By now, you're getting used to our meditations. In fact, you may have noticed our top secret formula:
- 1-2 minute intro
- 3-7 minute mindfulness meditation (usually mindfulness of breath)
- 2-3 minute contemplation, ending in a reflection question
Maybe you're enjoying this, maybe you're not (if so, let us know!). Regardless, in case you're wondering why we do it this way, this blogpost is for you.
The first thing to note is that this structure is rooted in the truth of impermanence, in that all I can tell you for sure is that it will change at some point . Hopefully as we grow our organization and hear all of your wisdom, we'll find an even better way of doing things. But for now, this structure supports our practice by allowing us to to gently come to the contemplation part of the practice in the optimal frame of mind.
We start with an introduction that brings the meditator into the practice. We usually try to include a story or a quick vignette intended to give a flavor for what's to come, mostly to help you a chance to settle in.
Next up is a mindfulness meditation, which is generally mindfulness of breath, or some other classic meditation style. Traditionally, it's taught that meditation has two components: shamatha and vipassana. Shamatha roughly translates to calming or calm-abiding, and vipassana to insight. Any time you meditate, you're accessing both of these components - the practice calms the mind *and* can bring insight into the nature of mind and reality.
With Awaken, the length and style of the mindfulness meditation practice result in it being more of a shamatha practice - which is exactly what we're looking for. It can seem like meditation isn't always a calming experience, but shamatha takes the long view: over time, a consistent practice will make our minds calmer. To get there, sometimes it's necessary to go through periods where the mind seems chaotic or boring. (In fact, some would say these rough times bear the greatest fruit in our practice.)
Alright, time for a quick digression on how meditation doesn't always seem calming, and how to maybe make it more so. Maybe.
To find an increased sense of calm-abiding in our practice, we can notice how the mindfulness meditation is landing with us and tweak our attitude and intention. Buddhist philosophy teaches that there are two fundamental ways our practice can fall short - we're either putting in too little or too much effort. With too little effort, we get sleepy or aren't really engaged with the placing of the attention on the breath (or whatever the meditative anchor is). We take the posture of meditation, but we're not really showing up to practice. With too much effort, we get that sense of chaos and never-stopping mind. The idea of practice being "calm abiding" sounds far off, because we experience practice as a nonstop torrent of thoughts.
This is a helpful framework because, unless you're already enlightened (please, please, let us know if this is the case... seriously, we can't wait to meet you :), you're always putting in too little or too much effort.
And this question of effort is the only thing we can really *do* when it comes to our practice. Our minds are our minds - we can't change what's going on in the same way that we change a state of hunger by eating. But if we recognize where we fall on the scale of effort, we can nudge ourselves closer to optimal practice. If we're finding we're falling asleep or disconnected, maybe we can meditate standing up or generally just bring it a little more. It can be helpful to remember how precious and temporary life is, and how urgent it is to work with our minds so we can free ourselves of cycles of stress and suffering.
On the flip side, if you are getting that sense of spinning out of control, it's generally because you're trying to take your practice to a certain place (usually a "quiet mind", whatever we think that means). This is a good chance to take a deep breath, remember we're not trying to go anywhere, and loosen up the effort you're putting into practice. It can be helpful to remember that there is no pinnacle meditation experience we're chasing - some days the mind will be noisy, others it will be quiet; some days the body will be blissful and others numb or painful. All we need to do for the practice to "work" is to be with whatever is going on.
As a side note, as someone who generally falls on this "too much effort" end of the spectrum, I can usually identify my effort level by paying attention to my body: maybe my muscles are tightening up or my hands are digging into my thighs instead of gently resting on them (or, as a classic one for you zen folks out there, my thumbs are pressing together when my hands are in the cosmic mudra instead of lightly touching). A mantra I repeat to myself is not to be for or against what I'm experiencing, but instead to just be with it.
Truly, there is very little we can do - if you boil down those last 4 paragraphs, I basically just said: if you're putting in too much effort, chill out; if you aren't putting in enough, bring it. If you've ever been told to "chill out' or "bring it", though, you know how maddening these phrases can be. (My typical responses: "screw you, I am chill" or "screw you, I'm trying.) So maybe the course-correction we're going for here is simply, when you notice which side of the energy spectrum you're on, kindly and gently saying to yourself, "hey friend, chill out/bring it", and just do so once and come back to the practice.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Our minds have an in-built ability to self correct - experiencing meditation as sleeping/boring or chaotic is the exact feedback we need to apply more or less effort, respectively. Our minds know what to do and naturally start to move towards optimal effort, so even when we feel like meditation is really hard or doing nothing for us, the exact opposite is true. The practice is always working for us in the most nuanced of ways, even if we can't feel it doing so. There is nothing fundamental we need to change about our practice (or ourselves).
So getting back to the Awaken Meditation format, we're just finishing up the mindfulness practice, which - whether we know it or not - is calming the mind. This calming is like the giving muddy water time to settle - slowly but surely, the mud falls to the bottom. So, when we get to our contemplation, we can see more clearly what's happening in our minds. Instead of trying to analyze our way to a response to the contemplation - which is another way of muddying up the water - we notice what comes to our attention.
The purpose of the mindfulness meditation in our practice with the app is to prepare the minds for contemplation, so the gold at the bottom of the riverbed is easier to see. This inner wisdom comes from the deepest parts of our mind and ourselves, and we can trust it to point us in the right direction. This doesn't mean each contemplation will get us the "right" answer, but instead, over time, we can know that we'll have a better idea of what our truth is, and we can let ourselves be guided by this knowing.
So to recap, here is the formula for a Awaken Meditation practice:
- An introduction to whet our appetite for the contemplation and bring us into the practice
- Some mindfulness meditation to settle the mind
- A contemplation to unearth wisdom from the settled mind
Hope that gives you a deeper understanding of our process, and we'd love to hear any questions or comments you may have! The awakening of our inner guru and living by its wisdom is something that can help us navigate life, access its joy, and deal with its lows. That's the power of meditation, and it's what we hope to unlock with you, together.