Meditation

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When you do a long period of meditation without intensity, you're habituating yourself to dullness. So frequent short periods of cultivation are best.

Meditation means to familiarize with, get used to, make a habit. You are seeking to regularize the practice so that it has a chance to affect everyday behavior, and to accomplish this, short periods of meditation are much better than long ones. The reason is that an intensity of purpose can be retained throughout a short session. When you do a long period of meditation without intensity, you're habituating yourself to dullness. So frequent short periods of cultivation are best.

The only way compassion can become genuine and spontaneous is through training—through getting used to it. Part of developing familiarity is learning to realize as consciously as possible how the attitude we are cultivating seems to disagree with the present drift of our minds. If we merely placed a superficial overlay of thought on top of our actual feelings, we would not transform them but would repress them. Repression doesn't work. What we avoid comes out in some other way. We have to face what we dislike. Often, however, we practice our dislikes so strongly that we cannot set them aside even for a moment.

Reflect on this: do you practice your dislikes so strongly that you cannot set them aside even for a moment?

Here's an example: many of us have a strained relationship with our parents, but there was a time when Mommy and Daddy were the greatest things in the whole universe. What keeps us from remembering them like that even for a few moments? The continual destructive thoughts that we habitually direct toward them.

If this example doesn't work for you, find one that does.

So it's important to keep in mind that developing compassion takes a tremendous amount of training of the mind with incremental progress.

Although in meditation there are often sudden leaps to truly grand feelings, they are temporary. What is important over the long run is a steady progression.

A good way to facilitate this progress is through discussing and sharing obstacles and successes with others. I often conduct group sessions in which I lead people through the series of meditations, starting with equanimity and culminating in generating compassion. We do a particular exercise, and then I'll ask, "What new feelings did you have?" From someone else's description of success, you may intuit how to break through a blockage about a person toward whom you can't even think, "That person wants happiness and doesn't want suffering." By hearing about and thus imagining another's success, it increases your own progress. If you are bored with trying to cultivate compassion toward people who are neutral to you—who have neither helped nor harmed you—it can be most helpful and inspiring to hear from another person who is having just the opposite experience: "Wow! It was amazing to extend the recognition of wanting happiness and not wanting suffering to so-and-so at work." Furthermore, when you talk about your own blocks, the very fact that you bring it up opens your mind to a solution. Talking out the obstacles usually doesn't remove them, but it does start a movement toward amelioration.

Occasionally you might get stuck in a stupor and wonder, "What am I doing here? What is it I was doing?" It might take time for you to remember, "Oh, I was supposed to be cultivating compassion." Whenever you find that your mind has wandered, bring it gently back to the topic.

"But I don't have the time."
If you are worried about adding a regular practice to your already hectic routine, rest assured that meditating on compassion need not take up hours of your day. When I first went to Dharamsala, India, in 1972, the Dalai Lama was giving a series of lectures, in the midst of which he conducted a refuge ceremony that subsequently required all of us to take refuge six times a day, through thoughtful repetition of a formula: "I go for refuge to Buddha, his doctrine, and the spiritual community until I am enlightened. Through the merit of my charity, ethics, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom, may I achieve Buddhahood for the sake of all beings." Initially I thought, "How can I possibly take refuge six times a day? I don't have enough time." But of course I had time; it's just that I wasn't used to it. It takes all of fifteen seconds. Anyone can find three minutes here and there throughout the day.