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  • John Thomas Dodson

A Good Meditation

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Watching Impermanence

In our meditation, we learn from both successes and failures. People fail all the time. Mindfulness of the breath is one of the most frustrating meditation practices ever conceived because, if you try to get something out of it, it is not a very giving practice. You have to be patient. You have to learn from your successes and from your failures, until you no longer really care whether your experience is pleasant or unpleasant.

Ajahn Sumedho: The Mind and the Way: Buddhist Reflections on Life


When we consider starting anything new, whether it's learning how to play piano or taking up golf, our natural questions are, "What will I get out of this? Is it worth my time? Is it worth my effort?"

Maybe you've heard about mindfulness and you want to try it for yourself. Maybe those same questions arise.

So you sit down and begin to watch your breath. You focus on the nostrils and you feel the touch of the place where the breath enters and exits. You breathe in and out; you do that again. While you're trying to hold your focus a thought arises. Maybe you don't even notice that it has arisen, but your mind does what it has always done: it chases the thought. One thought leads to another and pretty soon your mind is far away from the act of watching the breath. Time passes.... It gradually occurs to you that you "should be meditating", and you realize that you didn't stay with the breath very long at all before you wandered off. You return your attention to the breath, and the scenario plays out again. You're soon lost in thought, far from the intentions you had at the beginning of the meditation.

We tend to judge ourselves, and so we might have an experience like this and say something like, "I guess I can't meditate."

Actually, this is precisely what meditation is: Things arise and they pass away. Breath, thoughts, focus, life itself. Noticing that process is what we're doing. Over time, we develop our skills at concentration and we connect to our natural awareness.

There are lots of benefits to this practice, and they reveal themselves gradually in many aspects of life. For the moment though, rather than focusing on whether you're "good" at meditating, just decide to do it: not once, but over and over again. There's a reason that it's called a "practice".

You've begun to quiet the mind, to break from the habits of running after every thought and thinking it's "you".

You've started on the path.

What's a good meditation? It's the one you have.

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