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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
70 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 4 state effortlessly for minutes, and it is very easy to drift in and out of sleep. In this state, tension and stress can be released. In fact, it is easier to release tension in this just-coasting state than it is when we are sleeping, because intentionality is still present. We’re able to focus on stress in the body or mind and then use the breath to release it. This state is similar to the relaxation states that some self-hyp- nosis programs use to help people relieve stress and promote sleep. Using our meditation practice in this way can become habitual and even addictive. The mind’s capacity to self-medicate is profound. Just coast- ing puts the mind in charge of our meditation and undermines the intention to achieve genuine insight into the delusional aspects of a separated ego. It is important to remember that the ego is seeking com- fort, not liberation. I can speak to this temptation from my own life experience. My body suffers from a painful, chronic illness. Vipassana meditation, in conjunction with pain medications, can greatly reduce the mind’s and body’s reaction to that pain and the resultant suf- fering that it sometimes engenders. Jon Kabat-Zinn has written books on this subject and developed a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduc- tion that’s offered in hospital settings throughout North America. Today there is a whole movement using mindfulness to deal with stress and pain. I myself have used such techniques for years, and it has allowed me to live with significant, inoperable pain. But while I am profoundly grateful for the gift of mindfulness in my life, I can also see how using it in this way has permitted my desire for enlighten- ment to become dormant for periods of time. Only recently, I awakened from a period of using my meditation practice to cope. Some of the ancient meditation masters sug- gested that in order to pursue enlightenment, one had to be well in mind and body. There is an argu- ment to be made for that. When you are seriously ill or even dying, it may be that all you can do is cope with your pain and discomfort. There is no moral judgment of you if this is the case. However, when you use meditation to cope, you may eventually attain an equilibrium position that allows you to once again address the question of enlightenment. I am in the midst of a radical period of increasing pain, but there are occasions still arising for attain- ing and using samadhi for investigation and insight into the actual basis of reality. Assessing Your PrActice To better gauge whether you are just coasting, first consider why you meditate and what meditation is doing for you. If at any point in your reflection (and you are doing this for yourself, so be honest) the image of maintenance arises in your reflection, you may be coasting. The best way to be sure is to take the usual time you meditate and double it. Say you meditate for thirty minutes twice a day. Do an hour twice a day. Or if you are really brave, meditate for two hours in the morning, first thing. Many of us will notice when we do this that our meditation runs some- thing like this: First fifteen minutes: settling down, letting go of daily concerns Next fifteen minutes: letting go of stress, becom- ing internally quiet and peaceful Next fifteen minutes: mind begins to query why we are meditating longer, body twitches, mind may run scenarios about quitting Next fifteen minutes: full-fledged resistance occurs, discomfort is extreme Once you’ve gone past your normal threshold, it’s important to keep meditating and noting. Just watch your mind react. If you can continue the meditation for a second hour, you will find that samadhi will sometimes occur. It’s then that the investigation aspect of vipassana is possible. This is not to say that the first hour is bad meditation or that it is not meditation. If you pay close attention, jIM WIllEMS teaches vipassana and jhana meditation at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California. he has been a Buddhist practitioner for more than forty years. PHOTOevad.deslauriers