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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Meditation and Distractions

The purpose of meditation is not to concentrate on the breath without intetrruption, forever. That by itself would be a useless goal. The purpose of meditation is not to achieve a perfectly still and serene mind. Although a lovely state, it doesn't lead to liberation by itself. The purpose of meditation is to achieve uninterrupted mindfulness. Mindfulness, and only mindfulness, produces Enlightenment. Distractions come in all sizes, shapes, and flavors. Buddhist philosophy has organized them into categories. One of them is the category of hindrances. They are called hindrances because they block your development of both components of meditation, mindfulness and concentration. A bit of caution on this term: The word "hindrances" carries a negative connotation and indeed these are states of mind we want to eradicate. . . That does not mean, however, that they are to be repressed, avoided or condemned. Let's use greed as an example. We wish to avoid prolonging any state of greed that arises, because a continuation of that state leads to bondage and sorrow. That does not mean to toss the thought out of the mind when it appears. We simply refuse to encourage it to stay. We let it come, and we let go.

- Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

James: I have found that the stronger I try to force hindering thoughts out of my head while I am meditating the more powerful I make them. They seem to just return even louder and more intrusive then If I just acknowledge them, mindfully watch them and contemplate why they might be appearing. Through this mindful investigation I usually find that the emotions appear to try and help me or protect me in some way. Once I let them make their presence known, tell their story, realize that I understand their root and acknowledge that I understand the perceived problem they seem to fade away of their own energy.

And when they return, as often intrusive thoughts do while meditating, I thank them again for their interest and concern in my life and gently remind them that the perceived or sometimes real problem will be looked into soon enough. However, right now we are enjoying this present moment without worry, stress or concern for what might happen or not happen in the future.

Nor are we concerned with the memories of the past because no amount of concentration can change those memories and their outcome now solidified within our karmic stream of consciousness. This is something I often tell myself when worries about the past arise during my meditation and then I return to my breathing and present moment by saying, "Breathing in, I am present. Breathing out, I am aware." That little gatha is really helpful in returning back to real time awareness. It is almost like a pressure valve that releases the stressful energy of hindering thoughts as my meditation unfolds. It seems too simplistic perhaps but try it, it might just be as powerful a tool to you as it is for me.

~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO CREDIT: Bhante Henepola Gunaratana near Beatenburg, Switzerland. Photo by Fred Von Allmen. I love the athletic shoes he is wearing with his humble monk robes.

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Carla said...

Great post! I wonder what your thoughts are on worry. I tend to worry a lot about the future--I don't own a house and don't know where I'm going to end up living when I retire, stuff like that. Where is the dividing line between planning for the future and living in the moment? Whenever I worry about the future, I feel I'm not in the moment, but when I tell myself to focus on the moment, I feel I'm being irresponsible. What are your thoughts on this sort of thing?

Tim said...

cekmqcssAs you know James, I place great value in the practice of daily meditation. In the preface of "Mindfulness in Plain English" Henepola Gunaratana states that meditation takes gumption. I wish that I had it. Lost it somewhere. Hmmmph! But I remember the outright laughter that I experienced in my practice when I realized that, once again, I had drifted off attached to some thought always caught me by surprise; as if in some game, the monkey mind was playing with me.
But practice carries with it a lingering aura of mindfulness after one leaves the cushion; in some regards I feel that a few of the five hinderances have come out on top. At other times I just let things ride as they are, knowing that my practice is forever in my mind's eye and I hope to someday get back to it.

They call him James Ure said...


I have a Phd in worrying and fully understand the balancing act. I try to ask myself when I worry if it is something that I need to worry about right now or if I can set aside a specific time to deal with the issue.

Usually I am able to set aside that time at a latter date to focus appropriate attention to the concern. And that way we are both in the moment while planning.

Should stress and worry arise then we watch that too. Being aware helps us know when to take a break from planning and do something relaxing and totally separate from the planning.

That's my take, I'd love to hear other ideas and views on Carla's great question.


The monkey mind is a great way to explain the struggle. Monkey's are so mischievous and can steal your apple right out from underneath you. Just like our ego can steal our mindfulness away just as fast.

I like that you're taking the long view that this is a journey and not a sprint. It helps me take things one step at a time and knowing that rebirth is there I can relax a bit and take it all in stride.

I'm not saying that we should just sit back and do nothing while life after life passes by. The opposite.

We should do all we can in this life to take advantage of the opportunities given us. However, also not trying to force things that need more time to bring into focus. Time that perhaps only another birth can bring.

Then again I could be totally wrong. I think you're on the right path in relying upon your own experience to guide you. The Buddha would be proud. :)

Greenwoman said...

I love when you post here....The depth of your mindfulness is full of guidance and beauty...restful.

I've been thinking of you...I hope that your joy is setting in deeply and spreading out after a period of difficulty...

Sending you warm thoughts and soft hugs my beloved friend. Namaste.

They call him James Ure said...

GW: I had a nice, long response typed up but I'm having google problems so everything was lost in an unexpected reboot. Suffice to say that I am very happy and humbled by your words. :)

UpsizeThis said...

Thank you for the post. I find the distractions during meditation to be a nice reminder to be patient. I realise the difference that living mindfully has made to my life, and I realise that there is a long way to go. The balance of these two thoughts keeps me motivated, and also humbles my ego.

lotustarr said...

you know i been looking into how sounds affect our bodies. i came across this cool meditation cd
highly remomended

K.Charanyanond said...

I'm a bhuddist,So I'm feeling very happy to see your blog.Ican learn some priciple here,thanks.


Bob said...

If you try to meditate but you are distracted by thoughts, it could mean that you are untrained to meditation. It could also mean that your subconscious is trying to tell you something. Relax and concentrate in the thought that comes to mind.

If you know a little about symbolism and dream interpretation, you can make meaning out of it. Something that can lead to therapy of the self.

soul therapy online

David Cunliffe said...

Thank you for such a personal insight into your meditative experience. I always enjoy reading how individuals deal with their meditation practice, looking forward to reading more…..

Spiritual blessings


Joseph Wright said...

The daily practice of Meditation is a proactive way to manage your level of energy available to you that will help you release from stress.

Jack Butler said...

I'm new to mindful meditation. At this point, my working theory is that the hindrances or distractions are opportunities to learn more about managing your mind. In that sense, the distractions might be welcome in that they allow you to move back to the breath. So -- and I'm being very tentative here -- the more distractions, the more one practices in gently putting them aside, the better off you are. When you are not practicing formal meditation, you may be able to apply that skill to distractions in every day life.

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