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Working with Meditation
Retreat in Hong Kong
Day 2, 14th October 1997
Sharing on What Happened on that Day
Godwin: For the discussion, what we may try to do is to share each other's experience of what happened today.
I feel it is very important to learn to share our experiences very honestly with a group of spiritual friends. Sharing both what we consider to be pleasant experiences and also unpleasant experiences. So it is opening ourselves up to our spiritual friends. Normally we are very nervous, self-conscious to speak about ourselves, thinking that others will judge us, whether we have done the right thing and so on. You should not have fear about it because you are simply sharing your experiences.
So what is your experience with meditation? We started at 5 o'clock. Any questions, any problems, any difficulties about the simple meditation that we practise, just knowing what is happening?
Retreatant: I was half-awake in this morning's meditation. I just went through it in a hazy way. But for reasons unknown, in the meditation just before this discussion I discovered something: I felt it was different from how I felt this morning. Before, it was like wasting a lot of my energy. I felt exhausted in having to be aware of our body movements and mental activity. It was like waiting for them to appear but they just never appeared. In the session of sitting we have just had, when I felt stillness, then I knew how to use what our teacher told us, how to be aware of how my body works, and knowing it very clearly.
Godwin: Thank you for sharing that experience. It is nice to hear of your unpleasant experiences in the morning and what can be considered as a pleasant experience in the evening. If you did not have the unpleasant experience, you wouldn't have made this discovery about the pleasant experience in the evening. So it shows that we can learn from unpleasant experiences, we can learn from pleasant experiences. Therefore we should learn to be open to both unpleasant experiences and pleasant experiences.
Would anyone else like to share his or her experience of this morning's meditation?
Retreatant: When we meditate at home, is it better that we don't choose a time when we are too tired to do meditation? This morning I was too sleepy. I was not strong enough to concentrate.
Godwin: Whether you are at home or here, I would like to suggest that you try to experiment with meditation when you are tired as well, otherwise it is very easy to say: I feel tired, so I know my meditation won't work, so let me sleep. That's how we pamper ourselves. Always saying Yes to what the body is wanting.
So we need to break that conditioning in a very friendly, gentle, kind way. It means some days to say Yes to the body and some days to say No to the body. So tomorrow morning if you still feel tired you must tell the body: Yesterday I gave in to you, I said Yes, today, I'm going to say No. It is very important to learn to have this kind of dialogue with the body, with oneself. So learning to say No, and then you come to the hall, you come to meditate and you see what happens.
There is a very interesting dialogue in the Buddhist texts between the Buddha and a monk who was feeling lazy, drowsy, tired when meditating. The Buddha offered some very interesting suggestions on how to work with that condition.
The first suggestion the Buddha offered was: change your posture. So if you are sitting, do some standing meditation, do some walking meditation. And I would like to suggest in that situation to do some fast walking, or to walk backwards, because to walk backwards you have to be very alert and awake. Immediately you start walking backwards you will be awake.
This reminds me of a meditation master in Thailand. He gave this suggestion to meditators. In that centre there was a well, a deep well. So he told his meditators to sit on the edge of the well. So if they were tired and fell in, they would die! Unfortunately there are no wells here!
Another suggestion the Buddha offered, if that did not work, was to rub your earlobes. I would see that as trying to stimulate the body. The Buddha said if that does not work, go out and look at the stars. Maybe the discussion took place in the evening like this when there are stars. I would suggest that as a way of trying to stimulate the mind by something external. If that does not work, try to think of something very inspiring from the Dhamma that will really develop a sense of urgency.
If that does not work, please induce a bright light. Some meditators see a bright light, so maybe this monk was able to see such a bright light, so the Buddha said induce a bright light, and again it could stimulate his mind.
And if that doesn't work, the Buddha said, then go to sleep!
Why did he say go to sleep? Why was the Buddha encouraging that monk to sleep?
Retreatant: Is it because the body when it gets tired needs to take a rest?
Godwin: Yes, in a way. This technique, this experimentation will help him to find out whether the tiredness has a psychological reason or a physical reason. So it shows that sometimes - and maybe most of the time - feeling tired is not something physical but it is psychological. So with these different techniques the Buddha was encouraging this monk to find out whether it has a physical reason or a psychological reason. Then if the techniques fail it shows that the tiredness has a physical reason; then we should learn to feel kind to the body.
It is also very interesting that the Buddha encouraged monks and meditators to experiment, to explore, find out for themselves. This is what I am encouraging you to do by observing, by learning to make your own discoveries about your mind and body and how they work. Our mind and body are so close to us, but in a way they are so far away from us because we have not learned, we have not discovered about them, we have not experimented. So this is why in meditation one should see the practice as not for achieving certain states of mind but rather for learning, discovering, exploring. It is a beautiful way to relate to meditation.
So after the morning meditation we had tea from 6:00 to 6:30, and I suggested you go out and see things very sharply, see things very clearly. Would anyone like to share some experience in this regard?
Retreatant: I would like to share some of my viewpoint on what you taught today. I find the meditation technique that you taught today quite useful. You told us to watch the mind just like a mother watching her son. With this kind of mentality I really felt great during the meditation. On my breathing, whatever thought arises, whatever feelings and sensations, I can use the mentality of a mother watching her son, and I feel I can be detached from those thoughts and be calm.
Godwin: It is important to have that kind of attitude, learning to be friendly and gentle, and then just knowing what is happening. And whatever is happening, again learning to be friendly without resisting it; and as he said, immediately you can find some relief, some release if you have that friendly attitude. So it is resistance which is creating the suffering. It is the same whatever comes, whether internally or even external events. It is when we resist external events that mostly suffering comes. So here is an approach where, without resisting, with friendliness, you just know what is happening. Feeling friendly doesn't mean giving in to what is happening but working with it with friendliness and gentleness, so we ought to see the difference. It is very important to realise that it is not giving in but rather a way of working with it.
From 6:00 to 6:30, while drinking tea, did anyone have any other experiences?
Retreatant: At that time, I tried to put your directions into practice by looking at things sharply and clearly, but no matter how hard I tried everything looked the same to me as usual. No sharper, no clearer.
Godwin: So you should try again tomorrow also. I'll say what I have in mind about seeing things very clearly. Suppose we are looking at a tree. Can we have our complete and full attention on seeing the tree at that moment? And is it possible to see the tree as if for the first time? This is really a very interesting aspect.
Is it possible to see things with less thought or no thought? Because when we see things with our preconceptions, we don't really see anything very clearly. So it means really learning to awaken our senses. We have not made an effort to cultivate this awakening of our senses, the sense of hearing, the sense of seeing. So we have to make a conscious effort sometimes.
I think another aspect we have neglected is the sense of smell. So tomorrow let us all make an effort to awaken our senses, seeing very clearly, hearing things, and also smelling very clearly. There are some white flowers here and these flowers give off a very beautiful scent. So slowly, slowly let us make an effort, let us experiment with it, let us play with it, developing our senses in this way. You can also try with the Buddha image here, just looking at the Buddha image with your complete and full attention, with less thought or no thought.
Discussion about Yoga
After that, there was yoga. I'm sure you experienced something when doing yoga.
Retreatant: This is the first time I've done yoga outside in nature. It is also the first time that I tried to focus my mind on my body when doing yoga and I found it was very peaceful and still.
Godwin: Anyone else like to share what happened during yoga? Were the postures difficult?
Retreatant: I found that because I enjoyed the atmosphere I forgot that it was difficult. Actually, it seems to be difficult but I enjoy it, so I didn't judge whether it was difficult or not.
Godwin: Because you enjoyed it. An interesting point. So when you enjoy something you really do not see whether it is difficult or not. Did you experience physical pain?
Godwin: That shows the yoga is working! It shows you have a body and that the body can have pain. It also shows that you should continue with the yoga because you have not practised the exercises enough. Does anybody else want to say something about yoga?
Retreatant: The postures changed too quickly, so I felt that the exercises were interrupted and not smooth.
Godwin: So maybe the yoga teacher should take this into consideration. Did anybody else experience the same thing?
Retreatant: I have practised yoga for quite a while, and when doing yoga you have to do a series of postures, not do the same posture a number of times. I would like to explain this because that is the purpose of yoga. It is a series of postures, so it has to be kept changing.
Godwin: How did you feel when doing yoga?
Retreatant: Yoga makes a deep impression on me. Our teacher has made a connection between Buddhism, yoga and meditation. I feel that it is more comfortable to meditate after doing yoga and the mindfulness gets stronger. Yoga is the prelude and meditation is the essence. Apart from benefits to the body and meditation, yoga also makes one healthy and the healthiness comes as a by-product.
Godwin: Yoga can also be a meditation. The word yoga means union, so it's a union between the mind and body, integration of the mind and body, harmonising the mind and body.
Meditation and Silence
Godwin: Now about silence, how are you relating to silence? Is it disturbing you, is it okay? Any thoughts about silence? Any experiences about silence?
Retreatant: It is difficult.
Godwin: The fact that it is difficult shows it is a very strong habit that we have to talk. And you know it is very difficult to stop a strong habit. Some meditators told me that when they stop talking to others they start talking to themselves. And one meditator told me that when other people were silent she felt they were punishing her! So I think although it is difficult we should still experiment with such situations, and then ideally you realise how space is created by silence.
I think another aspect of talking is perhaps to prevent certain things from arising. Things you have pushed away, repressed, controlled. In some very intense silent retreats some meditators tell me how with the silence they suddenly have memories arising from their childhood which have been completely forgotten. And sometimes some of these memories that come up can be extremely helpful for one to understand one's behaviour.
Just to give an example of an experience one woman had: I would like to share that experience with you. She was in a 10-day retreat when suddenly she remembered that as a 7-year-old girl, she had tried to commit suicide by shooting herself in a dark room. She had completely forgotten this experience, maybe because it was very unpleasant for her. But it was a very helpful memory for her because she was still afraid of the dark. Another thing was that she was very self-destructive. She would take risks with her body, and so on. So then I had a discussion with her and we realised that the suicidal tendency in trying to destroy herself was manifesting itself in different ways.
Another aspect of talking and silence is that when we talk we feel as if we are somebody. So when we are silent we feel as if we are nobody, and we feel uncomfortable with this feeling of being nobody.
Another important aspect of silence is that it helps us to be alone with our mind and body for some time. So silence has some very important and interesting aspects. I certainly agree that it is difficult but certainly it is worthwhile.
There is an interesting story from the Tibetan tradition about a retreat place where one has to practise complete silence for a year and after one year the student can go and speak to the Master but can only say two words. So after one year a student went to the Master and said: More food! So probably for the whole year he had been thinking only of food!
Anyway, these are some thoughts about silence, I would like to suggest that tomorrow there will be times when you have to speak, and when you have to speak you should learn to speak with awareness, what is called right speech. So silence is important, right speech is important.
Meditation and Right Speech
There are so many things we can learn from our speech. When we speak to another person, do we really listen to that other person? Can you speak clearly? Can you speak very briefly what you have to say rather than continuing to speak and sometimes confusing yourself and confusing others? How far can we be aware and mindful when we speak? We can learn these skills here.
In everyday life this is one of the greatest problems we have, the way we cause problems because of our speech, especially in relationships: how we can hurt each other with wrong speech. So as I said, silence is important as it has many important aspects, and also right speech is important because that also has many aspects. The Buddha encouraged us to speak gentle words, kind words, helpful words, words which can be healing to others. On the other hand we can hurt another person with our words, they can be more harmful, they can hurt another person more than something physical.
So the time for discussion is over. I would like to say something about tomorrow. Today there was a lot of time for you to rest, and you realised that you had been tired and you had not been able to sleep well. So I hope today you had a good rest and you will be able to sleep well tonight.