Four Key Ideas for Your Personal Meditation Sessions
Summary: Sathi answers the question, “My meditation practice at home is more difficult than it is when I’m meditating with a group. Can I do something else at home instead?”
Sathi responds by outlining the four key elements that will help gain deeper, more meaningful meditations.
- Aathapi – Having determination.
- Sampajhanoo – The prepared mind.
- Satimma – Being mindful
- Vinneiya Loke – Having proper discipline
Any questions or suggestions for discussion?[Meditator] For some reason when I’m here it [meditation] is easier. But, when I do it at home like thoughts feels a lot more. I was wondering if instead of focus on the breathing, is it wrong to focus on one specific image? I just wanted you thoughts on that. [Sathi] There are a few sides of that question that we need to understand. The question is, your experience with the group meditation here is easier than your home meditation. And, you are looking for an answer and thinking of doing something else at home.
This is the nature of our mind. Which is we always look for something else. Imagine you have your favorite food every day for breakfast. I’m sure after the third or fourth day you will say, “I’m tired of eating the same food.” That is the nature of the mind. Then, during that time, what do we do? We will look for something else to eat. That is how we have trained ourself to think.
When you find a challenge you are looking for an answer based on your previous experience. We apply the same theory to our meditation. And, also there is a fact. The fact is, having group meditation is easier because you have the group’s discipline within the group. Everybody in the group is having the same effort to do the same thing.
I have heard the same question from people who are doing a physical workout. [They say] working in the gym is easier than doing it in their own home. The same situation is there. Because you have this group support. As a meditator it is good to understand the background of what is happening with meditation.
Even though you sit down and say “I am doing meditation.” you are doing nothing during the meditation. You are practicing to do nothing. You are trying to stay away from your habits. You are practicing not to involve with anything. Then, there is a state of mind that you are accumulating, training, and forming. This is based what is happening.
Another example: Imagine you are making a pizza or a curry. What do you do? You have all the ingredients in. You put the ingredients in at the right time. Then, you let it become something by providing specific conditions. Maybe you are providing heat. In that condition, the ingredients becomes something else.
Your mind is becoming something. Your mind is getting into a certain state with the support you are providing. That support comes from a few angles. Your physical body, your posture, the environment, your previous experience, and the group discipline. Those help you to achieve that state of mind or that experience.
In case you don’t have any of those, like the right posture, support, or environment, you will not have the same experience.
Some people who know mediation as a theory will say, “Oh, you can meditate anywhere.” That is a theoretical aspect of it. Not the practical aspect. Practically you need a proper environment, proper support. It even involves your clothes. You have to wear comfortable clothing. If you have uncomfortable clothing then you have to worry about it, think about it. Then you mind is not settling down. It is not calming. When those conditions are provided, then your mind is getting into that calm state of mind.
Aathapi – Having Determination
According to Buddha’s teachings, Buddha was encouraging people to focus on a few things before starting meditating. First is about the state of mind In Pali it is call aathapi which means determination. The person that has strong determination will say, “No matter what happens, I’m going to do this today.” Because your mind will suggest so many things. “Oh, it is a wonderful day, go for a walk.” “Oh, you haven’t seen that friend in a long time, go see that friend!” The mind will come up with many excuses. But, if you have strong determination you will say, “No I’m going to do this.” That’s the ability of human beings. When we want to do something we will find time to do it. We will find a way to do it.
Many people say they are very busy. But, when they have to have a doctor’s appointment, they do it. They are making time for it. Parents who have little kids. When the kids have basketball games the parents make room for it in their schedule. What is behind this? When you want to do something you’ll make it happen. But, when you have lack of determination or lack of willingness then you will allow something else to keep you from doing it.
So, that first quality, aathapi, strong determination is needed to practice meditation. This also allows our mind to remove some obstacles. Otherwise we will keep room for those obstacles to take place in us.
Sampajhanoo – Having Your Mind Prepped for Meditation
The second in Pali is call sampajhanoo and it means the prepared mind. You have confidence of yourself, “I can do this. I will do this.” and you have confidence with your environment. Imagine sitting next to your enemy and you don’t know what your enemy is going to do after you close your eyes. You don’t know who is going to steal your wallet. If you have such a doubt, what would happen? You are not settling enough to practice meditation because you will always be concerned. You will want to always open your eyes and keep looking.
I often ask people not to bring a water bottle to class while you are practicing sitting meditation. If you have your water near you your mind is not free and the thought comes to your mind and all the sudden you are drinking water. You have to be well prepared internally and externally both. You have to have confidence of yourself, your teacher, and the place.
Imagine practicing meditation by the door. You don’t know who is going to open the door or when. You are not free to meditate. The place is important and your safety and confidence.
Satimaa – Being Mindful
Number three in Pali is called satimaa. Sathi means being mindful. You have to have mindfulness to practice meditation. You have to trust your mind and of course, all of you have mindfulness.
That is why you wear certain clothes in the summer and certain clothes in the winter. Before you leave your house you make sure to comb your hair, wash your face, and clean yourself. You do all those things before you leave home because you are mindful. Most of you bring your wallet because you don’t want to drive without your license. And, you have shoes. If you don’t have mindfulness, you will miss those things. When you are here, you mindfully know where you are. And, most of you turn off your phone before meditation begins by knowing where you are.
You all have mindfulness. But that mindfulness is based on expectations, desires, or some kind of reward. But, when it comes to meditation, [your actions] are not based on desire, greed, or any kind of reward. It is based on your willingness to open yourself; to have this calm mind or strong mind. It is about a willingness has a focus toward you. Inside of you. That kind of mindfulness you need to let it happen.
Vinneiya Loke – Having Proper Discipline
The fourth one is called vinneiya loke or having proper discipline. As an example, here you are following the group disciplines. If you want to go to the bathroom, you go before meditation begins. During the meditation, if you have a thought to go to the bathroom, you don’t do it because you don’t want to disturb others. The main thing in those guidelines, even though we don’t talk about the guidelines. But what is happening, is that you already recognize those guidelines by yourself. You have these disciplines supporting you and the others.
Going further, you have values in your life. Those values come with an understanding and wisdom. Those values are helping you to build yourself. Like most of us, you are not supporting the harming anybody. That is the baseline these days. Staying away from harming any living beings. Some people can go deeper into those values, but they bring power into ourself [and determine] how you behave.
If you have mindfulness, then, mindfully you are making decisions which are bringing values into your life. That is how you are shaping yourself. That is how you are shaping your mind, by bringing in those values one by one. It is all based on your own understanding, based on what you see. Today, some people call them social values. Those social values come with a certain understanding. Again, for some societies it works and for some societies it doesn’t work.
But, for meditation practice, you have to have certain values. You are not promoting ego during the meditation class. You are promoting humbleness.
Even though you are hearing something you already know you have the discipline of listening to it and hearing something new.
That kind of environment or discipline helps you to support your mind in settling down. What is happening with this meditator? How often do you practice meditation? That is how much you are encouraging those qualities to grow. That is how much you are allowing those qualities to deepen within you. The deeper those qualities go, the greater the calmness of your mind.
If I go back to your original question, Can you do that at home? Yes, you can do that at home if you have similar people living at the home, practicing meditation at the same time, and they have respect. But, often, you don’t get such a home, even though we have families who come to meditation as family. But, they also experience the same thing when they want to practice meditation at home.
The environment is also important. Because we are forming this environment. When you come here, you know what environment you are coming into. And when you come into this room. If you go into the back room you are going there to have tea. Then, it is not just about the room it is about your mind. How you have trained your mind.
Some people have a separate mediation room in their house. That helps. But, still, the environment can be the matter if you are living with other people, other family members. You have responsibilities. When you are at home I often hear from people, all the sudden they have a thought, “Oh, I forgot something.” Then, your meditation stops right there and you go. Or, “Oh, I have to water those plants!” “I’ve got to do it.” Then, you mind is not free. You are going to do it. If you have pets, you may get disturbed by your pets.
That is why it is very helpful to have a group practice especially with a teacher, outside of your home. And, those people find that that practice is really helpful. I hope I answered your question.
Any thoughts or anything that anybody would like to share?
On Using a Timer During Private Meditations[A meditator] I know one time you talked about setting a timer. The more I thought about it I think that beginners who actually set a timer… could you talk a little bit more about that? I thought that it would be okay to not set a timer and provide my own experience and sitting longer than the timer. But, I think for beginners it might be valuable to set a timer. [Sathi] Well, for a beginner, I always ask them to practice meditation in a group. But, of course, when you are at home, it is helpful to have a timer so you can forget about looking at the clock. If you don’t have a timer, you say, “Oh, what is the time now?” And, you open your eyes to check the time. Then, every time that thought comes to your mind, you are getting disturbed.
Once you become more expert then you don’t have to go with the timer because I’m sure you’ll open your eyes at the right time. You will trust yourself more. That is very important, trusting yourself and giving opportunity to trust yourself.
But, for a beginner, this is a big challenge. Better to set up an alarm and forget about it so you don’t keep wondering “Is it time?” Instead you will know, “My clock will remind me of the time. I don’t have to think about it.” Make sure not to lose yourself.
Reducing the “Gossip” in Your Mind
Even here, before we set up these blind folders [partitions], I would tell people, if someone happens to open that door, it doesn’t matter if you know who came in or not. Because that is not going to do anything to you. But imagine how much that curiosity is disturbing us. Most of the time we want to know things. But, we don’t know why.
Most of us are feeding ourself with a lot of gossip like things. We don’t know why. Why do we want to know that? I was leading a retreat last week and somebody asked me, “How often do you watch the news?” Actually, I don’t watch the news at all. I think if there is something important, I will hear from the people. Because people cannot keep their mouth shut with this strong news. Do I miss anything? I don’t miss anything. But there is some times I was watching the news every day a few years ago. I felt like I want to know what is happening.[With meditation you can] find out what you are doing. Find out if it is important to you. We say that something is important and we spend our time and energy on it [without thinking]. That is how mindfulness can shape you. Pointing out [these behaviors], you can see that most of the time we are giving value to something that has no value. Sometimes we are saying certain things to other people but, it is not important for them to hear it. It is not good, nor bad. Think about what we are feeding when we are saying this thing. Maybe our ego, our curiosity. Maybe just filling the space.
So, bringing that kind of mindful will shape your life, shape yourself.
Okay, any other thoughts? Let’s go in the next room and enjoy tea and conversation.
Recorded on July 13, 2019 at Triple Gem of the North in Chaska, Minnesota.
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