Applying Meditation Skills to Daily Encounters

Hi all,

Hope the new year is treating you well.  I just came back from a three month retreat and thought I’ll share something here.  (Strictly speaking, because of immigration requirements and some talk engagements I committed to, it was not a full three months! 😉 )

Below is an email excerpt I sent to fellow buddhist on meditation.  Thought I’ll share it here as it may be useful for some of us trying out meditation.
1.  Feeling frustrated the day after meditation
Hmmm …. that’s an interesting one.  Before I jump to any conclusion, maybe some clarifications:

+ How long do you meditate per session?
+ How many times per day?
+ Do you do walking meditation with the sitting?
+ How many times do you meditate per week?

While it is true that improper postures can cause some discomfort, it usually occur under some specific conditions.  Shed some light as above and we go from there.

2.  Becoming more sensitive to our surroundings and people

Becoming more aware and sensitive is always better.  So good start there! 🙂 What we do with this new awareness and sensitivity is a different thing altogether. 🙂

While it would be good if after learning the Dharma and meditating, we are able to simply face all situations head-on and come out ok.  Unfortunately reality differs, as you have noticed. 😉  Fortunately, the Buddha is kind and realistic enough to suggest that we take it gradually.

The Buddha is Realistic!

Not specific to your situation, but in the AnguttaraNikaya 5.161 Grudge, the Buddha do not advise the monks to go head on and reflect on emptiness or anatta.  Instead he suggested five ways to deal with it.  “If a grudge arises towards any person, then one should cultivate loving-kindness, or compassion or equanimity to wards him. Or one should pay no attention to him and give no thought to him. Or one may apply the thought: his only property is his actions; whatever he does, good or bad, he will be heir to that. In these ways, all grudges that have arisen can be removed. ” Search for “grudge” in http://www.triplegem.plus.com/tipintr3.htm

I feel that the Buddha’s very realistic approach may also apply in your case where you feel “something” towards people who seem to be doing things wrong.

1.  External
+  Avoid if possible.
2.  Internal
+  Do not give attention to what had been done
+  On that which we have seen, heard or suspected, hold your judgement *or* direct your mind to the positive qualities of these people
+  If you find that you cannot find anything positive about them, reflect on how others are not disturbed by the so called perceived negative or wrong actions.
+  Direct your mind towards the Triple Gem
+  Direct your mind inwards towards your own practice

To be honest, I went through a stretch where I had much -ve towards ppl around in much the same way as you did.  I came to a point where I reflected and concluded that a) how wrong they really are may be subjective and b) even if they are truly wrong, getting upset with them does not help
them … *nor* me!  and c) “getting upset” is itself a defilement, never mind whether they are really right or wrong.  Hence I should resolve my own defilement of being upset before I go poking into ppl’s backyard.

!Applying our meditative practices to use!

When we meditate (止 samatha), we are really doing two things:
1.  Bring the mind away from its favorite past-times (aka distractions) and
2.  Anchoring it on the meditation object.

Easy said than done.

But we’ve done it before as well.  Although the mind may still wander off, we have succeeded in doing it before, both bringing it away from distractions to our meditation object.  We learn to maneuver the mind.

We also succeed in anchoring the mind, albeit maybe just for a few moments or seconds for some, in the meditation object.  This is commonly the breath, and we did do just that.

When frustration or -ve thoughts arise, it is like the mind wandering away from our meditation object.  We should extend our meditation skills to everyday life and catch ourselves when that happens.  After catching it, we should steer our mind away from those mental objects (thoughts or memories!) towards good or +ve (happy?) thoughts or objects.  Then we should anchor it there.

Try it and see what happens.  After some exercise, one should be able to do it easily.  That should allow the -ve thoughts to die down by itself.  This is the samatha method and it does only one thing.  Mitigation.  It does not solve the problem, but it gives us a breather *and* it breaks the momentum of the angry mind.  It weakens habitual anger if it is present and prevents its formation if not.

Our task is not complete yet

Meanwhile, our task is not complete yet.  Having this calmness is sometimes mistaken as the end goal for Buddhists.  That is plain incorrect.  This is like a pit-stop or a transit.  A shelter to wait out the storm.  While you slowly weaken the defilements, one should strengthen calmness and develop observation and insight into nama-rupa (mind-body).  Seeing truly how nama-rupa is, ie impermanent, subject to change, subject to suffering, is empty and non-self, one then cuts off the root of the problem, craving and attachment stemming from the distorted views of the world.

This requires 观 or insight meditation.  Bear in mind, this is not one particular meditation technique found only in one school or tradition.  As far as I am concerned, the different schools in the different traditions have different techniques for both samatha and vipassana that should lead to concentration and wisdom.  Use the one that works for you.

Footnote:

I didn’t go into specifics of insight meditation for the timebeing as I wanted the person to clear her present difficulties before moving onto the later exercises. 😉