Nếu muốn có những điều chưa từng có, bạn phải làm những việc chưa từng làm.Sưu tầm
Sự toàn thiện không thể đạt đến, nhưng nếu hướng theo sự toàn thiện, ta sẽ có được sự tuyệt vời. (Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.)Vince Lombardi
Lửa nào sánh lửa tham? Ác nào bằng sân hận? Khổ nào sánh khổ uẩn? Lạc nào bằng tịnh lạc?Kinh Pháp Cú (Kệ số 202)
Hào phóng đúng nghĩa với tương lai chính là cống hiến tất cả cho hiện tại. (Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.)Albert Camus
Kẻ yếu ớt không bao giờ có thể tha thứ. Tha thứ là phẩm chất của người mạnh mẽ. (The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.)Mahatma Gandhi
Điều quan trọng không phải vị trí ta đang đứng mà là ở hướng ta đang đi.Sưu tầm
Người ngu nghĩ mình ngu, nhờ vậy thành có trí. Người ngu tưởng có trí, thật xứng gọi chí ngu.Kinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 63)
Điều quan trọng nhất bạn cần biết trong cuộc đời này là bất cứ điều gì cũng có thể học hỏi được.Rộng Mở Tâm Hồn
Mặc áo cà sa mà không rời bỏ cấu uế, không thành thật khắc kỷ, thà chẳng mặc còn hơn.Kinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 9)
Như bông hoa tươi đẹp, có sắc lại thêm hương; cũng vậy, lời khéo nói, có làm, có kết quả.Kinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 52)

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Joyful Wisdom
»» Part Two: Experience - 6. Tools of transformation

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Trí tuệ hoan hỷ - Phần Hai: Kinh Nghiệm Tu Tập - 6. Phương Tiện Chuyển Hóa

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Mua bản sách in

It is to guide students well that I taught different approaches.

—Lankavatarasutra, translated by Maria Montenegro

We are in a situation of someone who possesses a beautiful car but doesn't know how to drive.

—BOKAR RINPOCHE, Meditation: Advice to Beginners, translated by Christiane Buchet

THERE'S AN OLD Buddhist saying: “In order to fly, a bird needs two wings.” One of those “wings” is an understanding of the principles of suffering, buddha nature, emptiness, and so on-referred to earlier as relative wisdom, recognizing the way things are through analyzing experience. But relative wisdom on its own is only the beginning of the path of transformation. It needs to be applied in order to be made a part of one's own life.

Application, also known as “method,” is the other wing of the bird: the means, or process, through which relative wisdom is transformed into an actual experience of freedom that is beyond subject and object, self and other, or positive and negative.

The importance of combining wisdom and method can be made a little bit clearer through the story of Ananda, the Buddhas cousin who became his closest personal attendant. Ananda did his best to ensure that the Buddha was comfortable, helping to make sure that wherever he was traveling, he had food, a nice place to sleep, and protection from the elements of heat, wind, cold, and rain. Ananda also had quite a good memory and was able to recite the Buddha's teachings word for word. “If you give any teaching,” he asked his cousin, “I want to hear it.” Of course, the Buddha agreed.

There was only one slight problem: Ananda could repeat the Buddha's teachings but he didn't spend much time practicing them.

But another fellow, Mahakasyapa, not only listened, but also put what he'd learned into practice and attained the same state of freedom and clarity as the Buddha had. As the Buddha lay dying, he appointed Mahakasyapa as his main lineage holder—that is to say, the person who could pass on to others not only the teachings but the actual experience of freedom. “After you,” he added, “Ananda can be my main lineage holder.”

Mahakasyapa, of course, accepted, yet he pondered; “How can I help Ananda, since he so rarely practices?”

As he considered the problem, he came up with a rather ingenious plan. After the Buddha died, Mahakasyapa—-to put it in modern terms—”fired” Ananda. “Please leave this area,” he said, “because when Buddha was alive you didn't treat him with proper respect and you made a lot of mistakes.”

Ananda, of course, was very upset. “When Buddha was alive,' he thought, “I was most important—now Mahakasyapa fires me!”

He went away to another district of India where there were many people who had heard the Buddha and wanted further teachings. So Ananda taught, and his students put the teachings into practice. Many achieved the freedom of mind—the direct, clear awareness of experience that doesn't change the nature of the experiencer-which the Buddha had achieved. But Ananda still didn't put much effort into practice.

As the story goes, during meditation one of his students saw into Ananda's mind and realized that he had not yet attained enlightenment. The student said to him, “Please, teacher, meditate! You aren't free.”

Now Ananda was really distraught. “Even my students have gone beyond me", he thought.

At last, he sat under a tree and began to practice what he'd been taught, eventually attaining freedom and the joy that accompanies it. As he awakened, he saw why Mahakasyapa had “fired” him. Not long after, he went back to see Mahakasyapa, who held a big ceremony to celebrate Ananda's awakening, officially recognizing him as the second main lineage holder of the Buddha's teachings.


Our minds . . . are riddled by confusion and doubt.

—Sogyal Rinpoche,
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, edited by Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey

According to most classical Buddhist texts, achieving this sort of freedom involves three stages: listening, contemplation, and meditation. The first two stages are not so very different from the elements of modern educational systems. “Listening” essentially means allowing oneself to be introduced to new facts or ideas, whether presented orally by a teacher or read in a book. During my travels I've met a number of teachers who have said that this phase of practice corresponds to an elementary stage of learning in which students are introduced to basic principles—for example multiplication tables, grammatical standards, or rules of driving.

“Contemplation,” the second stage of practice, may sound mysterious; but essentially it involves thinking deeply about lessons learned through reading and oral teachings, and questioning whether or not what you've heard or read is a valid means of understanding and responding to life events. It probably doesn't take much contemplation to recognize that nine times nine actually equals eighty-one or that a sign on a street corner with the letters “S,” “T,” “O,” “P” on a red background really does mean that you should apply your brakes and wait to see if there are any pedestrians crossing the street or cars approaching. But when it comes to larger issues, like considering whether, or how deeply, your life is colored or conditioned by discomfort or dukkha, then a bit more effort is necessary.

Contemplation of such larger issues can begin with simply asking, “Am I contented, right now, in my own skin? Am I comfortable in this chair, with these lights overhead, and with these sounds surrounding me?” No great analysis is required; there's no need to go into lengthy examination. It's a process of checking in with your sense of being alive, right here, right now.

Next, you can proceed to ask yourself about the thoughts and emotions that either occasionally or perhaps frequently cross your awareness. Do you sometimes experience shivers of regret over decisions you've made in the past? Do you experience feelings of anger or resentment toward people currently in your life or toward current personal or professional obligations?

Asking questions of this sort does not represent any sort of moral or ethical considerations. They're simply starting points for contemplating whether or not you experience discomfort on intellectual, emotional, or physical levels: whether or not your own experience corresponds to the basic insights of the Four Noble Truths. “Am I uncomfortable?” “Am I dissatisfied?” “Would I like something more out of life?” The words in which you frame such questions aren't particularly important. What you're looking at is what my teachers called the immediate or fresh essence of personal experience.

“Meditation,” the third stage of practice, asks us to begin by simply observing our physical, intellectual, and emotional experiences without judgment. Nonjudgmental observation is the basis of meditation, at least in terms of the Buddhist tradition. Many cultures, of course, have developed their own specific forms of meditation practice, each uniquely suited to the cultural environment from which they emerged. Since my own training was grounded in the practices that have developed within the Buddhist tradition, I can't speak about the details of the practices that have evolved in other traditions and other cultures.

Although there are a variety of practices within the Buddhist tradition introduced by the Buddha and developed and refined over the centuries by great teachers in the countries where Buddhism has spread, the basis of these practices is nonjudgmental observation of experience. Even looking at a thought like, “Oh, I did such and such twenty years ago. How stupid of me to regret it, I was just a kid then!” is meditation. It's an exercise in simply observing thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they rise and fall in our experience.

And it is an exercise.

Some years ago, a Westerner came to Sherab Ling, where His Eminence, Tai Situ Rinpoche—the head of the monastery and one of the most influential teachers of Tibetan Buddhism - was teaching about meditation and emptiness. Maybe the man was sleeping during the teachings on meditation or maybe his mind was drifting, but when Tai Situ Rinpoche began teaching about emptiness, he suddenly snapped to attention. “I need to get rid of I” he thought. “If I get rid of I, I'll realize emptiness. I'll be free. No more problems, no more suffering. So I'm going to stop saying I".

When he told Tai Situ Rinpoche about his solution, Rinpoche told him there was no benefit in that. “I” wasn't the problem. To recognize emptiness you have to look at the roots of “I”— ignorance, desire, and so on.

But the man didn't listen. He really believed his shortcut would work much faster and more effectively than any of the old methods the Buddha taught.

So he just stopped saying “I.” Instead of saying, “I'm going to bed,” he'd say, “Going to bed.” If he was going to the nearby town of Beijnath, he would say, “Going to Beijnath.” And after a year of doing this, he went crazy. He didn't experience emptiness. He didn't cut through the root causes of suffering. He just pretended he didn't exist.

I don't know what happened to him after he left Sherab Ling, but it was clear that his shortcut didn't work very well. In fact, it reflects a common misunderstanding about Buddhist teachings: that in order to find freedom, we have to get rid of what is often referred to nowadays as the “ego.”

As I recently learned, however, ego is something of a mistranslation of what Sigmund Freud originally referred to as the consciousness aspect of mind. It is a set of functions that include -decision making, planning, and analyzing information, which work together to achieve a balance among instinctive tendencies of desire and aversion, the memories, ideas, and habits impressed on us as children, and the conditions and events that occur in our environment. In his original writings, Freud referred to this collection of functions as the “I,” a coherent sense of self that emerges from this delicate balancing act. The word “ego” was later substituted in translation in order to make his insights more acceptable to the scientific community of the mid-twentieth century.

Over the years, ego and its related terms have accumulated a somewhat negative characterization. “Oh, that person is such an egotist!” people exclaim. Or maybe, “I'm sorry, I was just being egotistical.” This somewhat negative connotation of ego has spilled over into many texts and translations of Buddhist teachings.

In terms of Buddhist philosophy, however, there is nothing inherently wrong or negative associated with experiencing or utilizing a sense of self or ego. The ego is simply a set of functions developed to assist us in navigating the domain of relative reality. We may as well condemn ourselves for having a hand or a foot. Difficulties arise when we become attached to the or ego as the only means through which we relate to our experience—a predicament comparable to relating to experience only in terms of our hands or feet. Most of us would probably agree that we aren't our hands or our feet; yet neither would we cut off our hands or feet because they aren't the sum total of who we are and what were capable of experiencing.

Likewise, though ego, “I”, or “the sense of self” may persist on a somewhat more subtle level, there's no need to cut it off or cut it out. Rather, we can approach it as a tool - or, perhaps a collection of tools- through which we relate to experience.

Of course, we can't just wake up one morning and say, “Oh, today I'm going to look at the way I've understood everything for my entire life as just a temporary arrangement of interdependent possibilities.” Wisdom has to be applied to be made a part of one's own life.

Most of us can admit that we feel discomfort to some extent or other, and that our experience is to some degree conditioned by our minds. But we tend to get a hit stuck at that point—either by trying to change our minds or by letting our thoughts, emotions, compulsions, and so on, simply take over.

A third alternative -the method or means proposed by the Buddha—is to simply look at the various thoughts, emotions, and so on, as various expressions of the infinite potential of the mind itself. In other words, to use the mind to look at the mind. That's a basic definition of what, in the Buddhist tradition, is commonly referred to as “meditation.” As mentioned a while back, it is known in the Tibetan language as gom, “to become familiar with". Through meditation, we begin to become familiar with the mind.

The mind is so intimately related to the way we relate to ourselves and the world around us, however, that it's difficult to see at first. As one of my teachers put it, looking at the mind is like trying to see your own face without a mirror. You know you have a face and you may have some idea of what it looks like, but that idea is a bit hazy. Its features are obscured by layers of impressions that are constantly shifting, depending on our attitudes, emotions, and other conditions that affect our idea of our face.

Similarly, we know we have a mind, but its features are blurred by overlapping thoughts, feelings, and sensations; thoughts and feelings about our thoughts, feelings, and sensations; thoughts, feelings, and sensations about our thoughts about our thoughts, feelings, and so on. They all pile up on each other like cars crashing on a highway. “I've got to listen to this teaching on emptiness. I'm not listening hard enough. I’ll never learn. Everyone else looks like they're listening and understanding. Why can't I? Well, maybe because my back hurts. And I didn't get much sleep last night. But that shouldn't matter, should it? My mind is emptiness, after all. This pain in my back is emptiness. But I don't get it. It doesn't seem like emptiness to me". And in the middle of all this, something completely unrelated might come up: “Where did I leave my cell phone?“ or maybe a memory. “That stupid thing I said to so-and-so ten years ago—I still can't believe I said that,” or even an urge, “Id love a piece of chocolate right now."

The mind is always active: distinguishing, evaluating, and redistinguishing according to its evaluations—and reevaluating according to new or refined distinctions. More often than not, we find ourselves captivated by all this activity. It seems as normal and natural as looking through a window at the traffic on a busy street. Even if the street we live on isn't particularly busy, we still tend to look out the window to check the weather: Is it snowing? Raining? Is the sky cloudy or clear? Maybe we go from window to window to look out at our front yard, our backyard, the driveway on one side, or our neighbor's house on the other.

Caught up in the habit of looking through a window and defining experience in terms of what we see through it, we don't recognize that the window itself is what enables us to see. Turning the mind to look at the mind is like looking at the window rather than focusing exclusively on the scenery. In so doing, we begin very gradually to recognize that the window and what we see through it occur simultaneously. If we look out a window in one direction, for example, we will see traffic, clouds, rain, and so on, in a particular way. If we look in a different direction, well see things a little differently: the clouds may seem closer or darker while cars and people may seem bigger or smaller.

If we take a step back, though, and look at the entire window, we can begin to recognize these limited, or directional, perspectives as different aspects of a much vaster panorama. There is an unlimited realm of passing thoughts, emotions, and sensations visible through our window, yet not affecting the window itself.

Twenty five hundred years ago, the Buddha introduced a number of practices aimed at helping us to step back and observe the mind. In the following pages, we'll look at three of the most basic of these, which can be practiced anytime, anywhere, and by any-one—regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a Buddhist. Before doing so, however, it might be helpful to examine a few basic guidelines.


For the mind to be still, the body must be disciplined.

—The Ninth Gyalwa Karmapa, Mahamudra: The Ocean of Definitive Meaning, translated by Elizabeth M Callahan

As a young child, I loved to spy on my father and his students, especially when they were meditating. A deep sense of peace and steadiness flooded the tiny, wood-beamed room where he taught, no matter how many people crowded it (and it was often very crowded). Most people, I noticed, would be sitting in a certain way: legs crossed, hands resting in their laps or on their knees, backs straight, eyes half-closed, and mouths slightly open. Whenever I ran off to one of the caves in the mountains and pretended to meditate, I would try to imitate that position, even though I didn't understand why sitting one way or another was particularly necessary.

When I began receiving formal instructions, however, I was introduced to an analogy handed down through generations of Tibetan Buddhist teachers and students, comparing meditation practice to the relationship between a horse and rider. The “rider” is the mind, and the “horse” is the body. While a calm rider can soothe a restive horse, a steady horse can also calm a restive rider.

When we first begin to meditate, the mind is like a restive rider: sometimes agitated, jumping around between thoughts, emotions, and sensations. It is sometimes so overwhelmed by all this jumping around that it becomes dull, unfocused, or exhausted. So it's important, especially in the beginning, to seat ourselves on a steady horse, so to speak; to establish a physical posture that is simultaneously relaxed and alert. Too relaxed and the “horse” might just stop—preoccupied, maybe, by chewing grass. Too alert and the “horse” may become agitated by its surroundings or the mood or temperament of the rider. We need to find a physical balance, neither too relaxed (or “loose,” as it is often described in Buddhist texts), nor too alert, nor too “tight.” We need to tame the horse before we can begin to ride.

There's a formal method of taming and an informal way. The formal method is described in terms of “seven points” or physical positions. Over the centuries these have become known as the seven-point posture of Vairochana—a Sanskrit name or term that may be roughly translated as 'illuminator” or “sun,” an aspect of our capacity to “light up” in terms of experience rather than ideas or concepts.

The first “point” involves establishing a firm base or anchor that connects you to the environment in which you're practicing while providing a reference to the rest of your body. If possible, cross your legs so that each foot rests on the opposite leg. If you can't do this, you can just cross one foot on top of the opposite leg and rest your other foot beneath the opposite leg. If neither position is easy, you can just cross your legs. And if sitting cross-legged on the floor or a cushion—even on your couch or your bed—is difficult, you can just sit with your feet resting evenly on the floor or on a cushion. Don't worry if your feet or legs aren't positioned in exactly the same way as everyone else's in the room. The aim is to establish a physical foundation that is simultaneously comfortable and stable for you, as you are, here and now; not too tight, not too loose.

The second point is to rest your hands in your lap, with the back of one hand resting in the palm of the other. It doesn't matter which hand is placed on top, and you can switch their positions at any time. If you're practicing in a place that is warm and humid, for instance, the covered palm may get hot and sweaty after a while. If you're practicing somewhere cold, the top hand might start feeling a little numb or tingly. It's also fine to simply lay your hands palm-down over your knees. Of course, some people might have short arms and long legs, or long arms and short legs, which would make it difficult to rest the hands directly on the knees in either case. Some people might need to rest their hands above their knees while others might need to rest them below. However or wherever you rest your hands, the idea is to let them rest.

The third point is to allow some space between the arms and the upper body, lifting and spreading the shoulders a little bit. Many classic Buddhist texts describe this point as raising the shoulders so they “resemble the wings of a vulture”—a description often misunderstood as holding the shoulders somewhere up around your ears. Actually, that would be a rather tense and difficult position to maintain, especially for people who have broad or muscular arms that sit very closely to their upper bodies. “Where is there space? I can't find any space! Oh no, I have to make some space!” The essence of the third point is to simply allow ourselves the opportunity to breathe. This may be understood on a literal level as the capacity to inhale and exhale, and on a figurative level as the ability to take in and let go of experience. More often than not, we sit, stand, and move around with our shoulders sagged or hunched, collapsing our lungs so we can't take a full, deep breath—and collapsing our awareness so that we can't absorb the full range of possible experience or let it go. Lifting and spreading the shoulders is like anticipating a deep breath or the possibilities of experience: a way of saying “Hello, breath! Hello, world! How are you today? Oh, now you're gone. But I'm sure you'll come back again.”

The fourth point is to keep your spine as straight as possible, the ultimate physical expression of alertness. “I'm here! I'm awake! I'm alive!” But here, again, it's important to find a balance—not so stiff that you're practically bending backwards, but not so relaxed that you're slouching. You want to be, as the classic texts say, “straight as an arrow.”

The fifth point involves the neck. Over the years of teaching around the world, I've noticed that certain cultural groups have developed some odd habits concerning this point. Asian students tend to forcefully bend their chins down toward their chests, frowning with tension, trying to hold everything in. They look like “meditation warriors,” refusing to let any single thought disturb their minds. Western practitioners, meanwhile, tend to tilt their necks backwards, resting the back of their heads practically on top of their shoulders, exposing their throats and smiling broadly as if proclaiming to the world “I'm so peaceful and relaxed! My experience is so clear, so joyful, so full of bliss!”. Tibetans—including myself- tilt their heads from side to side, causing their whole upper bodies to rock left to right and back again, apparently unable to find any comfortable alignment: “Maybe this way, maybe that way, I don't know.”

The actual instruction is to lengthen the neck by tilting your chin slightly more toward your throat than you may ordinarily be used to doing while allowing yourself some freedom of movement. The sensation could be described as simply resting your head on your neck.

The sixth point concerns the mouth—the whole apparatus of lips, teeth, tongue, and jaws. If we look closely, we may find a habitual tendency to keep our lips, teeth, tongue, and jaws tightly clenched: No way am I going to let anything pass in or out without my permission! That doesn't mean we should force our mouths open, thinking Now I'll have peace; now I'll be open. Either way involves some tension. Rather, we can just allow the mouth to rest naturally as it does when we're at the point of falling asleep: maybe a little bit open, maybe totally closed, but not forced in either way.

The last of the seven points involves the eyes. People new to meditation sometimes find it easier to feel a sense of calmness or steadiness by keeping their eyes closed. This is fine at the beginning. One of the things I learned early on, though, is that keeping the eyes closed makes it easier to drift into such a relaxed state that the mind begins to wander or become a bit dull. Some people actually fall asleep. So after a few days of practice, it's better to keep your eyes open, so that you can stay alert and clear. This doesn't mean glaring straight ahead without blinking. This would be the opposite extreme of being too tight, like stiffening the spine so forcefully that it bends backwards. Simply leave your eyes open as they normally are throughout the day.

At the same time, it's best to maintain some sort of focus so that the eyes aren't wandering all the time, shifting around from experience to experience: Oh, that person in front of me is blocking my view of Mingyur Rinpoche. Now who is that person walking in through the door? Where are those people whispering to each other while we're supposed to he meditating? Is that rain pounding against the window? Here comes my cat or dog. Where is it going? Does it want food or water?

We don't have to be attached to a specific focus, though. Sometimes our focus can be a little bit downward, like staring down the nose. Sometimes it can be straight ahead. Sometimes it can be a little upward. The idea is to choose a focus, a steady visual perspective through which we can see many changes without being distracted by them.

There's also a short two-point posture, which can be adopted at times when it may be inappropriate (for example, while driving, making dinner, or grocery shopping) or physically impossible to assume the more formal seven-point posture. The points are simple: Keep your spine straight and your muscles loose. Like the seven-point posture, the two-point version fosters a balance between relaxation and alertness, neither too loose nor too tight, but somewhere in between.

Both approaches to “taming the horse” help to counteract the common tendency to slouch in a way that compresses the lungs and digestive organs, constricting the full range of our physical capacities. They also provide a physical reference point that can assist us in bringing our awareness back to the present moment of experience when the mind—the “rider”—drifts, wanders, or fixates on a particular point of view. I can say from personal experience that flopping down in the middle of a meditation session is a good way of bringing oneself back to the present moment. Recognizing tension in my muscles or other body parts has been quite useful in pointing out mental and emotional habits grounded in fear, desire, and other manifestations of attachment to a sense of “me” distinct from everything that is “not me.”

Finding a physical equilibrium also helps to establish a balance between three aspects of experience, known in Sanskrit as prana, nadi, and hindu, and in Tibetan as lung, tsa, and tigle. Prana or lung refers to the energy that keeps things moving; nadi or tsa are the channels through which this energy moves; and hindu or tigle refers to “drops” or “dots” of vital essence propelled by energy through the channels. On a physical level, hindu or tigle may be compared, in very simple terms, to blood cells. Nadi or tsa could be compared to the arteries, veins, and capillaries through which the blood flows to the muscles and various organs. Prana or lung could be compared to the energy that propels the heart to pump blood through the intricate network of veins, arteries, and capillaries spread throughout our muscles and organs and draw it back again. Prana, nadi, and hindu all work together. If the prana is inconsistent, then the movement of bindu through the nadi is inconsistent. If the nadi are blocked or clogged, then the prana is inhibited and the movement of the bindu is constricted. If the bindu are conditioned -for example by an influx of adrenaline—they can't pass easily through the channels.

On a subtler level, prana, nadi, and hindu are various aspects of the mind: hindu is the aggregate of concepts (“me,” “you,” “what I like,” “what f don't like”); nadi is the link between these concepts; and prana is the energy that keeps these concepts moving and flowing. There's a connection between the physical and subtle dimensions of prana, nadi, and hindu. If we can arrange the body in a way that balances its physical aspects, we open ourselves to the possibility of their subtle aspects. In other words, taming the “horse” provides a physical basis for taming the “rider.”


Rest like the movement of swells upon the sea.

—Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Creation and Completion, translated by Sarah Harding

The same principles behind finding a relaxed and alert physical posture apply to finding a balance within your mind: not too loose, not too tight. When your mind is poised naturally between relaxation and alertness, its potential spontaneously emerges.

A very simple analogy I use when I'm teaching is to show three different approaches to responding to being thirsty when a glass of water is sitting right in front of me.

First, I try struggling to reach for the glass, saying, “I've got to reach this glass. I've got to bring it to my lips. I've got to swallow some water or I'll die of thirst.” But my hand, my arm, and my intention are all working so hard that I can't reach the glass four inches away from me and swallow. And even if I do manage to reach it, I'm shaking so hard that I'm more than likely to spill the water before it ever reaches my lips.

That's an example of being too tight: reaching so intensely for something that desperation inhibits fulfillment.

Next, I demonstrate the opposite extreme, barely lifting my hand, saying wearily, “Oh, I'd like some water, but I just don't feel like reaching for the cup. . . . It's too far away and there's so much effort involved. Maybe I'll drink later. Maybe tonight. Maybe later.”

That's an example of being too loose: not reaching for something because it just seems like too much work.

Finally, I demonstrate a middle way. “ There’s a cup of water,” I say. “Just relax your hand, move it forward, pick up the glass, and drink.”

Just as in the case of physical posture, the essential point of mental “posture” is to find a balance. If your mind is too tight or too focused, you'll end up becoming anxious over whether you're being a good meditator: I've got to look at my mind. I've got to see the whole window. If I don't succeed, I'm a failure. If your mind is too loose, you'll either get carried away by distractions or fall into a kind of dullness. Oh, I probably should meditate, but it takes so much time. Yes, yes, there's a thought, there's a feeling, there's a sensation, but why should I care? It's just going to come around again.

The ideal approach lies between these two extremes. Hmm, there's a thought. There's a feeling. There's a sensation. Oh, now it's gone. Oh, now it's back. Oh, now it's gone again. Now it's back.

We can treat these appearances and disappearances like a game, the way children sometimes look at clouds: “What do you see?' a child may exclaim, “I see a dragon!” one might respond. Others might add their impressions, “I see a horse'“ “I see a bird!” The cynic in the crowd may simply observe, “I don't see anything, just a cloud.”

Especially at the beginning, it's important to keep the “game” short—playing, according to classical Buddhist texts, only as long as it takes to swallow a mouthful of food, drink a sip of tea, or take two or three steps across the room. Of course, just as there are many mouthfuls of food on a plate, many sips to drain a cup of tea, and many steps to cross a room, these short games can be repeated many times in one day.

Proceeding in this way, meditation becomes a part of your everyday life, rather than something you do because it's supposed to be “good for you.” Over time you'll find it easier to maintain longer sessions—and look forward to whichever of the three basic practices you choose as interesting in itself rather than a duty to perform.

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