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What is meditation and how do you do it?

2nd Jan 201716m20s

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  • I meditate regularly, and people I meet who I tell this to often ask me, or they often say to me that they would love to start meditating but they don't know how to get started with it. And there's so much information out there in terms of what meditation is, in terms of how it should be done, in terms of what the objective of meditation should be. And I just wanted to make this video just to give my thoughts on this matter just because I like to explain this to quite a few people now, at least in terms of my thoughts on what meditation is. So, if you read into Eastern spiritual philosophy then the idea of meditation is very much linked to this idea of enlightenment. Which is this idea that the world that you're living in, the person that you think you are in terms of your identity, isn't the ultimate reality. That the ultimate reality is something deeper, something beyond thought even, it's not something you can imagine in your mind. And the descriptions in the books like the Bhagavad Gita hint to it as, beyond thought, beyond the universe, as a consciousness that underpins everything you see, feel, hear, or touch. Effectively the entirety of existence that you think is existence actually doesn't exist but there is just but this consciousness. And it's something like, and at the same time as it's giving you this description it always says to you, but it's beyond thought, so you cannot just think your way to this solution. And that if you can reach this sense of enlightenment where you become aware of all of this thing, then you will become free from the sorrow of life, free from the cycle of life and death. Because you start, because you then know what the reality, what the true nature of reality is. So that's like a very rough summary of what enlightenment is in sort of Eastern traditional philosophies. And meditation is more often they're not billed as the path to getting there. If you wanna reach enlightenment you have to meditate. And, so the idea is that you meditate and you slowly, your identity unravels in your mind. You start to realize that the I, or the me, that sense of, that person heard, you realize how impermanent that is. How it's not the real you. How there's something deeper. And then one day perhaps you eventually reach that deeper level of awareness and suddenly everything becomes clear. And that one day might be in a future lifetime because some religious cultures obviously believe in reincarnation. The idea is that every incarnation, whatever, you turn out to be an animal or human or whatever, you're building up, building up, building up your spiritual experience until you get to this point where you attain nirvana and enlightenment and such. So that's what meditation is often and build as, this technique for reaching enlightenment within your lifetime. So that's that level, then there's sort of the other level of meditation which is where it's billed as a way of improving your focus of calming yourself down. Just being happier as a person on a daily basis. And it's not, you know there's not necessarily an objective of finding enlightenment. It's just about, it's just a way of training your mind so that you could be a happier human being. And I think that's really the level of meditation, at least most people who approach me are wanting to know more about is that sort of meditation. Like how can I do that five minutes of meditation or that 10 minutes of meditation in the morning to get the benefits of meditation that I keep hearing about so much. So that's what I want to focus on today. I mean I'm not enlightened myself. I definitely would love to experience it one day, but I go with a very skeptical view towards this which is until I experience something I'm not even sure if it's real. Because people experience all kinds of things mentally and some of it is just a hallucination. And who knows what's really true until you can taste it for yourself, you don't really know. I went to a Vipassana meditation retreat once, a few years ago. The first time I went there was this example the teacher gives of what it means to meditate and find enlightenment. He's saying it's like, you go to a restaurant and you're not sure if the food in this restaurant is good, so you read the menu, and from reading the menu you think, oh it sounds really good, right. So that's like reading a scripture or a book or something where you read about the philosophy it's talking about and you think, oh this sounds really good. Now then you sit down and you watch other people eating the food, one of the dishes off the menu and they're smiling and so you think, wow, that person is enjoying it, so the food must be good. So that's like listening to a guru or a teacher, a spiritual teacher who proclaims to have achieved enlightenment and they're telling you that it's something that will free you from all your suffering and blah blah blah. So you're listening to what they're saying and thinking, yeah, that person seems happy, so it's probably gonna work for me, right. So then you order the food in the restaurant and the food comes and you take the first small, so you put it in your mouth and you taste it. That is the point where you actually understand what the food really tastes like. And that's the equivalent to you reaching that zenith of enlightenment for yourself. So the teacher at the retreat was saying that, what you want to do is eat the food, you don't want to stop at reading the menu or watching other people eat the food, you want to go and eat the food yourself. Because until you eat the food yourself you have no idea what you're talking about. You don't know if that person smiling is really smiling or they're just kidding. You don't know if what you're reading in the menu is good. The taste of the food is the most important thing and that's what you should go for. And I like that, because what that encourages you to do is be a skeptic about these things, right. Yeah, this person's telling me about enlightenment. I'm telling you right now, but is any of it true? Is it real? Can you actually get to this point? I mean, is it just a hallucination? Is it just a state of mind? Who knows, until you achieve it yourself. And even after you've achieved it yourself you might not fully understand what it is you got. So go approach this with a skeptical mind, that's what I would say. Which is why I want to focus on the sort of the other level of meditation which is just as a way of calming you or bringing you more mental focus and clarity and just helping you live a happier life. Because that one for example, has been shown in a medical studies to truly be beneficial. I.e., just meditating in and of itself enables your mind to be calmer and it helps you with depression, it helps you with anger management and a whole bunch of other things. And I think everyone can benefit from this. Everyone can benefit from this. So, how do you meditate? So, you know, where do you start with this? So the meditation that I've studied mostly is the Vipassana meditation. So Vipassana meditation comes from Burma, it's supposedly according to them, the type of meditation that Buddha himself originally taught. And it's very very simple, it's all about observing the reality of your body. And you can do it anywhere, you don't need to be sat down to do this. You could be out waiting for the bus, the train, even when you're talking to people you can be subtly meditating, in your bed, it makes no difference where. And the reason is because it's all about focusing on your body and your breath. Which is, with two things which you always have with you no matter who you are, where you are, or what you're doing, right. So you start off by just focusing on your in-breath and your out-breath. Specifically the sensation of the air exiting your nose, entering your nose, and the sensations in this part of your face, because the air goes over that area. And the first three days in a retreat for example you would just be meditating hours and hours focusing on this. And that's to build up your concentration is to calm you down mentally and to build up your concentration. And then of the fourth day you're introduced to full Vipassana, which is focusing on all the sensations on the surface of your body all over your body. And you just keep cycling your mind up and down your body, all the different parts of your body. You start with gross sensations. So what can you feel on your head and your face, neck, back, chest, arms, legs. And then you sort of, as you get better and better at concentrating you take it down to smaller and smaller areas, you start with this part of the head, and that part of the head, and that part of the head. So the theory behind it is that, your body is constantly changing, and we know that to be true. Cells are constantly dying and being regenerated. There's always something happening inside your body as long as you're alive. Which means technically you should be able to feel some kind of sensation on every single part of your body if you wait at that part of your body long enough. That's effectively what it is and that's the kind of meditation I do. And what's actually happening as you take your mind, because you, I guess the question you might have is, well how does observing sensations on my body help me become a calmer person? And the reasoning behind this is that, when you have, when you react to things, say when you get angry, when you get upset, there's always a sensation that gets generated in your body as a result of that reaction, because your mind is completely connected to your body. So for example, when you're afraid you feel that feeling in the pit of your stomach. When you get angry your breathing becomes more rapid, more erratic. So by observing the sensations in your body and by becoming more aware of the sensations in your body throughout your day, you start to become aware of how your emotions and your thoughts affect the sensations you're experiencing. And just becoming aware of the sensation allows you to kind of detach yourself from the sensation in a very subtle way, in the sense that it doesn't rule you anymore. So you get angry and then you're aware that your breathing is getting more erratic because of your anger. Just that awareness immediately calms you down because now your focus is on the sensation itself. It might be hard to understand this, but when you actually start practicing it becomes very very obvious. For me, I mean, one of the best sessions I would say I had at the retreat was where I've been sitting for an hour. So you have these what they call Adhitthana sessions, Adhitthana sittings, supposedly where you have to sit for an hour and you're not allowed, you shouldn't, you try your best not to move or change your posture. So it's very very difficult because sitting in one position for an hour, I mean your back hurts, your legs hurt, aches all over the place, right. Especially if it's first time doing this sort of meditation. So in order to get through that hour you then have to take your mind and focus on those painful sensations. And I was able to in one session I got to a point where just focusing on the sensations over and over again, somehow I don't know how I got to a state of mind whereby the pain just did not bother me anymore. I was able to just acknowledge that there was pain and at the same time I felt completely okay. I didn't feel this urge to get up or to move my legs or change my position around, it's as if I was able to just withstand the pain. And I kind of knew in my mind that it didn't matter how painfully it got, the pain just wasn't affecting me anymore. And I tried obviously after that to recreate it but I couldn't. And I think I must have got to a point where I was so focused, so concentrated, and I'd practiced so much that I was able to do that. And that was my first taste of really realizing that wow, you know if you really focus on the sensations, you can actually in a way escape them. So it definitely works, and I know that from my personal experience. That focusing on sensations allows you to sort of detach yourself slightly from them. And then because you spend so much time concentrating and focusing you actually learn to focus on your mind. Because in order to focus on your sensations and focus in your body, you can't be distracted. So what happens is as your mind gets distracted and you start thinking about what's going to happen tomorrow, what happened before, you have to bring your mind back to the present, back to sensations you're feeling on your body. And that practice itself is what builds up your ability to focus and concentrate, so in effect you're watching your mind. You started off by watching your body, but you're effectively watching your mind and that teaches you so much about who you are as a person. For me the great example was I practiced for a month, everyday I was meditating an hour. And then I remember one day I left the office to go for lunch and I was walking down the street slowly and I'm just, because I was just naturally just aware of things at that point. And I just saw people rushing around, and you could just see it in their eyes and their faces this rush, this hurry to get back to the office, and their minds are consumed with thoughts about work or whatever it was, and my mind was just so clear. And then I saw a guy walking down the street all in the opposite direction to me, and suddenly I noticed how my mind started filling up with thoughts about that person, about who I thought that person was, what kind of person that must be. And I realized, wow, is this what I think whenever I see someone like that? And then it occurred to me that, that's what happens with everybody I see. You know our mind automatically creates some kind of idea of who a person is based on all our past experiences and beliefs and we do that with everybody we meet. And when you really start to meditate, you start to become aware of this. You start to become aware of how your mind is doing these things. How it's working most of the time. And you start to catch yourself before you get angry. You start to catch yourself before you get too upset. The word that we were introduced to when we were doing this retreat was equanimity. Which is this idea that no matter what happens you don't get too crazy about it. Whether it's really upset or really over the moon happy, you sort of learn to accept whatever happens. Because you're learning to accept the sensations in your body and a lot of time is pain, because you're sitting for a long time, right. But even the happy sensation that you know you shouldn't be caught up in those. Just learn to accept both of them equally and not to push them away or pull them in further through greed or pleasure. And that's what you end up doing in your daily life. You end up just a little, you start to feel more sensitive within yourself and more balanced, and that's what this practice can give you. So to start off with, I mean, I like to sit for an hour, I like to push myself. And when you go to the retreat, the Vipassana retreat, the minimum sitting is an hour. But I think, for a lot of people that might be hard. If you don't feel confident that you can sit for an hour without just being distracted 90% of the time, then start with five minutes. The reason an hour is good is because, if you have just a 10 minute session, you can almost count down the time in your mind. So you know you're gonna finish soon, so it's no big deal. But with an hour and your eyes are closed, you're not looking at the clock or watch, you lose track of how long it's been and there's no point just trying to count down in your mind, you might as well try and just focus on a moment, because that's what you should be doing. Eventually, when you've practiced for a long time and I'm just talking like a month or so, you should be able to find that you can sit for 20 minutes, 30 minutes without feeling bored, without your mind getting distracted. And it shouldn't feel like, it wouldn't even feel like a long time to you because of the focus and concentration you have. That's when you know you're really building your concentration power. So start off with five minutes, then quickly push it to 10 minutes. It doesn't matter whether you're doing sitting meditation, whether you're doing qi gong, I do that sometimes, a standing meditation. I would say the important thing is to be still whatever it is you do. And you want to do a regular session daily if possible and try and do it in the same place. Do it somewhere quiet. Ideally, if there's noise, it's no big deal. Part of meditation, part of training like this is understanding that not every session is going to be the same as the previous session. Just because you had a great meditation session yesterday, don't expect a great meditation session today. This comes back to the principle of equanimity. No matter what happens, accept it. So if you're not feeling happy, something's bothering you, just accept it. That's the reality of this moment. I don't feel happy, or this session isn't going great. Or there's always noise happening in the background, how can I concentrate? Well let me just focus on the noise, focus on the noise, and just listen to that noise and break it down to what are the component parts. So whatever the reality that exists around you in that moment, just use that reality to go deeper into your concentration, that's what you need to be doing. So keep doing that. Keep practicing that five minutes, 10 minutes, push yourself and see if you can get to an hour, and do that for a month. Do that for a month and I think you will find, you know it makes significant difference to how you feel on a day-to-day basis in your life.