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Conversations with Godwin

2: Meditation


Jyoti: As we have some people with us who are fairly new to meditation I thought it might be interesting to explore some basic questions. I think it might be interesting for all of us to do this actually, because I was thinking earlier: Why did I start meditating? And it took me ages to remember! So I think we need to remind ourselves sometimes why we are doing meditation, otherwise it can become a habit like any other habit.

So, why do meditation at all? We all have very busy lives as students, or at work, or whatever it is we are engaged in, we have boy friends or girl friends or families to look after, there are books to read, the TV to watch, places to go to, social events to attend. So to find time for meditation is a great difficulty for a lot of people, and if they are to find time then they must have some reason for making this a priority in their lives.

Godwin: So let us explore this question: Why meditate? What I would suggest is that what one tries to do in meditation is to find out how our minds work experientially. To look at the different dimensions of our minds, and to understand our bodies. Then through that understanding to make an effort to free ourselves from conflict and conditioning. To first realise we are conditioned - that we have conflict, disappointments, frustration, and that we have stress - and then to come to an understanding of these things, to see what these things do to us, and then to see if it's possible to free ourselves from all that. Or, to put it another way, to see how far we can be free of our selfishness, self-centredness, and of our ego.

Jyoti: So one of the things we are trying to do is to make what is unconscious conscious. We are reacting to the world all the time, but mostly we are not even aware that we are doing it - it just happens. So it is important to bring as much into the light of consciousness as possible, out of the hidden depths of the unconscious.

Godwin: When we explore our minds the unconscious is very important: what we carry in our unconscious is our repressions, those things we have pushed away and denied, and in meditation we see how far we can be open to these things, if we can allow them to come up, and if we can deal with them.

Another thing when we look at our minds is to see how our perceptions give rise to our conceptions - and how our conceptions can alter our perceptions also! Also we have to look at our bodies and sensations, how we relate to that, and what is the connection between the body and the mind.

Take, for example, the question of physical pain. Normally what do we do if there is physical pain? If we are sitting on the benches here and after a time pain arises, we move. Why? Because we don't like it. But by that response do we ever learn anything about pain? We just react in a very conditioned way. Now in meditation one tries to learn about pain, we try not to have that immediate, habitual, reaction. We might learn that physical pain gives rise to various psychological states - dislike, fear, anxiety, and so forth. So then we might try to see if it possible to have this physical pain without having the psychological reaction.

Related to pain, of course, is pleasure. We like pleasurable sensations to continue, and painful ones to stop. But in meditation we realise that what happens is often quite contrary to what we want. By wanting certain sensations to continue, conflict arises, because we have made a projection of how we want the world to be - but when the world doesn't live up to our expectations, then there is conflict.

Another area to try to explore in meditation is our relationships with other people, and with the world. Most of our problems and conflicts, as well as our joys and happiness, derive from our relationships: the way we relate to ourselves and to our environment. In meditation one learns to understand these relationships, and through that to learn about ourselves.

Also our emotions are an important area to inquire into. Now normally when we are angry, for instance, we are just angry, with no consciousness of how that anger is affecting our bodies, or what psychological complexes it gives rise to. With someone who is not a meditator, if we ask them: Why are you getting angry? Invariably you get the response that the other person is responsible, that they have provoked the anger. So now it is a very important aspect of meditation when one learns to take responsibility for what is happening in one's own mind, when you learn to no longer blame others - because that is the easy way out, if they are to blame you don't have to do anything about it.

Jyoti: The first real insight I had in meditation was when I found out that a lot of what I didn't like in others, is what I had projected onto them. That was a real insight for me. I found through this experience that you can build up a lot of things you don't like about yourself, and then mask the problem by simply projecting it all onto others. Once I found out it was within myself I was able to deal with the problem, it had become accessible again.

Godwin: This brings up the point that we create a world of our own, from our conclusions, prejudices, expectations, and conditionings. Anything then that does not correspond to this private world we have constructed gives rise to suffering and conflict. In meditation we come to understand this process, then we can learn that problems are mainly in relation to one's own conclusions about how the world should be. To put it another way, we realise that a lot of what we are seeing is subjective, and then we try to see how that subjectivity operates. Gradually we see how far we can become objective, learning to see things as they are, not as they should or must be.

So there are all these things and also our motivations need enquiring into, the games we play with one another, and also the role playing we get involved in - one aspect of this is to see how many masks, personas, one puts on to keep the world at a distance. All of this comes under the eye of meditation.

Jyoti: So perhaps now is good time to turn our attention to techniques. We have looked at some of the areas meditation deals with in regard to the psyche, but how do we get some sort of knowledge about these things?

Godwin: In meditation, in all the techniques, there is an aspect which is very much emphasised, and that is awareness. All techniques converge on two points: awareness and having an equanimous mind, a mind that is detached, a mind that is not identifying with things, a mind in a steady state of peace and calm.

Now why is awareness so important? Because it is the opposite of being like a machine, with awareness we become conscious of our reactions and responses, we build up self-knowledge and understanding.

Jyoti: When we have more awareness and knowledge of how we are acting and reacting in the world, that gives rise to understanding, and understanding gives rise to compassion, because we can now see why it is that others are acting in a certain way. Therefore we can see also that self-knowledge helps us to understand others.

Godwin: If one has total awareness would it be possible to have things in the unconscious mind? I would suggest that what lies in the unconscious are in fact those areas that one is not aware of. If one has complete awareness and attention, if someone has cultivated that state, perhaps it would be possible to prevent things from falling into the unconscious - that's an interesting idea, don't you think?

Now as we were saying there are two types of meditation. In what is called concentration one learns to focus the mind on an object like the in- and out-breathing. Now when we focus like that there is an aspect of control in it, and exclusion, thoughts are arising and we push them away.

Jyoti: Isn't one of the problems with this that it immediately gives rise to conflict? That's because there is your meditation object, and everything else that is clamouring for your attention.

Godwin: So how does one do concentration meditation without getting into conflict? The conflict rises if you take up the position that you should not have any other thoughts. So my whole emphasis when teaching mindfulness of breathing is on being aware of what is happening. Sometimes the way this meditation is presented one has the impression that one should be aware only of the breathing - which for most people is impossible. When thoughts, sensations, sounds, and so on arise one learns to be aware of them, without developing conflict.

Why are we doing concentration initially? Because we have to learn to have a mind that is still, to have some space in our minds, some calm. Otherwise, if we don't do this there is confusion, disorder, distraction. When we can be more and more with the breath we establish stability.

That is the first step, when we have achieved a stable mind, and when we are alert, then we open up and let anything arise - this is choiceless awareness, and this is how we allow things from the unconscious to rise. In this meditation we don't have an object, we allow any thought or emotion or sensation to arise, we are not afraid. We don't make judgements.

In meditation in the first stage we are trying to work with what is there, we may have negative emotions, restlessness, anxiety, fear, guilt. Whilst learning to focus on an object, we at least learn how to push these emotions away, and when they are pushed away then the jhana factors arise - there is joy, happiness, one-pointedness, awareness. Positive emotions arise in the place of negative ones.

In the second phase we learn to be aware of both positive and negative without distinction, and to reflect them as they arise, just as they are. Joy arises and we reflect it just as in a mirror - and without the feeling this is ‘my' joy, or ‘my' restlessness - that is freedom, that is the model presented in the Dhamma.

Jyoti: One of the things I've noticed is that if you can bring negative states into awareness, they drop away. This, I take it, is what the whole technique of psychoanalysis is about - if one can just look at these states without the need for repressing them it leads to them falling away. If you can catch yourself getting angry, for instance, then the anger just drops off as soon as you become aware of it - it isn't that you have had to do anything intentionally about it - it's quite a wonder that it works like that, but it does.

Godwin: That is why there is so much emphasis on awareness, without on the one hand repressing, and without on the other giving in to these negative emotions - these are the two extremes that we avoid. To don't give energy to whatever is arising - if you start fighting these things there is a battle going on and we really give it more energy. We need to learn this from experience, otherwise what I'm saying just sounds theoretical, but if one can really experience this for oneself, this is really important. Then with that insight we become really open - no fear, no repression. That will give us a certain lightness, a certain joy, and a lot of confidence.

Now all of this sounds very simple, doesn't it?

Jyoti: Well in a way it is really simple - but we are so very complicated, that's the problem! It's not that the techniques are complicated, or that meditation is hard, it's that we are!