Discovering Meditation Home Page
Retreat at the Waldhaus
Day 9: Everyday Life
Godwin: I would like to present some very practical and simple suggestions about meditation in everyday life.
The first point is not to expect the mind to always be calm, spacious, having loving-kindness and so on. This is very, very important. It is easy to have such states of mind when you are here. But if the same conditions are not available in everyday life, how can one expect similar states of mind? That is why I have been emphasising very much while you are here to work with emotions, to be open to unpleasant states of mind like the monsters, and so on.
The next point is we have to be clear in our minds about our priorities in life. What is the most important priority you have in life? And then you have to find out, if you have a list of priorities, where meditation fits in that list. If the commitment for meditation is amongst the first few priorities, ranking maybe first, second or third among those priorities, then that in itself will look after meditation. This is because if you know clearly your commitment to it, then you will never say: I do not have time for meditation.
Here what might be helpful is to find out whether you really like meditation, whether you find it interesting, whether you can develop a curiosity about it, and whether you have clearly developed a taste for it. Otherwise how can you have a commitment to meditation, be motivated towards it, if you find that it is such a big battle, very unpleasant and requiring a great effort when you are practising?
So here one suggestion I would like to offer is not to be concerned and preoccupied about progress and results in your meditation, but rather to see what you are doing as interesting. One of the teachers gave a very beautiful simile on this. He said: It is like a gardener who is planting things. If he is a good gardener, he should enjoy what he is doing. This means he simply enjoys the process of learning to take care of the plants. He finds it interesting, and maybe even challenging sometimes. So when a gardener plants something, he can never know when the flowers will come, or when the fruits will arrive. This is the type of relationship we might try to cultivate with meditation.
However, the real challenge we have in everyday life is when facing anxiety, stress, anger, and all the other monsters, how can we find them interesting? This is why in this retreat I have been emphasising very much that they should be your objects of meditation. They should be precious learning experiences for you, and they should be your teachers. So the practice is not to suppress them. This is a very important point to remember. It is not to get rid of them. But rather just to see them as our compost, using them for our growth when they are there. So this is another very interesting perspective to have in relation to meditation in daily life.
Now one thing I have heard from the meditators here, especially those who have jobs, is that they are really exhausted and tired at the end of the day, as they have to work from morning till late in the evening. And it’s the same routine everyday - they go home tired, they eat something and then go to sleep, and early next morning they get up and they go to work again. So how can such a routine allow them to meditate, even if they would like to meditate and have some interest in it?
So I would like to suggest one or two practical things for such people. Because what happens to them is that there is a build-up during the day with more stress, more anxiety, more work so that by the end of the day they are really stressed out. And they honestly tell me in that situation it is not possible to have awareness, for this is a fact of their experience.
One suggestion I would like to offer them is what I call toilet meditation. Do not laugh, because in the main text where the Buddha describes the development of awareness or mindfulness, in the Satipatthana Sutta - this is a very important text for meditation - it is said that when you are in the toilet you should practise mindfulness and awareness. Now you can use that from time to time during the day. So take a few toilet breaks during the day! How many breaks can you take in a day? Three breaks? More? Good, the more the better! So when you go to the toilet you have a very nice sitting posture!
Now what is important to do - and this is another thing which I have been emphasising - is to have a connection with your breath, connecting with your breath as you would to a friend. I have been emphasising two aspects about the breath. One is to use this friend to stop all that build-up and just for a few minutes to be with the breath, and be in the present moment. Thus I would like to repeat that you need to build this relationship and establish this connection with the breath. No sooner than you think of your friend, there is space. You then find yourself in the present, and are centred within yourself.
Another thing I have been emphasising is to find your own way concerning how to use the breath to develop friendliness and loving-kindness. You must make this connection so that you can use the breath for five or ten minutes in this way, and this should, if you go on practising, create space in your mind, and create a break during the day. Then when you go back to your work you should be able to start your work feeling fresh and renewed.
Relating to Things Around You
Another practical suggestion that I would like to offer which you can do while you are working, and which I have also been emphasising, is to pause and just spend some time looking at what is there in the room. Looking at things with a curious mind, as if you are seeing them for the first time, and without making any past associations. So when you look around, you might see computers or telephones. What else do you see in your office?
Retreatant: Plants and flowers.
Godwin: Flowers, that is a good point. So if someone doesn’t have flowers in their workplace, please take some with you on Monday when you go to work. I mean, this is why I was emphasising relating to nature. In a poem by Mother Theresa she said: Find life a delight. I have joined two words together to express this - gentle delight. They are beautiful words, even when you just hear them. I do not know how they sound in German.
Retreatant: Sanftes Entzücken.
Godwin: That sounds beautiful also.
So for just a few minutes, please have this gentle delight in seeing the flowers or the plants that are there, and also learn to have a little gentle delight when you see the computers. I am emphasising the 199 need to feel grateful. After all, you are working with the computer in your job, it is a very useful friend. I mean, this is a very interesting idea, to have a connection with the things that you are using. There is a beautiful book of Zen poems. The title of the book is One Robe, One Bowl. It is a collection of poems written by a Zen monk who had only one robe and one bowl, and some of the poems describe the connection he had with his robe and bowl. It is really touching. In one poem he had forgotten where he had left his bowl, and when he remembered he went back and said: Oh my dear poor bowl, I am sure you have missed me, I missed you! So when you go back after this retreat to your computers, say: Poor computer, I am sure you missed me - but to be honest I did not miss you! But still I am happy to be back. This is what is called gentle delight.
Please see that this gentle delight can come not from special or extraordinary experiences, but from simple things. This is another point to remember: that meditation is all about ordinary things. Breath is something very, very ordinary. Being aware of the body is something very simple and ordinary. So this is another very important perspective we should have in everyday life - to have this connection with ordinary things, then you learn to see ordinary things as extraordinary.
Here’s another meditation for you to consider: what I call the okay meditation! I got a few plusses when I gave that guided meditation. You can apply it in everyday life. You can apply it when you feel there is stress, anxiety, fatigue and so on. When you feel you are very tired, simply say: Okay, okay, and in that way practise the okay meditation. This is because when there is resistance, dislike, not wanting and fighting, it creates tension, which in turn creates more stress. So just spending a few minutes with the okay meditation can help us to create some space.
In a way, practising the okay meditation can also be seen as developing compassion and developing loving-kindness towards what is happening. This is the beauty of loving-kindness. It is learning to make friends not only with very pleasant things and beautiful things, for that is easy, but also how to make friends with things that we do not like. This is the real challenge we have in everyday life. And it is by learning to say: It is okay.
One day Paul mentioned the non-reactive mind. I think even before that we had an exercise to see the difference between the reactive and the non-reactive mind. So this is another interesting tool to work with in everyday life, to remember to think: How far can I not react to the stress? How far can I not react to the anger that is arising? when difficult situations arise.
Now another tool which I have been emphasising very much is to explore, investigate and find out. That means if stressful states of mind are arising, see if you can explore and investigate them as they are arising. See if you can find out and make discoveries about them. If you can do this at that moment, you get a hundred out of a hundred, a big plus! But most of the time you may not be able to achieve that because it is not easy.
Yet another tool which all of us can relate to is to reflect, to take your mind backwards and find out more about the reactive mind. You can try this at some point after going home or during the weekend itself. Again, you earn seventy-five marks out of a hundred. That is a big plus! This is a very useful tool, and in this way we can learn from any experience we have had, even unpleasant ones which we think were failures.
But what is important in this exploration is that you need to have a very gentle and friendly connection with yourself. You need to do it in a very gentle, very friendly way, and not as though wielding a stick, to find out why you behaved in that manner. The important thing is to explore what has happened without attaching a minus to it. So it is like saying: It is okay that you did this but let us find out what really happened to you.
As I was saying, we can have others as spiritual friends, but you can also have yourself as a spiritual friend. In the same way you have dialogues with spiritual friends, what you can do is to have a really friendly dialogue with yourself, which you can really enjoy and find interesting or amusing: Why did you get angry with your boss last week? Now I remember the way you were looking at your boss. It is really interesting, the way you looked at him. Normally you do not look at people in that way. Were you really angry? What made you so angry and caused you to look at him in that way? Alright, it is okay, let me see how I look at him next time.
Aren’t our mistakes and failures beautiful? You can really use the person who creates problems for you as an object of investigation and meditation. Has anyone heard me talking about the lawnmower principle? Maybe some of you have not heard of it before. It is related to this point, so I will say what I mean by the lawnmower principle.
When I was in South Africa there was a very big meditation centre, much like the one here, 300 acres in all. On one retreat I led there was a very intense group, a very serious group - so I didn’t enjoy it very much! During one sitting session a gardener was mowing the grass outside. So after that session one of the meditators went running to the centre’s director and said: Please stop that man using the lawnmower. So the centre’s director came to me and asked: Now what do we do? I said: Please continue with the lawnmower! In that evening’s discussion I said: Now tomorrow we will 205 still be hearing the lawnmower, and when we hear the lawnmower, let us all make that the object of our meditation. Forget about your breath, forget about loving-kindness, and forget about all the other objects, make the sound of the lawnmower the object of meditation. And when we hear the sound of the lawnmower, let us all see how far we can make friends with it. In the evening, the man who had earlier objected to it said: I would like to share with the group that I have now made friends with the lawnmower! On the last day he even had a photograph taken of himself with the lawnmower, and he sent me a copy. This is what I mean by the lawnmower principle. And it is a very useful principle in everyday life.
Another point I would like to mention about sitting in daily practice is that it is a good thing if you can do it, even if you can only sit for a short period in the morning. Therefore if you normally wake up at six in the morning, please make a commitment to getting up half an hour earlier. During that half an hour you can start with some yoga or bodywork, followed by meditation on the breath, and end with a meditation on loving-kindness. If you are unable to do that for some reason, please do not think: This means that I cannot meditate, my meditation is over. This is why I emphasise that if you cannot sit, try to use some of the suggestions I offered for practice during the day.
Another practical suggestion I would like to offer is to do some reflection. If you can do this every evening it is good. At least when you have the space, try to do this reflection that I am going to outline to you. Reflect on the way you have spent the day. Again in a very friendly, gentle way, just go over what has happened during the day. No plusses, no minuses. But to realise for instance: I got angry at about 10 o’clock in the morning, and at about 2 o’clock I had an argument with this man, and it was not very pleasant. In the afternoon, another incident happened, and it is unfortunate that it happened.
What is more important is also to reflect on things that did not happen. Say for example, you got angry at 10 o’clock - but until 10 you were not angry! Then between 10 and 2, until that unpleasant 207 incident happened, there were no monsters. Very good! So then you realise: Now for two or three days only one or two unpleasant incidents happened here and there. I am surprised, I never thought I was such a good person! Then if you have an inner dialogue such as this you can say: Do not be surprised that you have been so good! Like this you can make a beautiful connection with yourself. This is one way of learning to be your best friend.
That is why I suggested earlier that you learn to relate to yourself as a plaything, as a toy. This is because if you can relate to yourself as a toy you can find yourself amusing and entertaining. With toys normally we either become dependant on them or we change from one toy to another. But here with the different connections you can have with this toy, you become self-content and interested in yourself.
Setting an Example
Maybe one other suggestion - learn to practise compassion in action. Again, this can be done in a very simple way. If you can make some commitment to practise this, you will get a lot of opportunities, simple opportunities in everyday life where you will 209 be able to perform some kind act. For example, while in the bus, you may see an old man struggling to board the bus; just give that person a helping hand. In your workplace, you may notice someone with a very sad face; try to speak to that person. Learning to do these little things for others can give us such joy and is such a beautiful way to live. If you have this sensitivity, you see so many opportunities to act kindly, and you do not have to do something special, like volunteering for social welfare work. It is a good thing if you can participate in such projects, and the Centre here is very much involved in such projects - but in the above way, compassion and loving-kindness become a way of life.
Now I remember someone asked me this: Suppose my friend is not a meditator and I am a meditator now. How do I get my friend to be interested in meditation? How do I get a child interested in meditation? What should we do? Sri Lankans also often ask this question. Sometimes the husband is a meditator and the husband would come and say: My wife is not interested in meditation, how can I get her to be interested in meditation? This is what I suggest to them - show in your own behaviour to that person that with meditation, with the taking of this medicine, there are some changes taking place in you. Then that person will realise that you are so different now. He or she will discover that previously you had moods, but now you are smiling most of the time!
Or as an example, a husband may say to his wife: Now what you cook is much better. It has a very nice taste! Or maybe a friend comments: In the past you gossiped about other people, now you do not gossip at all! What is the secret, what are you doing? I am doing what is called meditation, would you like to try it? Yes, yes, please teach me because I would also like to smile like you. I have this bad habit of gossiping. I would also like to stop gossiping. So it is by example that we can affect and influence others. And this is what we can do with children too.
When I say this I am reminded of a Tibetan story. In this retreat, I have not been relating many stories. Usually I relate more. This story shows how the behaviour of a person made another person reflect. There was once a very pious and saintly monk who lived in a certain place. He had a devotee who was a very rich woman. She was very impressed and inspired by this monk so she wanted to present him with something very special. She told the goldsmith in the village to make a bowl out of gold. Now this news that a golden bowl was being made for the monk reached the ears of the chief thief in the village. The robber thought: Ah! There is a wonderful opportunity coming, let me wait till it is finished and I shall see what I can do.
Receiving news that the bowl would be presented on that day to the monk, the thief went to the temple. When the monk saw the robber, he knew why he had come. So the monk went in, took the bowl and threw it in the direction of the robber. This really confused the robber. I was waiting all this time to steal this bowl and when this monk gets it he throws it away! What kind of person is he? thought the thief. He was very curious to know. So he walked up to the monk and said: Please tell me how it is that you are able to throw this bowl away as soon as you saw me? He replied: I meditate and I am unattached. The thief asked: Can I also learn to meditate? The monk answered: Yes, of course you can. This confused him even more because earlier whenever he went to spiritual teachers they would tell him to first change his profession and become a spiritual person, before he can meditate. He said: You are the only person to tell me that I could still be in this profession and practise meditation as well. That is very interesting. Please, tell me more about meditation and what I can do. The monk said: Hereafter, when you do some action, just be mindful of what you are doing, and just reflect why you are doing it. The thief thought: This sounds simple! So he said: I will try to practise and I will come back to you.
After some time, the robber thought: Now it is time to practise my profession, but I must also remember to practise meditation. So, as the story goes, he wanted to break into a house, but then he remembered the words of the monk: Just reflect about the action that you are going to do. Reflect with mindfulness. So the thief thought: ‘Now what am I about to do? Immediately he realised the implication of what he was going to do and he could not proceed any further. He went back to the monk and he said: Now I will practise only meditation and not my profession.
Questions about Meditation in Everyday Life
I would like to stop now because I am sure you must have many questions. So please present your questions and your difficulties, and say when in everyday life you cannot use meditation, or ask how one can use meditation in facing a real-life situation. If you have any examples of such situations, we can try to explore them and see what can be done.
Retreatant: What do you think about physical aches during meditation, not in the legs, but in other parts of the body - these aches only come during meditation. Is it good to put my full awareness and attention on these?
Godwin: I would like to offer some suggestions on how to work with pain in meditation. One way is not to see the pain as a disturbance or as a distraction to meditation. So the pain becomes the object of meditation. When the pain is there, you can try to explore, investigate and find out about the pain. In everyday life, when we have pain what we do is try to get rid of the pain, but by doing that we never learn about pain. So here when pain comes you should consider it a blessing for it gives you an opportunity to work with pain and to understand it. You can explore when there is physical pain whether you can observe and work with the reaction to the pain. Sometimes it is the reaction that is creating the suffering in relation to the pain - by your not wanting the pain, considering the pain as a disturbance, and hating the pain. Having these reactions can create more suffering on top of the pain.
I have discovered that sometimes the pain can have a physical reason, and sometimes certain pains and tensions can be due to a psychological reason. If it has a physical reason, you can work with the pain in this way for some time and then change the posture.
However, in relation to pain you should avoid two extremes. One extreme is pampering the body, for example whenever there is pain you change the posture immediately or try to get rid of the pain. The other extreme is being very hard and severe on yourself, so that you continue to sit without changing the posture at all even when it is very painful indeed. I would suggest therefore discovering a middle way where you learn to be friendly and gentle to the body, to the pain, avoiding being hard and severe towards it, but at the same time not pampering the body. In practical terms, this means to work with the pain when you are sitting and then if necessary to change the posture as I have explained earlier.
If the pain does not have a physical reason, we may have to explore the emotion behind the pain that is creating the pain. Thus in meditation what we are trying to do is not to get rid of the pain but to learn to see even when pain is there, how far we can relate to the pain without necessarily suffering as a result of the pain. So if you can come and see me tomorrow, I would like to find out where your pain is and perhaps we can explore the pain together.
Any questions about everyday life, or meditation in everyday life? Challenges we have? Difficulties we have? Problems we have...?
Retreatant: You know I am a computer programmer. You have talked about computers. For me, the problem is not that the computer is not my friend, it is a case of perhaps being too much my friend! And the problem is that I bring the work home, here in my brain. Every time I sit in meditation, I take one in-breath and one out-breath and then I start thinking: Oh, there was this problem in programming, and I start thinking about the programming, and I am very concentrated on it. It is no problem for me to spend half an hour programming in my meditation, without having any other thoughts!
Godwin: So the thing is, however much you try to be with the breath, it is just not possible? I can really understand that. So here again, one can make programming the object of meditation. One suggestion I would like to offer is that when these thoughts about the computer come during your meditation, try to focus attention not on the thoughts but on your state of mind. Can you at least have a non-reactive mind for some time with these thoughts coming and going about the programming? So the emphasis is more on the non-reactive mind. And you are just being with that, thoughts coming and going about computers and programming and all that. Does that make sense? This is why I have been speaking a lot about thoughts, because we all have thoughts from morning till night, so it is very important to learn to work with our thoughts. So this is one suggestion I would like to offer.
Another suggestion is you might have to slowly, slowly break this habit of bringing your work and office to your home. It shows that either you are really enjoying your work very much or that in relation to your work you are very creative, so that you are always trying to find new programmes and ways. What do you think may be the reason why you are so preoccupied with computers and programming?
Retreatant: I like it so much, I am very enthusiastic about writing programmes.
Godwin: That is very nice, it shows that you are really enjoying your work. It is rare that people have this enthusiasm and interest for their work so it is very nice in a way.
Retreatant: It takes away room for many other things. That is the problem. It is also very exhausting.
Godwin: Yes, and so what do you do when this has really become a strong habit? How do you break this habit? To break this habit, you have to be very alert and awake to work with the habit. So this again is about working with your thoughts. The thought of the computer comes and you have to catch it and let it go. You should try doing this not only when you are sitting but even before that.
This is one suggestion. Another suggestion is to trick the mind. Try this during our next sitting. Think: Now I am going to sit and I am going to think only of programming. Come on, come on, thoughts - and see what happens!