The Practice of Shamatha

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One of the main obstacles to thoroughly enjoying meditation is aches and pains. Our knees throb, our back aches, our shoulders feel tight. The possibility of pain is enough of a deterrent to keep some people from practicing in the first place. I often encounter people who assume that the meditation posture is supposed to be painful. That's unfortunate, because it is meant to feel good. Bodily pain is not a mandatory aspect of meditation.

Peaceful abiding is not restricted to our emotional state; meditation relaxes our whole being, which of course includes the body.

In order to make the journey of meditation, we have to include our body in our practice and allow it to loosen up as the mind relaxes.

Creating a practice routine

Once we've settled into our posture, we make a clear and precise beginning to our practice. Its not necessary to do this with a gong or a bell, the way Buddhists traditionally do; you can just say to yourself something like, "Now I will begin to work with my mind and develop peaceful abiding."

You can start by sitting for ten minutes once a day. If you want to make your session longer, expand it to twenty minutes. If you want to sit more than once, try sandwiching your day between one session in the morning and one in the evening. If you can't practice every day, choose three or four days a week for practice and stay with this schedule. If you're temporarily busier than usual—working on a big project or taking exams, for example—adjust your sitting schedule accordingly and stick with it. Consistency is important.

Lesson 10 for more on establishing a practice routine

At the end don’t jump up

At the end of your session try not to just jump up and rush back into your daily activities. Enjoy the space that has been created by your meditation, and arise. Perhaps you'll feel a little more fresh, clear, and peaceful than before you started.

The Support of a group and an instructor

As meditation becomes part of your life, you might encounter obstacles and questions. It's helpful to have the support of more experienced practitioners who have come face-to-face with similar issues. A meditation instructor can give you tips on aspects of practice that you find difficult. Talking about your experiences with someone else and being part of a community of fellow meditators can be a tremendous support. In the back of this book is a list of resources that might help you in locating a meditation instructor.

The instruction is really pretty simple: when you lose your mind, come back. When the horse runs away with you, bring it back to the trail. Be playful in this. Experiment with tuning in to your sense perceptions, for example, to bring the horse under control. Or practice straightening your posture when you see that your mind has gone wild.

When we begin to do shamatha, it's like we have a spotlight above our head creating a little circle of light around us. All of a sudden our attention shrinks down to the space immediately around us.