The secret to a successful meditation session

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 25, 2010 5:06 am

Greetings,

I thought it might be worthwhile to share our experiences of what makes certain meditation sessions successful, whereas others might be so beneficial. Perhaps we can benefit from each other's experiences.

I'll go first, shall I?...

My experience has been that if I do some meritorious deeds beforehand, or deliberately cultivate metta-bhavana earlier in the day, I find it easier to arouse the joy that provides the platform for better concentration. If I approach a meditation session "too dry", I will struggle to subdue craving and whilst I would still be able to observe the meditation subject, it wouldn't be with the same clarity or depth. Calm and joy helps to make the mind content to sit with the meditation subject. If once I hit a meditation session and realise that I've approached it "too dry" I will attempt to cultivate calm and joy through anapanasati.

What's your secret to a successful meditation session?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 25, 2010 5:20 am

Hi Retro

Nice topic. I've had some thoughts on a similar subject.
I think its very easy to fall into the trap of believing a meditation session is qualitatively 'good' or 'bad' due to the this or that sensation or mind-state experienced during the session. My experience has been that a session's quality doesn't relate at all to whatever phenomena is manifesting. In fact, the expectation of a 'good' or 'successful' session based on what we're expecting to experience, is a barrier to progress.
metta
Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 25, 2010 5:31 am

Greetings Ben,

Ben wrote:In fact, the expectation of a 'good' or 'successful' session based on what we're expecting to experience, is a barrier to progress.

Yes, it's a trap I've fallen into once or twice and it's a mental construct worth being cognizant of, if it arises during meditation... it can then be transformed from the unwholesome (greed) to the wholesome (generosity/renunciation) with Right Effort.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby zavk » Thu Feb 25, 2010 6:11 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Ben,

Ben wrote:In fact, the expectation of a 'good' or 'successful' session based on what we're expecting to experience, is a barrier to progress.

Yes, it's a trap I've fallen into once or twice and it's a mental construct worth being cognizant of, if it arises during meditation... it can then be transformed from the unwholesome (greed) to the wholesome (generosity/renunciation) with Right Effort.

Metta,
Retro. :)



Yeah.... it's challenge to not project such standards of evaluation on meditation practice.... Interesting question you've asked, Retro. I don't have any formula or strategy, to be honest. But I've recently begun to see that sometimes it is better for me to do metta bhavana instead of samatha-vipassana. So I'm learning to find the right balance.

Oh, well, for the sake answering your question, I find that I've had some 'good' sessions when even though I don't feel like sitting, I make myself do it anyway. I'm sometimes surprise at how 'well' the sessions go.
With metta,
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby Reductor » Thu Feb 25, 2010 6:36 am

A good session is one where I successfully shake off restlessness (will I become concentrated tonight? or not) or to sloth, which ever... I seldom fall prey to the first two and never to skeptical doubt.

The priming for a good session is reflection on the Buddha, or Sangha or Dhamma. The Buddha most often: I'll look up to my rupa and think about all the great qualities that the Buddha possessed, chief among them (right after being awakened) was that he was so compassionate for beings that he chose to teach rather than expire into Nibbana. Often I feel a welling up of gratitude toward him, and all those of the Sangha that have preserved the teachings to this point in time, so that I have the opportunity to make an end to suffering.

Usually that does it. On occasion I will be restless and cannot settle my mind, so I will sit and keep my thinking occupied to my posture. Then get up and make some tea, returning to my spot with it so that I can be "drinking my tea -- only drinking."

Of course, if I attain concentration then that is a huge factor in calling the session a "Success!".
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:02 am

Greetings,

Since we seem to be also defining what we constitute to be "successful", let me also propose the seven factors of enlightenment...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Fact ... ightenment

Mindfulness (sati) i.e. to be aware and mindful in all activities and movements both physical and mental
Investigation (dhamma vicaya) into the nature of dhamma
Energy (viriya)
Joy or rapture (piti)
Relaxation or tranquillity (passaddhi) of both body and mind
Collection (samadhi) a collected, intent state of mind
Equanimity (upekkha), to be able to face life in all its vicissitudes with calm of mind and tranquillity, without disturbance.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Feb 25, 2010 8:12 am

A successful meditation session is when I don't get caught up in value judgements over the success or failure of my meditation session and am content to be with whatever is, good bad or indifferent.

Having said that on it's own taking that approach could become a cop out and result in not putting forth a bit of effort when needed. So a good session is when I've sensed if a level of effort or direction is required and use that without disturbing the wider awareness and balance of mind.

If I feel there has been a tangible sense of being present, of being aware, of being lucid through most of my session then that's good, if I can take that into the rest of my day then that's successful.

The true test of success is that I come back and sit again at the next opportunity.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby appicchato » Thu Feb 25, 2010 8:59 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Mindfulness (sati) i.e. to be aware and mindful in all activities and movements both physical and mental
Investigation (dhamma vicaya) into the nature of dhamma
Energy (viriya)
Joy or rapture (piti)
Relaxation or tranquillity (passaddhi) of both body and mind
Collection (samadhi) a collected, intent state of mind
Equanimity (upekkha), to be able to face life in all its vicissitudes with calm of mind and tranquillity, without disturbance.


:thumbsup:

Having contemplated the above (for any length of time), that constitutes 'success' (in my book)... :meditate:
Last edited by appicchato on Thu Feb 25, 2010 9:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby catmoon » Thu Feb 25, 2010 9:00 am

Aren't they all succesful? If something interferes with concentration, sooner or later it will be noticed, and then it can be dealt with. So if problems arise, great, now we are aware of them and able to progress.
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby Guy » Thu Feb 25, 2010 10:27 am

Hi All,

Good question Retro, a few things come to mind. As others have pointed out - thinking in terms of success and failure can be a hindrance in itself. On the other hand I find it useful to try to be objective at the end of the meditation session and ask "how did it go? how much happiness, peace, freedom, etc. (or lack thereof)? why?" In this way I learn what are the causes that lead to the hindrance arising and what are the causes that lead to the enlightenment factors.

Also I highly agree that Dana and Metta are supportive to meditation practice and this is in concord with the Suttas:

Monks, for one whose awareness-release through good will is cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken, eleven benefits can be expected. Which eleven?

"One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams. One is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings. The devas protect one. Neither fire, poison, nor weapons can touch one. One's mind gains concentration quickly. One's complexion is bright. One dies unconfused and — if penetrating no higher — is headed for the Brahma worlds.


- "Metta (Mettanisamsa) Sutta: Good Will" (AN 11.16), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, June 7, 2009, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an11/an11.016.than.html.

"Having given this, not seeking his own profit, not with a mind attached [to the reward], not seeking to store up for himself, nor [with the thought], 'I'll enjoy this after death,'

...

" — but with the thought, 'This is an ornament for the mind, a support for the mind' — on the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of Brahma's Retinue. Then, having exhausted that action, that power, that status, that sovereignty, he is a non-returner. He does not come back to this world.

"This, Sariputta, is the cause, this is the reason, why a person gives a gift of a certain sort and it does not bear great fruit or great benefit, whereas another person gives a gift of the same sort and it bears great fruit and great benefit."


- "Dana Sutta: Giving" (AN 7.49), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, June 7, 2009, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an07/an07.049.than.html.

It turns out I don't really have much to add that other people haven't stated already, but I find it encouraging to know that other people here practice in a similar way to me.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 25, 2010 10:50 am

retrofuturist wrote: makes certain meditation sessions successful
And we need to judge if a session was succesful, why? Is there a bit of grasping in that?

Oh, well. Having just read everyone else's response, never mind.

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 25, 2010 11:02 am

tiltbillings wrote: never mind.



WOT on earth was that??
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 25, 2010 11:11 am

Ben wrote:
tiltbillings wrote: never mind.



WOT on earth was that??

Gildna Radner was one of the original players on Saturday Night Live and was quite funny.
The above is one of her characters, which is fleshed out here:
http://www.hulu.com/watch/1510/saturday-night-live-weekend-update-with-emily-latella-editorial
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby PeterB » Thu Feb 25, 2010 3:13 pm

Ben wrote:Hi Retro

Nice topic. I've had some thoughts on a similar subject.
I think its very easy to fall into the trap of believing a meditation session is qualitatively 'good' or 'bad' due to the this or that sensation or mind-state experienced during the session. My experience has been that a session's quality doesn't relate at all to whatever phenomena is manifesting. In fact, the expectation of a 'good' or 'successful' session based on what we're expecting to experience, is a barrier to progress.
metta
Ben

True. I think that sometimes the times when we thought meditation was going badly might turn out in fact to be the times when we benefitted most.
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:34 pm

This always has been very helpful for me:

1. take some time before you start the meditation session to allow the mind to calm down naturally from the stirring "outside-world" and its commitments (e.g. do a brief chanting or something else which helps the mind to turn towards a supporting attitude for the planed meditation)

2. think about or contemplate on what you are going to do at this meditation session (e.g. metta-bhavana, anapanasati, kayanupassana, vedananukpassana, objects, anicca-dukkha-anatta, 4NT, dependent origination, samatha, vipassana and so on...) and go for one particular task (except in case if you use for example metta-bhavana as a preparatory work to initially calm down the mind (point 1) and then you go on to do anapanasati (point 3), that's also okay)

3. when you feel readily prepared, leave all the worldly commitments aside and keep in mind that your only exercise for the time you meditate will be the meditation - your total commitment is required - don't allow anything to disturb you while meditating and remind yourself if necessary that except for the planed task nothing else will be your business from the moment on when you started your meditation

4. meditate

5. you shouldn't stand up directly after meditation and immediately resume worldly live. take some time after you finished meditation and try to maintain the state of mind for some time. you maybe get the chance to observe how the mind gradually withdraws from the state developed in meditation

best wishes, acinteyyo
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Api cāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare, sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññāpemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadan. (AN4.45)

:anjali:
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Feb 25, 2010 11:19 pm

No expectations.

If I have a sitting and I feel relaxed during and/or after the meditation session, I'm happy.

For beginners, it is common to judge each session as good or bad (and it's usually judged as bad), but as we continue with the practice, I think it is best to drop the judgments and expectations.
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby tsuzumi » Fri Feb 26, 2010 3:57 am

On a more physical level, I like to have two or three cups of green tea before meditation. (And maybe wait a while for the water metabolic system to stabilize). Does tea figure in the Theravadan practice? It has a long history in China and Japan. It is not a strong caffeine jolt--I find it provides just a nice amount of stimulation to help me stay 'on task.'
:sage:
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 26, 2010 4:10 am

Greetings tsuzumi,

tsuzumi wrote:Does tea figure in the Theravadan practice?


I met a monk once who said "it's always time for tea"... but I think that had more to do with him being Sri Lankan than it did with him being a Theravada monk. 8-)

As for the suttas, I can't think of any references to tea off the top of my head.

:coffee:

Welcome to Dhamma Wheel, by the way.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Feb 26, 2010 4:34 am

David N. Snyder wrote:No expectations.

If I have a sitting and I feel relaxed during and/or after the meditation session, I'm happy.

For beginners, it is common to judge each session as good or bad (and it's usually judged as bad), but as we continue with the practice, I think it is best to drop the judgments and expectations.


i'm with you on what makes me happy, but your 2nd part though i see it in others was completely backwards for me.. maybe in the beginning i didnt expect too much? or maybe now i feel i havent progressed enough? who knows
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: The secret to a successful meditation session

Postby tsuzumi » Fri Feb 26, 2010 4:35 am

Thanks for the welcome, Retro!

After posting, I realized that there is a kind of Pavlovian aspect to the tea--when I drink it, my mind is going 'Tea? That means it's time for meditation!' Then, I realized there are other preparations that have a similar effect--straightening up the meditation space, cleaning the altar, preparing and lighting the incense and candles--plus I have a routine of stretching and light exercises that all contribute to signalling the mind that 'it is time.'

Another factor: I threw my TV away a couple of years ago. Also, I never use a headphone stereo. I think these two influences may be hindering a lot of people with a constant sensory buzz. Lots of people use the headphones on the train/subway--I just meditate. I think these have contributed to a noticeable mellowing of my personality, but it may just be the result of aging?! :tongue:

Regards,
T
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