“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.” – Voltaire
The idea that we are somehow separate from that which we observe is false. We are connected to all things, and the very process of observation affects the things that we observe. Our minds are whole sets of “events” and we are actively participating in those events. Each time that we look inward and engage in contemplative self-reflection or analysis, we are a participant in our internal event-filled worlds.
The author of “Mindfulness in Plain English” explains that “meditation is participatory observation: What you are looking at responds to the process of looking.” When we are engaged in meditation or self-reflection, the object of our observation is the self. What you will see within yourself depends on how you look. The attitude and state of mind that you bring with you into your mindfulness meditation practice directly affects the degree to which you will benefit.
Attitudes for Successful Meditation
Consider incorporating the following 11 attitudes for successful meditation into your regular practice and notice any differences that you experience as a result. Meditation involves calm, yet alert, engagement with and acceptance of the present moment – however positive, negative, or neutral the moment may be. When we enter into meditation with an attitude of mindfulness, we are open, nonjudgmental, and curious about all that arises within our realm of experience.
(1) Don’t Expect Anything
Go into your meditation practice without expectations of what will or will not happen. Treat it as an “experiment” wherein the process of mindful awareness is treated with greater importance than the imagined outcome. When anxiety about whether or not meditation is “working” or whether or not you are “doing it right” enters into your consciousness, use this as an opportunity to notice these thoughts and feelings arise and let them go. Use your meditation practice as a time to temporarily suspend judgment of your internal and external experience. Simply observe reality as it is.
(2) Don’t Strain
Try to avoid “forcing” yourself to be present or mindful. There is nothing aggressive about meditation. When we push ourselves too hard or force something to “happen” it usually does not happen. Simply breathe, relax, and allow your efforts to be open, relaxed, and steady. If you are distracted or anxious, allow this to be where you are right now. There is no need to force yourself to feel differently. Accept your current state of mind and feelings for what they are – open yourself to them, sit with them, and they will pass.
(3) Don’t Rush
There is no hurry in mindfulness meditation. Settle yourself into a comfortable postion, relax, and breathe as if you have all day to do so (even if you don’t). This one moment in time is infinite and limitless. Open yourself to this one moment and be fully present with it. Practice letting go of your focus on all things past and present and simply be in the constantly unfolding present reality.
(4) Don’t Cling to or Reject Anything
Allow yourself to be open to your current experience fully and completely. Let whatever thoughts, feelings, or sensations you may be having arise naturally. If good mental images, thoughts, or feeling arise – fine. If bad mental images, thoughts, or feelings arise – that’s fine, too. Practice observing all of your internal experience – not just the “good” stuff that you want to focus on. Don’t fight your experience – let it be.
(5) Let Go
This can be very difficult for many of us. There can be a tendency to hold on so tightly for the need to be “in control” that the idea of letting go is terrifying. The curious paradox is that it is only through allowing yourself to fully surrender and be vulnerable to “what is” that you can truly be in control, whatever that means for you. Loosen your grip – let things be.
(6) Accept Everything that Arises
Practice acceptance of all of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. The key is practice accepting even the experiences that we “hate.” As long as we fight against and deny the painful thoughts, feelings, and experiences, they will persist. Remember that acceptance does not mean approval. You can accept painful and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings as valid – thoughts and feelings will not kill you. Allow yourself to settle into them, fully observe them, and they lose their power. Thoughts and feelings are temporary – they only continue to resurface time and time again when we deny their presence and ignore them. Welcome them – invite them in. Look at them for what they are – just thoughts, just feelings.
(7) Be Gentle with Yourself
Give the same kindness and compassion that you would like to give to others to yourself. Imagine the reaction that you would have if you saw another person in intense emotional pain or suffering. Your heart would likely go out to them and you would feel kindness towards them. Bestow this same gift of love and compassion upon yourself.
(8) Investigate Yourself
Question all that enters your experience. Questioning everything does not have to mean that you are somehow cynical – it means that you are adopting an empirical stance. Gunaratana suggests that you “subject all statements to the actual test of your own experience, and let the results be your guide to truth … Insight meditation evolves out of an inner longing to wake up to wake is real and to gain liberating insight into the true structure of existence.” When you truly desire to awaken to what is true, things will begin to shift. Without this underlying desire, meditation remains superficial.
(9) View All Problems as Challenges
This attitude for successful meditation requires us to view negative and problematic events as opportunities for learning and growth. Rather than running away from painful situations or difficult circumstances that enter your experience, run toward them. If you run away, they will continue to follow you anyway. It is most wise to choose to confront that which is difficult in the moment and “rejoice, dive in, and investigate.” Practice being thankful for difficulties since they are wonderful opportunities for you to learn valuable life lessons that cannot be learned in any books. You must live to learn.
(10) Don’t Ponder
Let go of the need to “figure it all out.” Gunaratana points out that “in meditation, the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention. Habitual deliberation is not necessary to eliminate those things that are keeping you in bondage.” All that is truly required to be free is to cultivate the ability and willingness to see things clearly for what they are and how they work. Stop thinking and start seeing.
(11) Don’t Dwell on Contrasts
While differences between people do indeed exist, it can be a dangerous undertaking to dwell upon them. When we dwell upon that which we perceive to separate us from others, there is a tendency to place ourselves in a superior position. Consider the Hindu proverb: “There is nothing noble about being superior to some other person. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.”
Which of these 11 attitudes for successful meditation seem to come more or less naturally to you? Based on a complex combination of temperament, biology, and environmental influences, we all have differing strengths and limitations. Just because something seems daunting to you at first (e.g., cultivating mindfulness), that does not mean it is impossible.
Notice whatever beliefs about these attitudes for successful meditation arose within you as you read this article. Take this as an opportunity to explore those beliefs without judgment. Be kind to yourself as you go along the lifelong journey of cultivating awareness. Recognize that we are all at different points in our personal process of awakening and development. Where are you?
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Gunaratana, B.H. (1996). Mindfulness in plain English. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Featured image: Ommmmmmm by Noel Zia Lee / CC BY 2.0