Forgetting the Instructions
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Another obstacle to practice is forgetting
the instructions. New to meditation, you’re
trying to remember the basic instructions: to
hold your body on the cushion and to hold your
mind to the object of meditation, to recognize
and acknowledge thoughts and return your focus
to the breath with mindfulness and awareness.
As soon as the mind leaves the breath and goes
elsewhere, you have encountered the obstacle
of forgetting the instruction.
You've learned that we're always
holding our mind to some object.
What are you holding your mind
to when you forget the instructions?
When we forget the instructions, we're holding
our mind to discursiveness. We're so wrapped
up in thought that we can't remember what we're
supposed to be doing. The instruction to stay
present seems weak compared to the power of our
Forgetting the instructions can happen suddenly
or it can happen gradually, as if we're losing
our grip on a heavy object. No matter how hard
we try, we can't stay focused on the breath.
The technique becomes blurry. We can only remember
a couple of words: "sit," "breath/' "thought," "mind." Apart
from that, we can't remember anything.
we're employing the technique without
the view, then all of a sudden, we can't
figure out how to do it at all.
In addition to the simple instructions, we might
also have forgotten the view—the reason
we're meditating. One reason we forget the instructions
is that we approach meditation simplemindedly.
We think it isn't that complicated—only
a point or two to keep in mind. It's possible
for simplicity to work, if we're able to follow
However, with a simple-minded view, our meditation
becomes weak. When we're just waiting for thoughts
to pop up like clay pigeons so we can shoot them
down, we're forgetting our view and our intention.
We're forgetting that we're here to cultivate
the mind's natural stability, clarity, and strength.
This isn't simplicity, it's lack of perspective.
We have technique but we've forgotten the reasons
for following it. We've forgotten that the view
of meditation is to be one-pointed and spacious.
Based on this description of forgetting
the instructions — and perhaps
even forgetting why you're meditating — what
tools that you have already learned
might act as an antidote to forgetting?
We need to remind ourselves continuously
of the details. If you've forgotten what you're
doing with your mind, almost inevitably you've
also forgotten what you're doing with your body.
If you find you've lost the instructions,
start by remembering your posture.
Is your spine still upright? Are
you relaxed, or are you holding
tension in your shoulders and arms?
What are you doing with your gaze?
Simply checking your posture and
starting your meditation over—"Now
I'm placing my mind on the breath"—can
be the most direct way to invoke
the instructions when you've forgotten
in the middle of a session.
A reason to practice every day is that it's
easy to stray from the view; everything else
in our life pulls us in different directions.
We can regard forgetting the instructions as
an integral part of our practice. Mindfulness
as an antidote means to learn it again. We need
to keep remembering what meditation is, why we
do it, and how.
Without having a clear idea of what we're doing
and refreshing it regularly, our meditation will
never be successful.
When we look at what actually happens in meditation,
we see that it isn't simple. In fact, the power
of practice comes from the details and the depth:
the posture, the breath, the placement of our
mind, the intention, and the view. If we lose
even one of these threads, the fabric of our
practice comes unraveled and we forget what we're
When you face the obstacle of forgetting the
instructions, the antidote is to trigger the
remembering aspect of mindfulness.
Reflect on why you are taking
this course, why you're beginning
(or continuing) a meditation practice.
Find your answer. When
you're sitting and you find you've
forgotten the instructions, remember
your posture, your breath. And
also remember "Why I'm doing