Lessons in Mindfulness 1.12

Meditation…it’s not

what you think.






What does meditation mean to you?

A lot of confusion and even some fear surround the topic

of meditation. In our culture, the word ‘meditation’ is such a

broad term that people have a difficult time understanding

the intended meaning. Some believe meditation is a deeply

religious practice used exclusively by Asian mystics or

specific monastic sects. Chanting, prayer, contemplation,

breathing exercises, or even hypnotism are described

as meditation. In fact, almost any experience involving

introspection falls into the category. Even more confusion

arises when people mistakenly relate meditation to

metaphysical practices dealing with crystals, astrology,

tarot cards, palm reading or crystal balls.

Magazines and entire sections in the local bookstore

are devoted to this topic, and you will see a broad sampling

of ‘experts’ selling their perspective with great authority.

Wading through the multitude of ideas and techniques can

be quite confusing. When you are ready to begin, where

do you get accurate information? How do you know which

method even works? In this topic, we’ll explore the

definition of meditation, as well as its benefits and reasons

for practice.

Meditation is the process of clearing the mind of all

thought. When you tell the average person to sit and clear

the mind of all thought, they can’t. They might eventually

settle down to thoughts about one specific thing, maybe a

color, sound or image. But thinking your way to clearing

your mind of all thought is impossible. To successfully

clear your mind, you must understand where your thoughts

originate. Then, you must stop them at their root.

Stimulation of the senses inspires thought

Each thought is a distraction within meditation and all

thoughts originate from two primary places. First are the

senses. Imagine that you are sitting to meditate. You prac-

tice your diaphragm breathing, oxygenating your body. Now,

you are ready to clear your mind. Just as you settle down,

one of your senses is stimulated. Maybe a car drives by

and hearing the noise, you think of a car, or a dog barks

and you think of the dog. During a moment of stillness and

relaxation, you would never spontaneously think about a

dog until his bark stimulated your sense of hearing. As soon

as you hear the dog bark, the thought manifests in your

mind. No matter how quickly you let the thought pass, it is

still present for a moment.

You return to your efforts to meditate, when suddenly,

you smell fresh baked bread, and immediately the thought

of tasty bread passes through your mind. The breeze blows

gently through the window, and you think of its coolness or

warmth. A flood of unwelcome thoughts, inspired by the

senses, relentlessly bombards you throughout your

meditation efforts.


The art of meditation

is simple, but not

always easy. It

thrives on practice.

–Jack Kornfield


The assault of thoughts caused by memory

The second assault of thoughts originates from memory.

The senses stimulate a thought and from that thought, you

begin to remember experiences related to the thought. Just

as you become peaceful and calm again, you hear a radio

in the distance playing an old song. It stimulates your sense

of hearing, you think of the song, and then you begin

thinking of the last time you heard it. You were on vacation

in Aruba, dancing with a beautiful girl in a red dress. She

was laughing, and the ocean air was fresh and warm. In the

next moment, you realize that no longer are you clearing

your mind and sitting peacefully…you are on vacation in

Aruba—all because you briefly heard a song!


Detaching from your senses is possible

As human beings,

our greatness lies

not so much in being

able to remake the

world…as in being

able to remake


–Mahatma Ghandi


The senses not only stimulate specific thoughts, but,

supported by personal memories, they encourage

secondary or additional thoughts. Clearing the mind of all

thought and going deep within stillness, requires unplugging

of the senses. By disengaging from the stimulation, you

stop the thoughts before they are born. Many people think

that shutting off the senses is impossible, but you do this

every night when you sleep. In deep sleep, you don’t hear,

see, or taste any sensation. The world goes on around

you, but you are not aware of anything.

Meditation is the process of unplugging the senses, thus

consciously choosing to cease all thought. The benefits of

learning to still the mind are invaluable. It reduces stress

and helps to increase concentration. You are energized

and relaxed in the same process. So, why don’t more

people practice this ancient discipline? Learning to still the

mind and take control over thoughts takes time. Finding a

qualified teacher is difficult, people are impatient, and they

don’t persevere long enough to see the benefit. The first

several attempts are difficult and predictable.

Stop the fidgeting!

A willing student sits down, intending to meditate, and

after only a few moments of stillness, begins to shift around

to find a more comfortable position. He tries it again. He sits

quietly with the spine straight and chin parallel to the

ground, hands upturned at the juncture between the thigh

and abdomen and elbows slightly pulled back, breaths

deeply from the diaphragm, and suddenly, he has an itch.

Scratching this itch will encourage another and another.

He resolves to hold the body still, and works past the

fidgeting itches, only to be bothered soon by discomfort in

the knee, ankle, hip, or almost any other part of his body.

If he doesn’t shift his position, the discomfort rapidly turns

to pain. He vows to remain perfectly still, but battles an

overwhelming desire to move. Slowly, the pain subsides

and the body becomes calmer. Just when he thinks he’s

making progress, his mind begins to race. Thoughts like,

“I wonder if I am doing this right? Am I just wasting my

time? I have so much to do today. When I get up, I want

to remember to…” By refusing to give up, his mind settles

a bit, but is soon followed by another wave of intrusive

sensory stimulation.


Do you have the

patience to wait

until your mud

settles, and the

water is clear?

Can you remain

unmoving until the

right action arises

by itself?

–Lao tzu


Moving on to the next stage

By surrendering to aches, pains and itches, you never

move beyond this stage. The practice of meditation is lost

to movement, and you will view the experience as just a

mild form of torture. From the beginning, resolve to sit

as still as you can during meditation, and be diligent in

your practice. Start by practicing breathing exercises to

oxygenate the body. Then meditate for 10-15 minutes.

As the process becomes easier and more enjoyable,

slowly increase the time.

The art of learning to still and control your mind

Many people think that meditation is reserved only for

specific spiritual practices. They fear that meditation would

conflict with their own religious beliefs. We simply use the

term, meditation, to describe the art of learning to still and

control the mind. Regardless of spiritual preferences, all of

us would certainly agree that in our hectic society, the

ability to control our mind, and discipline our thoughts

is crucial.


To recognize the

oneness, you must

 still the body and

    quiet the mind.


Nicholas began practicing martial arts at the

age of eight. In every class, he practiced his basic

techniques and strived hard for proper form.

In the early years, he worked diligently on the basic

techniques. During his teen years he practiced form daily. He

was clearly the hardest working martial artist in his dojo–

maybe even in the whole city. In his late teens and into his

early twenties, he started sparring. In only a short while, he

began winning match after match. The winning streak

continued for almost three years.

Nicholas was often asked for the secret to his success.

He always responded, “Speed and power. I will always be

faster with my kick or punch.” Nicholas believed that the

best defense was a quick offense. One day the inevitable

happened-a fellow student, Paul, beat him. Paul was very

skilled and had practiced for as long as Nicholas. Nicholas

shrugged off the defeat, claiming it as a fluke or just bad luck.

But in the next few months, he began losing more matches.

Nicholas became incredibly frustrated and decided to talk

with the master. He poured his heart out describing his

frustration of losing, despite the fact that he was training

harder than ever. After listening carefully, the master said,

“You must learn two things. The first is that life is seasonal.

Everything is constantly changing and you must learn to

handle loss and defeat as well as gain and victory. Do not

become attached to either outcome. The second thing you

need to learn is better defensive skills. When two novices spar,

the fastest will win. At your current level of practice, without

good defense, you will continue to lose. At this point your

practice should be 50% offense and 50% defense.”

Nicholas began practicing his defensive skills: Blocking,

parrying, sidestepping, and pivoting. After a year, he was

satisfied that his defense was as strong as his offense.

Nicholas began winning most of his matches again, and

continued to win for many years. He learned to handle the

losses much better, taking them in stride and just continuing

to practice.

Several years passed when, once again, he started losing.

After a string of defeats, he talked with the master. Nicholas

reminded the master that, years before, he had been told to

develop his defense as well as his offense. He explained that

this advice had served him well. But now, he was losing

again. Nicholas asked, “Am I just getting old?”

His master laughed and said, “Old? I am more than twice

your age.”

Nicholas asked, “If I am not old, then what should I be


The master said, “ Get rid of offense and defense and just

  1. Offense and defense are internal attitudes, motivations

and thoughts. These thoughts cause you to view the other

person as an opponent. Your anticipation, fueled by desire

to win, causes your defeat. Remember that anger, fear,

frustration, anticipation or judgment has no place in a clear

and calm mind. You are defeating yourself. Learn to view the

other person as a partner, stay calm and focused, and let the

outcome happen as it may.”

Nicholas asked, “Are you telling me that I shouldn’t care

at all about winning or losing?”

The master said, “You should let go of all thought and

be in the moment. When you are able to do this, you will

spontaneously and creatively respond to anything that

happens. Meditation is the foundation of martial arts practice.

If you cannot control your mind when you sit to meditate, you

most certainly won’t be able to keep control over your mind

in a crisis, or during sparring. After all these years of training,

your body may have reached its limit on speed, power, and

flexibility. Work on controlling and disciplining your mind.

Your sparring will get better, and so will your life.”


A life of reaction is

slavery, intellectually

and spiritually. One

must fight for a life of

action, not reaction.

–Rita Mae Brown


What we have to learn, in both meditation

and life, is to be free of attachment to the

good experiences, and free of aversion to

the negative ones.

–Sogyal Rinpoche


As human beings, we

   all want to be happy

and free from misery…

  the key to happiness

        is inner peace.

–Dalai Lama




Lessons Review

The activity this month is answering questions from

the last eleven lessons. Although some of the questions

have specific answers, others are looking for general

understanding of the lessons. If necessary, go back and

review the related topic, activity or technique.

  1. In your own words, explain the student teacher

relationship in detail.

  1. In your own words, explain how to practice diaphragm

breathing and the benefits.

  1. List the seven ways of becoming a great martial artist.
  2. What is the goal of triangular breathing?
  3. In your own words, explain how to practice triangular


  1. Explain the concept of practicing as partners and not as


  1. In tension and relaxation exercises, does the tension lead

the breath or does the breath lead the tension?

  1. In both good and bad times, what can we always control?
  2. Name one thing on your original wish list that you have

already done?

  1. Which statement is correct?
  2. The more tension in my body and mind, the more

focused I am, and I breath slower.

  1. The more tension in my body and mind, the less

focused I am, and I breath faster.

  1. In your own words, explain the phrase, “Do what you

can do perfectly.”

  1. Explain how to practice the technique of “Watching your

thoughts,” and the benefits.

  1. Complete the sentence, “Right now, you are the sum

total of _________________.”

  1. Describe the benefits of affirmations and explain two

different ways to practice affirmations.

  1. Complete balance cannot be achieved and maintained

in life. List strategies you can use to maintain relative


  1. In your own words, complete the sentence, “To be a

martial artist, you must_________.”

  1. What are the two environments addressed in these

lessons. Which one is more important and why?

  1. Explain the connection between the breath and the


  1. Explain the difference between watching the breath and

controlling the breath.


Do not seek to

follow in the foot-

steps of the wise;

seek what they




When you have completed this activity keep a copy of your

work for future reference and make a copy to turn in to your



In meditation, work on consistency, depth, and

then duration to achieve calmness, peacefulness

and ultimately self-realization.


The most important

     journey is the

        one within.




Watching the breath

The goal in meditation is to detach from the senses and

clear the mind of all thought. There is a distinction between

meditation and a breathing exercise. Breathing techniques

are exercises to manipulate the breath for a specific result.

Every breathing technique has a specific purpose.

Watching the breath is the first meditation technique.

It is a very basic and powerful technique that can be

practiced by anyone, regardless of religious beliefs. Every

human being breathes, and simply watching your breath

cannot offend any spiritual path or religious belief.

So, begin by sitting comfortably in a full lotus, half lotus,

cross- legged, seiza or in a straight back chair. Keep your

chin parallel to the ground, hands relaxed and up turned at

the juncture between the thigh and the abdomen. Eyes

should be gently closed, and your attention should be

focused at the point between the eyebrows. Practice 6-12

diaphragm breathes to oxygenate the body. Exhale and

begin to watch the breath. Do not try to control it forcibly.

Just let it flow naturally. The breath has four positions,

inhaling, holding the breath in, exhaling, or holding the

breath out. Do not attempt to control the breath, just be

aware of the position, without judgment.


Not only a truer knowledge, but a greater power,

comes to one in the quietude and silence of a mind

that, instead of bubbling on the surface, can go to

its own depths and listen.

–Sri Aurobindo


Resist analyzing each breath. Don’t think about whether

it is a good deep breath, a short breath, whether or not it

is satisfying, or whether inhalation was faster than the

exhalation. Just feel the breath and watch it without

attachment. Watch as if you were observing another person

breathing. After a period of time, the breath will naturally


The breath and the mind are inseparable. The condition

of one directly reflects the condition of the other. As the

breathing slows, the mind will slow. As thoughts slow, the

breathing will slow. At this time you want to be totally aware

of the breath, consumed in it to the exclusion of everything

else. As you learn to go within, the senses will unplug,

allowing the mind to become still. Practice this technique for

at least ten to fifteen minutes a day. Gradually increase to

twenty minutes or more.


To meet the true self,

one must unplug the

senses and go within.


Key Points

  • Keep the spine straight and the chin parallel to the ground
  • Keep the attention focused at the point between the


  • Hold the body perfectly still while practicing this technique
  • Wait at least one hour after eating to practice
  • Understand the difference between manipulating and

controlling the breath, and watching the breath


  • Reduces stress and increases awareness
  • Helps to promote calmness and a realization that you are

more than your thoughts

  • Connects you on a deeper level to what is real in that



 What is behind

the darkness of

   closed eyes?




Recommended Reading

Tao Te Ching: 25th Anniversary Edition–Lao Tsu

The I-Ching or Book of Changes: A Guide to Life’s

Turning Points—Brian Browne Walker

After the Ectasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows

Wise on the Spiritual Path–Jack Kornfield

Man’s Eternal Quest–Paramahamsa Yogananda


Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet.

It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already

there–buried under the fifty thousand thoughts

the average person thinks every day.

–Dr. Deepak Chopra