This audio was recommended by Oprah magazine, especially for beginners. I purchased the audio download for US$20 from Soundtrue.com and faithfully sat on my mat every night to go through the lessons. (Total 5 hours 52 mins.)
This audio recording was taken from a 5-week retreat. The objective of the retreat was to learn how to work your mind through meditation by learning about:
1) Stability – the intention is to stabilise our mind as the root of suffering, according to Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist Nun.
2) Settle – To ‘check in’ by being present enough to feel your thoughts and be aware of the obsessive thoughts.
We are thought the Shamatha meditation – training the mind by placing the mind on an object.
The first session was pretty basic. We are given the following instructions:
1) Sit down and settle and have a sense of being here and be aware of what you brought in.
2) Be very clear when you begin, perhaps by saying to self : Now I begin my meditation.
3) Be clear with your intention – Stabilise your mind by placing your mind on an object, noticing it wandering off and coming back to the object.
Before we begin, we are reminded of our posture – seat, legs, hands, torso, eyes and mouth. We are advised to visualise a straight line from the head to the cushion, with a string lifting you up on the head. The eyes should be open as part of the wakefulness, with the eye gaze either 4-6′ in front or close eye gaze looking at nose. Mouth should be slightly open with a relax jaw (I find myself drooling after a while). The legs are crossed comfortably in front.
Each session is followed by a short 12 minutes practise session. I had trouble with eyes opening as my blinking was distracting. The mouth open slightly also proved to be a problem and I decided to meditate with both closed.
In Session Two, she discusses the experiences of the mind during meditation. A wild mind can be loosened by relaxation with an audible sigh. A grey dull groggy mind can be brightened up by counting breath or shifting the focus of breath to the abdomen. She introduces three levels of discursiveness:
1) Fantasy, delusion – the mind completely wanders off and accompanied by negative emotion. One can return by noticing it, acknowledging it and then gently lightening up.
2) Awareness gone off and then returning.
3) Not drawn off, but snippets of conversation present with thoughts in the background but one is still focussed on the object.
I find these levels to be useful as I identifies with all three levels and are more understanding towards my mind.
Pema Chodron makes no apologies about repeating and repeating what she has taught, often stressing on the same topic. Session Three is case in point. Here, she also teaches Mahamudia Meditation, by waiting for a thought to occur, and then dissolving it into space with an out breadth.
Session Four reminds us to be faithful to the technic (of returning to the object) and be gentle with ourselves. This inspires us to uncover Buddha nature by not following thoughts. The metaphor she uses is, thoughts are waves in the sea, impossible to get rid off or repress them, but we should be aware of them and perhaps try to freeze the fluidity of thoughts.
She also leads us through a meditation by evoking a strong emotion (both positive or negative) by not indulging in it, and instead notice the body’s reaction. It was easy for me to do this as I realised Aaron was still downstairs using the PC instead of up in bed as promised thirty minutes ago.
Session Five (the last session) is a review followed by a longer practise. Here, she includes other senses as object of focus. Five minutes of sound meditation (focusing on a sound), sight meditation (focussing on a sight), touch (by being aware of your seat on the cushion, or the tingling of your hands as you place them on your knees. I could actually feel the qi moving.) and smell (an incense would be helpful here).
Pema teaches the Northern Buddhism (Tibetan/Zen) way of meditation which involves eyes open and eye gaze that would lead one into external recognition and wider awareness. She mentions that this is different from the Southern (Thai) meditation with eye closed, which internalises to cultivate inward awareness. She briefly touches on Hindu Meditation, which is eye closed to develop a state of bliss which is not encouraged in Buddhism. I am glad for this clarification as some yoga journals teaches this.
The classes are quite authentic even though I may be in my own bedroom. Halfway through a meditation, I hear her commenting that ‘some of you are still meditating with eyes closed‘ (guilty!) and to open them.
I prefer the eye closed method despite practicing a few times with eyes opened, perhaps due to years of practising it this way.
It’s still a struggle but I think I am improving daily.