Breakthrough Newsletter
By George Pitagorsky

Volume VI, Issue 1                                                                          Top       January 2014
In This Issue
Watching the Trains Pass By
Insight Meditation - An Exercise Program for the Mind
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Watching the Trains Pass By: Avoiding Mind-trips
  

 

It is as if you are waiting on a busy train station. There are many trains pulling in and out. Your intention is to remain on the station. A train comes in. You take note of it and let it pass. If you get on a train it will take you on a trip. You will sit down and fall asleep in your train. At some point you will wake up, realizing that you have lost focus and are no longer on the station. Then it is possible to get back to the station. The longer you stay on that train and the more pleasant the trip, the harder it is to get off and back to the station.

 

 

The trains are your thoughts, the station the presence from which you are observing.

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Insight Meditation -  An Exercise Program for the Mind 
by George Pitagorsky
 
If you think of the mind as a kind of muscle, then meditation is an exercise program to cultivate that muscle. It works to make the mind stronger and more flexible.

 Strength is measured in the ability to remember, the capacity to focus and maintain concentrated attention on a chosen object, the ability to take action to consciously achieve objectives.

 

A more flexible mind is one that is not bound by convention or habit. It learns. It is a mind that adapts to the needs of any situation while adhering to the highest values. It has the ability to objectively observe without reacting and without prejudice.

 

Meditation has three components, effort, concentration and mindfulness. Concentration builds strength. Mindfulness enables flexibility. Effort makes concentration and mindfulness possible.

 

Insight or mindfulness meditation practice combines these three into a single system that has three stages: 1) cultivating stillness through concentration practice, 2) cultivating mindfulness through consciously and objectively observing the continuous flow of thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, sounds, sights, smells and consciousness, and 3) remaining present, relaxed and aware naturally integrating concentration and mindfulness.

 

These stages are not strictly linear. They overlap and intertwine with one another as the practitioner becomes increasingly able to relax without losing the ability to be present and aware.

 

Concentration

Concentration is choosing an object and keeping focus on it in the face of distractions. For example, if your chosen object is your breath, you keep focused on it by coming back to it each time a distraction arises. 

 

Anything that draws your attention from what you have chosen to focus on is a distraction. Distractions may be thoughts, an itch, ache or pain, sounds, smells, etc.

 

Concentration practice balances relaxation and effort. It is not about forcing your mind to stay focused by blocking out thoughts and the senses. That leads to a headache.

 

Instead, it is about making the intention to stay focused on a chosen object, relaxing with mindful awareness, noticing when a distraction takes the focus from the object and gently but firmly bringing attention back. 

 

Noticing when attention slips away is critical. Without the noticing, one gets lost in the proliferation of thoughts. Mind-trips go off in any number of directions, many very engaging and "important". The noticing is enabled by mindfulness.

 

Bringing the mind back from a mental journey or from a distracting thought or feeling requires effort. The more engaging (sometimes pleasant and sometimes not) the distraction, the more effort is required to let it go and return to the object. The skillful practitioner avoids the guilt and shame of having gone off on a mind trip and calmly resumes the relaxed focus on the object.

 

A quiet place with minimal distractions aids the practice, though it is not an absolute necessity. The more one has cultivated strength of mind the easier it is to stay focused even in the midst of chaos. Concentration practice in chaos is a remedy for becoming reactive and swept up in the movement of sounds, sights, visual images, thoughts and physical sensations.

 

The Object

The object of concentration, the point of focus, can be anything; a word or sound, a visual image (imagined or material), a candle flame, the breath, physical sensations, a topic, a task, music, etc.

 

Ultimately the object can be awareness itself or presence, but usually it is best to start with something concrete, like the breath or a sound, and then transition to more formless objects.

 

The object influences the meditation and the meditator. For example concentration on an image of health and well being might elicit feelings of health and well being, while focus on a past, unpleasant situation can elicit feelings of anger and depression. 

 

An object completely without conceptual meaning is a good first step.

 

The Result

Meditation can be used as medication or for liberation.

 

There is clear scientific evidence that meditation improves mental and physical health. It is a "medication" for lowering blood pressure and managing depression and relationship conflicts. When used for liberation, powers and health benefits are secondary side benefits.

 

Concentration's most important effect is an experience of calm, quiet presence, a calm abiding. This experience can be cultivated until it results in mental states that include experiences of absence of thought, emptiness and loss of self-centered reference. These states can be very pleasant and informative.

 

Keep in mind that as nice as they may seem, blissful mental states are ultimately distractions from the cultivation of the kind of presence and awareness that removes unnecessary suffering and leads to liberation.

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is being consciously and objectively aware of whatever is occurring within and around you.

 

Mindfulness practice begins with the cultivation of sufficient concentration to not be lost in the pursuit of distractions. As sufficient concentration is developed the attention is allowed to shift from a specific object to the flow of arising thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells, mental concepts, an consciousness itself. The practitioner only returns to the chosen object, usually the breath or bodily sensations, when he or she gets lost in thought and realizes it.

 

Mindfulness leads to insight into the nature of one's mind and environment. The practitioner experientially learns that there is a continuous process in which everything is impermanent, stress is a natural part of life and there is no solid self. He learns that everything has a cause and effects. As these insights arise, there is an increasing sense of well being. There is an acceptance of things as they are and a capacity to act effectively.

 

Meditation Plus

Meditation is part of an overall system which combines meditation, wisdom and skillful or ethical behavior. Without the other two, meditation is very powerful medicine. It can be used to train better doctors, engineers, securities traders, assassins, spies and soldiers.

 

With wisdom and skillful behavior practitioners can experience the deeper benefits of increased compassion, loving kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity. 

 

According to the teachings of the Buddha, the integration of wisdom, ethical behavior and meditation leads to the cessation of suffering and Nirvana.

 

For further information about the benefits of mindfulness

 

For instruction on insight meditation 

 

For live instruction and support  

 

2014 George Pitagorsky                                    Top