When someone is beginning to explore meditation, it’s often somewhat confusing which style to actually do. There are seemingly endless options, ranging from the world’s major spiritual traditions to more secular approaches to individual teachers with their own “innovative” style.
For example, there’s Zen buddhism, Vipassana, Yogic meditation, Taoist meditation, Christian meditation, secular mindfulness groups, heart-centered meditation, Advaita Vedanta and countless fusions or other integrative approaches.
Of course, all these approaches to meditation are getting at something similar, and yet they’re also quite distinct. In today’s post, I hope to give some clarity on the basic framework underlying all meditative practices.
May this benefit you and your journey into yourself!
The Two Basic Questions Of Any Meditation Practice
1) What do I actually do?
2) What is the purpose of doing that? (aka why?)
Why Go on a Meditation Retreat?
Before I went on my first retreat, I had practiced yoga and meditation on and off for a couple years. That period was sort of like the courting phase of a new relationship. I was trying it out—practicing once or twice a week, reading some books, engaging with others who did the practices, and seeing what happened.
Needless to say, I became convinced that there was something really powerful for me in this practice. I decided to “go for it,” and signed up for a donation-based 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat that I had heard about through word of mouth.
I had just left an eight-week silent meditation retreat in Lumbini, Nepal and was sitting patiently in a local shop with a Nepali man named Jupiter. He was halfway chatting with me, halfway filling out my bus ticket to Varanasi, India. Midway through, he paused and looked at me with a curious glance before asking, “are you always like this?”
I smiled, a little confused, thinking maybe he was referring to the large beard I had grown in two months of no shaving; I said, “do you mean my beard?”
“No, I mean how peaceful you are.”
“Oh…. Well, I’m generally a pretty tranquil guy, but I just got out of a meditation retreat, so probably more than usual.”
By the end of the night, I was on a horse carriage riding through the streets of Varanasi, a twinge of novelty in my eyes while roaring with laugher over the chaos of Indian nights—the horns and lights and street dogs and glitter-like colors in every which direction. Continue reading
Over the years, I’ve heard literally thousands of different questions from meditators about their practice. Interestingly, all those questions really condense down to three: what, how and why.
When someone asks “why meditate?” they are often asking, “what are the benefits of meditation?”
“What will I get out of spending all that time developing present moment awareness?”
This is an absolutely essential inquiry!
When we know some of the common benefits to look out for, we’re more apt to notice them when they start happening, and, accordingly, we naturally boost our motivation & commitment levels.
Even though it could be argued that the core benefit of mindfulness meditation is freedom more, suffering less, I today wish to give a more personal, less abstract list.
After having logged 10,000+ hours of formal meditation, what do I actually see as the major benefits on my life? Continue reading
From March 2014 until December 2015, I was on intensive meditation retreat in Myanmar. Since returning, the main question people have asked me is, “what did you get out of all that time meditating?” One of the more common responses I give is, “I learned how to love myself.”
This post will detail my process of developing self-love using the four-stage model of “competence” or skill development. It sort of speaks for itself, but here’s a very brief summary:
Stage one is where we’re in self-hatred, but don’t even know it. Stage two is where we know we’re in self-hatred, but are powerless to stop it. Stage three is where with conscious effort we can actually stop it and experience self-love. Stage four is where the self-hatred no longer happens, and without making any special effort, we experience steady self-love.
It’s my hope that in sharing my story, I can demystify some of this process and help you dive into deeper layers of your own self-love!
1) Unconscious Self-hatred
2) Conscious Self-hatred
3) Receiving Love from Others
4) What is Self-love?
5) Conscious Self-love
6) Going Beneath the Surface
7) Unconscious Self-love
8) Self-Love Is not a Destination
9) What You Can Learn from my Story Continue reading
When I was a young boy growing up in a christian home, my mind was already ultra curious about the bigger picture. I was told that everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus would go to hell. I would ask, “but what about the people in the Amazon who never even hear about Jesus—do they too go to hell?”
By age 12, I intuited a picture much bigger than christianity; but, I was also intrigued by how seriously so many people took their Christian beliefs, as well as other religious and philosophical positions.
I was determined to be different.
In the course of my ongoing self-growth work and spiritual practice, there’s one quote I come back to time and time again.
This quote is at the core of all my offerings, from meditation to coaching to being a friend. It captures the whole journey so beautifully, concisely and simply. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s my life philosophy. Here goes:
“You are perfect just as you are; and you could use a little improvement.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki
About midway through my time in Myanmar, I was on a bus sitting next to my teacher, Sayadaw U Tejaniya. In the background was the cacophony of talking voices, traffic horns and music blaring from cheap speakers. It was very different from my quiet monastery. While I tried my best to stay aware, I was easily pulled from my meditative state.
I turned and asked him, “Sayadaw, do you find all this noise and activity distracting?”
“Not distracting,” he said in his broken yet clear English, before adding, “awareness is always there.”
Around that time, I was very closely observing him. I knew his teachings, but how did that translate into how he lived? How was he while conducting a group interview? While eating? While casually talking? While on a bus? Continue reading
Even though there’s a number of skills involved with meditation, the most basic marker of successful meditation practice is the extent to which you can be continuously aware.
Meditation is a skill like any other skill. Just like most kids who first try and ride a bicycle aren’t very good at it, so too are most people who start meditating not very good. However, with time and diligence, a person gets increasingly proficient.
In educational circles, there’s this thing called competence theory, which does an excellent job of describing the stages of skill acquisition. Here’s the four stages and what they’d look like for the most basic meditation skill.
1) Unconscious Incompetency
Most people who’ve never engaged in body or awareness practices are at this stage. They don’t really understand the difference between present moment awareness and non-present moment awareness.
When they start meditating, they either don’t get what they’re supposed to do (pay attention to my body sensations? Huh?), or they just sit quietly ruminating and think they’re actually meditating. Generally, they have no idea how scattered their minds are or how much they’re enslaved to their impulses and emotions. Continue reading
I’ve never been stuck in quick sand, but as a child I watched enough cartoons to know it’s not exactly a pleasant experience. You’re literally stuck.
While you may never be strolling the dessert and fall into a pool of wet sinking sand, you just as much as myself and everyone else will regularly face inner quick sand—places where we get stuck.
Maybe it’s a bout of anxiety or having to do a bunch of things you don’t like. Maybe it’s low motivation or hearing some bad news. So when you’re stuck in your quick sand,
What to do? What to do?
Imagine for a moment we pixelated your self-structure, like an old school television—not just one coherent picture, but 1,000 little colored pixels that make up the screen.
In your self-structure, some pixels are your good qualities, such as kindness or patience. Some pixels are your “difficult” qualities, such as depression or self-judgement.