Mapping my mind: a summer doing contemplative science
Last summer, I was lucky enough to spend almost 2 months as a visiting scholar at the Mind & Life Visiting Scholar house in Amherst, Massachusetts. In this house, scientists…
How should we conduct research on contemplative science? News from the first European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute
I attended the first European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute. These institutes are designed to bring together researchers, philosophers, practitioners, and clinicians to talk about how to engage in…
Creating a compassionate organization
The second day of the Meditation & Human Values in the Workplace conference moved from the individual to the organizational level. We started out by hearing from Federico Daini-Jôkô Procopio,…
How to practically embody a strong personal ethics in the workplace
On the last day of the conference, Monique de Knop shared her experience in being a top manager in the Belgian government. She dissected what wisdom in the workplace really…
Meditation and Human Values at the Workplace?
With economic crises and various corporate scandals under our belt you may wonder whether meditation and human values actually exist in the workplace. Right now a group of people is…
Who Meditates at Work?
Do you start your work meetings with a couple of minutes of meditation? This morning, I talked with a teacher who has just introduced meditation into her classroom. "The great…
The Great and Curious Truth: Cultivating Compassion, The Contemplative Approach
Patrick Gaffney is one of the leading authorities on the contemplation and practice of compassion in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and I was lucky enough to hear him speak at…
Read This Book!: The Compassionate Mind Approach to Reducing Stress by Maureen Cooper
For the last month or so I have been reading Maureen Cooper’s fabulous new book, The Compassionate Mind Approach to Reducing Stress Reducing Stress. Combining an authentically Buddhist approach with…
Taking a bite of mindfulness
Eating is a very touchy topic in our society (see also this recent article on WMRI). There are enormous social problems associated with addiction to food (listen for a discussion…
Non-silent interaction meditation
If you are anything like me, you spend a good deal of time interacting with other people. Is it possible to integrate meditation in your interaction with others, and if…
Imaginary Limits: Grasping at Illusory I
From the perspective of science, there is no inherent reason for the human mind to have an underlying owner or "self." The brain, the physical structure that creates consciousness and…
To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. If you want to attain perfect calmness in your zazen [meditation], you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control.
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Journalist and meditator
In this next video, Sogyal Rinpoche explains what Buddha taught... in just six words.
Why is it so important to work with and understand our own mind?
Because the real source of happiness and well-being lies within our mind, and not in the unpredictable and ever-changing conditions of the outside world.
Our restless and impatient minds are quick to make endless judgments and concepts about everything in terms of what we like, what we don’t like, and what we don’t really care about at all.
We think, “I like this,” and feel attachment or desire for it, or we think, “I don’t like that,” and we experience aversion, pain or fear towards it.
We crave things we don’t have, fear losing what we do have, and get depressed at having lost other things. As our minds get tighter and tighter, we feel increasing excitement or pain, and find ourselves caught in an endless cycle of dissatisfaction.
In the end, we spend half of our life chasing after what we like and want, and the other half of our life running away from what we don’t want to encounter. This is what the Buddha called dukkha—suffering.
The teachings of the Buddha are based on straightforward logic and reasoning. If we want to end suffering, we need to eliminate the causes of suffering. Likewise, if we want happiness, we need to cultivate its causes.
These teachings were not given for the sake of being profound, but as a way to help us understand what actually happens to us, and how we can change it.
The Buddha explained that anxiety, fears and suffering come from minds that are overpowered by delusion and distraction.
But if we can tame the mind, then nothing can frighten us, because all fear comes from a mind that is untamed.
To put it simply, in order to tame our mind we need to understand what the mind is and investigate how it works.
Mind is the most important factor
Investigating the mind doesn’t mean we need to make drastic changes to the way we live. It means recognizing how our mind is the most important factor in all the activities of our everyday life, and how it is ultimately responsible for everything we experience.
In order to have mastery over our own lives and be able to help others effectively, we need to understand the reality of our mind and the nature of all our thoughts, emotions and mental attitudes.
Most people think of the mind as being thoughts and emotions, but these are actually just the appearance of the mind, not the true nature of the mind itself.
So, we have these two main aspects of the mind:
—the appearance of mind,
—and the nature of mind.
We spend most of our lives lost in the appearance of mind, without any understanding of the nature of mind itself. We are always looking for our true selves outside of ourselves, in our thoughts and emotions.
So, we are constantly looking in the wrong direction—as if we were facing the west and looking for the sunrise. Or, as the famous saying goes, leaving our elephant at home and looking for its footprints in the forest.
We give so much importance to these appearances, the projections of mind. Whatever thoughts or emotions rise, we let them sweep us away and off into a spiral of stories and illusions, which we take so seriously, we end up not only believing, but becoming as well.
Our potential for transformation
It is not the appearances themselves that are the problem—it is how the mind perceives them, grasps at them, and tries to solidify them as if they were real.
Therefore, in the Buddhist teachings, the main advice for this life is to purify our projections of the mind and realize the nature of mind.
The good news is that this is possible. As the Dalai Lama has pointed out: “A great Tibetan teacher of mind training once remarked that one of the mind’s most marvellous qualities is that it can be transformed.”
Through the practice of meditation, we can tame our mind by becoming more and more familiar with the essence of mind.
When we conquer our own minds, we become master of our perceptions. When we transform our perceptions, then even appearances will begin to change.
Ultimately, through taming our mind, we can arrive at the profound purity of the nature of mind, that great peace which the Buddha spoke of at the moment of his enlightenment over 2,500 years ago in India, beneath the Bodhi tree in what is now known as Bodhgaya.
If you want to ask any questions, or share your experiences and insights, you can visit our forum at any time
Now move on tostep 5: meditation posture
Last year I had the opportunity to ask Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche some questions about meditation, while he was visiting the Lerab Ling retreat centre in southern France
Andy Fraser: These days we have all kinds of ideas about meditation. We see it everywhere, on television, in adverts, on YouTube and so on. Could you tell us very simply what meditation really is?
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: Meditation is a process of getting to know yourself, or a process of getting to know your own mind. The great meditation masters from Tibet often defined meditation as becoming familiar with your own mind and its nature.
This is what meditation really is.
Two of my favourite things in life are meditation and football.
I know what you’re thinking—the two don’t exactly share much common ground. Meditation is all about solitude, stillness and silence, a spiritual odyssey that brings you up close and personal with your own mind, so that you can get to know how it works and emerge a calmer, kinder and more healthy human being.
Football, on the other hand, is about speed, conflict and emotion, a physical test that brings you up close and personal with a group of sweaty, competitive and often aggressive individuals, and where winning is pretty much all that matters.
In our final video, Sogyal Rinpoche explains how we can integrate meditation into our everyday lives?
You can integrate your meditation while you are walking, or eating, or caring for others, whatever the situation.
Meditation is so much easier than most people think—because as long as you are aware of what is going on and you are able to remain in the state of non-distraction, then whatever you experience is actually meditation.
For example, as you walk down the street, you can bring your attention to your surroundings. Look at the people you pass, the buildings, the cars, the flowers or trees.
Don’t indulge in judgmental commentaries about whoever or whatever you see, but simply allow your mind to be purely aware of the objects that you encounter.
When you bring pure awareness to your activities like this, then distraction and worry will gradually disappear and your mind will settle and become more calm and peaceful.
So when you finally do arrive at your destination, you’ll be in a much more relaxed and open frame of mind to deal with whatever comes next.
Stability and confidence
Another benefit of simply observing your perceptions in this way is that you will find yourself getting far less emotionally involved in what you perceive.
Also, whatever you are doing, cultivating the mindfulness and awareness of meditation practice will help you to be more efficient and accomplish more, with less effort and less stress.
And the simplicity, spaciousness, humour and courage you can find through meditation will help you to avoid being overwhelmed by work or burning out.
It will also bring you a certain stability, a certain confidence, with which you can face life and the complexity of the world with carefree dignity, with composure, ease and humour.
Congratulations, you've completed our 10-step guide!
We would love to receive your feedback on the course and hear about your experiences:
- Has meditation changed your way of being?
- Did your meditation practice help you in challenging situations?
- Do you have any other questions about meditation, or how to proceed from here?
Now that you’re familiar with the basic meditation posture, as well as the methods of watching the breath and focusing on an object, here’s a simple guided meditation that you can follow.
You can listen to this as many times as you want, and if you find it helpful, you can use it as part of your daily meditation practice.
||1.4 MB||2:32 min
|Watching the Breath
||2.7 MB||4:57 min
|Watching an Object
||2.8 MB||5:17 min
To download the file right click (control click on a Mac) the green arrows
In these videos, the Tibetan teachers Mingyur Rinpoche and Khandro Rinpoche talk about some of the misunderstandings that we can have about meditation.
In these videos, Sogyal Rinpoche reminds us that meditation is really very simple, and Mingyur Rinpoche gives some important advice for beginners.
Here’s a recap of some of the key things to keep in mind when you start a meditation session.
• Back straight
• Hands on knees or in your lap
• Shoulders spread
• Chin slightly lowered
• Mouth slightly open
• Eyes open, gazing slightly downward
Sit comfortably—body still, breathing naturally, mind at peace
Let thoughts and emotions come and go, without trying to hold on to them
There’s no need for running commentary or analysis
Rest your attention lightly on the outbreath, or the object you’re looking at
When distracted, simply come back to the breath or the object
Relax—don’t be too tense, and don’t judge yourself
• mindful of the breath or object
• aware of whether you’re distracted
• and stay open and spacious.
How long for?
We recommend that you meditate for at least 15 minutes each day.
Of course, if you want to sit for longer, or more than once a day, that’s absolutely fine.
The main thing is to find a routine that works for you.
When practising meditation, all you need to do is let go and relax.
Just rest, open, in the present moment, simply allowing whatever arises to rise.
Whatever thoughts, emotions or sensations come up, you don’t have to block them. But neither do you have to follow them. Simply allow yourself to be aware of them.
When you remain in this awareness, then you realize that you are much bigger than your thoughts, emotions and perceptions.
You don’t have to be afraid of your thoughts any more. Thoughts are not you. Emotions are not you. You become free of them, as you discover the confidence of your true nature.
So, do not follow after thoughts and emotions, but merely be aware of everything that passes through your awareness, as it is.
What we are doing is resting our mind in its natural awareness, completely unaffected by whatever arises.
Two simple and effective methods that you can use when you meditate are watching the breath and focusing on an object.
As you watch these two videos, give each method a try. Take your time, and watch them as many times as you like.
So how can we actually transform the mind through meditation?
Well, it doesn’t work if you try to force it. Instead, the most effective way to train your mind is by making friends with your mind.
Just as you can’t expect to make friends with someone by arguing with them, you can’t make friends with your mind by struggling against your thoughts and emotions, suppressing them, or trying to make them go away.
But it also doesn’t work to surrender to your mind, by following it blindly and believing whatever it tells you.
The best way to make friends with your mind is to know what your mind loves.
What the conceptual mind loves more than anything is having something to do. It loves being very active all the time.
In fact, if the conceptual mind doesn’t have something to keep it busy, then it can create a lot of trouble.
So in the beginning, you need to start by giving your conceptual mind a job—and that job is meditation.
If your mind is actively engaged in meditation practice, then it’s a win-win situation. Your conceptual mind is happy because it is busy, and you are happy because you are now in charge of your own mind.
And, you are no longer dominated by your mind, simply believing whatever your thoughts and emotions tell you.
You become free of your endless fixation on thoughts and emotions, and free of your conceptual mind.
When we meditate, we need to sit properly.
As you watch this video, try out the posture for yourself, and then spend a few minutes sitting in meditation.
If you want to watch the video more than once, go ahead.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of scientific research on meditation and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines meditation as “living your life as if it really mattered”.