In the spirit of dana (generosity) and in line with traditional Buddhist teachings, we are happy to offer this course for free. It would be auspicious – but not necessary — to offer a small donation in return, to help us cover our costs and continue providing high quality resources for sincere students. Please donate any sum via credit card or Paypal using the button below. Alternatively you can deposit funds directly via your bank. Name: Arete House BSB: 083-004 Account #: 329652688.
Welcome to the Mindfulness and Beyond Meditation Course
Hello and Welcome. My name is Ruth and I will be guiding you through this meditation course.
In this course I will present to you a range of meditation techniques to help you explore meditation with diversity and creativity. I want meditation to be accessible and enlivening for you, so in designing this course I have prioritised inspiration and application over detailed theory. My wish is that this course enables you to have a valuable experience of meditation and inspires you to adopt a meditation practice or deepen an already existing one.
In addition to this introduction, you will receive four succinct descriptions of these techniques as well as a lead meditation, which last around 10 to 15 minutes.
The richness of meditation
The wine that deep meditation awakens one to is an acquired and subtle taste. It is one that takes much time to naturally thirst for, in place of the more habitual and familiar flavours of engaging directly with the external, sensual or even intellectual worlds. Yet a taste of the deep, deep stillness that meditation can bring—the sublime subtleties, the soft resounding serenity, the vivid, dynamic potency, the profound bliss—is precious, rare and deeply nourishing, rejuvenating and transforming.
This meditation course is an invitation to taste these different states. An opportunity to make the space on your palette to explore what might emerge, or simply a moment for you to steady your mind and body, to gaze upon your mind and life anew.
But before we go on, a word of warning, or rather an awareness for the need for patience and appropriate expectations.
Adopting a meditation practice is as an unfolding process and exploration—not an instantaneous panacea. While providing the possibility for great self-transformation, meditation is not a cure-all, a vacation from suffering or difficulties. There are times when meditation can be profoundly difficult, boring, unattractive or confronting. Actually hard work. While meditation should not always be a grind, nor should you expect it to always be pleasant and blissful. The depressions and anxieties that go on in life do not necessarily disappear as we begin meditating. (Though sometimes they do!) Rather, or even better, they can be the food that stimulate and animate the meditation to be what it is. Furthermore for practices to deeply alter your perceptions and behaviours they need to be sustained over a period of time, after the initial novelty of meditation or the crisis inspiring you to practice meditation has worn off.
But, of course, you need to start (or reinspire yourself) somewhere and you have gone this far—so keep on going.
Continue on — continue on — continue on. There is little more valuable than cultivating and enriching your inner life through a meditation practice.
Variety and Diversity
Part of my approach to making meditation potentially more applicable and animated for people is to present a range of meditation techniques.
Mindfulness is the most well known meditation practice in the West. For many it is considered to be synonymous with meditation. It is a highly valuable and foundational meditation practice, which is why it is the first technique I introduce in this course. As well as an invaluable meditation practice in its own right, it is an important basis to many other forms of meditation.
Yet mindfulness is but one, a vital and critical one, of countless approaches to meditation. While one technique may be quite difficult for someone, another technique may feel accessible and immediately effective. Additionally, one technique may be perfect for an individual at a particular time of day or point in the week, or indeed, a particular point in their life, while another one may work very effectively at another time of the day/week/life cycle.
Some people might find mindfulness meditation the most applicable and effective for them. However at times some may find mindfulness a little too constraining yet may experience other meditation practices to be highly effective, uplifting or stabilising.
After trialling each meditation technique you will find some techniques very accessible and animated and others aspects foreign and difficult. At least initially, cultivate those techniques or aspects that are most applicable and alive for you. Over time experiment with those aspects you find more difficult. Also keep in mind what does not appeal, interest or activate anything in you today may be suddenly attractive, comfortable, even vital in one year, two years, five years. However do not do anything that you feel may be inappropriate for you to do.
Thinking in Meditation
Many people approach meditation, prior to learning or practicing it, with the idea that to meditate is to not think. A change in the way you think and how often you think is almost certain to emerge from a sustained meditation practice. However meditation and thinking are not necessarily antagonistic and you should not presume that you arrive to meditation with the sole aim of not thinking. You will invariably be disappointed in yourself and the practices!
Your mind is unlikely to suddenly act entirely differently all because you have decided to meditate. You may even feel, like many, that your mind is suddenly more active when you meditate. It is far more likely however that you simply become more aware of your mental activity because you are meditating.
All of the techniques presented in this course provide distinct ways of relating to thoughts. Several of the practices direct your mind away from the normal habitual patterns, into creative yet focussed tasks. Others allow your thoughts to arise and roam, in a sense as they wish, while working to produce an awareness that expands beyond them. While you do want to put in place some boundaries within your own internal activities, don’t feel that you need to bind and gag your internal life. There is potentially great richness and insight there.
It is not expected that the practices will lead you to cease thinking about entirely different things not related to the practice. Your mind will wander away from the focus of meditation. You may even spend more time ‘off-task’ then ‘on-task’. Simply attempt to return yourself to the focus of the meditation as soon as you become aware that you are no longer engaged there. Certainly don’t be uptight, castigate or feel you have no hope of cultivating a meditative practice because your mind wanders. Sustained concentration and mental quiescence come as a bi-product of meditation, through a sustained practice and the cultivation of the effective motivation and numerous other positive habitual practices. More on this point in the following section.
In pursuit of concentration
How much richer is life when the mind is able to maintain concentration and remain and abide on a wholesome point of focus. However it takes considerable time, perseverance and patience to cultivate such concentration. It is rare to be able to frequently step from a (frequently) distracted mind into a reservoir of concentration. However, by committing yourself to try, and by also considering regularly, just how valuable the fruits of concentration are and how damaging the effects of being in a default state of distractedness are, (even if the latter are somewhat incremental and inconspicuous), you can develop a stronger will to unfold a practice and indeed life of meditative awareness and increasing concentration.
Just as you would not approach learning an art such as piano and expect to reach high levels of ability immediately, nor should you expect that of meditation. Like several skills important to meditation, developing the ability for sustained concentration is a gradual process. Only those who have achieved great states of wakefulness and illumination have no distracted mind to tend to. For most others, some or a lot of the time, the mind wanders. In meditation we simply cultivate an awareness of when this occurs and return the mind to its object of contemplation or focus. While making an ‘enemy’ of that distractedness can work for some, at some points, it can also be counter-productive and stressful. With all this in mind be very patient with yourself, but also persevere, for the rewards will be invaluable.
While perseverance is a quality not to be underestimated, there is a fine balance required in meditation between effort and effortlessness. Not too loose—nor too tight. Observe and experiment with yourself. Observe your mind and body in meditation, feeling out when it is too ‘loose’, too ‘tight’ and gently guiding it toward a harmonious point of balance.
Motivating yourself to meditate attentively and regularly
Not many people naturally aspire to be great meditators, at least not initially. Rather what draws them to meditation is its association with positive qualities they wish to cultivate, or difficult experiences and qualities they wish to manage better.
You can help motivate yourself to meditate regularly and with commitment by tying meditation to other qualities and abilities you are more naturally yearning to excel in, with the knowledge that what you cultivate in meditation will, after some time, bleed into and enable you to achieve those things already important to you, things which may have more tangible outcomes than meditating does.
One approach for cultivating the motivation to meditate well with concentration comes from renowned Tibetan lama and scholar Tsongkhapa (15th century). Develop ‘a fascination with’ and a ‘steadfast confidence in the good qualities of concentration’ he advises. This he suggests alongside developing a ‘continuous enthusiasm for concentration’, indeed, ‘a continuous, intense yearning’ for it. So next time you are waiting in line, or having a stroll, on a bus or have a ‘free’ moment, rather than engaging in inner ramblings or external ramblings (via smart-phone/internet) – here is a moment to cultivate a ‘love of concentration’, amidst contemplating how few of life’s treasured arts can be mastered without it. Contemplations such as these help to cultivate the continued motivation to meditate, as well as increasing the intensity and power of meditation.
Another approach (more of the stick approach) is to contemplate the consequences of not meditating versus meditating. (Or, as above, not cultivating those qualities or skills you deeply wish for.) Sometimes I consider my eulogy, ‘she could have done really amazing things in this life, but she spent too much time on the internet!’ That is, she didn’t cultivate the concentration and discipline to regularly enter deeply into meditation, and/or by extension, cultivate those skills necessary to the talents and outcomes you aspire to achieving.
If you’re more easily motivated by the thought of helping others than yourself, you can also take up the practice ‘for others’, in the sense of dedicating any benefit that comes from it to them and considering how it may directly or indirectly benefit them. You may also benefit from focussing on the third practice, ‘outpouring to others meditation’ or beginning with this in your meditation practice sessions.
Reference: Tsongkhapa, The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Lam Rim Chen Mo, Vol 3., p. 33-34.
The guided meditations provided are generally around fifteen minutes long.
They are intentionally short, for several reasons. The first is that if you are new to meditation, it is far better to begin with short sessions to enable yourself to develop your concentration and persistence at this new art gradually. The short sessions are also valuable for those that have limited time to practice. They mean that you can conduct a short meditation practice during a busy life, such as during your lunch hour, while your child is having a nap, your commute home from work or just before bed. Regular shorter meditations are nearly always more beneficial than irregular or occasional longer sessions.
There are exceptions however, and at the risk of contradicting myself, some people might find that they need extra time to enter into a deeper state of concentration. That is, more time sitting enables deeper concentration. This is (to a point) almost always true over time, but for some, that may be the case initially too. If that is the case for you, try to begin your meditation sessions from around twenty to thirty minutes.
In either case it is valuable over time to extend the time you sit for, or create one day per week ideally, or whatever your conditions allow, to extend the time you meditate for. In these instances you can use a single guided meditation as the beginning of your practice and then choose to use the extra time deepening or repeating that practice. Alternatively extend out each section of that practice, so you are developing increasing periods with a single point of focus. Alternatively you may practice, in sequence, the different practices taught in the course.
Or you might like to deepen into a single aspect of one of the techniques, one particular aspect that was animated and energised for you. If there was a moment during one of your shorter practices throughout the week that had the ‘aura’ of a flash of insight; return to it, abide with and in it.
Posture is important, though don’t be overly fixated on it.
It is important because adopting an effective position means that you can more easily cultivate the forms of concentration ideal for meditation, as well as remaining relatively physically comfortable and not damaging your body. In some forms of meditation you want to deeply integrate your mind and body, so being aware of your body and having an upright position helps facilitate that. You should not however strain yourself or cause yourself undue pain. Hence adapt the following instructions to suit your particular physical circumstances.
If you are able, sit cross-legged on the floor. Ideally in the lotus, or half lotus position (what Tibetans describe as the vajra position). Here the right foot rests on the left thigh and the left foot rests on the right thigh. Although this is not easy to hold initially, it becomes so surprisingly quickly, and after time, can be maintained for long periods with no aggravation. Begin by holding the position, if you can do so without too much discomfort, for short periods of time, moving position mid-way through meditation if need be. Then you will gradually find yourself able to hold it longer and longer without any issue. One of the many benefits of sitting in this position is that it leads very naturally to producing an upright spine without any strain.
The half lotus, with one leg resting on the opposite thigh, is another option if the full lotus is too uncomfortable.
Finding that difficult, sitting cross-legged with a straight spine is fine. However sitting upright on a chair, if that is uncomfortable for you, is also fine.
The main reason to maintain an upright spine is that it most effectively keeps you alert and allows energies to flow through you appropriately.
However it needs to be upright, not uptight. So do not strain it too much.
To have a straight back you do not have to strain yourself by pulling up your shoulders. The uprightness comes both from adopting the best lower body position, as well as your state of mind.
Gently place your hands on your thighs, palms facing downward or upward, whatever your preference, on your thighs. Another position for your hands, called meditative equipoise, is four finger widths below your navel (more or less on your lap) place the back of the right hand to be resting on the palm of your left. Your thumbs touch, creating a triangle.
Placing your tongue on the room of your mouth—naturally helps to relax the jaw and face muscles, stops you from drooling too – helpful I guess!
I advise closing your eyes however, if you find it more conductive to the meditation to have them slightly open, direct your gaze slightly downward, about 3 metres ahead of yourself. Keep your eyes steady, rather than randomly gazing around.
Solitary sitting—collectively sitting
Meditation need not be solitary. It is ideal to cultivate a practice individually as well as collectively. If you would like to develop your practice collectively, in techniques akin to these in the course, please contact us at Arete House.
I offer this course with great appreciation to all those who have shared with me and inspired the practices I share here with you.
I wholeheartedly wish the practices enhance your life as well as helping to transform or mitigate whatever challenges and suffering you may encounter. May the techniques enable you to awaken inspired states of mind and experiences.
Remember, anything you don’t feel comfortable doing, don’t do.
If there are any questions, inspirations or issues that emerge from doing the course do contact us to discuss them. And please, if you are not satisfied with the course in any manner, contact us and we will happily refund you and/or attempt to address what issues you have encountered.