This section is dedicated to questions on Mindfulness Meditation from many students all over the world. If you have a question that you would like to ask you can said it to this address: Send a Message
thankyou and take care,
QUESTION from Anomynous: In August I did some intensive meditation, more or less isolated from the daily life, and I felt great (maybe you remember my report about some nice states I achieved). Since September I’m back to daily life and I experienced and still experience the following:
It seems that I’m much more receptive for sensual contact, especially seeing and hearing. It seems that I’m getting more and more irritated from things people do and say or by the human being as such. It doesn’t matter if they say or do it to me, just seeing or hearing is sufficient to trigger internal reactions like anger, irritation and antipathy.
Sometimes the voice alone or some kind of behavior is sufficient. I’m not sure if people around me take notice, but at least I take notice of it. I watch other people’s behavior and can see how they are driven by fear and greed and how they ignore reality and lie to themselves and to others to justify what they do. Recognizing all this makes me angry.
I see how things (e.g. peoples comments, reactions, behavior etc.) repeat itself over and over again. I see that my own reactions/thoughts repeat themselves over and over again and I can't stop it. It is like being forced to listen to a sound without being able to stop it. It feels like I have to react somehow (change job because I can’t hear and see my boss anymore, move to another place with less people or to isolate myself).
I thought I can handle it by just watching it, but I have fears that I cannot handle it any longer, because it is really strong and lasts continuously (only when I sleep I feel relieved – that is why I try to sleep very much).
On the one hand my perception shows me how absurd things are (which is OK), but on the other hand the feelings that come across with that perceptions provoke a lot of suffering in me.
The perception combined with neutral or happy feelings would be much more manageable for me. Not sure if this is the right path …
I would be happy if you would share your thoughts …
ANSWER: Yes this is the right path, the symptoms you are experiencing is a sign that Mindfulness is causing your awareness to concentrate and clarify. When this happens we become more sensitive to our senses and our responses to them, similar to how sensitive we get to anything touching our body when we are sick, development of the practice increases our sensitivity to the world touching us.
The triggered reactions such as irritation and then anger that arise from this sensitivity are your natural habitual mode of reacting, at the times when these arise you are experiencing your Karmic response to life. These Karmic seeds ripening as irritation and anger have been planted by you through your reactions in the past and are ripening because of your current sensitivity to sense contact right now. The seeds arise as the feeling of irritation and sprout when reacted to as the feeling of anger.
Your task as the meditator is to be aware of the feelings and the cycle in which they arise and to ‘soften’ into them, you can use gentle deep breathing to do this, relaxing on the out breath. If you do not soften into and accept these feelings / seeds when they arise and they sprout due to your participation, then you will not only re-enforce the patterns but plant more seeds that have the potential to be triggered in the future, the likely hood of irritation and anger will increase.
It is only through being mindful of and relaxing into these feelings, allowing them to be, that you will start to burn up old Karmic seeds without planting new ones and you will be on the way out of conditioning into the unconditioned. The key is the feeling tone, Vedana, located in these feelings, it appears as either a unpleasant or pleasant feeling tone, like the ‘flavour’ of the experience.
What I would like you to notice is that even thought the pleasant or unpleasant feeling compels you to move, to react, within itself it can not hurt you, it has no power to make you move / react. Resisting it, not giving it any value will not hurt you in any way, instead it will increase your freedom.
You mentioned that other peoples behaviour upsets you, it is part of practice that as you start noticing your own delusion you will also start to notice how everyone around you is also caught up in this cycle, driven by pleasant and unpleasant feelings. At this point of practice it is easy to get frustrated with everyone, you start to see all adults as out of control, immature children that deny reality.
There is a risk at this point of turning away from and giving up on life, dispassion starts to arise, this is part of the progress of insight into reality. Even though the urge to pull away from people and life, to isolate yourself is strong do not follow it, this is also aversion (anger) disguised as delusion, it is the delusion of superiority, we all go through it on the path. Instead look closely at and soften into the feelings of aversion to life, the judgement and resentment to those around you.
Soften into the feeling that you are superior, that you know more then them. The path is not to run away, where would you go? Instead start looking at their suffering, their pain of being caught up in delusion and start relating to their suffering with compassion and kindness.
There is no escape from Dukkha by running away, the pain of the friction in life, this friction / pain is not found in any experience, in any situation, in any person, it is found in our relationship to our experience, situation, other people / ourselves. It is not possible to run away from this relationship, use the pain at this stage to give you more energy, to spur on the momentum to be with, to understand, to accept and soften into all experience, this is the only way out, this is the way leading towards Nibbana.
My teacher advised me to “embrace all experience as you would a suffering child”. Resistance = pain, acceptance = freedom, how long do you want this cycle to go on for? Equanimity does not arise through getting rid of things, it arises when you stop judging and trying to change what is, it comes when you surrender into the pain, realise that resistance is useless.
Do not judge people by what they say or do, most people in this world, including us, are reacting and acting through delusion. as Jesus said “forgive them for they know not what they do”, Literally people do not know, they are viewing the world through confusion, they can not see so act through reaction. You have chosen to look and are seeing the pain. You are then commenting on their delusion through your delusion, can’t you see the irony?
The path is correct, the Buddha talked of its progression as increased perception of Annica (impermanance), Dukkha (friction / suffering), Annata (not-self), you have an increased perception of Dukkha. At this moment you are mentally clinging to experience and so Dukkha is created, when you feel the pain associated with clinging clearly enough, when you know through your own understanding that your grasping / struggle is what causes the pain then your mind will let go by itself.
Encourage this by softening into the feeling of Dukkha, by observing Annica and Annata in all experience. When the mind lets go you will abide in the perception of Uppekkha (equanimity) and only percieve Annica and Annata in all experience, Dukkha at this stage will vanish.
keep up the good practice
QUESTION from Linda: Hi Stephen, I have practicing your online meditations and notice that you say to"remember the feeling of touch". Aren't we supposed to be just aware of the present, if I remember something doesn't that mean that my attention is focussing on the past. Also I have often heard that Mindfulness is being continuously aware yet you say that Mindfulness and awareness are seperate things, is this correct?
ANSWER: Hello Linda, the Pali word for Mindfulness is 'Sati', Sati literally means 'memory' or 'to remember', but it is a particular type of remembering, it is not remembering the past but remembering the present.
Mindfulness is the factor of mind that remembers 'I am aware of this ...' Awareness (Vinnana) and Mindfulness (Sati) are two separate mental factors, Mindfulness remembers where awareness sits, during meditation we continually forget where our attention is, literally we forget awareness.
Every time we notice that we have forgotten the present experience, this remembering is Mindfulness, this is why it so important to cultivate. Continuous remembering (Mindfulness) of the present experience causes awareness to concentrate, this is the relationship between these two mental factors and why Mindfulness is so valued in the tradition,.
QUESTION from Johan: Hello Stephen, im practicing vipassana meditation. It's doing great, i almost sometimes don't feel the breath, and I am going deep, but one thing i don't know is how to remain "alert" and "watchfull" throughout the day, without forcing it?
ANSWER: Hi Johan, the breath is becoming more subtle because of the development of concentration, practicing Vipassana be careful that you do not become over concentrated. To practice Vipassana you need to be able to observe clearly the three characteristics - Anicca, Dukkha and Annata.
The first characteristic Anicca (impermanence) will disappear if you become too absorbed into the object of meditation and instead you will go down the path of tranquillity.
Establishing Mindfulness in Daily Life
You can establish Mindfulness in daily life by following these steps, be gentle, use the sensations in your body starting with the feeling of touch as your grounding object. Every time your mind wanders off gently bring it back into your body, in this way mindfulness and concentration will grow.
Step 1. 'Feel' your feet on the ground, use it as an anchor for your attention
Step 2. 'Feel' the sensations in your body, now use the whole body as an anchor for your attention
Step 3. Hold the remembering of what it is you’re doing now
Step 4. Observe your likes and dislikes without reacting
Step 5. Watch your mind construct stories about your life
Step 6. Observe without reacting your attachments and resistances to life
Make these practices part of your life, one step at a time and your mindfulness and understanding will deepen.
Deconditioning Patterns in Daily Life
You can decondition habitual patterns using Mindfulness in daily life by following these steps: Deconditioning Habitual Patterns:
Step 1. Notice the sensational 'feel' of the emotion as it appears in your body
Step 2. Break up the experience into separate sensations such as 'tight', tense, hard, light, cool, warm etc
Step 3. Separate the pleasant or unpleasant 'feeling' that permeates it
Step 4. Soften into the pleasant / unpleasant 'feeling' using deep, gentle breaths, relaxing on the out-breath Step
5. Do not try to get rid of the feeling instead soften and accept into it
QUESTION from Ravi: My concentration seem to drift , some days are better than others. I slowly working my way through the series I committed to doing no 12 this month. I also started sitting cross legged to practice last month. During the practice I stretch my legs and groin area, lean forward and try touch the floor head. Should I not be stretching through the practice?
ANSWER: It is natural for concentration to be different from day to day, just notice the flow of change. If you need to stretch do so slowly feeling the sensations within the movement, you can use a mental label such as "moving, moving" to help your attention,
QUESTION from Laura: Great exercise to learn to focus and to then see where the thinking wants to go. I practiced this number 15 exercise for a week and number 14 in the week before. I noticed that a lot of times my mind went to dreamland :] Does this mean my attention is not as present as it could be? Then this execise is very good to practice? Thanks Stephen , good luck
ANSWER: Yes Laura, that is correct, when your thoughts wander off and you are lost in the content of dreaming then you are not present and have lost touch with reality. If you notice that there is dreaming and are not lost in the content but instead noticing what it 'feels' like to be dreaming, then you are present and in reality,