Category Archives: Meditation
In 1976 when I began my addiction recovery journey, one of my first teachings was about discovering my observer mind. This discovery changed my life more than any other self-discovery tool. Before I learned how to use my mind to keep a check on my thoughts, I thought that my mind was running the show. It was because I was allowing it to be in charge. My mind was a jumbled and hectic place. In mindfulness teaching, this is called the “monkey mind”. I have for over 38 years used my mind to keep a watchful eye on random thoughts. It takes 4 positve thoughts to root out one negative thought. So the best use of mental energy is to notice if negativity is there and to stop it instead of feeding it. Negativity has to fed by our fears in order to continue.
1. From ThoughtBrick: “Soothing the “Monkey Mind”: A personal journey“:
“It started as an urgent need to change my life. I was troubled by stress-related health problems, hopelessness and feelings of despair encircled me on a daily basis, and I had virtually lost any semblance of perspective.”
Starting a mindfulness meditation course
“Four weeks later, following a synchronistic conversation with a friend, I started on my 8 week Mindfulness Meditation Course at Evolution in Brighton. It was as if I had just been handed a mental and emotional roadmap, a framework for recovery. I grabbed the opportunity enthusiastically but with a little trepidation.”
“I felt ready to embark on this process, following years of psychotherapy. I had exhausted trying to work things out through the prism of the egoic mind and had also come to the conclusion that the process of analysing things in this way has a tendency to become circular and unfulfilling. I was already searching for a way to approach things from a more spiritual perspective, a position of non-self judgement and observation. Mindfulness meditation enabled me to do this.”
Observing what’s going on
“As the course progressed, one thing became startlingly clear. I realised how difficult it is to do what seems like the simplest of things, just sitting with oneself and observing whatever is happening outside, in one’s body, and on the inside. At the beginning of the process, having the normal distractions removed, my mind went into overdrive and started to create them, from mental ’list-making to physical restlessness.”
“When focusing on stillness and not actively thinking, just ‘being‘ with oneself and allowing whatever came up with detached observance, my head was suddenly filled with the squawking of the hungry ‘Monkey Mind, desperate for attention.”
Being a passive observer
“As the weeks went on, however, I learnt to become more of the passive observer, and it became easier to separate oneself from the dramas and stories of the ego self. Acknowledging that resistance to the process is an intrinsic part of it, allowed me to be kinder to myself during it, and not give up.”
“The most important discovery I made, however, was that I could break the vicious cycle of thoughts, stressful feelings, and then physical symptoms. When before these had operated in a circular loop, the process of observing all physical sensations in the body, the ‘body scan’ as it is called, allowed me to separate out emotion from physical sensation.”
Learning not to judge
“I learnt not to judge what was arising as ‘good’ or bad’, simply as a sensation in the body, not to create a fearful ‘story’ around it. And I was able to have some freedom from the the problems that my mind had been creating, and some inner peace, for the first time in a long while.”
“Through this meditation , I have learnt to become more mindful in my everyday life too. I have realised what I only understood on an intellectual level before starting this journey. That is, that when one is truly in the present moment, there is no space for unhappiness or fear.” (Written by Jeremy Brown)
2. From Sonima: “What to Do With Your Mind During Meditation“: (Written by Lodro Rinzler, Meditation Advisor)
“One of the common mistakes people make when beginning a meditation practice is believing that it is simply a way to turn off your mind. Your mind is a radiant, brilliant, amazing thing and there is no off switch. Meditation is not about zoning out and becoming a vegetable. You can befriend yourself in meditation, use it to transcend your usual experience, even have a powerful realization depending on what technique you are doing, but let’s be clear that your mind will remain “on.””
“Another common misconception is that thoughts are bad and we should rid ourselves of thoughts. Our mind cannot stop producing thoughts. It’s simply what it does. Often when people discover that there is no off switch in their mind and thoughts continue to come they get discouraged and think they are the worst meditator of all time. There have been thousands of years of meditators and I promise you, you are not the worst. Not by a long shot.”
“Many types of meditation are not about getting rid of thoughts but about establishing a healthier relationship to what is going on in the mind. One of my favorite words for meditation is the Tibetan term “gom,” which can be translated as “become familiar with.” In other words, meditation is a way to become more familiar with what is going on in your mind and more familiar with the types of thoughts that come up throughout your day.”
“If you engage in shamatha, peaceful-abiding meditation, the instruction is to return your attention to your breathing, over and over again. A big thought will pop up and distract you from the breath. It’s your job to gently return your focus once more to feeling the simple flow of the breath as it enters and leaves your body. If it is helpful you could even silently say “thinking” to yourself.”
“The process of labeling your thoughts as “thinking” is not to dismiss them or chase them away like you might swat away a fly: “Shoo! Don’t bother me!” The point is to acknowledge the thought. You notice that it came up, inwardly nod at it by saying “thinking” to yourself and, as if it were someone you saw passing by in the street, having acknowledged them you continue on your way, in this case by returning your attention to the breath.”
“By being extremely gentle with yourself and returning your attention, continuously, to your breathing, you prevent that hummingbird mindset I mentioned earlier. You are, perhaps for the first time all day, focusing on just one thing: the breath. Thoughts about life, fantasies, strong emotions, discursive and subtle emotions will come up. In all these cases we look at the thought, acknowledge it, and come back to the breath.”
I am convinced that my spiritual experience in 1976 is the reason I have been able to stay clean and sober all these years. During the first six months of sobriety, I was lead to learn about meditation and prayer. I consider prayer to be talking to God, and meditation to be listening to God. It has worked for me over and over. The listening to God is rarely easy unless I have screwed up big time. At these times, God gets the message to me with a 2 x 4 over the head or a giant billboard for all to read. Sometimes, I receive humility only through humiliation.
Through the practice of meditation, I learned to get centered by focusing on my breathing in and breathing out. This technique is invaluable in stressful situations or at times when I may become unstable emotionally (which is what I call anger).
I have also learned about mindfulness which is a Buddhist concept. Although I am a Christian mystic, I have always during recovery examined and explored all concepts. I have kept the practices that help me become more loving and more content in my own skin.
I believe that there is one God; but many paths to that God. I picture a mountain with paths all over the place with forests, valleys, and other obstructions. So I hop from one path to the other in my spiritual journey always being careful to get back on the main road which is my surrender to the God of my understanding. Along the way, I practice prayer and meditation daily. It keeps me centered and focused.
Prisoners in India have been given the opportunity to practice meditation and prayer. The prison officials have brought in instructors and the prisoners are given the structured time to practice. More information about this in this article found on line in the Time magazine.
I am sure that those prisoners leave jail with far less inner turmoil and anger than they would have without meditation. The main place we should all be free is inside our own mind.
Further readings about meditation in prison: