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Lions Roar : November 2018
OTHER WAYS TO PRACTICE? I don’t really like formal meditation that much but I love going for contemplative walks, listening to beautiful music, reading Buddhist books, and other things that feel spiritual to me. Is it OK if I find other ways to be meditative besides sitting on a cushion following my breath? KONDA MASON: What a great question, and not an uncommon experience. Our world is filled with a plethora of wonder and beauty that ignites a sense of awe in so many ways. Walks in the woods, music and the arts, sitting on the beach... this human experience is truly a gift filled with an abundance of opportunities to feel a sense of stillness and peace in our lives. What happens with Vipassana meditation is oftentimes the opposite of peacefulness. The mind can become so busy in the so-called “stillness” that we feel we are doing it all wrong and would rather read about the dharma than actually meditate! If you hang in there, though, this busy mind can become the doorway to experience insight, which is what the word Vipas- sana actually means. Over time, as you bring your awareness first to the breath, followed by the body, feelings, and thoughts, insight into the present moment, absent of preference or judg- ment, begins to emerge in mini-increments. These moments of insight are priceless! They can become an extremely useful tool in your everyday life as you navigate the internal and external challenges of being human. So I recommend do both: enjoy your meditative experiences off the cushion AND keep your curiosity ignited to explore the possibility of transformative insights that may occur from a regular meditation practice. Good luck! KONDA MASON is a teacher in the Vipassana tradition and sits on the board of directors of Spirit Rock Meditation Center. I FEEL UNWORTHY Deep down, I feel pretty bad about whoIamasaperson.WhenI meditate, all I connect with are my feelings of shame and guilt, and it’s pretty discouraging. What’s your advice for people like me who feel unworthy and unloved? PILAR JENNINGS: Most people who begin a meditation practice understandably hope for relief. Images of a placid Bud- dha wearing a gentle smile can inspire us to unplug, quiet the mind, and notice our inner life without distraction. But often what we find is a mind filled with painful memories and feel- ings. For many, these feelings indicate struggles with losses of all sorts, low self-esteem, and a powerful sense of deprivation. The historical Buddha encouraged his students to stay the course. This common sense of suffering or “disatisfactoriness,” he suggested, can be better understood when the mind is calm and nonreactive, and over time, even uprooted. But as a psy- chotherapist and long-term Buddhist practitioner, I have come to appreciate that meditation can shine a light on psychological pain and the ripple effects of trauma that can be too much to manage through meditation alone. The good news is there are healing methods that work well with and even support your spiritual path. I would encourage anyone who is noticing feelings of self- loathing, severe anxiety, or depression in their meditation to seek out a psychotherapist who respects and appreciates spiri- tuality. A good therapist who has their own spiritual practice can help you explore and work through these feelings. They will understand that meditation is a powerful tool that unearths all sorts of memories and experiences that may have remained in our dreams, physical symptoms, and addictions. They will also understand that it’s not uncommon for people to walk away from meditation altogether when it feels too difficult. This is a great loss, because meditation can eventually become a way to hold in mind feelings and sensations that are challenging but need to be felt. Most of all, I encourage you to be patient and compassionate with yourself. With skillful and gentle care, the very things that now overwhelm you in your meditation will eventually become the gateway to genuine well-being and peace of mind. PILAR JENNINGS is a psychoanalyst, lecturer at Columbia Uni- versity and Union Theological Seminary, and author of To Heal a Wounded Heart. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 56