What is Meditation?

Cultivating Mindfulness

Meditation is a way of cultivating mindfulness, a way of being with our experience in the present moment. Normally our minds are full of thoughts about what happened in the past, what might happen in the future. Or they are consumed with worry, anxiety, regret, excitement, anticipation, fantasy, day dreaming or some other state. These states are not bad in themselves but the trouble is they often cause us suffering in one way or another and they stop us experiencing our life as it happens. They distract us from the rich experience of each precious moment of our precious life.

Allowing the mind to be as it is

However, it is important to understand that meditation is not about stopping or even reducing this busyness in our minds – though ultimately this is exactly what will happen if we meditate regularly. In the same way it isn’t primarily about reducing anxiety or worry or any other kind of emotional mental engagement. With regular practice all these things will moderate of course. But if we try to make them happen then it will not be very effective since that just adds to the mental activity.

Observing the mind with benevolent indifference

Instead of trying to control it, we are just patiently turning towards whatever is happening in our mind and simply acknowledging it with kindness. Whether it is pleasant (‘I wonder what’s for dinner/ wasn’t it good last night/I’m so looking forward to xyz‘) or unpleasant (I’m no good at this, I ought to stop/ that thing is so irritating/ I’m really bored) we are simply observing it with a kind of warm-hearted indifference. In other words we are not getting caught up in it or pushing it away. We are just acknowledging any thoughts with kindness and coming back to the meditation. If we are doing a body awareness meditation, we come back to the body. If we are practising following the breath, then we come back to the breath. If we are cultivating loving-kindness then we come back to the heart-centre.

No good or bad

And we do this as many times as we need to. It doesn’t matter at all if we get distracted and come back hundreds of times. No one is scoring; there is no good or bad. We are just training ourselves to return to the present experience of whatever meditation we are doing. And even if irritated or self-critical thoughts arise, we just treat these in the same kind, tolerant way… and return to our meditation.

Of course this isn’t easy and we may find ourselves judging and evaluating our meditation. We may even feel disheartened sometimes. But this is just another thought and we treat it in exactly the same way as all the others. There is no problem unless we create a problem. It’s all as it is.

The wise tell us that there is no such thing as a bad meditation. Even when it seems difficult, even when it seems hopeless. As we sit patiently experiencing whatever we are experiencing – and being tolerant and kind about whatever is in our experience – change will be happening. And slowly and surely our lives will transform.

It can help a lot to meditate with others in guided meditation sessions. York Buddhist Group runs regular Newcomers’ Drop-in Courses and Drop-in Meditation Classes on Tuesdays and on the first Saturday Morning of each month.

We also meet every Wednesday evening at The Quaker Centre on Friargate to meditate and learn about Buddhist Practice. All those over 18 are welcome and you do not have to be a Buddhist or plan on becoming a Buddhist to attend.

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