The fact of life:
The people who say they cannot meditate will never mediate if they believe they cannot meditate.
A lesson I have come to learn is a meditation practice teaches us that the world as we know it is what you make of it. We are a product of what we are exposed to and how we choose to interpret that exposure. If I choose to view part of myself as a non-meditator, I take on habits that reinforce that thereby making that mindset my reality. So if we would like to be mediators, there are some distinct attitudes or mindsets we all ought to begin intentionally cultivating. A mediation mindset mirrors the advice we hear often in business; mindset matters.
In Mindfulness in Plain English, the type of attitudes needed to seriously deepen a meditation practice is mentioned serval times—as I would hope. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana takes the time to condense a “series of rules for application” into a single 3-page chapter that I have found to be a helpful reference for deepening my own practice.
Here I share my top 5 meditation mindsets from Bhante’s book that have personally changed my meditation practice and arguably the way I live.
1. Don’t expect anything
“Let the meditation move along at its own speed and in its own direction. Let the mediation teach you what it wants you to learn”
To prepare for my first silent meditation retreat, I had been meditating for about a year and had researched what others had experienced during meditation retreats similar to the one I was attending. So I felt pretty confident about my preparation; I was entirely wrong.
The first thing I am told upon arriving is to forget the technique I had been using for over a year and to focus on using exactly what I am taught—good start.
Next, I overhear returning students speaking about the traumatic experiences they had during their first retreats—great follow up.
And Last but not least, I find out the timetable I had reviewed was wrong; I will be sitting for 13, not 10 hours of meditation a day—nice finish.
All of this happening within the first hour of arrival created a tower of doubt about whether I would be able to even sit for over a hundred hours of meditation in the next ten days. Who would have thought all I was doing was making it harder on myself. My prior know-how only generated anxiety and frustrations as I sat for my first course.
Expectations lead to a diluted view of whatever you are experiencing.
We are not accepting the world as it is when we expect a specific outcome from our meditation practice. The biases we hold about our progress, our capacities—or lack thereof—only limit what we seek. To start opening ourselves up to the variety of experiences that do not fit the mental models of the world we are currently using, we have to separate ourselves from what we believe for at least the length of our mediation. When we seek a specific outcome to an event we close ourselves off to the variety of what is possible.
“Anything really valuable takes time to develop”
When I started making progress in my meditation I was ready to move away to Tibet and join a monastery thinking I could FastTrack the whole monk thing and get back to life in no time—WOW I really couldn’t get it could I?
I hit my first “plateau”.
The practice became a chore and something a burden. So I thought if I sat so more than average or tried other techniques it would help; still nothing.
Why Rush? What are we rushing towards? A meditation practice only moves at a pace that matches the practitioner. And if we attempt to rush we are in no way doing what we need to further our practice.
Rushing means you are assuming the results of practice can be accelerated or even sustained through sloppily rushed practiced.
Remove those expectations and forget about the time. You already have a set schedule and you in no ways need to change your sit times or technique. As long as you are following the rules of your selected technique you're you are on the path.
If you find it hard to do so always keep in mind that the frustration you have with your meditation can be a lesson in its self. A lesson in patience—we will return to this later.
“You are your own teacher. Looking for teachers can’t solve your own doubts. Investigate yourself to find the truth – inside, not outside. Knowing yourself is most important.”
When we are children our parents tell us never to touch the stove because it was hot and we would burn ourselves.
I wasn't buying.
While I end up with some nasty burns, I learn a valuable lesson the proper way; through experience. No one in our lives can speak enlightenment to us, it is experienced. So to learn for yourself you must question everything, never believing in anything anyone says because of relationship or title. Become the scientist of your subjective reality and allow your desire find the truth to guide you.
During your practice, you will be tempted to assume you have learned a lesson because you have heard a yogi say it. But until you investigate the legitimacy of the claim through your own experience, it is only artificial.
Be empirical, whether it be the body scan or objectively observing feelings. Use mediation as your tool, your microscope into the reality of your being.
4.View all problems as challenges
“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”
When I was volunteering at a meditation center, I had gotten into the habit of reacting after a group sit through how I composed myself in the kitchen. I only came to realize this after a fellow volunteer told me that he could always tell when I was condemning myself after a meditation by how I washed dishes.
He was right.
I was constantly beating myself up when I thought a mediation session did not compare well to prior sessions.
Negatives reactions to our meditation practice are opportunities.
It was time to deliberately change my mindset. Each time I left the meditation hall, I left with great joy no matter the challenges presented during the sit knowing that I had just undergone I great hump on my journey towards liberation.
Problems are not to be thought of as an innate disposition that will haunt you forever. Only how you are choosing to work with the issue is what creates the illusion of permanence. When I finally chose to not judge myself so harshly, that is when I really started seeing growth in my practice.
“Don’t think, See.”
When I started college I became obsessed with becoming an expert. I was not really sure about what, but I wanted to know everything so no one could ever tell me I was wrong or didn’t know better. When I encountered problems I would seek out the answers in every book and cranny. So when I started mediation I naturally attempted to do the same thing.
Some things in meditation cannot be figured out.
No amount of reason or thinking will ever help you understand something as presymbolic as mindfulness meditation. Many of the phenomena we experience are beyond the symbols used to describe meaning i.e. language.
You cannot think yourself out of submission here. Thinking only feeds the issue. Thoughts will only trick us into rationalization or justification for our actions.
We must learn to accept ignorance and humbly take our opportunity to experience a more objective perception of the world by practicing meditation.
“Meditation is participatory observation”
-Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Mediation is the tool that helps us become receptive participants in our lives.
Meditation is the tool that helps us grow accustomed to the selves we are constantly becoming.
We can take back control of whom we are but this is only if we know where to look; good mindsets for meditation cultivate the awareness to see the world more clearly. By taken into consideration the 5 mindsets I described you will have the foundation to continue on your path towards living intentionally.
If you’re interested in the seeing the whole list I recommend you go check out Bhante Henepola Gunaratana’s book: Mindfulness in Plain English.
Curious about the sitting for a silent meditation retreat? Learn more about the Vipassana meditation tradition as well as find places to attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat HERE.
You all know that I meditate every day. But have you seen the other habits?
I have spent years tirelessly hunting for the best daily habits to incorporate into my life. Meditation is one of them. But that is only one habit. Check out the other four in a Free copy of the Top 5 Habits I Do Every Day.