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 Uwe: Good meditation practice. Only it is difficult for me to keep focus, especially when I am tired or nervous. Any advice?
ANSWER: Hello Uwe, feeling tired or restless is a natural part of Mindfulness meditation. It is a sign that your energy levels are not properly balanced. Sleepiness / mental dullness is a sign that you are putting in too little effort to be 'aware' of your meditation object. The feeling of nervousness is arising out of mental restlessness which is the opposite extreme of putting in too much effort. This causes an excess of energy that arises mentally then physically.
These two extremes are what Mindfulness meditation training is all about, learning how to become sensitive to this imbalance (like learning to balance when riding a bicycle). This imbalance of energy if often enhanced by the way we live our lives. If you are coming to the meditation practice from an over-stimulated life then when you sit down to meditate sleepiness and restlessness is what you will experience - meditation is not separate from life.
Do not give up, I experienced this in the beginning - everyone does - gentle persistence is the way. Since you experience nervousness I suggest starting your meditation practice at exercise 3: Skill of Softening once per day and learn how to soften relax into what you are feeling. This will help to lower the nervous reaction and to bring the energy back into balance,
QUESTION from Anomynous: This may seem an odd request, but do you have a suggestion of which of the wonderful practices you have on insight timer will help with the deep depression (that gets deeper daily) that I feel post-election? I already try to practice loving kindness toward Trump, but I'm so scared about where my country is headed all the loving kindness can't make a dent. Steve Bannon, Myron Ebell, Rudi Giuliani....these people can do irreversible harm.
Any suggestions? I'm paralyzed with sadness and fear.
ANSWER: Hello, the answer is to practice in this way;
This is the answer, resistance causes mental and emotional pain.
Firstly do not indulge in the thinking about / talking about what has happened, this thinking pattern is not helping you in any way, it just reinforces it.
1) I would like you to practice Mindfulness Meditation 3: Skill of Softening twice per day – like you would take medicine, it needs to be practiced regularly in a sincere way so that it will change the neural pathways in your brain. This practice is the one I give to my clients when treating them for anxiety and depression with great result. Remember this isn't just about sitting still meditating but a skill to learn and bring into your everyday life.
Skill of Softening Meditation This recording is available on Insight Timer App so that you can listen to it on your phone, IPad, tablet, IPod etc
Use ‘slow, deep, gentle breaths’ as described in the guide I sent you “How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation in Your Daily Life” on page 10 & 11.
into any resistance you feel first physically and then mentally.
2) During everyday life I would like you to follow the technique on Page 26:
a) Remember the feeling of your feet touching the ground, bottom touching the chair, back touching the bed. Make it a practice of keeping a point of touch in mind throughout your day – this will train Mindfulness and settle your thinking.
b) Notice any tightness / tension that arises in your body as resistance to what has happened.
c) Use the slow deep breathing skill that you have developed by practicing exercise 3: Skill of Softening to soften / relax into the emotional response within your body.
d) Do not use the breathing to try to remove what you are experiencing – this is just more resistance. Instead use to breathing to soften into / relax / accept what you are experiencing.
This is non-resistance and the way to break the cycle.
QUESTION from Anomynous Cont.: Thank you so much for you thoughtful, helpful--and speedy!--reply. That's just what I will do. This morning I was suprised at how resistant I was to the meditation. I usually just have to hear the sound of your voice and I start to relax. Part of me clearly doesn't want to soften into this. But I will do it twice a day! I walk to and from work and do practice being in my body and paying attention to where I am in space and the process of walking, but I will add the softening into. I think that will also be very helpful.
Avoiding talking will be hard. I'm an academic. You can imagine what the conversations are like around here. But it is good advice (and advice I give my students about listening to others complain about how much work they have, how stressed they are, etc!) and I do think it will help. I feel like I'm abandoning a sinking ship not to talk about it, but of course that is silly.
ANSWER: Yes, that part of you not wanting to soften into and accept what has happened shows that it is exactly where you need to focus your attention. Learning to soften and accept is not abandoning a sinking ship, it is quite the opposite. Accepting reality is not running away from it – aversion, resistance and struggle is.
Accepting reality, putting down all resistance is acknowledging and realigning yourself with reality. When you do this the the anxiety and depression will dissolve, this then puts you in a position where you can do what needs to be done.
Free from resistance you will no longer be looking out at the world through helplessness and fear but through love and compassion for the people around you . Attacks and slander against different people and talking in a negative way may give a temporary feeling of satisfaction but since they are based on negative mental states they have the effect of causing separation. This is the one thing your country does not need at this time.
Start with bringing acceptance within yourself, then through your speech and action show others in your community that it is possible and help them to experience acceptance also. Then what needs to be done will be clear but it will come through clarity instead of fear,
QUESTION from Anomynous Cont.: Dear Stephen, This makes an enormous amount of sense. And even with just starting the day with that meditation has made it better. I feel calmer.
Thank you so much!!
QUESTION from Alan: I found this Sympathetic Joy meditation very difficult. It's over 20 years since I felt a feeling that I would describe as true joy, the feeling that my heart could burst with it. I can strongly and honestly send good wishes, and hope, and positive emotions to people I feel good towards, I can also do it towards those I envy - my brother, who has so much in his life that I do not, but who I still deeply want to be happy, and to succeed, and to have ease in his life.
However, when it comes to a difficult person, I cannot even picture anybody other than, say, political figures that I feel this way towards. Is this an acceptable person to direct these feelings to? Yes, there are people in my life that I do not wish to encounter, but I feel more sympathy for them than negativity, I feel sorry for how their life has made them who they are, rather than viewing them as a bad person. Would I be better to direct my good feelings at them?
Yet all along, I can never send joy, I cannot remember how to feel that, I can only send honest and heartfelt wishes for success, or happiness. Can I do this meditation even though I have lost the ability to feel joy!
ANSWER: Hello Alan, Mudita (Sympathetic Joy) is a concentration meditation. The initial joy that rises during this practice comes as one of the factors of concentration called Piti. They are listed traditionally in Buddhist practice as the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and progress in this order "Mindfulness - Investigation / Applied and sustained attention - Effort - Joy / Rapture - Tranquillity - Concentration - Equanimity."
I would say there is an imbalance in your effort causing a wavering of your attention and this stops Joy from arising. I suggest going back to exercise 3: Skill of Softening and practice it so as to balance the energy and settle the mental agitation. You will then experience mental stillness and joy in the mind. When you have developed this skill come back to this exercise and you will find it will develop to a deeper level,
QUESTION from John: Hi Stephen, why do you have such long periods of silence during your guided meditations? Other guided meditations use constant guiding or music to help me stay more present. When I follow your guided meditation and there is silence I find it hard not become distracted.
ANSWER: Hello john, the constant distraction within your mind can be used as a path to be free from it; Distraction is not seperate from Mindfulness meditation - It is the content. The gaps of silence have been put in my guided meditations so that you will become distracted, so that your attention will wander off.
During the periods of silence be aware of the physical meditation object such as the sensations within your body / breath, but place your effort into trying to notice every time your attention moves away from it towards thoughts / memories. This noticing attention move is what strengthens Mindfulness and creates a change in realtionship to mental chatter.
If there is no gaps of silence within a guided meditation then it is not a meditation - it is just another form of distraction - entertainment. To gain full benefit of a guided meditation you need to have periods that your effort is applied towards awareness of your meditation object and any movement of attention away from it. In this way the mental faculties of Mindfulness and concentration are being trained.
If your attention is being held by an external source such as music or constant talking then your mental faculties will not get stronger and while it may feel pleasureable to be distracted for a period of time by a guided meditation it will not then have any impact on your life. And that is what this practice is all about,
QUESTION from Gary: During meditation I find it hard to tell the difference between being aware of something and thinking about it. Are awareness and thinking the same thing?
Awareness and thinking are not the same thing, they are two seperate functions of mind and can be observed separately. Awareness arises due to any sense contact: A sight, sound, smell, taste, touch - contacting an external sense door eg: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or the triggered sense door of the mind.
Thinking is the conceptualisation of the awareness of this sense object. Awareness arises at the beginning of this process and is unjudgemental / free from concept, thinking arises near the end and is always coloured by judgement. During Mindfulness meditation your task is to become sensitive to awareness before conceptualisation that arises as thinking because thinking is never based on reality but rather a verbalisation of experience through emotional relationships to past experience.