Inclusion, inclusion, inclusion...
I used to approach meditation in such a way that it was like sitting down and drawing a circle around myself, with the breath as an instrument to ward off any thought that would sneak into the circle. Now I understand that EVERYTHING that happens to us while we are sitting on the cushion is worthwhile, including the fidgeting, the looseness, the lust, the imprecision, the frustration and the blissful moments. In other words, we should practice gentleness toward our thoughts. Intellectually, I understood this, but it really sunk in this time.
|Mahakala loves Cheerios|
The purpose of meditation is to practice being present
Whether we think we are good meditators or lousy meditators, we should keep a reasonable perspective on it. Good meditation is not the goal. It's just a tool for increasing our ability to be present for our lives. The aspiration should not be to become an Olympic gold medalist in shamatha or vipashyana meditation. The aspiration should be something more like opening our hearts and minds to the fullest extent possible.
Of course we should be careful that we don't get too loose. We should still approach meditation with a strong aspiration to develop a clear and stable mind through the breathing technique. We should exert ourselves as much as possible in this effort.
I think of this as kind of like skipping stones on a pond. The goal is to fling a stone across the water and have it bounce a few times before it sinks, or we can even hope the stone makes it to the other side of the pond. We make that aspiration when we start skipping stones, just like we make an aspiration to stay with our breath when we practice shamatha. However, the reality is that most of the time the stones don't go very far. They might skip once, twice, or not at all. We shouldn't take this as discouragement. We can delight even at watching the stones sink into the pond. Once in a while we'll throw out a good one and it will keep us inspired to keep trying.
In case you missed this important point... meditation is first and foremost about learning to be present.
Put a rock on a leaf
An important refinement to my meditation practice has been recognizing the power of the first few seconds when I sit. It totally changes the quality of that sitting period if, from the moment I sit down, I set my intention to be present with my breath.
In dathun we like to put rocks on things. As Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says in Turning the Mind into an Ally, "placing" our minds is like putting a rock on a leaf. I love this analogy because when I bring it to mind it conjures something very concrete and firm, yet gentle. I'll post more about this idea soon, along with some notes on a process for "putting a rock on a leaf" that works well for me. Stay tuned!