Questions and Answers

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Answers by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Bill McKeever to common questions:

Q Since I've begun sitting my mind seems much busier with thoughts. Can meditation have the opposite effect than the goal?

When we sit still, we experience—perhaps for the first time—the real state of our mind. Most of us are shocked at how busy our minds are. Such a welter of discursive thoughts, a vortex.. You may be amazed b this and wonder if meditation is actually bad for you.

The simplicity of meditation unmasks how much gobbledygook is going on all the time. Meditation texts have many images for what we discover: a waterfall of thoughts, babbling brook, violent cascade… The first thing we often discover is how unbelievanbly discursive, how fickle we are.

Q Is it really alright if I can only sit ten minutes a day regularly?

Setting your goals and holding to them is most important. Better not to be unrealistically ambitious.Ten to fifteen minutes a day, even a few times a week, is a lot better than nothing.

The difference between zero and ten minutes is a quantum leap bigger than between ten minutes and ten hours.

Why is that? If we can’t ever sit — if we can’t ever do it — it’s because we’re be driven by and following after our thoughts as if they’re all real. And if we can stop for ten minutes and get some perspective on our minds and step outside the momentum our thoughts and emotions, that’s a big deal.

We've emphasized over and over again in this course the importance of taking the posture, of expressing the intention, "I'm going to practice for ten minutes." Of course if you can do ten minutes you might be able to do a bit longer. The important thing is to commit and try.

Q What are the benefits of long-term retreat?

Q Is it important to find a group to meditate with?

Many people find a balance is most productive. Most of us find it’s hard to establish a practice on our own. Some people have strong individual discipline. Many find the practice slips away and that a group's support and schedule help.

Group practice is supportive, but you don’t want to be dependent on a group either. So a balance is ideal. In a group when you experience a time when you really can’t stand it any more, you don’t leave because no one else is leaving. At home you’d be out of there –lured by the refrigerator, the telephone, out the front door, whatever it is. But solitary practice is also important, because you have to mix it with your life.

Setting up a space at home that’s supportive helps maintain your practice. This doesn’t have to be a separate meditation room, but create a place where your immediiate visual field is not too cluttered and distracting sounds and objects.

Q I want to sit, at least I think I do. What I've read and heard in this course makes so much sense. But I find myself avoiding and sometimes even dreading sitting.

While making friends with yourself sounds sounds quite nice, warm and fuzzy, when it comes down to it there’s a huge amount of ambivelance and avoidance. It’s a challenge to work with our mind, If there was a part of our body that was as undisciplined as our mind, we’d be in a hospital, we’d be at the doctor’s office or the gym. We try to rest our mind, it won’t rest. When you try to find it it hides. When we want to go to sleep it wakes up, When we want to be awake it goes to sleep.

Q I really look forward to my meditiaton time. But then when the time comes I have trouble sitting down and settling.

When you stay you want to go, when you go you want to stay. When your situation is like that, the best pace for you is the meditation cushion.

Tibetan saying

Q How does my peacefulness help the rest of the world?

If we can extend lovingkindness, compassion and clarity to ourselves it inevitably spills out to the rest of our world. And If we’re driven by pain, anxiety, neuroses, conflict internally it inevitably spills out into the world. If the world is run by mean-spirited, angry, scared people, it’s going to be a scary, mean aggressive world. If the world run by people who are kind and confident and clear and willing to take a chance, it can be a very different world.

Q Sometimes I feel like I'm really taming my mind in meditation. Sometimes I experience what I'd call bliss states. Then the next day my mind is out of control and I feel like I'm getting nowhere.

Q Sometimes it feels worse than just getting nowhere. How about taking a break if it's really bad?

Q One of the antidotes is effort and this course has encouraged effort and determination. Sometimes I feel I am being lazy. But other times — maybe as my own antdote to my laziness — I feel I'm trying too hard.

When we begin meditation practice, you may experience the obstacle of trying too hard.
We think meditation practice is something special or different, that we’ve got to twist or shape force ourself into something we’re not. The entire point of meditation is to tune ourselves in to the innate wakefulness that’s already there.

Because that’s the point of meditation practice, because it’s that’s direction we’re going in, one of the most important instructions is to relax. Relax. This is not an invitation to flop.

In conventional life there’s often a dichotomy between work and play, between exertion and relaxation. And often exertion has a of connotation of pain or obligation, and rest a connotation of floping and relief and we go back and forth between the two

Buddhism is known as the middle way between extremes, and sitting meditation practice exemplifies this. There’s a sense of relaxation but it’s relaxation with a sense of precision, presence, developing a gentle affection and interest in our experience moment to moment.