Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Meditation Retreat

Jessica and I decided to go on a two day Buddhist meditation retreat. We met at a Buddhist monk university with a bunch of other backpackers. The retreat is a free service provided for tourists. First we were introduced to Buddhism. A monk explained that Buddhism is not a religion, but a way of life. Everyone can be a Buddhist as long as they follow the precepts of Buddhism which include spreading loving-kindness to the world, enriching and developing your soul through deep introspection and self-mastery, and discovering the path that leads to a balanced life.

After the introduction they drove us up to an incredibly well-kept campus complete with dorms, a large meditation hall, and a dining hall. Once we got there we were asked to change into all white, and then to refrain from speaking the rest of the day. It was so peaceful. Granted it did kind of look like we belonged to an insane asylum as we wondered around the yard, but the silence and the white really set a tone of respect and reverence.

We met in the meditation hall and sat on mats listening to the Buddhist monks in front as they explained different techniques. Their purpose was very clear. They weren’t hoping to convert us to their doctrine; they were only offering ways to exercise the mind in hopes that it would help us attain peace. “You (westerners in general) eat food and exercise in order to strengthen your body, but you don’t take the time to feed and exercise your mind.”

I always thought that meditation was this practice where you fell into intense concentration about deep and complex issues and some meditation techniques may facilitate that, but what we were taught was that meditation focuses on simplicity rather than the complex. Our monk used the term, “monkey mind” to describe the way our thoughts constantly jump around all over the place and he taught that meditation practices are simple exercises used to gain control over our mind. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant until we started the meditation.

The first technique we learned was walking meditation. We stood and started chanting “standing, standing, standing, intending to walk.” Then we would slowly lift our right foot move it a step in front of us, and then gently set it down while chanting “right (lift the right foot) go (move it forward) thus (set it down).” And then we would switch to the left foot. We did it forever! (okay, it was like 15 minutes, but it felt like forever). The whole point was to focus on, and only on, our movement. Anytime our minds wondered we were told to acknowledge the thought, figure out (I'm second from the left) why we were thinking it, and then to gently focus back on our movement. It was incredible. I had no idea how much my mind jumps around! It was so hard to live in the present moment. I was in the present, but my mind was jumping from first grade when I slid on the sidewalk, to high school graduation when I was trying to decide if I should take a picture with Jon Daniels, to 6th grade when the missionaries came over. I was thinking about everything I had to do the next day, everything that had happened the day before. I was imagining conversations that had never happened, and situations that probably never would happen. Heck, I was writing this blog in my head! What was interesting to note was how many times certain thoughts kept coming up. “Okay, I’m thinking this…I’m thinking it again…and again, hmmm.” Very insightful and so dang hard! I found that the meditation which included simple physical movement was easier for me, but Jessica did really well with meditation that focused on sound, and other people did well when theu just focused on breathing.

The way my mind jumps around isn’t always a bad thing, however, I realized how I’ve let myself become a slave to these thoughts. I worry about things that I have absolutely no control over, I freak out about something that hasn’t happened, I let thoughts get in the way of the things I really want to accomplish. I have a great imagination, but it has been a curse as well as a blessing because I haven’t been able to control when and where I let my mind wonder. I keep thinking about how good this would be for people who are addicted to pornography. Pornography is a huge problem at BYU and all I could think about is how much suffering could be eased if we all practiced simple exercises everyday that strengthened our ability to control where our thoughts run off to. I never realized the benefit of meditation. It's not a hokey religious practice that wastes time, but it's a valuable, practical exercise that could help us take a little bit more control of our lives.

2 comments:

Richard Ingate said...

What a clear and readable account. I love the template too! Did you make it yourself?

best wishes,

Richard

www.lifechoicemeditation.com

Samantha said...

A very insightful post on concentration exercises. Here's a website that i thought i might share with you, which is very helpful on teaching you how to improve your concentration. It's at www.attention-deficit-disorder.net. There are easy guides for you to follow too.