Living Meditation Home Page Seven-Day Retreat Talks
One-Day Meditation Retreat in Chi Lin Nunnery, Hong Kong
11th October 1998
Meditation in Everyday Life
Godwin: So I would like to welcome each one of you for this one-day meditation programme.
I would just like to share with you what we will be trying to do today. The first point I want to make is that every one of you should feel very happy because although it's a Sunday, although it's a holiday, you have the motivation to come here and spend the whole day in meditation. Every one of you should rejoice, every one of you should feel very happy about this.
One of the things that we have been emphasising in the talks as a very important aspect in meditation is the practice of awareness, mindfulness. So today we will make a special effort to develop this very important skill of awareness. And related to that, try to have continuity of awareness from moment to moment as far as possible.
So whether you are sitting, standing, walking, eating, doing yoga, whatever you are doing, even going to the toilet, what you do in the toilet, please make an effort just to know, just to be conscious, just to be present, to what is happening in your mind and body from moment to moment.
It is also important to learn to use awareness with friendliness, with gentleness. There is a very interesting Mahayana text in this connection where watching yourself, observing yourself, is compared to being a mother. So like a mother just watching, just observing, just noticing her child in whatever the child is doing, in the same way, if you can watch, if you can observe, if you can find out what is happening in your mind and body with awareness and friendliness, this is extremely important.
Another important aspect of awareness is to experience the present moment, the here and the now. So today let us make an effort to forget whatever has happened in the past. We cannot change the past. It's gone. And then let us not think of the future because the future has not yet come. In a way, thinking of the past and the future is not being with reality. So today we will make a special effort to use awareness, to use friendliness to experience the present moment as far as possible.
A very important area that we need to work with is the area of emotions, especially emotions which we all know like sadness, fear, insecurity, shame, guilt and all these things that create suffering for us in everyday life. These are the things that create suffering for us. So I'll be presenting techniques which will help you to work with these unpleasant emotions.
And it is also important to know, to find out, when these unpleasant emotions are absent. Here again what will be helpful to us is the practice of awareness, because if you know how to be aware then you know what unpleasant emotions you are having. And if there is awareness you also know when they are not there. I will be presenting one or two tools which will help you to work with these unpleasant emotions.
So it is important to have self-confidence, understanding: when these unpleasant emotions arise I know what to do with them. We need not be afraid of them. I hope today all of you will discover some of these tools and I really hope that you'll develop this self-confidence in yourselves, trust in yourself and trust in the Dhamma. Then you will realise that although problems will arise, suffering will arise, you know what to do with them, you know how to recover from them. This is extremely important.
And whatever we are trying to do today, there'll be a time for group discussions. In the group discussions, please ask questions or share your experience about what is happening here today. This is also very important. So please ask things which have a practical significance concerning what we will be trying to do; only ask questions or present difficulties in relation to that.
So in conclusion, I would like to suggest that you make a real effort to make full use of your time here today. As I said you have made a big sacrifice in coming here on a holiday. So make an effort to make full use of today and get a glimpse, get a taste of what meditation is about, and then have the confidence that through your own efforts you can find a way out of the suffering that you create for yourselves. Thank you very much.
Guided Sitting Meditation
Let us now begin the programme with sitting meditation.
Let us begin by just feeling friendly towards our mind and body. Friendly and gentle towards our mind, friendly and gentle towards our body.
Can you see yourself as your best friend? And can you really feel it, feel it in every part of your body, your whole being?
And being your best friend, you have complete confidence and trust in yourself.
Now let us just be mindful, just be aware, just be alert and awake to what is happening in our mind and body from moment to moment.
Please realise that what we are doing is not to develop concentration but just learning to be aware, learning to be conscious, learning to be alert. So please don't try to achieve anything. Whatever is happening in your mind and body, just know what is happening.
If you are aware you will know that you are sitting completely still and you will feel the stillness in this room.
Now we will use our awareness to become aware of our breath. So please allow your body to breathe naturally and just be aware of the sensations, the movements you experience in the body, in your breathing.
You know when the body is inhaling. You know when the body is exhaling.
Feel friendly towards your thoughts and just return to your breath.
Experience the present moment with the help of your friend, the breath.
When the breath is long you know that the breath is long. When it is short you know that it is short. When it is deep you know it is deep. When it is not deep you know that it is not deep.
Feeling the stillness in the room, you inhale. Feeling the stillness in the room, you exhale.
If there are unpleasant sensations in the body, just learn to feel friendly and gentle towards them. Don't see them as disturbances or distractions.
We will now end with meditation of loving-kindness.
If there are unpleasant sensations in the body, how far can you make friends with them without disliking them?
If you are experiencing any unpleasant emotions, how far can you feel friendly towards them, not dislike them, not want them to go away?
If you have thoughts that you don't like, how far can you feel friendly towards them and just allow them?
If you are not resisting any of these things, there is no suffering.
[ Bell ]
Guided Standing Meditation
Now please don't think that the meditation is over. Please continue to know from moment to moment what is happening in your mind and body.
We can meditate in four postures: sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. So today we will be exploring three postures: sitting, standing and walking.
Now let us do some standing meditation. And when you stand, please stand up slowly, observing every movement while you are standing up and observing the intention to stand. And please learn to stand up slowly so that you will not be disturbing persons around you.
Now just feel what it is to stand. Feel the different sensations, the different movements in your body when you are standing.
So when thoughts come, gently let go of them and come back to the body, the sensations.
Experience the present moment with the help of your body.
Note carefully, sharply, how sensations in the body change from moment to moment.
Feel what it is to stand with your body completely still.
And can you feel the stillness around you?
Not thinking about the past, not thinking about the future.
Experiencing the present moment with the help of the sensations and stillness.
Whatever you experience in the body, just see them as just sensations, sensations arising, sensations passing away from moment to moment.
[ Bell ]
Guided Walking Meditation
Let us now explore walking meditation.
Please be aware of all the movements in your body while you are walking. Again experiencing the present moment with the help of walking, conscious walking.
Feel the different sensations, the movements in your body while you are walking.
Let go of your thoughts gently and come back to walking.
Just enjoying conscious walking.
Please don't look around. Please look at the feet of the person in front.
Can you walk as if you are walking on lotus flowers, being conscious of each step that you are taking?
Can you feel the sensations in your knees? Do you feel the sensation of your feet touching the floor?
Now please try to slow down the walking so that you can be really conscious of each step that you are taking from moment to moment.
Let go of your thoughts gently and come back to walking.
Now stand still wherever you are and please close your eyes.
We will now do sitting meditation for a short while before yoga. So please walk slowly with moment to moment awareness to where you were originally seated. Continuity of awareness from walking to sitting is very important; please have moment to moment awareness and then we will have a short period of sitting practice.
This is going to be a very short sitting, so we'll try to sit with a mind that is really alert and awake from moment to moment. And as it is a short sitting, please learn to sit without moving.
[ Bell ]
Thank you. Thank you very much. I think it was a really peaceful sitting.
[ Yoga ]
Discussion with the First Group
Godwin: We can discuss what we have been trying to do today. So we will go over some of the things we did today, and then if you have any questions you can present them.
So the first technique we practised was just being aware of whatever was happening. Does anyone have any question in relation to this?
Retreatant: When I practised walking and standing meditation I was able to be aware of the sensations and what happened at the time, but when I practised sitting this morning I had many passing thoughts and I was carried away by these passing thoughts. So later in this afternoon if we are going to have sitting again, then if I am again carried away by the passing thoughts can I do standing meditation instead of sitting, or what other suggestion would you give to me?
Godwin: Yes. Very clear question. The technique I presented, it is something very simple, just to observe the passing thoughts. Just know very clearly, very sharply, what thoughts are arising from moment to moment. So having passing thoughts should not be a problem when we have this awareness of whatever is happening.
Anything else about this technique?
Retreatant: Thank you for your teaching. Now I know that my suffering comes from my expectations, but this is my habitual pattern, this is my bad habit. How can I stop this bad habit from coming back again? That is the first question. The second part is, should I deal with this situation with sympathetic joy or with equanimity? And the third part of the question is, if I deal with it with equanimity, would there be another expectation of what I have to do?
Godwin: Well, it is quite right to say that suffering is created by our expectations and that it is a strong habit in ourselves, and this is where awareness is very important. So with awareness you catch yourself immediately when your habit patterns arise. And then realise that it is just a habit and that it is not reality. So to repeat the instructions, it is being aware and catching the habit when it arises, in whatever form, and then learning to let go of it, aware that it is just a habit, nothing else. If you can catch it as it arises it will be great because then you'll be really handling it effectively. As I often say, as we are human sometimes we might fail to catch it as it arises and we might become victims of this habit. So when that happens again just reflect on what has happened when the event is over, and then learn from what has happened. Learn to experiment with such situations.
And the best technique to work with this is, of course, awareness and equanimity as you have pointed out. Learning to have a non-reactive mind to whatever is happening. If having a non-reactive mind is another expectation you should realise: I'm trying to be non-reactive and sometimes I might succeed, but sometimes I might fail. If you can have that openness there is very little likelihood of it becoming a strong expectation.
I'm very happy that you have made a very important discovery, and I would like to say that having made this discovery, I'm sure you will have confidence in it, and make more and more discoveries, and I feel that eventually you will succeed in working with this habit pattern.
Another thing that we were doing was focusing on breathing. Now does anyone have any question, difficulties about that technique?
Retreatant: Normally when I walk in the streets there is no problem, it is very natural, but when I tried to practise walking meditation and to place the mindfulness on the feet, then I find that my walking becomes unstable.
Godwin: Actually my question was about focusing on breathing, whether there are any questions about that, but it is alright that you asked a question about walking meditation. I will try to respond to that.
It is a very interesting point that you are making, because in meditation we have to do things naturally. This is why in the meditation on breathing one has to learn to breathe naturally. In the same way, when doing walking meditation we slow down, but in slowing down one is learning to walk naturally. Whether it is breathing or walking meditation, if you try to do it differently and not naturally, then you have problems.
A very interesting point that arises from that question is that when we are meditating we feel that we should do something different, something special. If you try to do anything as if it is something special, as if it is something different, then there'll be special problems. So please realise meditation is not something special. It is something very natural. It was so beautiful when I had a session with a group of children: so natural, simple and uncomplicated.
Retreatant: I usually meditate at night at about 1:00 a.m. and I find that when I breathe my eyes appeared to be pulled inwards. When I meditate during the daytime there is no such problem. So I would like to know whether there is a difference between meditating at night and meditating in the daytime.
Godwin: It depends. If you are getting up at 1:00 a.m. I feel that maybe you are trying too hard. I am very happy that you are so motivated to start meditating at 1:00, a big plus to you! But I would like to suggest that you try to meditate between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning, or between 3:30 and 4:30 and maybe the problems that you were describing will not happen then. In most meditation centres in Sri Lanka, we get up around 3:30, 4:00, or 4:30. And I think it is very important that we should get enough sleep, of course depending on the individual.
There is time for one more question.
Retreatant: When we meditate and focus on the breathing, sometimes we may find that the air around is polluted. For example, when somebody is cooking nearby and there are smells the focusing would be disturbed by the smells or polluted air. So what should we do under those circumstances? Should we stop meditating or what?
Godwin: No, I would suggest you continue with the meditation, because it might be difficult to find a place where there is no pollution. And the problem is not with the smell of food but the problem is with ourselves. If we can find ideal places where there is nice air, where there is no smell of food, that is very good. But does that mean that we should not meditate in places where there is smell of food and not very pure air?
So in relation to the smell of food, when you get the smell of food, what you can observe is what are the thoughts that you have in relation to the smell of food. It will be a very good insight when you get the smell of food but it is only smelling and there is no reaction to the smell that you are getting. So if that happens you have a very important insight, a glimpse, that the problem is not with what is happening externally but what is happening inside us.
What is beautiful about meditation is that the so-called distractions and disturbances become our teachers. Rather than waste such situations we should learn to see how far even under those circumstances we can meditate, and this will give us lots of self-confidence, and will be a very important breakthrough.
And if we meditate in a place where there is pure air, where there is no smell of food, do we think there won't be any problems for us? Then we might have other problems!
Thank you very much for the useful questions that have been asked. What struck me was all the questions were asked by ladies. I hope the men do not have any problems!
Discussion with the Second Group
Godwin: Do you have any questions about what we have been trying to do today?
Retreatant: When we sit, is there a posture which we must stick to?
Godwin: I would say the ideal posture would be the cross-legged posture, but even in the cross-legged posture there are variations, like the lotus posture is one type of posture; half-lotus is another. But with whatever posture you choose, it is important is to have your spine erect, because when you have your spine erect it is very easy to become alert and awake and really be conscious. So this is where sometimes yoga exercises can help you to work with your posture. In the afternoon session, if you have any problems or difficulties with the sitting posture, please ask the yoga master and he will help you with the sitting posture. And here again what is important is to have a posture where you can feel relaxed. This is very important. To be mentally and physically relaxed when you meditate is extremely important.
Retreatant: Can you kindly repeat what you have said about focusing on the breathing, because I was not here on the night that you were talking about focusing on breathing.
Godwin: Very briefly: first it is allowing the body to breathe naturally, and then to be aware of the sensations you feel within the area of the nostrils and other parts of the body when the body is breathing. And it is just simple, using the in-breath and the out-breath to develop awareness and to be in the present moment.
Retreatant: When I meditate and after I have completely relaxed I find my eyes usually become moist and tears flow out. I would like to know what is happening in that situation.
Godwin: I'm happy to hear that you feel relaxed when you meditate. And then when you are relaxed if something is happening in the eyes, just know that it is happening. When we meditate we really don't know what is going to happen in our mind and body. So many different things can happen in our mind and body. And if you ask the question: Why is this happening to me? Is it the right thing or the wrong thing? then if it is right or if it is wrong, it creates more problems and it creates more suffering. So meditation is something very, very simple. Whatever is happening, you just observe, you just know, and then continue meditating and then something else is bound to happen.
Retreatant: I would like to ask questions about the Four Sublime States, not about meditation. I work in a coroner's court as a clerk, and whenever I read reports on the cases, in each case there is a deceased person. He or she may have been killed in an accident or he or she might have committed suicide. Whatever the cause of death, when I read the reports I have to write down his or her age, occupation, address, and the reason for death, etc. and there is a code for each age, occupation, and so on. When I do this, I found that no matter whether a person is young or old, man or woman, there is a lot of suffering and it is because of these sufferings that they have committed suicide or because of some negligence that they have been involved in accidents.
So whenever I write in the file I feel pain in my heart, and sometimes what I do is to do some reciting like "Namo Tassa..." and then the pain may become a little bit less. I also found that my mind expands on the situation, thinking that the person who has committed suicide must have suffered a lot before committing the act and even afterwards in his next life he may have to go to a place where he has to continue with the suffering, so I become very unhappy. I would like to know how to handle this situation. Should I try to lessen the pain or should I just allow the pain to go on?
Godwin: I'll give a simple suggestion. You can think of the person, doesn't matter how old, how young, whatever the circumstances and then think of that person wherever that person may be: May he or she be well, may he or she be happy, may he or she be peaceful, may he or she be free of suffering. So in place of the pain, in place of the grief, instead of suffering you will be developing loving-kindness for that person. It will be good for you and it will be good for that person.
Retreatant: Most of the time when I meditate I find that it is very difficult to relax because there are many passing thoughts. So what is your suggestion?
Godwin: What is wrong with passing thoughts? There is nothing wrong with passing thoughts. Or do you think that you should not be having passing thoughts? Then you get upset and you cannot relax. Today I repeatedly mentioned, please make friends with your thoughts, please make friends with your emotions, please make friends with your sensations. I can't understand why meditators hate their passing thoughts! Poor thoughts!
When we don't meditate passing thoughts are no problem, but when we are meditating we want to have no passing thoughts! So when you're not meditating, even though there are passing thoughts you feel very relaxed; but when you're meditating you can't relax because of the passing thoughts! Aren't we funny? See what we are doing in the name of meditation. Please see this very clearly.
Retreatant: Previously I have practised some other kind of breathing where my breathing is not natural. Now I would like to practise natural breathing but I find that because of this change in my breathing pattern during the sitting, my body becomes stiff and even my skin is affected. I would like you to give some suggestions as to what I should do.
Godwin: Now when you are seated in this posture I'm sure you're breathing. Is that creating a problem? No. So when you sit in meditation also there is nothing special. Most of these questions are very interesting for me, in that when you meditate you see it as something different, something special. There is a meditation master in Sri Lanka who says that when you sit, if you aim for something special you will have special problems!
Please realise that meditation is a way of living. Please realise that meditation is not only when you are sitting. As I said, whether it is sitting, standing, walking, lying down, in any situation one has to practise the meditation of just being aware. Then meditation becomes natural, then meditation becomes part of us, then all these questions about what happens in sitting may not arise.
I think we have time for one last question.
Retreatant: The first question is that when I was younger I was able to sit cross-legged but now I am much older I cannot sit cross-legged. So I would like to ask whether I can meditate in the posture in which I am now sitting. The second question is that I practise visualisation and I visualise some deity or Bodhisatta, and there was a night when I saw a deity coming down from the sky, I would like to ask whether this phenomenon is O.K. or not.
Godwin: First question. You are looking very beautiful, very peaceful when you are sitting on the chair.
Retreatant: So when I sit like this, can my feet touch the ground?
Godwin: The way you are sitting now is perfect.
Retreatant: I am now 91 years old.
Godwin: I'm very impressed and inspired that at 91 you could be sitting so beautifully on the chair and that you could so clearly ask these questions.
About the second question, I am very sorry, I have not practised visualisation meditation. I'm sure you must have a teacher who is teaching you about visualisation, so I think you should ask the question from your teacher. I'm very sorry.
Retreatant: The teacher who taught me visualisation has passed away.
Godwin: Then I will try to offer some suggestions. So when you visualise, when you have pleasant visualisations or even when you have unpleasant visualisations, just try to have a mind that is equanimous in both situations. And I am sure you will be able to do that.
Thank you very much.
Discussion with the Third Group
Godwin: Are there any questions?
Retreatant: When I have negative feelings and thoughts while I sit in meditation, how can I be friends with them and deal with them?
Godwin: One suggestion is to please see it as an opportunity, as a learning experience, because it is extremely important and valuable for us to learn about unpleasant emotions.
The second suggestion is, as I have been saying this morning, how far can we make friends with them, how far can we say I don't feel O.K. but it is O.K. not to feel O.K?
And the third suggestion is to try to find out, try to learn what exactly is negative, unpleasant about it. Is it a thought, is it a sensation, is it an emotion? Trying really to look deeply into what you consider to be negativity.
Another tool is to think of our friend the breath at that time. Or as we did this morning while standing, just become conscious of the sensations in the body. Just being with the breath, just being with the sensations; and then if we can just be with the breath and with the sensations we might have fewer thoughts and this will help us to really create space around the unpleasant emotion we are experiencing.
The next tool is to realise that whatever arises passes away. What is funny is that if we have an unpleasant emotion, if we tell the unpleasant emotion: don't leave me, don't go, what will happen? it won't stay. Or even if we say: stay with me, it will change. So we have no control. These things arise, these things pass away. So just to be open to that important aspect of what the Buddha taught.
Another very important point is that when these unpleasant emotions are not there, just to know that they are not there. Because everything is changing, sometimes we have pleasant emotions, sometimes we have unpleasant emotions. We won't be having all pleasant emotions nor will we be having all unpleasant emotions. So to be open to both and know when they are there and when they are not there.
And the last tool is to realise that these are visitors that come to our mind. So you must be a very good host, and let these visitors come and let these visitors go. So when visitors come, as a good host you must say: Hello, welcome. Make friends with them and talk to them. Why have you come? What can I learn from you? And when they leave, say: Goodbye. Come back again later!
So in this way we can learn to play with their coming and going. Then rather than see them as problems, you see them as very interesting situations, challenges, working with these interesting visitors we have. And there is a very deep Buddhist insight which understands that these visitors do not belong to us. The problem arises when we think they belong to us and say, this is my sadness, this is my anxiety. So I hope you will wait for these visitors to come and then learn to use some of these tools. Then you can develop lots of self-confidence, and when they arise you know what to do.
Retreatant: I want to share some experience on how to make friends with unpleasant experiences.
Godwin: Please do so.
Retreatant: At the beginning I think it may be difficult for us to welcome unpleasant experiences. When they come we will not like them, but I think reflection is very important. After the unpleasant experience has gone, we can reflect on the situation and gradually we will discover that we can really learn a lot from unpleasant experiences and that they are really our great teachers. Then gradually we will even welcome unpleasant experiences. So I think reflection is very important.
Godwin: So I hope that those who have problems with unpleasant emotions will have the experience of learning to make friends with their emotions.
Retreatant: When I meditate it's not necessarily the case that there are unpleasant or pleasant sensations. Sometimes there are practical questions which arise which need to be answered. For example, in daily life there are things which we need to handle. As you said, we should respond to them but not react. So when those questions arise, should we think about the solution during the meditation? Because it is very natural that when such questions arise we need to think how to handle them. So can we think whilst we meditate?
Godwin: Yes, a useful question. So this brings up an important technique in meditation which is called reflection.
Reflection is using thoughts in a very creative way. Usually we use thoughts destructively to create our own suffering, but here when you use thought creatively you're using it to work with the suffering, all kinds of suffering. So what is important is that with a mind that is calm, with a mind that is clear, you start to reflect on the problem you are having. And a very interesting exercise is to see that problem, to see that situation, from different angles. Usually we see only one or two aspects of the problem, but when we reflect in this way we can see so many areas, so many aspects of this problem that we are reflecting on. So this in itself becomes a meditation, and from this a solution to the problem may arise in this kind of meditative reflection.
Retreatant: Master, when we practise having a non-reactive mind and we have a negative feeling arise, we try to overcome this negative involvement, for example, worries or negative emotions. Won't we then become like a piece of wood, or lose interest in life or lose the ambition to succeed? Is there a problem here?
Godwin: In relation to unpleasant emotions, I offered many tools. So when I offered the tools I never spoke about a non-reactive mind. Working with unpleasant emotions you should not have the idea that you will have a non-reactive mind. In which case I should have just said there is only one tool, a non-reactive mind. I didn't say that.
In Sri Lanka, people who suffer from grief because they have lost a son in the war, or something similar, I can't tell them: Just have a non-reactive mind. It doesn't work. So I tell them that it is natural that you have grief. We all have grief in us, it is quite natural. And then I would try to work with them, using the different tools that I mentioned.
I think maybe the problem with the question is with the phrase, non-reaction; you feel that you do not need to take any action. Is that the problem you have? Is that what is worrying you?
Retreatant: No. If we are non-reactive to things, to outside circumstances there may be a danger that we would have no feelings, and as a result, not be interested in anything else.
Godwin: Yesterday, and for a couple of days I have been speaking about Metta, Karuna, Mudita, and Upekkha. And I said that they are really making an effort to open our heart because they are all qualities of the heart. So firstly when you have Metta you learn to open your heart to yourself, feeling for yourself. Then when you have Metta for others, you really open your heart to others. So you're relating to others with warmth. And the second quality that I mentioned was Karuna which means really feeling for the suffering of others. Really feeling concern and
care for others. So if you do not have feelings, you cannot care and have concern for others. And in the same way, if you do not care for yourself then you don't have Karuna for yourself.
Also I have been emphasising so much the importance of joy and lightness. And joy and lightness are nothing but aspects of the heart, feelings. As for a non-reactive mind, maybe I could use a different phrase, that is: to be cool, but without being cold. So I would like to tell my friend not to use the word "non-reactive" but to use the words "cool but not cold". Is it clear now?
Retreatant: Can you give us some idea how to try to maintain joy and compassion and warmth towards people you see day in and day out who are negative. I find it very difficult. I get swallowed up in their negativity after a while, and I can't help them and then I can't help myself.
Godwin: Although it is time for yoga, I will still respond to that question because it is a very important question. Because I think everyone here can relate to that question. In everyday life sometimes we are forced to deal with people whom we consider to be negative, maybe starting with your husband or wife, or more probably the boss. So what do we do when we have to relate to such people? Fortunately or unfortunately, we can't avoid them, so we can't escape from them. Then what do we do? I will give some suggestions.
First suggestion is, don't be surprised. Why? Because they are unenlightened beings just like yourself. So it is very important to realise that we are living in a world which is full of imperfect human beings, including ourselves. Putting it in stronger language, according to the Buddha until we are enlightened we are all crazy. We are crazy in the sense that no-one can claim that they can always see things just as they are. We all see things subjectively, not objectively. In this sense we are all crazy, and so we are living in a crazy world. So when you see imperfections in everyday life, whether arising in yourself or in others, please don't be surprised.
The second suggestion is that when you see imperfection in others, try to remind yourself: I am also imperfect like that person. Otherwise we have a self-righteous attitude: I am perfect, the other person is imperfect. I am positive, the other person is negative. Is there anyone here who is always positive? Are you always positive? So just to realise: Now the other person is negative, so I can also sometimes behave like that. Then you become more and more humble.
The third suggestion is to try to see them as your gurus, as your teachers, as your masters. I would like to mention now that I have been called a master but I would like to see myself as a spiritual friend and not as a master. But when you see negative people, please see them as masters. Why? Because the master is showing you a mirror. So what to do when you are getting angry? Use the mirror and look at your face reflected in the mirror. Whichever way the master is behaving, look at your own emotions. What are the emotions that are coming? I'm giving that person a minus. See I'm getting angry, I'm getting annoyed, I'm getting agitated. See all the emotions that are arising thanks to the master. The function of a good master is to try to test whether you are good meditators. So this master is testing you whether you are a good meditator.
And then one thing that is very difficult but very interesting to do is: can you see the master as if for the first time? Sometimes we come to a conclusion that this person is a negative person. So everytime we see that person we relate to him with that conclusion, with that prejudice, with that bias. Sometimes we see what we want to see. So poor master, even if the poor master is behaving in a positive way we think how negative that person is: see the way that person is looking at me! Because we only see what we want to see.
And the last suggestion is to ask the master what are the negative things you can see in me? That will be very revealing. Thank you very much. Enjoy the yoga.
[ Yoga ]
Guided Meditation on Thoughts
Godwin: So we will now try to meditate on our thoughts, because in the discussion there were people who were having difficulties with thoughts. So let us learn to meditate on thoughts.
So just learning to observe, just learning to watch the thoughts that arise and the thoughts that pass away in our mind.
Let us learn to make friends with our thoughts. To observe them very sharply, very clearly.
Let us see how far we can observe the thoughts without judging them. No plus, no minus. Just letting thoughts come and letting thoughts go again.
If you are judging the thoughts, just know that you are judging them. And see the difference when you are judging and when you are not judging the thoughts.
If some of you are having difficulties with unpleasant emotions, can you allow them to arise now if there is a need for them to arise. Sadness, fear, anxiety, depression, whatever you don't like, let them arise now.
If there are no such unpleasant emotions, just to know that they are not there, and if they are there, just to know that they are there and then to make friends with them.
[ Bell ]
Meditation in Daily Life
So I will offer some suggestions on how to integrate meditation with daily life.
One can see meditation as a medicine for the sickness that we create ourselves. The first point to be very clear about in your mind is: are you really interested in taking the medicine? Have you really made a commitment to take the medicine? Because if you have really made a commitment to take the medicine, you can never say I forgot to take the medicine or I have no time to take the medicine. You all have different priorities in life but where does this taking the medicine figure in your list of priorities? This is a very important point to be clear about. This is the first point I would like to make.
The second point is, as you know, we have been emphasising the importance of just knowing, just being aware, just finding out what is happening to us especially in our daily life. So one has to make an effort, a sincere effort during the day to try to be aware, to try to be conscious of what is happening to you. Maybe a good time to do this is in the morning.
Now just as you wake up in the morning - you may have lots of things to do - but just as you wake up, can you spend a few minutes meditating, even while lying down on your bed? I mean, it would be ideal if you could do some sitting meditation in the morning even for a short time, but let us assume that you are too busy. But at least while still lying down spend 5 minutes in the lying-down posture and start the day with loving-kindness meditation, just feeling friendly towards yourself and maybe radiating thoughts of loving-kindness. And it is useful to make a wish: During the day may I get an opportunity to practise loving-kindness, Karuna, Mudita and the other things that we have been discussing. So this is a beautiful way to begin the day. It won't take more than 5 or 10 minutes.
Then there are certain things that we have to do in the morning. However busy you are, I think everyone will brush their teeth in the morning. No one will say I don't have time to brush my teeth. Now here again, can we just practise a little awareness, mindfulness when we are brushing our teeth, just as an example? What happens when we brush our teeth? Again, we have thoughts. We hardly know we are brushing our teeth. This becomes a very strong habit in us. As it is a strong habit, thoughts will come. So with awareness, knowing thoughts are arising, knowing thoughts are coming, just learn to let go of the thoughts and come back to brushing, the conscious brushing of your teeth.
However much you are busy, you are bound to go to the toilet. It is interesting that in the main text in which the Buddha described how we should develop awareness, it says that when you are in the toilet, try to be aware, try to be conscious of what is happening while you are in the toilet. I call this toilet meditation! If you are really interested, if you are really motivated, if you really want to take the medicine, even if you are so busy at least you will have time to do toilet meditation.
Then I think you will definitely be having breakfast. I won't be telling you to eat breakfast in silence because it is not possible. But at least spend one minute before you start eating breakfast feeling grateful. Maybe someone has prepared the breakfast for you. It is beautiful to feel grateful for that person. Or even if you have prepared breakfast yourself, just feel grateful that today I prepared breakfast myself and now I'm eating my breakfast. Just to develop this quality of feeling grateful. This is a very important aspect, a very important spiritual quality.
Then to make an effort while eating your breakfast, at least occasionally, to come back to awareness, just to come back to tasting, just to come back to chewing and swallowing. Just make an effort to do that.
Then what happens? Maybe you have to go to work. Now work is a very interesting place, with many interesting challenges. A very important aspect in the place of work, and also in everyday life, is the problem of relationships. How to relate to the people around you. Because as I said, we live in an imperfect human world. So all the time we have to encounter, we have to have relationships with imperfect human beings. What we can try to do, as I suggested earlier, is to try to learn from them.
The importance of meditation, the importance of awareness, is trying to watch your own mind when relating to others. And it is natural that you sometimes have unpleasant emotions in relating to people, so don't be surprised. This is the importance of awareness. This is the importance of watching. This is the importance of learning. And then to see how we can work with these emotions, how we can understand them, how we can let go of them.
Supposing at some time we are unable to do that and we get angry, we get annoyed, we show our anger, we express our anger. What happens when we do this? Again, please don't be surprised. Please learn not to give yourself a minus. This is very important. If you do not have the time then, when you go back home, or when you have a little space, what you can do is reflect on what really happened. As I said earlier this reflection, this exploration, has to be done in a very friendly, gentle way and not in a harsh, hard way, being extremely critical of yourself and seeing yourself as a failure.
So this would be a very creative way of living, where we really learn from our mistakes. Our mistakes become an area for our spiritual growth. I would like to suggest that rather than give yourself a minus, please give yourself a plus. You deserve a big plus because you are learning from them, you are trying to use them as part of your spiritual growth. So shouldn't we rejoice for this learning and growing and our efforts to do this? Feel grateful for such an opportunity.
This does not mean allowing others to do whatever they like, allowing yourself to be exploited. Sometimes, in certain situations, we need to be assertive, we need to be firm because some people only understand that language. So here again you very deliberately, consciously decide: now I'm going to be very firm, I'm going to be assertive in relation to this person. You do it with complete awareness. I know some meditation teachers, some meditation masters who pretend they are getting angry with their students in order to awaken their students. So it can be used as a tool, it can be used as a device.
And I also would like to suggest that during the day, especially if you are very busy, just try to take very brief breaks to spend some time with yourself. You don't have to leave the place of work and you can still be seated on your chair and you can even have your eyes open so no one really knows what is happening. And then please spend some time with your friend, the breath. Even for 5 minutes, it will create space in your mind. Even for 5 minutes, whatever the build-up that is happening in your office, or whatever you are doing, there can be some recovery and some space and this will really help you. And of course you have the freedom when in the office also to do some toilet meditation where you can be completely alone, secluded.
So during the day, whatever emotions arise, whatever states of mind arise - and they are bound to arise in a place where it is busy and so on - what we have to do is to make them the objects of meditation.
And when you go back home maybe you'll be too tired to meditate, so at least spend 10 minutes, maybe not in the cross-legged posture but just lying down or seated on a chair, and just reflect on how you spent the day. Try to do this reflection in a very friendly, gentle way: Now how did I spend the day today? What were the times when I had unpleasant emotions? What were the times when they were not there? This is equally important. Sometimes you might be surprised that for the whole day you were angry only once. So this can really help you to understand, to discover about yourself, about how you are relating to yourself, how you are relating to others. And this can naturally bring about a transformation in oneself.
Maybe another point related to this is, as I have indicated earlier - it's a really powerful, very practical, direct practice - is to see the Four Noble Truths in everyday life. It would be really excellent, it would be wonderful if when you are suffering during the day you could remind yourself, here I am experiencing the Buddha's First Noble Truth. If you can tell yourself this, if you can remind yourself of it you'll see you'll be relating to that suffering in an entirely different way.
And then you can really move from that to the Second Noble Truth: Now let me see, in what way am I creating my own suffering? And then you can use the Third Noble Truth and the Fourth Noble Truth in the same way. During the day just find out when you are free, when there is no suffering, and then explore: Now there is no suffering; what is the reason why there is no suffering? So if you can really learn to use the Four Noble Truths in daily life in this practical, simple, direct way, you'll be living the Buddha's teaching whether you are suffering or whether you are not suffering. Isn't that a beautiful way to live?
Maybe a few more practical suggestions. In the Buddha's teaching spiritual friends are very much emphasised. You are very fortunate here that you have many groups doing meditation. So it is good to join one such group and it is good to cultivate friendships with spiritual and noble friends.
Spiritual friendship is learning to grow together. I was speaking about relationships earlier. In the relationships you have with different people, if you can also see them as spiritual friends, again it is a very positive way of relating to others. Anyway, if there are meditation groups around, please join one of them.
Another helpful suggestion is to read about the Buddha's teaching. So here again there are some very valuable books that have been translated and I think some of them are already distributed here. So it is good to read them and good to reflect on them. This can really inspire us and can also be an incentive for us to practise, and this would be reminding ourselves of the importance of taking the medicine.
I would like to pause now and if you have any questions please ask them. I feel the kind of question that might be more valuable is if you can present me with your difficulties and say: Now in this situation, how can a meditator respond? So if you have such situations, such difficulties in your everyday life, we might be able to discuss such situations.
Questions and Answers
Retreatant: Master, I would like to ask if when we are sick and we are suffering from great pain or other things, can we still practise meditation? Because I think at that time we are not in a fit state of mind.
Godwin: So if I understood the question correctly, it means there are certain situations where we are really overwhelmed by emotions, where there is lot of suffering and it is not possible to think of meditation at that time.
So what I would suggest is that you can wait until you recover from that state of mind. It does not matter how long it takes. And then, as I suggested earlier, you can look back, you can reflect: Now what really happened to me? What really made me go through that physical and mental suffering? What can I learn from that experience? And maybe this is the importance of spiritual friends: maybe at that moment, if you have a spiritual friend, it is something very wholesome, very skilful, just to share your suffering with another person. This is how we help each other.
Any other question?
Retreatant: I occasionally join talks on Buddhism like this one and I sit and meditate occasionally. There was an experience when I was sitting, I felt that some force or very strong sensation rose in my abdomen up towards my heart and it made me very uncomfortable. And then emotion arose and I cried. Can you comment on this phenomenon?
Godwin: As I said this morning, when we meditate we really don't know what is going to happen. As with you, the most unexpected things can happen. So when such things happen, please don't be surprised, and please don't blame yourself. Please don't give that experience a big minus. As I said this morning, please don't try to analyse it. Sometimes we cannot understand it intellectually. So what we can do is just to know it. This is the beauty of awareness. This is why the Buddha said this is the only way. Just to realise this is what is happening to me, and just to be with it. And as I said, if it is very unpleasant you can say: I don't really feel O.K. but it's O.K. not to feel O.K. Just really feel it, just really say this.
And the last point, and I consider it as a very important point, is that meditation is also learning to work with unpleasant experiences. Please realise that meditation does not mean having only positive experiences, pleasant experiences, experiences we are happy with. So I would like to repeat that unpleasant experiences are extremely valuable, extremely useful, if you can really learn from them, if you can see them as objects for meditation rather than seeing them as something strange, unusual and so on. So please make such experiences the objects of meditation.
Sometimes I consider such unpleasant experiences more valuable than so-called pleasant experiences. There are no problems with pleasant experiences. In that sense, such unpleasant experiences are valuable because you learn to handle them when they arise. And this is exactly what happens in life. Suddenly we find ourselves with an unexpected situation in life: same principle. So you see the importance of learning to handle such situations when you are meditating so that if such events were to arise externally you learn to do the same. This is why in the Dhamma it is said you should meditate internally and externally: same principle, same solution.
Retreatant: I was told by somebody that it is very important for us to choose the right type of meditation. May I ask, are there any schools of meditation which are evil and others which are not evil, and how can we distinguish these types of schools? And what are the criteria for us to chose the right master?
Godwin: I would like to quote a very inspiring text from the Buddha. The Buddha was asked the same question. There are many teachers, there are many methods, we are confused. Please help us, Buddha. The Buddha said: Please do not accept anything just because it is said in the traditions. Please do not accept anything just because it is written down in the scriptures. Please do not accept anything just because it sounds logical and reasonable. This is the important point: Don't even accept when a teacher says something. So please don't just accept what I am saying also!
The Buddha said only when you see for yourself from your own experience what is creating suffering, what is creating happiness, that is the right way for you to practise. So the real teacher is your own experience. To see whether the medicine is working or whether the medicine is not working. So you have to see it for yourself. I am so amazed and I am so inspired by this very radical teaching of the Buddha.
Retreatant: Can meditation cure insomnia?
Godwin: I work with people who suffer from insomnia. It is interesting that in the teaching on loving-kindness the Buddha speaks of eleven benefits of meditation on loving-kindness and three of them are related to sleep. So with loving-kindness you sleep peacefully, you wake up peacefully, and you don't have unpleasant dreams, nightmares and so on. So when I meet people who suffer from insomnia what I tell them is, before they fall asleep to try to practise loving-kindness, and I have found that this generally helps in working with insomnia.
Retreatant: If we go to sleep very late, we feel very tired mentally and when we meditate we feel like going to sleep most of the time. In that situation when the tiredness is so overwhelming, is it right that we should not force ourselves to continue with the sitting and should just go to sleep?
Godwin: What I would suggest is that when you wake up and you find that you have not had enough sleep and yet you really want to meditate, what can be attempted is not to do sitting meditation straight away, but maybe do walking meditation or yoga. This is the importance of yoga, some physical exercises where you try to wake up physically and mentally with such exercises.
And maybe another suggestion is to take a very cold shower. This will also help you to wake up physically and mentally. And then try to sit with your eyes open.
These suggestions may help you, hopefully.
Now it's time for chanting and loving-kindness meditation. So before we start to chant, let us create some space in our minds. A few minutes of just feeling the peace, listening to the sounds.
[ Chanting ]
May I thank everyone of you for showing such interest and motivation in the practice. It has been something very inspiring and impressive for me.
I would also like to thank the excellent organisation. By Sri Lankan standards it was very efficient and excellent, quite wonderful.
And I would also like to thank the teacher who taught us yoga.
In conclusion I would like to thank the wonderful nuns here and those who have taken care of me during my stay. I was really touched and moved by the generosity, kindness, and friendliness which they showed to me.
And I would like to express my deep appreciation to the three interpreters. I'm sure they must have improved on what I said! One of the visitors to the nunnery, who is well-placed in the education department, said she was so impressed with the three interpreters she wanted to get more details about them!
And in conclusion, I hope that everyone, with lots of concern and care, will continue to take the medicine and then through taking that medicine find a way out of the suffering that we have created for ourselves.