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: Thank you for your videos. One thing I would always get is that I tend to feel frustrated after catching or knowing that I am thinking. The whole practice then goes all about the frustration and restlessness that thoughts keep coming up.
It's like I go 'rising, falling', - thought comes up, then I'd go 'thinking, thinking', then I would get all frustrated about the thought that came up. What do I do with this feeling then? Do I label this as feeling, feeling, or angry, angry?
I noticed if I just brush it off and go back to the rising and falling I'd just get even more frustrated, is like something bring suppressed.
ANSWER: Hello, it sounds like during meditation you are using labels in the wrong way. Labelling should not be used to stop you from being distracted during Mindfulness meditation. Instead it should be used to clarify where your attention has moved to, so that you can develop understanding of the movement.
The feeling of frustration and irritation arises because you think that your attention is not meant to move, so you fight against it moving by using labels to try to hold your attention still. Fighting against your attention moving creates a gap between what you think should be happening and what is actually happening. It is your relationship to this gap that creates your suffering (Dukkha).
I think your confusion has come about by the misunderstanding the difference between Mindfulness based and concentration based meditation.
The difference is that when developing concentration based meditation you fix you attention on one object and ignore all distractions so that your attention becomes absorbed into your meditation object. So in the case of meditating for deep concentration, being distracted is bad because it causes the concentration to collapse.
Mindfulness meditation on the other hand is concerned with observing how attention moves and the characteristic of impermanence (Anicca). During Mindfulness meditation there is no such thing as a distraction, just movements of attention that need to be observed and understood. A distraction is something that you think should not be there, that draws your attention away; this type of thinking is based on aversion.
By making the movement of your attention the object of your meditation, distraction no longer exists. Instead of fighting your thinking you should make the thinking itself the object of your Mindfulness when your attention is drawn towards it. Only use the label to clarify the experience, if it gets in the way then drop it.
Think of it as being the difference between tying a horse to a post and locking it in a coral (concentration meditation) and untying the horse, letting it out of the coral, hoping on its back and allowing the horse to go where it wants while you observe its habits (Mindfullness meditation).
Stop trying to control your attention and the frustration and restlessness will dissolve.
QUESTION from Sarah: Stephen, instead of experiencing tightness or pain when I focused on the bad memory, I got so hot I began to sweat all over (it even made my hair wet). Can you help explain this reaction? Thank you.
ANSWER: Hello Sarah, memories are sorted as dangerous or safe by attaching a pleasant or unpleasant feeling tone / flavour. When the memory arises and your attention turns towards it the appropriate feeling tone is triggered. In this case the unpleasant feeling tone was triggered, your reaction to the unpleasantness unpacked the emotional response attached to the memory which then arose in your body as various sensations that have elemental qualities.
The heat that you experienced is one of those elemental qualities as a reaction to the unpleasantness. The mind then verbalises these sensations and turns them into a story - I am fearful because of ..... The way to decondition this response is to be with the elemental quality was it arises within your body, separate the unpleasant feeling tone / flavour and soften into what you are experiencing using slow gentle breathing, not reacting to what is present, as practiced earlier in the series.
QUESTION from Kum Kie: Sorry, but may I ask if meditation can help with self-doubt and self criticism? I have been have negative thought patterns in daily life, whereby I would have these "I should've" or "I shouldn't have" thoughts debating inside my mind after certain events. For example, if I decided to sell some stocks and take my profits, and right after that, the stock went even higher and I could've made more money if I have only sold it later, I'd have thoughts of "I shouldn't have" or "should have" in my head.
Also, I m trying to practice bring mindful in my daily life but find I'm always drifting into thoughts most the time. I have set timers so that whenever it beeps I would bring back my attention to the sensation of "touch". Is this a good way? Or I should always bring back attention to the breath? Thank you in advance
ANSWER: Doubt is the is the fifth of the 5 hindrances to meditation, the only way that it can be removed is by observing it with mindfulness and noticing the game it plays. This is the level of thinking I call the commentator; it is the judge, jury and executioner of the world. The commentator is concerned with “I like”, I don’t like”, “This is right”, “That is wrong”, the commentator looks out at the world through its views.
To be free of it you have to observe that it is just habitual habit talking to you, it is just giving you a suggestion on what you should do based on your past experience, but this past experience is not necessarily correct. You don’t have to believe or act on it, it is like a child.
The commentator is not you, it is just verbalised habitual reaction talking to you: Don’t believe it.
The problem is that it is easy to strongly identify with this level of thinking and then act your life through it. This is how habitual behaviour becomes entrenched.
Keep observing thinking in your formal seated meditation and everyday life, notice how you have no control over it. Notice that most thought are just echos of the past, that you don not ask it to come, stay or go, it does this of its own accord. This will start to change your relationship to it and the thinking will settle through non participation.
One last aspect about this, the way we live our lives affects how stirred up the mind becomes, it contains a morality door. Everything we do has a side effect, a result. The line of work you are in is concerned constantly with the past and future, it is also concerned with thinking about how to gain something in the future, and therefore your mind will be constantly agitated.
I am not suggesting that you stop doing what you are doing, just to be aware that this type of work will mean more obsessive thinking then others, this is the karmic result and you need to accept the results of how you live.
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.
Yes your timer is a good starting point but it is better to notice rather then have something distract you back. This is because part of the function of Mindfulness is to notice when you have forgotten the present experience. To strengthen the Mindfulness you need to let it do the remembering.
Breathing is not your main meditation object instead 'Feel' the sensations of your feet on the ground, use it as an anchor for your attention. Everytime you forget it, bring your attention back, keep bringing your attention on this feeling of touch and you will build a foundational viewing platform for meditation in daily life.
QUESTION from Ramesh: Thank you, Stephen. Awesome as always. While noticing the different stages of breathing though, it seems to me that, one step doesn't necessarily follow another sequentially... The coolness of the in breath for instance starts along with the movement in the chest and the expansion of the belly...I wonder if it's just me feeling that?
ANSWER: Hello Ramesh, the technique is just a way of training the perception of the experience of breathing as a series of changing sensations. Your experience of the breathing is always correct, whether it matches the guided meditation sequence is not important, the important part is to learn to become sensitive to breathings elemental quality and flow of change.
QUESTION from Carolyn: This is fascinating. When the hands 'disappear' you can sense the mind searching for something to latch onto. I'm interested to know how this relates to pain or discomfort in the body. I have noticed that discomforts and pain are often relieved during meditation
ANSWER: Hi Carolyn, you are seeing the same process as when you experience pain but in reverse, when pain arises your attention moves from your current experience and latches onto the physical sensations. The physical sensations are perceived as unpleasant and the unpleasant feeling tone / flavour permeates the experience. Dislike arises to the unpleasantness and aversion arises so the mind latches onto the unpleasantness and pushes it away at the same time.
The thinking cycle reinforces this and the perception of pain increases. While meditating the experience of pain can decrease because your attention is concentrated on another object so awareness of it becomes low or in the case of Mindfulness the mind is balanced and aversion and judgement of the sensations does not arise so you do not experience pain.
QUESTION from Anomynous: I suffer from a chronic illness that makes me feel constantly fatigued and causes anxiety and the fight / flight response. Can Mindfulness meditation help?
ANSWER: I will explain how this Mindfulness meditation practice can help you and how you can approach it, in a more simple way then before.
1) You have a chronic condition that you can not change that causes feelings of fatigue and triggers the fight / flight response.
2) You can not stop the feelings / emotions from being triggered within you and feel anxious and fatigued.
3) When the feelings / emotions are triggered you find yourself automatically responding.
a) You can resist your illness – this leads to mental pain.
or b) You can embrace and accept the sensations of part of your normal experience – this leads to peace.
c) This is because physical pain is unavoidable but mental pain is optional – mental pain always contains resistance to ‘what is’.
1) The fatigue, aches and pains, fight / flight response all arise in your body / mind as sensations. This is how they are experienced.
2) Notice how you want these sensations within your body / mind to go away . Why?
- Because the sensations feel unpleasant.
3) Ask the questions; What is unpleasantness? Why do I feel the urge to escape from it?
4) With this you may see that your illness and the sensations in your mind / body are not the problem.
- The problem is that they feel unpleasant – and the unpleasantness creates the desire in you to escape from it – that is its function.
1) The feelings / emotions are not the problem – the problem is that they are experienced as unpleasant and you don’t like it.
- It is your relationship to unpleasantness that is the driving force for mental pain.
- Change your relationship to unpleasantness from dislike to acceptance and the mental pain will dissolve.
2) The unpleasantness is a separate experience from the physical and mental sensations - it is like a flavour / taste, the sensations are like the texture.
3) Learn to separate the unpleasantness from the sensations – that is why you do the Mindfulness training.
4) Keep your attention anchored within the sensations in your body.
5) Notice the unpleasant feeling like a mist that permeates your experience.
6) Notice that unpleasantness actually has no power – it is not a thing – it is only a feeling.
- being a feeling the only power it has is the power you give it.
7) Place your awareness on it and remove its power by softening / relaxing into it using slow, deep, gentle breaths.
- Gently sighing on the out-breath.
8) Relax, relax, relax.
9) Soften, soften, soften.
10) Relax / soften into your resistance to the unpleasant feeling.
11) When you totally soften and accept the unpleasantness its power is removed.
- And a miracle will happen.