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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
winter 2 0 1 4 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly 69 Are You Just Coasting? I f you’re a longtime meditator, there’s a danger you need to be aware of. At some point, once you get used to daily meditation, even com- fortable with it, you may stop meditating with the goal of liberation and instead use it for mainte- nance. When that happens you may find that when you don’t meditate, you feel nervous, wired, or even a little sick. Skipping meditation can result in a hypersensitivity to arising phenomena. So we can get quite good at daily meditation. Do you remember when you achieved samadhi (“access concentration”) for the first time? Samadhi occurs when your attention becomes single-pointed, not easily distracted by external or internal phe- nomena. With samadhi, whole new horizons open up for insight and realization. However, for some of us, a new problem also arises in our practice, especially for those of us in the busy world holding down jobs, raising families, and investing time and energy in various relation- ships. We begin to use meditation to help us relax, lighten daily stress, and ease our relationship to suffering. There’s nothing wrong per se with using practice in this way. The problem occurs when we allow this kind of practice to replace our intention for a genuine transformative insight into the nature of our existence. When that happens, our practice betrays our commitment to the dharma; we are no longer seeking liberation. We’re in a phase of “just coasting.” The dharma is not a palliative for relieving daily stress. It is intended for the deep exploration of the structure of our existence and for the radical trans- formation of our perspective on that daily existence. In a nutshell, its purpose is enlightenment. With realization, we cease to be solitary, alienated selves and instead become part of an integral whole; our suffering becomes transparent, and a profound joy at the heart of life is revealed to us. But that doesn’t happen if we are just coasting in our practice. So how can we tell if we are just coasting? If you have a daily practice that has been established over a period of time, you may notice that if you sit for a particular length of time, you begin to feel peace- ful, relaxed, or simply present. This is not the same as samadhi. With samadhi, we are single-pointed in our attention and our awareness is clear and sharp; our sense of intention is present and awareness becomes a fine tool. We can begin to investigate arising phenomena, contemplate the four founda- tions of mindfulness, or sharpen our concentration and begin to practice the jhanas. The just-coasting state is relaxed, not sharp, and resembles the drifting state between sleep and wak- ing consciousness. In this state, intention is slack and time seems to disappear. We can remain in this If your practice has become a comfortable routine, you may be using it to prop up your life. jim Willems has made that mistake. He reminds us not to lose sight of the ultimate goal of meditation. Ceramic portraits from the series A Calm and Quiet Mind by Adrien Miller SCUlPTURES | adrienart.etsy.com