuck there. Maybe you can just be angry for an hour rather than a whole month or a whole year or a whole decade, right? So there are many benefits mentally as well.
Another benefit is manifestation and prayer. In New Thought spirituality, such as here at CSL Dallas, the Center for Spiritual Living, they teach a lot about spiritual mind treatment, affirmative prayer, how to manifest your truest, deepest, best desires. Well, if you are meditating, you actually are better at manifesting than those who do not meditate. Everyone can manifest, but if you are a regular meditator, you are actually much better at manifesting things than those who do not. So that is another benefit of meditation.
Think of your mind like light. If your light is dim, it is hard to see in the room. But if your light is bright, you can see more. And not only if your light is bright, but if your light is focused, it becomes a laser. You may have the same amount of light in a light bulb, but the light particles are going everywhere. But when you have all the same light particles going one direction, you can actually take that laser light energy and penetrate through a wall or metal or wood or whatever, a hard surface. So there is a power to bringing the light of mindfulness from a weak little light to a bright light and then focusing that bright light like a laser.
So when you have a focused mind, a concentrated mind, a mindful mind, when you say a prayer, when you make an intention, guess what? There is more energy there to make it happen. Because you see, most of the time, we are like, "Well, you know, I want this," but then you have other thoughts, and it is like, "Oh, I don't know." You have too many thoughts that are competing. When you have a focused, concentrated, mindful mind, you can bring all of your intentions into one direction, and it is much more powerful that way. I've noticed that my ability to manifest prayer intentions is a lot more powerful now than several years ago, and I believe it is because of meditation.
The fourth benefit of meditation is it can become a spiritual lifestyle for you. Meditation, you can try to do meditation just as a temporary practice to get you through a hard time in your life, but honestly, if you really want to get the most out of meditation, let it become your lifelong lifestyle. Let it become your message. Let it become something that makes your life have a certain presence in the world. It is not just during your formal sitting meditation, but your whole life becomes mindful and becomes a radiant presence. So meditation can help you create that kind of radiant and positive lifestyle where you are living it. You are not just practicing it, but you're really living it and radiating it in the world. So, the mindfulness lifestyle.
And then another benefit is divine guidance, and here in our community, we don't necessarily give you any definitive definitions of the divine, because everybody may approach the divine in their own particular way that seems most useful to each person. To me, it is like they are all pointing to the same reality, however you get there. Some people like to go straight. Some people like to go the scenic route, but however you want to define it is fine with us.
The main thing is mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh said several years ago when I first went to see him at a meditation retreat, "I am not here to convert you to become Buddhist. I'm here to teach you to practice mindfulness that you can apply it in your daily life and change the world through your practice. So I hope that you leave this retreat being a more mindful Christian or a mindful Jew or a mindful Hindu or a mindful Buddhist or a mindful Muslim or whatever." So, really, this is a universal spiritual practice.
You know, of course I learned this through the Buddhist way, so there's a little bit of a Buddhist flavor to most everything here, but it is not dogmatic. It is very open, so just enjoy whatever. Re-translate things in your mind, because every religion says the same thing in different ways, okay? So divine guidance—basically, when you are a meditator, a regular meditator, your ability to listen to the inner voice of truth is easier, because we have all kinds of little voices in our heads, all kinds of competing voices.
It is hard to discern, well, which one is the ego? Which one is divine? Which one is in the food I ate last night? Or my mood swing or whatever. It is hard to discern, but if you regularly meditate, make it your lifestyle, I guarantee you it makes it easier to discern and then hear more clearly what is the direction. And it may not be in literal English words, but it is like a feeling. You get these inner nudges, inner senses, and you can follow through. So if you want to really be able to discern divine guidance, meditation will really help.
And a sixth benefit is enlightenment. That is really the whole purpose of meditation, not just to feel better or peaceful, because sometimes when you practice, you don't always feel so good, just like when you go to the gym, you don't always feel good when you are practicing at the gym, but there are benefits even when it is hard. Sometimes it feels so blissful, and sometimes it feels really challenging, but if you just keep practicing, you go beyond the ups and downs of bliss or challenge to simply being.
And being is much more powerful than the up or down of any emotion, and enlightenment means basically waking up to who you really are, not diluted by the ego anymore, but really living at the radiant life of the wisdom of who you really are and who we all are. But when you have awakening or enlightenment—because there can be glimpses of enlightenment, glimpses and stages of awakening. It is really powerful if you have this sudden awakening that is blissful, and you see things and know things for the first time in your life in an amazing way, but it is still partial because until enlightenment manifests in the seventh way, it is not full enlightenment, and that is enlightened service. Because enlightenment that only is concerned with your own personal bliss and could care less about the rest of the world, that is either delusion or, if it is true enlightenment, it is only partial enlightenment.
If you want full enlightenment, you have to take that awakening and apply it in how you love, how you serve, how you help assist the transformation of the world. And when you meditate and come awake, meditation helps you serve better. Sometimes when we serve, we are serving out of our ego. It is kind of codependent on those. Sometimes when we try to love somebody we lace it with a little bit of poison. It is like, I am going to love you and serve you, but I want something back. How come you're not being grateful to me? I'm helping you, gosh darn it. Got a little bit of ego, right? Lacing a little poison in there.
So in light in service, you just let all of that go. You are just coming from your divine center, and you are just serving. It doesn't even feel like you are doing anything. It is being done through you. You become a clear channel of the true doer, which is the universal reality doing it through you, and when you do it that way, there is not this feeling of drain or burnout because it is not coming from your own personal ego energy. It is the universal energy doing it through you because now you have allowed yourself to become clear, a clear channel of energy.
So those are just some benefits of this practice, and I hope it helps if you do this more regularly. So I guess I will say one last thing. That is the word sadhana. And sadhana basically means your daily spiritual practice. So, one thing that helps to motivate you to practice is if you create a personal altar at home and clean up your environment, at least one corner, if not the whole room, and put an altar there, a table with flowers, candles, incense, a picture of Jesus or Buddha or an angel or whatever you want. It doesn't matter as long as it means something to you.
And maybe also a sitting area right in front of it or near it so that whether it is a chair or a couch or a cushion on the floor, because then it is ready for you. You don't have to try too hard to make it happen. It is there and ready for you to meditate, makes it easier, and when you have an altar, every time you walk by that altar, it reminds you, oh yeah, I have a spiritual practice, and I have an intention to follow through on it. And then if your cushion is right there or a chair, you can sit.
And you know, you can do this in as little as five minutes. I want everyone here to eventually commit to doing meditation practice five minutes a day at least. It is better if you practice five minutes every day than one hour once a week. It is the regularity and making it a part of daily life that makes it so powerful. So at least five minutes. You can do it. Or even three minutes. I will give you a little leeway there. Three minutes, even. Okay? Or even maybe one minute. But once you get on your mat and you are ready, it will intellectually feel longer because it is such a nice feeling to just practice, so you will want to do it longer. But in your mind, if you make the goal too high, you will not even try, right? Oh, I don't even have time for five minutes. Well, then, do it for one minute. You know? Or, I don't have time for an hour. Okay. Do it 20 minutes.
And in your newsletter, I gave you some suggestions on how you can practice your sadhana. It can include movement, chanting, sitting, reading, spiritual reading, whatever. There are all kinds of things included in your sadhana time. I usually do it an hour a day, sometimes twice a day, but at least five minutes if you can per day. And there are times when I have skipped a day, but I told myself not more than one day skipped in a week. So I always try to come back.
OK, so that's my talk for tonight. Thank you so very much, Amitabha.