The beginning stages of concentration

This is a transcription of an audio lecture:  Meditation Essentials 06 Preparation for Serenity AUDIO . There is also an accompanying pdf:  Meditation Essentials 06 Preparation for Serenity PDF .

As people who are interested in Meditation, we want serenity.  In most cases, when someone is attracted to studying Meditation or spirituality, it is because some suffering afflicts them and they want relief. Meditation is a known solution, a proven science that directly changes our suffering and gives us an opportunity to discover what is serenity really is. 

Serenity cannot be given as a gift.  It is not something that we receive from the gods.  It is not something that can be bought.  If you have had some experience in this world, you may have encountered very poor people and very rich people, and you may have seen for yourself that serenity is unknown to them all.  Wealth does not solve the problems of suffering or discontentment, since you can find poor people and rich people who are equally unhappy. You can also find poor and rich who are equally content.  The difference between them is not their material possessions or their social status, it is their attitude.  The difference is not material, it is psychological. 

Our attitude is really significant in spirituality. 

Serenity is a Result of Action

When we use this word serenity, we are using it in a very technical way.  We are describing a very specific state of mind, a state of being.  

Serenity is something that one experiences and lives.  Serenity is not in the future or the past; it is something that can only be known in the present.  

Serenity refers to a mind that is at peace, stable, and calm, not in chaos or surging with thoughts, emotions, cravings, or fears. 

centers male 2015This image illustrates our five centers, also called three brains.  These are psychological tools, machines that we are using all the time.  However, we are not aware of them.  We do not pay much attention to them.  

The quality of energy that passes through these psychological machines is what determines our experience of living in the moment.  

Your experience of life is the result of your psychological actions. 

The state of the energy that is flowing through the intellect is what we experience as mind or thought, and it has a range of qualities, yet one dominant characteristic: our state of mind is out of our control.  It is a chaos that we seem unable or unwilling to control. 

We all know how our mind can be in constant movement, thinking, full of voices, thoughts, demands, questions, over which we seem to have no control.  Anyone who has tried to learn to meditate knows this for a fact.  Your Meditation instructor tells you to sit and empty your mind of thoughts, and you cannot do it because thoughts just keep happening.  That demonstrates a lack of serenity, and that is the result of not using conscious will to control the mind throughout our daily life. 

There is also a state of mind that we can call dullness or laxity.  This is a state in which the mind is very dark, dull, and heavy, like molasses, like mud.  It is like something thick and impenetrable.  We can also experience that in our daily lives or in our attempts to meditate, when our mind just seems sluggish. In this type of state, we cannot think clearly.  Usually, when we feel that, we run for coffee or we run to bed.  This state of dullness is also a consequence of our psychological attitude, the way we use out mind from moment to moment.

The extreme of excitement, agitation, stress, and high energy oppose the other extreme of dullness, obscurity, mental fatigue or mental laziness.  

That same pendulum swing between extremes happens in the other centers.

Emotionally, the dominant characteristic is here as well: our emotions are out of our control, too. Our emotions just keep happening, and we cannot or will not control them or how they control us. 

We swing from one emotional extreme to another. We get emotionally excited, attracted, interested, wound up, with stress, anxiety, fear, excitement, and lust.  This includes all forms of desires, where we become very fixated on something and our emotional craving and urge to have that is overwhelming. Why do we binge on tv shows or music? Because of the emotional states they provoke; we want to provoke those emotional states in order to avoid others. Why do we binge on Facebook or texting? Because we want to constantly feel the “emotion” of feeling like we are loved, included, valued, wanted. We do not realize that those emotions are illusions. Each of us has emotional addictions, emotional habits, and we do not seem to have any control over them. 

Worse is that our emotions — as chaotic and out of control as they may be, or as cold and lifeless as we may feel in our heart — do not correspond to reality. What we feel emotionally is subjective. How do we know this? Observe yourself. When a tragedy happens, notice the cold heart you have. When something wonderful happens to someone, notice the cold heart you have, or the anger or envy you feel. We can go to a party, everybody is happy, but we are depressed and miserable. We may even not know why.  We just feel bad.  If you pay attention to yourself, you will see that it is very common that your inner state does not match your external circumstances.

In the third brain, these three centers: the motor, instinctual and sexual centers, thing happen are much more rapidly, and are much more difficult to be aware of because they are so subtle and so deep inside the psyche.  However, we find the same fundamental pendulum, between excitement and laxity, agitation and dullness.  

The essential point is that all of that chaos that we experience psychologically, that we think is life, that we think is normal, is not normal.  It is not really living.  It is reacting.  It is being in a cage, a psychological cage, over which we have no control. In other words, things happen, and within us reactions are constantly flaring up in these centers.  All we are doing all of the time is trying to contain it, even to run from it, to mask it and to hide it.  Life is happening, painful things, and difficult things.  We have anxiety, stress and uncertainty.  We have goals but we cannot achieve them.  We have problems, but we cannot solve them. Things are happening constantly, and they never stop, so we just tread water from day to day and struggle to keep from drowning in it all.  Within us are flaring all kinds of reactions all the time that we cannot deal with.  We do not know how.  As a result, the body, the heart and the mind suffer.  

There is an extreme state of agitation that is becoming more acute, worse from day to day.  That is why we see people seeking relief from the pain, uncertainty, and difficulty of life, yet instead only make their lives worse: they become addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, sex, money, power, tv, shopping, making money, etc.  People binge-watch TV; they binge on food; they binge on all types of sensations.  They indulge themselves in those sensations as a way of avoiding what is happening in their minds, hearts, and bodies.  This is why society is cracking apart.  No one is equipped with specific understanding of how to transform their state of being right now, in this moment, in order to truly and fully experience serenity.

Serenity is simply a psychological state that occurs when the mind is not agitated. 

Observe a lake: when there is no wind, the lake is perfectly smooth. Our mind is the same. The wind is thoughts, emotions, desires, worries, fears, etc. When you learn to stop reacting to them all, he mind will become very still, serene, quiet, even if your external circumstances are not serene.  

We study religion and we see that prophets and saints knew how to do this.  In the midst of their incredible trials, they maintained love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and great diligence to work on behalf of others, in spite of being tortured, persecuted, ridiculed, and gossiped about.  None of those sufferings affected them.  They may have been impoverished, starving, in the wilderness, but still they maintained a loving attitude even towards their persecutors.  That is real spirituality: that ability to remain serene, no matter what.  

Serenity is not an external factor; it is not a gift from the gods; it is not something fake; it cannot be faked. The reality is that serenity is the natural state of your Being.  It is unmodified and unconditioned.  It is serenity that is inside of you; it is already there.  We all have it within us.  

The process of learning to meditate is the process of learning to transform our responses to stimuli, both internal and external; to learn to perceive in a real way and not respond mechanically and automatically due to anger, fear, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, or any of those other qualities, but to instead rely on the natural and true state of our inner being, which is serenity, love, altruism, patience, diligence, those types of qualities that we all have inside. 

What I am pointing out is a fundamental difference in attitude.  Most people, who come seeking Meditation, want a salve to numb their pain.  They want to be given a quick fix: “Do this practice, take this drug, buy this machine, go to this workshop and spend thousands of dollars, and we will give you the key to happiness.”  That is what people say, and people believe.  That is all lies; it is all lies.  The reality is that serenity is already within you.  It is the natural state of your Consciousness.  All you have to do is transform your moment-to-moment way of dealing with things.  It is a shift in attitude.  Instead of chasing after serenity, you look for the things that prevent it, and you change how you respond to them.  That simple action lets serenity emerge on its own; it lets serenity become our natural state.  It is quite simple, but it takes work.  It is a simple thing, but it is not an easy thing.

What it requires is that we are able to be present in each moment and to remain aware of these parts of ourselves, these five centers, to be watching them, and to be in charge of them, consciously.  So that when someone comes with gossip, and we hear: “Oh, this person has been saying these things about you…”  Instead of letting that flare of fear, anger, and hurt pride take control of our mind, heart and our body, we instead observe that event.  We reflect in ourselves: “Who cares what they think?  Their words do not mean anything unless I give them value.  If I give those words no value, then they mean nothing.  Why should I let them disturb my peace of mind?  Moreover, if they said those things, maybe I did something wrong; maybe I am at fault; maybe I hurt that person.”  So instead of becoming angry with them, we become compassionate; we are understanding; we remain at peace.  It is a shift in attitude.  It is a shift in how we transform impressions and how we utilize these centers in ourselves.  If we are capable of that, we are capable to learn to meditate. 

How to Cultivate Serenity

In previous lectures we have been studying this graphic. This is an image from Tibetan Buddhism.  It illustrates the fundamental steps that one passes through on the way to achieving serenity.  Again, this is not something theoretical; it is not something debatable. It is a state of Consciousness that anyone can experience if you produce the causes that lead to that result.  

shamatha lg

Get a poster of this image.

This tradition explains that there are two fundamental ways to prepare oneself for serenity, to begin to reach towards it.  They are quite simple: 

  1. Preparation 
  2. Practice 

In the previous lecture I was explaining that the wisdom that we need in order to understand life and understand our problems is reached through a three-step process.  

  1. Ethics (Sila)
  2. Ecstasy / Serenity (Samadhi)
  3. Wisdom (Prajna)

The third step is that wisdom itself, which in Sanskrit is called Prajna, and that means profound knowledge.  The step before that is called Samadhi, which means ecstasy. That refers to a state of being, where your Consciousness is not conditioned by anything.  This means that your Consciousness is not conditioned by your body, by any senses, or by any egotistical or psychological defect like pride, anger, or lust.  When your Consciousness is extracted from all of that, you experience what is called Samadhi or ecstasy.  It is an experience of absolute liberation.  Even if it lasts only a moment, it is an unforgettable experience, because you see and experience, and know your true nature, which is serene. 

To reach Samadhi, we need the first of the three steps, called Sila, meaning ethics.  We begin with ethics and through those ethics we stabilize our psychological experience so that the Consciousness can experience serenity.  From that serenity we access wisdom.  That is all it means, that is simple.  Reaching serenity is the key to accessing wisdom.  To reach serenity, the key is ethics.  If we do not begin with this ethical basis, then we will never learn to meditate.  

If we have been studying Meditation and practicing Meditation and we are failing to actually experience change and advance in our practice, then we do not have the right knowledge.  If we have the right knowledge and we are producing the dharma through serving others, there is only one more thing that can block us from experiencing reality and Meditation and that is our ethics.  If we are not experiencing Samadhi and Prajna in our Meditation, those are the reasons why.  We need to examine our practice and understand: what is stopping me?  This is our fundamental focus.  We are not chasing an experience, but focusing on what is preventing it.  The vast majority of the time, what is preventing our access to spiritual experience is the state of our psyche; some ethical breach; some ethical blind-spot or even something that we are doing willingly that we should not be doing. 

1. Preparation for Meditative Serenity

This is more specifically laid out in the first aspect of preparing for meditative serenity, which is the preparation itself.  This is traditionally described as having six aspects. 

1. Conducive Dwelling

shamatha monkFirst is to have a place to live that supports our motivation and our spiritual life.  That is represented in the graphic.  At the very bottom right you see this temple and you see the monk, the renunciate, who is beginning the path.  So the beginning of the path to reach a state of Meditation depends upon having a place that supports it. Most people read that "conducive dwelling,” and they only interpret it in the ancient traditional way, which was that one had to go to live in a cave or go live in a monastery in the wilderness and be isolated from society. But that is just external circumstances. The reason that they had to leave society was to isolate them from all their attachments: family, friends, love interests, alcohol, intoxicants, things to crave, things to chase after buying and selling, all the sorts of things that happen in society that keep the mind agitated.  That is what is implied by “conducive dwelling” at its most fundamental level, and thus that is the real meaning: conducive dwelling means we should make steps to improve our environment.  For example, keeping a very clean house has a big impact on your spiritual well-being, on your psychological well-being.  Keeping yourself clean.  Having a home that has a space, where you can practice, can really help you, even if it is just a corner, a room.  I know somebody that made a closet into a Meditation chamber.  If we can cultivate an environment that supports serenity, the more the better.  If in your house you always have the TV on, the radio on, people are smoking, people doing drugs, people are sleeping around, if you live in a college dorm, this is going to be very difficult.  This is because people in college dorms or in apartment buildings are surrounded by very intense psychological influences, very negative ones that are completely contradictory to achieving serenity.  The effort, the work that is going to be required overcome that is quite significant. A person in that circumstance may need to find some place that they can go to take a break, to have peace, such as a nearby church, temple, park, forest, lake; some place where they can go and be isolated from all of that; at least while they attempt to meditate.  

Conducive dwelling refers to identifying things in our environment that we can change in order to defend ourselves, protect ourselves and support ourselves, and our efforts to meditate. Mostly, it is about being safe and secure. 

Do not make “conducive dwelling” into a major issue. It is also necessary for us to learn to accept the difficulties we cannot change, and do what we need to do anyway. I have observed people who can meditate perfectly well while there is a jackhammer pounding on stones a short distance away.There are people who can meditate serenely in the middle of huge noisy crowds, or when surrounded by screaming children, honking cars, barking dogs, or in hospitals surrounded by suffering, etc. These people are not "gifted" or "blessed," they simply have changed their attitude and no longer react to impressions mechanically. You see, it is a matter of attitude, acceptance, and being control to how we respond to things. 

2.  Have Little Desire

The second aspect is to have little desire; not getting distracted by all the things that want us to pay attention like: the advertisements, the new products coming out, the changing of fashions, and all of the things that our friends are doing, and the things that our friends have.  We see our friends are going on trips, going skiing, going surfing, going here and there, they have a nice car, and a nice job, and we want all those things.  We never question those desires.  This aspect is inviting us to question: Why do I want this and that?  Why am I chasing after these petty interests all the time?  Why is it that I am letting all these desires for circumstances or for possessions to give me so much discontentment and agitation psychologically?  We have so many desires that are influencing us all the time, and most of them are because of envy.  We see people on TV, and in the magazines that seem to have everything. The advertisers are sure to show us this, that if you get this product, you will be like these happy people in the commercial.  We are influenced by those things.  We think we need to dress a certain way.  We believe we need to have certain types of possessions.  We need to have a certain type of a lifestyle to be happy.  It is all lies, all of it.  We need to become aware of that.  We need to become cognizant of the types of influences that are affecting us all the time; that are in truth, sucking the life out of us.  Why do we need to go buy these products?  Why do we need to go shopping so much?  Why are we always chasing after really insignificant things?  We waste so much of our lives on foolishness.  We never stop to really take control of it.  So having little desire is about that. 

3. Be Content

When we learn to be content with what we have, to recognize that what we have is actually quite exceptional and to be content with that and take advantage of that, serenity emerges quickly.  To be content is to be serene. It is to be content with what one has and how one is.  

An easy way to cultivate this is to become deeply aware of how much more we have than others. 

Now this is a bit tricky, because obviously if we are interested in spirituality, we want to change.  We recognize there are things that could be better.  We are suffering and we need to find ways to modify that and change that.  So this contentment does not mean that we should be complacent with our defects, with our vices, with our mistakes.  It means to be content with material things, to be content with our circumstances, to not fight so much against reality. 

Before we enter spirituality, we are always thinking: “I need a better job.  I need a better spouse.  I need a better car.  I need a better house.  I need more clothes.  I need more money in the bank.”  There is all this discontentment fueled by envy to acquire so many things that we do not have.  When we enter spirituality, we maintain the attitude, but we change it for spiritual things: “I do not have the initiations I need.  I do not have the spouse I need.  I do not have access to the teachers I need.  I do not have time to meditate.  I do not have this and that.”  It is a long list of things and we think that if we had them then we could be content.  People always are seeking outside for things, to fill the gaping spiritual wound in their hearts.  However, those things will not satisfy it: no possessions or circumstances will give us serenity. Serenity emerges from within, and has nothing to do with external circumstances.

One way to transform this aspect of our psychology is whenever we feel that urgency, that stimulation: “I need this, I need that! Woe is me! My situation is terrible. I do not have these things that I should have.  I am thirty-five or I am forty now, and I did not have kids. I did not get my education, and I do not have the money I should have.” All that stuff is garbage that we tell ourselves.  An easy way to transform that is look around, look at the facts of the people in life.  Look at those people, who are suffering far more than you.  Open your eyes to the reality.  Life is not about fulfilling your desires.  Our culture says that what it is about, but our culture is empty.  It has nothing to offer.  It only exists to make other people rich.  Our culture offers nothing spiritual and nothing lasting.  It is like vapor, illusion. 

If you want something real, if you want something that will last, then abandon desires and become present here and now, be content with what you have and focus on taking full advantage of it.  When you feel discontentment, look at those who have less.  There will always be someone who is suffering more than you and has less than you.  Especially all of us in the west, we have no concept of suffering.  Yet we think we suffer so much.  We are fooling ourselves. 

4. Abandon Useless Activities

Why do we waste so much time and energy on nonsense?  If we understood the fragility of life, the impermanence of the body, then we would not engage in useless activities.  Acknowledge the possibility to access something that is real, that is beyond the body.  To abandon useless activities is an easy step to accomplish.  The reality is that all of us will die. We do not know when.  When you really contemplate that and you bring that into your awareness and really comprehend it, it becomes unthinkable to waste a moment on something stupid.  

Become very cognizant of the inevitability of your death and know that your state of being at that moment will determine what happens to you after you die.  If you leave your state of being in its current state, when your physical body dies, what will happen to you is exactly what happens to you when you fall asleep at night.  When you awaken in the morning do you remember what happened all night long?  Are you aware of what happened to you all night long?  Do you wake up the next morning with just some vague memories?  That is what will happen to you when you die.  You will wake up in some new body in some other place.  You will not remember anything, even who you were.  You will be born again depending on your karma, depending on your actions, what you deserve, what you earned. And you will cry, a soul searing cry, because you will not know who you are or where you are and you do not recognize anything but cold, fear, uncertainty, and the pain of a high person in white slapping you on the bottom…..

If you want to have control of that process of death and rebirth, and be aware of that process, you have to change your level of your being now, today, so that when you fall asleep at night, you know what is happening to you all night long, and you are aware of it, and when you come back into your body in the morning you know where are, where you were, and you never lost Consciousness of yourself, all night long.  This is not theoretical.  It is not a belief.  It is being done by people who practice these teachings.  People who practice these teachings daily lay their body down to sleep, but they do not fall asleep.  The body does, but Consciousness does not.  They use that time when the body is sleeping to continue working on themselves, to continue transforming themselves, not in the physical world but in the dream world. 

On the Tree of Life, the lowest level is Malkuth, the physical world.  Above it is Yes the fourth dimension (Eden), and then the fifth dimension, the world of dreams, Hod and Netzach.  Any religion that you study talks about being awake in the dream world, and talking to the gods in the world of dreams, the fifth dimension.  It is in Christianity.  It is in Judaism.  It is in Buddhism.  It is in Hinduism.  People nowadays think it is a joke.  It is not; it is real. 

Abandon useless activities means instead of wasting time shopping, flipping Facebook for hours on your device- stop doing stupid things like that.  Turn your energy and attention to things that are fruitful, that actually have benefit and meaning not only for yourself, but for others.  People always complain: “I do not know what to do to help other people. I do not know what to do to advance my spiritual life.”  Look at how you spend your time and change it.  Every person who is alive has a lot to offer to help others, without exception.  We have students; one student particularly is coming in my mind.  This student is a very young man and he is mentally disabled.  He is not easy to deal with.  He is very unpredictable.  He is tall, muscular, big and very energetic.  He is intimidating, but he has enormous compassion.  In spite of his mental condition, he invests his time and energy not being a couch potato watching television or playing video games, but in serving and helping others.  So if he and his condition, with his limitations can do it, I know everyone else can do it.  We have no excuse.  

So instead of wasting time on useless things, if you invest your time and energy into fruitful actions that benefit others, you will receive benefits.  Instead of spending your time on selfish things, wasting time, help others, and you in turn receive help. 

5. Pure Ethical Discipline

The fifth is pure ethical discipline.  This means that we have to be very true to our conscience.  This means that we should never lie, no matter the cost.  We should never lie! We should never steal.  We should not kill.  Now, understand that the great teachers and the great masters that explained that all the ethics that we learn such as the Ten Commandments and the Vinaya gave us all the different descriptions of how we should behave.  We cannot just take those like a lawyer and look for loopholes.  We have to live the spirit of ethics.  

People who grew up in Christianity here think: “Well, God said you should not fornicate and commit Adultery.  But it is a modern age, everybody is doing it, so God will forgive me later.  All I have to do is say I accept Jesus and please forgive me and God will say okay, and let me go to Heaven.”  The Bible does not say that.  Neither do the scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.  None of them say that.  Jesus never said that.  What the scripture says is that no adulterer, no murderer, no liar, no thief will go to heaven.  We all have those elements, and we think to ourselves: “well, I did not kill anyone.  I did not commit Adultery.”  But when you comprehend what the teaching says, Jesus himself said that any man who looks at a woman with lust has committed Adultery with her in his psyche, in his heart, in his mind.  That means that all of us are adulterers, that all of us are murderers, that all of us are thieves because we commit those crimes psychologically.  We allow ourselves to do it, and every day. 

Having pure ethical discipline means we work against that.  It does not matter whether anyone else agrees with us, whether we are going against the entirety of the world.  What matters is our inner relationship with Divinity.  I am recalling a beautiful thing that Joan of Arc said: 

“I would rather die than do something that I know is wrong.” 

That is how committed she was to upright ethics, to the ethical discipline.  She lived by it and she transformed Europe with that attitude.  We ourselves need to adopt that type of attitude to discover real ethics.  That is something that is known through your conscience.  

There are things that we can study to help us.  We all have our scriptures, the Bible, the Sutras, the Tantras, the Gita, the Mahabharata and the Vinaya.  We have many scriptures from many traditions that all explain the spirit of the ethical tradition, the ethics that we need to liberate the Consciousness from suffering.  We just need the will to do it.  

Most of the specifics about ethical discipline are fairly obvious. They are based on statements that we all know, such as, treat others as we would wish to be treated.  In other words, be compassionate, be kind, be patient, and be loving. 

There is one instruction in ethical discipline that modern people overlook or avoid, and in some cases may not know about.  It is the instruction that every monk, Nun, priest or Yogi receives, which is to be in a state of Brahmacharya or sexual purity.  This instruction is extremely significant.  Modern students of Meditation overlook this statement and think it only applies to monks or nuns or priests.  In fact it is the very foundation that stabilizes the Consciousness.  Our use of sexual energy has tremendous impact on our psyche. Brahmacharya or sexual Chastity does not refer to repression or avoidance of sexuality. Instead it refers to a healthy use of the sexual energy; a use of sexual energy that abandons desire, and instead harnesses those forces for spiritual purposes.  To facilitate that, the students receive instructions for exercises in which that energy can be harnessed and transformed, nourishing the free Consciousness, instead of nourishing lust, pride, envy, greed, gluttony and all the other tendencies that our sexual energy tends to feed when it is not under the guidance of the spiritual discipline.

Sexual energy is creative, but it is also destructive.  The person who is very serious about developing the Consciousness and liberating themselves from suffering will utilize the sexual power for that liberation.  This means that they must abide by the ethical discipline in the use of sexuality.  In synthesis, the ethical discipline of sexuality is to turn that energy inwards towards spiritual development to free it from its bondage to animal desire to lust, and instead to make it something pure, something human, something that supports the development and growth of the liberated Consciousness

6. Stop Thoughts of Desires

The sixth prerequisite is to stop thoughts of desires or stop thoughts that are driven by desires.  When you really are observant and honest and you really pay attention to your thoughts, emotions and the impulses that move through your psyche all the time, you will discover that they are strongly driven by all types of attractions to sensations, by cravings for sensations.  In short, thoughts, emotions, and impulses in the body are rooted in desire, most of the time.  So this sixth prerequisite to stop thoughts of desires is about transforming that. 

Instead of being a slave of our thoughts and always being caught up in the constant flow of thinking, we learn to take control of our psychological experience and to observe the content of those thoughts and emotions, to become aware of them.  We start to notice: Where are these thoughts coming from?  Who is really thinking?  What are these feelings really about? Is there a desire that is stimulating this thought or this emotion or this impulse to action? What does that desire want?  Is it compatible with my spiritual longings or is it contradictory? 

If we are honest with ourselves, we will find that most of the thoughts, feelings, and impulses we experience are about gratifying desires, gratifying attraction toward sensations, toward circumstances.  It is extremely rare that they have anything to do with spiritual values.  One way to work on this state of psychological conditioning that we have is to flip our point of view.  When we find ourselves thinking, feeling and following impulses that are mechanical and animal, that are rooted in desire, we should then reflect on impermanence, reflect on the inevitability of death and on cause and effect.  When we feel attracted towards acquiring something, towards having experience or we feel attracted towards some person and we cannot stop thinking about them, we have to reflect on the nature of that attraction.  What is it about?  What is inside it?  Why are we a victim of it?  Why is it driving us?  Even if we get the thing that we want, we will not have it long.  We suffer now not having it.  After getting it, we will suffer for fear of losing it, and inevitably we will lose it eventually. Then, when we lose it, we will suffer.  So why go through that whole process?  Why go through the process of being a victim of craving and a victim of suffering? Why not just renonunce that desire now and avoid all that suffering?

In this way we can transform this tendency of constantly thinking about things we want, having emotions about things, having impulses to get things and experience things.  Obviously, to do this, you have to be self-aware, you have to be self-observant.  You have to be watching your mind, your intellect, your feelings, your heart and your body.  You have to be vigilant, observing and mindful.  In that process of developing mindfulness and vigilance, you are developing concentration and meditative serenity.  You are developing your skills for Meditation, but what you are also developing is the ability to recognize the difference between you and your thoughts.  

The essential point of all of these prerequisites is to modify your behaviors so that you are no longer disrupting your psyche.  Instead of causing more disturbances psychologically, modify your behavior so your actions, thoughts, feelings and the ways you use your body lead towards serenity and peacefulness.  This can be achieved by abandoning bad behaviors, bad ways of thinking, harmful emotions and harmful actions of body.  The mind naturally steadies; the psyche naturally comes to a calm state.  

The reason that our minds are disturbed and unsettled, why we cannot concentrate and we cannot relax, is all because of our behaviors.  If we apply these prerequisites, these changes to our behaviors (physically and psychologically), serenity is the natural outcome.  This is simple cause and effect. 

Let me emphasize again that the basis of all of that change is energetic.  It is the energy that feeds our actions.  The most powerful energy that we have in us is the sexual energy.  We can do all of the ethical changes, we can meditate for hours every day, but if we are not working with the sexual energy in an upright way, we will never learn true serenity.  The sexual energy has the greatest power to disturb the mind, the heart and the body.  Conversely, it is also the greatest power to create serenity in the mind, the heart and the body. So, if you really want to learn to meditate, then be serious about transforming your sexual life, too. 

All of that was just the first aspect of preparing for serenity.  If you observe these steps and you practice them, you will see that they are about changing the things that cause discontentment in us, that cause pain, anxiety, anger, envy, pride, lust, and all the other qualities that are the opposite of serenity. 

If we want serenity in Meditation, if we want to enter this path and stabilize our psyche so that it can reflect reality, so that we can acquire wisdom, then we need to stop behaving in the ways that contradict it.  Notice, recognize the behaviors that you perform that cause you to not have serenity and change them.  Are you envious?  Are you discontent?  Are you stressed?  Are you anxious?  Are you lustful?  Are you angry?  Transform that. 

Most of us think: “I will be content if I can move, if I can get out of my town, my city, my apartment; if I can find a girlfriend or boyfriend; if I can get a better job.”  We all think that external things will give us contentment.  They will not.  Every external circumstance will just create new problems for us.  Some old ones will become less severe and some new ones will become more severe, and we will see the exact same problem.  Our discontentment is not caused by external things.  It is caused by our psyche. 

So in summary, these six steps are about learning a new attitude, learning to transform, to find contentment in the moment; being conscious of oneself, being relaxed; not letting desires and discontentment be in charge of our psychological experience, but instead to have our willpower focused on the moment, open, not craving, not avoiding, perceiving reality, observing the facts, seeing things for how they are, and dealing with it.  It is very practical, feet on the ground, not our head in the clouds, not dreaming about Nirvana or Heaven, not fantasizing about being a spiritual person.  It is about being in the moment and living life with full attention, full awareness, the full power of our ability to perceive, receiving that information and transforming it.  We are talking about something that is very energetic, very conscious.  If we can start that process, then we are performing what is called self-observation. 

Self-observation

Self-observation is moment-to-moment continuity of awareness of ourselves.  It is not simply just a casual awareness, but an active observation.  It is about looking at the facts, relaxing and observing continually.  

Relaxing is a key element.  You can see that when our dwelling or home is a place of chaos, we are always annoyed and bothered.  It makes us stressed.  We cannot relax.  When we have a lot of desires.  We are always stressed and cannot relax.  When we are not content, when we are full of all kinds of activities, we are stressed, we are not relaxed.  We do not have good ethics.  We are lying.  We are fornicating. We are committing Adultery.  We are cheating.  We are not being honest.  We are anxious.  We have a lot of uncertainty.  What is happening with our finances?  There are so many things!  What about the elections?  What about the president?  What about the war?

All of this intense information that is flowing into us all the time, making us very tense, stressed and chaotic.  It all happens because we are not transforming it.  That is a choice that we choose.  When we shift our attitude, we change the things we can change in our environment.  Maybe there is something we can do to improve our home.  Maybe we can change our behaviors, our attitudes and the activities that we are involved in.  Maybe we can cut out some things that we do not need to be doing.  But most of all, we need to learn to change our moment-to-moment experience.  We need to be present and observing facts and relax. 

This relaxation is to relax the whole body all the time; any time you can remember it. Whatever you are doing - at work, driving your car, at home, washing dishes, doing the laundry - you become aware of yourself: “Why am I tense?  I am just doing laundry.  Why is my mind racing when I am doing laundry?”  Relax and be fully present.  There is no need to think about tomorrow or yesterday.  Look at what you are doing and do that.  Set everything else aside.  Breathe, relax and observe.  Keep that continual from action to action.  

When you are at work and you are dealing with your employer and the people that you serve, you have to apply the same principle.  Notice that when you go into conversation, you become very tense, you start to act in different ways to impress people, to please people, to influence their attitude towards you.  Why are you doing that?  Why just not be relaxed and be yourself?  Why not just be honest?  Why not just be content and not be concerned whether they like you or not, praise you or blame you?  If you are honest with yourself, you can be strong in that, but if you are lying, deceiving and not acting like yourself; if you are acting like someone else then of course you are going to be anxious because you are not being genuine. 

These are simple things, but they have a big impact on the psyche.  

Now all of that cumulative action throughout the day is what is producing your experience of life.  If you are experiencing discontentment, anxiety and stress, you are the one creating it.  If you can change your attitude and learn to observe and relax all the time, everything else will change. 

There is a fundamental principle, a law of nature: if you change internally, everything outside of you will change too.  That is a law of nature, it is not a theory, and you can prove it.  

Observe people.  Observe someone that you may have known for a long time, who suddenly starts drinking, smoking, sleeping around, becomes an addict, a liar and a thief.  You can observe how their life goes into the toilet.  Now observe another person, who was bad and did bad things, but changed, gave up the addictions, gave up the dishonesty and see how their life improves. 

These changes reflect laws of nature.  It is observable, factual and provable.  Let us live by it ourselves. 

Choose the superior action and you will receive the superior result.  

All of that is concerned with our daily lives. In our daily lives we are establishing a psychological environment. You have to make this clear for yourself.  The way you engage with the world is creating an environment for your psyche.  If you are behaving in a superior way and a proper way, that environment becomes conducive for Meditation.  Only in that environment can Meditation happen.  Someone who is addicted to drugs, to alcohol, to sex, to money, to praise and all the things that we can be addicted to, that person will never learn to meditate until they conquer the addiction.  Any type of activity or behavior that produces discontentment, disequilibrium, anger, pain, anxiety and all of those qualities that contradict serenity, prevents MeditationMeditation happens when the psyche is calm and serene.  When you see people talking about spiritual life and they are encouraging drug use, alcohol use, abuse of sex and lots of money involved, they are lying. 

2. Practice for Meditative Serenity

Once you create that psychological environment, you get to the actual practice of developing concentration so that eventually you can access the state of Meditation.

Practice has two aspects: 

  1. Effective posture
  2. Effective practice

If in your daily life your psychological attitude is out of control, where you are not cultivating relaxation and peacefulness, then when you try to meditate, you will not be relaxed.  You come home from your crazy day, stressed out, anxious, angry, upset, and want to meditate - it will be very difficult.  You may sit, you may attempt to meditate, but it can take a long time for you to come down out of all that intensity.  You can see how it makes sense to have your daily life cultivating that serenity before you practice Meditation because then, when you come to your Meditation, you have been relaxed all day so Meditation becomes easy.  You have already set the stage - your body is ready, your mind is ready and your heart is ready.

Effective Posture: Relaxation & Wakefulness

shamatha postureEffective posture primarily means that you are relaxed.  This is the most significant thing.  It has to be completely and fully relaxed; not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.  

In traditional Meditation lineages there are specific postures that are recommended that are all very good.  There is the traditional lotus posture or half-lotus posture that most people associate with Meditation for a reason.  It is an extremely effective foundation for Meditation practice.  However, it is not the only one.  You can sit Japanese style, with your legs folded under you.  You can sit in a chair, hands on your knees, feet on the floor and back straight.  These three basic postures are the best for beginners to have your spine straight, you head upright and your body relaxed.  The reason you want to be upright as a beginner is so that you do not fall asleep. 

As a beginner, you are learning to relax the body, to bring it down from that intensity of stress and chasing desires, to a state of contentment.  However, the way we are accustomed nowadays is that when we sit or lay down to relax, we go straight to sleep.  In Meditation practice, you do not want to fall asleep and lose Consciousness of yourself.  So, learn to maintain a posture where you can be relaxed but wakeful. Wakefulness means that you maintain awareness of yourself and what you are doing. Sometimes we use the word drowsiness to talk about Meditation practice.  Some lineages condemn drowsiness.  They say you should not be drowsy.  What they are saying is that you should not be falling asleep and losing awareness of yourself.  What we mean by drowsiness is that the body is so well relaxed, that you do not have to pay attention to it, which is the same way that it gets when you are going to take a nap or you are going to go to sleep.  The body just becomes very still.  That is the best position to be in for Meditation.  What we want in our Meditation practice is to be able to forget the body, to place it in that position and leave it there - still, perfectly still. Furthermore, with drowsiness we easily access the power of the imagination, which is supremely important for accessing samadhi. We will talk more about that later. 

Our goal, as we explained in the previous lectures, is to extract our Consciousness out of the physical body.  Remember, Malkuth represents physicality.  Each of these spheres above represent other aspects of our energetic and psychological experience: energy, emotion, thought, and will.  We want to relax out of all of those conditioning factors.  You cannot do that if your physical body is uncomfortable, in pain and bothering you.  So we need to be able to put the body in a position,where it can rest, be content and be still.  For that we need relaxation. 

Effective Practice

Effective practice requires two components: 

  1. Mindfulness (rope): attention is not distracted from object of concentration
  2. Vigilance (hook): awareness of being distracted

These two components are represented by the implements that the monk carries.  In its most basic form, mindfulness means that we remain aware of what we are doing.  When you are washing the dishes, do you remain aware of washing the dishes?  If you are honest, you will say no.  Most of us, when we wash the dishes, we are thinking of something else.  We do the dishes mechanically.  We are not paying attention to it; we are listening to the radio or thinking about work, or thinking about that attractive person that we saw or that product we want to buy on the internet.  We are remembering the problems we had that day or the problems we will be facing tomorrow and we are washing the dishes without awareness of our body.  That is a lack of mindfulness.  That will be an obstacle for Meditation.  To be able to meditate, you need very strong mindfulness.  This means that your attention is not distracted from what you are concentrating on.  When we begin the process of developing meditative serenity, we learn to place our Consciousness on one thing, hold it, and take attention away from everything else. 

One common and basic practice that we use is to observe the breath.  We look at the sensations of breathing as they happen without changing them, and keep our attention on that.  Mindfulness is like this rope between where the Consciousness comes from to what it is observing.  It is a rope that connects us. That awareness of what one is doing is mindfulness.  That is what we want to sharpen.  We can develop that all day long in all of our activities.  When you are driving your car, be fully aware of driving.  You should be aware of what you are doing and observe the continuity of that awareness.  Notice when you get distracted and you bring it back.  Attempt to remain continually aware of what you are doing.  In that way, you are developing your Meditation practice even while you are driving, walking, washing dishes or while you are working.  Your life becomes nourishment for your spiritual development. 

The hook that he has in his other hand is vigilance.  That is used to watch for when we get distracted.  Lets say you are meditating, you are observing your breath, but then you become aware that these thoughts start happening and you start thinking about that TV show and gosh, that was funny, when such and such did this, and they said this, and hahaha…[laughing].  Then you catch yourself: Ah, I am not paying attention!  That is the hook of vigilance bringing your mindfulness back.  You return your attention back to that object of concentration.  

These are two significant tools.  

When you first learn to meditate, it will feel to you like you cannot do either one.  We will give you the instruction everybody to relax, you will take a posture, and I will say:  Okay, now observe your breath, do not pay attention to anything else, and put 100% attention on the sensations of breathing.  You will start to watch it for five seconds, ten seconds, fifteen seconds, and then you are remembering an episode of some TV show you saw when you were kid and it was so funny.  Twenty minutes go by and I say: “Okay, we are done.”  You say: “wait a minute!  All I did is think about TV.”  It seems frustrating. That experience shows you how little mindfulness, how little vigilance you have, not just in Meditation, but all day long. So this is a good experience, and it shows you how much work you need to do.  It is a painful experience, but a beautiful one.  It is the initial moment, when you realize: “Wow! This is real. I can change it.” 

You change it through your daily activities.  You change it by practicing every day.  Little by little, your tools get better.  You get stronger.  You become able to maintain mindfulness of what you are doing for longer periods.  Your vigilance will develop until it is always there waiting to see if you get distracted, and to catch yourself and bring yourself back to focusing on the object of Meditation.  

That is essentially how you start walking along the path to serenity.

First Stage of Meditative Serenity 

shamatha stages1 2

Settle the psyche by withdrawing the attention from everything else, and direct it towards a single focus.

The first stage shows the monk chasing the elephant and the monkey.  The elephant represents the dullness and the heaviness of the mind, which is out of control.  The mind is being pulled along by the monkey, who is always distracted and curious, always browsing the internet, going on Facebook, going here, going there, interested in this, interested in that, always running away from the truth.  We as the spiritual person, the Consciousness who wants to change, we have to chase these animals in our mind.  To do it, we need the rope and the hook. 

So through our daily lives and also through our daily practice of concentration we need to learn to settle the psyche by withdrawing attention from everything else and directing it towards a single focus.  

This is stage one. Every buddha, angel, and master who ever learned to become that, started here.  It is not easy in the beginning.  That is what the fire on the left represents: the intensity of efforts that it takes, the amount of energy it takes to keep becoming aware of yourself, again and again.  The Buddha Shakyamuni said if in your practice your mind wanders a thousand times, and you return it to mindfulness a thousand times, that was a beautiful Meditation

The key is to catch when we are distracted, and bring our attention back to the object that we are observing.  This has to be a continual daily effort every day, without exception.  That is what starts the process of change.  If you do this once a week, you will never get anywhere.  You will give up.  However, if you work on this every day, making the best effort you can, then you will find change.  You will.  It is inevitable; it is scientific.  

This effort has two components: 

  1. Concentrating all day long: Your daily experience all day, being mindful, being present and relaxing, observing what you are doing, not being distracted, and when you become distracted, returning your attention to full awareness of what you are doing in that moment.
  2. Concentration practice every day: Every day, you also take ten minutes or twenty minutes to sit down, shut down all of your senses, and focus your concentration on one thing.  That one thing can be whatever you want, but do not change it.

Observing the natural flow of the breath is the simplest; you always have it with you.  Just observe the sensations of the breath in your nostrils. Do not change your breathing, do not modify it, just observe it: there are constant little changes in those sensations, so just watch them, and see not only how detailed and focused your concentration can be, but also how continuous.  

If you want to really take concentration seriously, you can try this harder, but more effective exercise: first, observe a sacred object like a statue or an image of divinity.  Let us say an image of Jesus or of Buddha or some deity.  Memorize what you see. In other words, take a mental picture of it. Now, use that mental picture as your object of focus.  Close your eyes and visualize it.  This is harder than observing the breath, but it bears more fruit.  

It is necessary to practice concentration in this way every day.  For beginners, it is effective to do this in short sessions so that you do not exhaust yourself: do it for ten minutes, take a break, and if you want, do another ten minutes, take a break, etc. This initiates the training of attention.

Second Stage of Meditative Serenity

Settling continually involves the attention that was directed initially to continue focusing without becoming distracted by anything else.

If you work with those two areas of practice seriously, you will reach the second stage.  This is where you are looking more towards developing more continuity of attention.  

In the first stage, you learn to place attention on one thing.  In the second stage, you are constantly bringing it back to that. They sound very similar.  The difference is that in the second stage, there is already a little bit of mindfulness an vigilance, meaning that you have some awareness that you should be concentrating on what you are doing. In the graphic, you can see now that there is a little bit of white on the animals.  That white is clarity, serenity, concentration, settling, etc.  It is illustrates how the psyche is starting to become a little different. Instead of being wild all the time, you have these moments when you taste peace.  It could be at any time.  It could be during the day, it could be during your Meditation practice, but you start to notice it.  Little moments where: “Oh, wow! I actually feel relaxed, I feel mindful and I feel little bit concentrated.”  It is a beautiful thing to start to see that fruit. If you are truly making the effort to develop these two aspects of developing concentration — daily mindfulness and daily concentration practice — then you are initiating a dynamic change in your experience of life; the results will emerge inevitably. It is simple cause and effect: produce the causes and the effects will arrive. The effects of these practices begin first as moments of serenity, peace, calm, simple contentment. In the same way that you are practicing mindfulness all of the time, these effects can emerge at any time. So, be patient, be persistent, and trust in the inevitability of cause and effect. 

Exercises

  1. Every day, develop your self-observation from moment to moment.  Also extend your mindfulness: the length of time that you are aware of yourself.
  2. Every day, develop your meditative concentration.  Adopt a Meditation posture, relax completely, then focus 100% attention on your chosen object.
  3. Write the facts of your day in your  Spiritual Diary

If you want serenity and the possibility to access Meditation eventually, put these ideas into practice in your daily life: observe yourself every day, perform your meditative concentration every day, and record the facts of your experience in a spiritual diary.  This is how you become accountable to yourself and become honest with yourself.  A diary is not for anyone else to look at.  It is for you.  It can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be.  At the very minimum, start recording: “Today I made effort, today I learned this, and today I practiced for ten minutes or twenty minutes.”  Start recording these facts about your spiritual work, and little by little you will start to see that gives you insights: a lot of insights.  Some of it is painful.  But if you recognize those places of pain, you can deal with them and they will go away.  If you do not see them and do not deal with them, the pain will still be there.  It is better to learn about them and deal with them.

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