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Godwin Samararatne
Meditation for Everyday Life

Day 6: Meditation Techniques



Godwin: Today I will talk about meditation techniques. So one technique is the meditation of loving-kindness. Does anyone have any problems with that meditation?

Retreatant: It is difficult to be friendly to oneself.

Godwin: I will offer some suggestions, how you might try to practice when you are on your own. One thing is when you have difficulties and cannot feel friendly to yourself, you have to be friendly to just that. You can say to yourself: So now, I cannot meditate on loving-kindness, but it is okay that I cannot practice meditation on loving-kindness. Otherwise what happens is we resist it, we dislike it, we hate it, we give ourselves a minus because we are unable to do that. But here, this is in a way being friendly to oneself by accepting what is.

Maybe another suggestion would be, when you have an unpleasant experience, maybe a physical pain, maybe a mental pain, in that situation can you can really say to yourself: I do not feel okay, but it is okay that I do not feel okay. So you have to remember this in such situations. It is again saying okay to it, accepting it, being friendly to it, without hating or disliking or resisting it.

So maybe another suggestion is - this practice is something which you may try to do in the morning when you wake up, just for a few minutes you can do this. You remember the quotation of the Buddha, that if you can practice meditation of loving-kindness during even the time that it takes to snap your fingers, you are worthy to be a monk. So in the morning just lying in your bed, try to think at that moment: May all beings be well and happy - include yourself - just for a few minutes, just to have thoughts of loving-kindness, thoughts of friendliness in the morning.

So another similar thought you can have in the morning is: Today may I get an opportunity to practice loving-kindness to someone else, may I get the opportunity to show kindness to someone this day. Just to have that thought, just to have that kind of aspiration, is a wonderful way of beginning the day.

Someone else said something very simple and significant, something similar to what the Buddha said, she said: we do not have to do a big thing to show loving-kindness. But little actions, small acts of loving-kindness are enough. So if you can have this openness, and if you can have this motivation, then in everyday life you are bound to find situations when you can smile at a person, smile at a child, showing some kindness. These small things, little things, are in a way acts of loving-kindness.

Another thing comes to my mind: those who are driving, when there is a red light, you have to stop your car. When you have to stop your car, what is the monster that comes up in your mind? If there is anger and impatience, you can say: I have anger now, I have impatience now, but it is okay. Simple: as I said, it is okay, I am having impatience, and I am having anger. Let me accept it, just as it is.

And if you can also look at the red light and say, may you be well! This is a powerful practice of loving-kindness. Little things, small things. I mean these little things, small things, can make such a difference. Also you can just picture your face when you are angry, when you are impatient, and if you can do that, this can really make a difference. And then when you go to your office you go with a different state of mind: that little thing had helped you.

And maybe one last suggestion is to practice loving-kindness when you go to sleep, as we have being doing every night in this retreat. As I said before, there are three benefits to doing meditation of loving-kindness before you go to sleep: you sleep peacefully, you wake up peacefully, and you do not see nightmares. So when you go to bed - everyone has to go to bed every night - just for a few seconds say: May I be well, may I be happy, may I sleep peacefully, just have these thoughts of loving-kindness until you fall asleep.

Are these things difficult, impossible? From all these what is the most difficult one?

Retreatant: When I realise I have forgotten to do it!

Godwin: Ah, that is good. So when you have forgotten, this is where you have to have reminders. Now, I know some of you have computers. There is a device that you are using on computers, some peep, peep, peep. This would be very nice to have a special peep in the computer, so that when you hear that peep you can associate it with: Ah, now it is time to do loving-kindness meditation. Then you will be using the computer in a very meaningful way.

For those who do not have a computer: I have seen in some places, some meditating monks have written in a place where they can be reminded of these things: Remember to meditate on loving-kindness. I know a meditating monk who lives in a forest. When I visited him, I saw on his door the words: Open the door mindfully. He told me: every time he opens the door, he sees that and he does it very consciously.

It is funny the things we forget and the things we remember. Do you forget to brush your teeth in the morning? No? It is also good to find out what you remember and what you forget, it is a very important area: to work with our memory.

Retreatant: Thich Nhat Hanh suggests to practice meditation whenever there is a red light.

Godwin: What a beautiful idea without getting impatient, without getting angry, you learn to use that as a device to stop whatever you're doing and to focus on your breath or whatever.

So in everyday life we need to think of such devices, such techniques or similar exercises which will help to remind us of meditation, because it is quite common that we forget. So because we forget, we should think of such very simple, practical devices.

Objectless Meditation

Another technique that we practised was meditation without an object. Any questions about that?

Retreatant: What is the role of awareness in the objectless meditation?

Godwin: So what happens when we learn to meditate with an object is it becomes very easy to come back to that object. But I think it is very important also to slowly, slowly learn to forget about having any object, and to allow the mind to do what it likes, just watching, just observing what the mind is doing.

In a way, what the mind is doing can be seen as an object. Let me take an example: When you allow the mind to do what it likes, then you realise that you are thinking. So thinking at that time becomes the object. The difference is, you do not get fixed, you do not focus on that thinking, but in a very loose, natural, relaxed way you allow the mind to do what it likes. Then from the thoughts it might move to a sound. When it moves to the sound, then you know: Now you are with that object; and then after a few seconds you come to the body, some sensations in the knee. So this is allowing the mind to scan, like in computer language: scanning.

So this can be done very easily in everyday life. For example you go to the office in the morning and you just sit there for a few minutes, you just allow the mind to do what it likes. Then you realise that you are seeing things, hearing things, just knowing what the mind is doing. So you can do it anywhere. In Sri Lanka sometimes I tell Sri Lankans, you can practice this waiting for a bus, getting in the bus, travelling in the bus, and even if you miss the bus! This is really objectless meditation.

Retreatant: What is the border between daydreams and objectless meditation?

Godwin: For this technique you have to be very alert and awake. So this is why I presented first learning to focus on an object, so that your mind becomes sharp and clear and awake - this is very important - and then with such a mind you can practice objectless meditation. And then when the daydream starts, you can realise: Ah, the daydream is starting. What is more important is that by observing the thoughts when a story arises, when you are creating a story, you will be able to see it. Sometimes seeing it helps us to recover from it. So for this practise you need a lot of alertness and a state of being awake. And if that is not present, what you might try to do is to get some clarity and some awareness by focussing on the breath. Then you can start again.


So another thing which I emphasised very much during the last few days, I encouraged you very much to do is reflection. So please learn to practice reflection. Especially reflection about your behaviour, reflection about your words, reflection on how you are in relationships, how you are interacting with people, the problems that you might create for them. So to just know that, just reflect on your behaviour, is a very important thing.

Also I encouraged you to use the Four Noble Truths in your everyday life. To do this, one really has to use reflection. So I will give an example: When you are suffering, when you are hurt, angry, disappointed, at that moment you have to learn to reflect: Why I am angry? What is the cause of this? What is the expectation that I am having? What is the model that I am holding onto? So this kind of reflection enables you to see very clearly how you are creating suffering for yourself.

And this kind of reflection can naturally bring about a transformation in oneself. It also enables us to look at ourselves rather than look at other people. So when you learn to reflect and look at your own behaviour more and more, you see more clearly your monsters, your shortcomings, your failures - and maybe some positive aspects also!. Then that will really help you in relation to other people, when you see the shortcomings of other people: Ah, they are just like me and I am also like them. So you can have a real feeling of oneness with your fellow human beings, and see that we are all just a group of imperfect human beings.

What is important about reflection is that you not only see your shortcomings or failures, but you will learn to see your positive qualities also. You have to have a very good balance to really see yourself objectively just as you are. It is very important to see both your failures and your so-called successes also.

Meditation in Everyday Life

So now any questions about the difficulties you have in everyday life? You can present practical situations and ask how does one use meditation in such a situation. This will be a very useful exercise. And if you can do this, present just simple, practical situations relating to life, we can discuss how we can use meditation in such situations.

Retreatant: How can we use computers without getting confused?

Godwin: Very good. I like such practical questions.

You should see the computer as a tool. If you can learn to play with your computer you will never become nervous about it. You become nervous because you do not want to make mistakes. So just to see, this is my computer, this is my tool. This is a kind of loving-kindness. Just touch it and say: my good old tool; I have a special relationship with you; I am about to amuse myself with you. This is loving-kindness. I have never handled a computer in my life - but if you can have this connection with the computer you will really enjoy it. Like a child you might really look forward to using it. This is one suggestion. Do you think this is possible? Good, very good.

But supposing you do get nervous, supposing you get angry, then you can say: very good, you are teaching me how to work with getting nervous, you are teaching me how to work with anger. So again feeling grateful for this tool that is bringing up these monsters. And then you can maybe stop using the computer and just focus on the monster: Now what are the tools that I can use now?

So you have a very special connection with the computer because it is your spiritual friend. It is your teacher which you can take around and also which can teach you how to work with your monsters. This is very interesting, to have a relationship, to have a connection, with the things that you are using. I told you the story of the Buddha who spent 7 days showing his gratitude to the Bodhi tree which helped him while he was struggling to get enlightened. See the connection he had with the Bodhi tree.

One of my favourite Zen poems is in the book: One Robe, One Bowl, by Ryokan. So this monk had only one robe, one bowl. He had a very special connection with the bowl. In one of the poems he says that one day he forget his bowl, and later when he remembered it he found it and said: Oh, my bowl you must be lonely without me! What a beautiful connection he has with the bowl. It is like having a spiritual friend, a special kind of relationship with the bowl.

I have a very interesting friend in Sri Lanka. He is professor of philosophy, a very interesting person. He has a special connection with his car. He has an old car and he does not want to sell it and buy a new car, because he says he has a very special connection with it, he talks to his car! When I am in the West I hear of the car talking with people. But here this man, he talks to the car. So sometimes it would break down, he would ask it: What's the problem? He has such a connection with his car it is like whatever has happened to the car has happened to him. We were out driving one day. Suddenly the car broke down and then he went to fix it and while doing that he was talking to his car!

One day it broke down and when he had fixed it, he came and told me: Do you know why it broke down today? Because I had not been talking to him, so now, the car is talking to me! See the beautiful way he has of looking at it. Rather than seeing it as a problem, seeing it as a difficulty, a source of suffering, instead seeing that my car realised I needed a good talking to!

You must see the rules that Buddha laid down for the monks. How he gave details about how to use the robes, how to use the bowls, and so on... I mean again he had a beautiful, personal connection with the things that he was using.

So the word that comes to my mind is learning to care for the things that you are using. I have been answering questions about everyday life, is there anything else?

Retreatant: I get sad at the loss of a car

Godwin: So, whether we have to take a human being to the graveyard or whether we have to take a car to the graveyard one has to work with the sadness in the same way.

Retreatant: I like to give a name to the things I am using, e. g. Bhikkhu for a car which is yellow.

Godwin: And it is very beautiful because you have to respect a Bhikkhu! Any other questions about everyday life and meditation?

Working with Various Emotions

Retreatant: How should we work with sadness at the loss of someone close to us?

Godwin: That's a very good and practical question. I will give one or two suggestions. One is, in Sri Lanka I meet a lot of people who suffer from grief, because they had lost a child, or some friends who were very close to them. So one of the exercises I give them, which normally helps them, is, whenever you think of the dead person, rather than suffer and feel grief, you can say: Wherever you are now, may you be well, may you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be free of suffering.

Also I like to ask the question: When you think of your friend, when you realise that you could not say goodbye, what is the emotion that comes up? What is the emotion? Sadness. So here again this is why I have been giving you tools to work with emotions. In everyday life we are bound to have such emotions, and what is creating the emotions can have so many different reasons. But the point is not what is creating the emotion; what is more important is how to work with the emotion. So if it is sadness use the tools so that when you think of that friend instead of having sadness, you will be having loving-kindness. That is enough.

Anything else? I like questions about things which we have to experience in everyday life.

Retreatant: What should we do about fighting with words?

Godwin: Now, does this mean fighting with words or with the hands also? The mouth is enough. So then it is very easy. In other words, you have very strong arguments, a quarrel. Here again we can all relate to this. In everyday life we have to face this situation, in relationships this is bound to arise.

So one thing is - perhaps it might be too much to expect - but when you are fighting like this, if you can remember awareness, if you can remember your breath. A very good exercise is just to go to the bathroom and look at your face. If you can remember to do some of these things, they might be helpful.

But this might be difficult, you might forget them in that intense moment, so what might be attempted is, at least later on, after you have recovered from that anger, after you have recovered from that confrontation, just to reflect: Now what really happened to me? What were the words that I used when I was really angry and shouting and fighting? Did I really mean those words when I really shouted and used those words, did I really mean them, or did I use them merely because I got angry?

And then you reflect: How long did it take for me to recover from that state of mind? So if you can do this kind of reflection, and then later on when you have recovered, if you can really have loving-kindness - to go and speak to that person and to have a real contact with that person: Now what really happened to the two of us? Now this is what really happened to me. So you must really open up to that person and speak honestly. Then that person will say: Oh interesting, this is what happened to me.

And if you can have a connection like that with such people, as I said when I spoke about relationships - this is a spiritual relationship, it can grow, and this is a beautiful relationship where you are growing together, where you are learning together from your quarrels, your fights. So they become the objects of meditation. If you can do this then neither person will carry a wound. In a light-hearted way you can come to an agreement: Let us have these quarrels once a month! And then after fighting you do such a kind of meditation.

When I travelled in the West, I became very interested in the latest developments of psychotherapy and so on. In Switzerland I heard of a new psychotherapy for couples. According to this therapy when a couple go to a psychotherapist and say: We are fighting, he never says: Stop fighting. He tells the couple: You must start fighting every Saturday at 9 p.m. And if this is not enough, if once a week is not enough, try to fight on Wednesday at 9 p.m. also. Can you guess, what happens then? They can laugh at themselves. That's very good therapy. I must start this when I go back to Sri Lanka. In the schedule we will have a time for fighting! So this kind of humour brings a lightness. It is very important, if one can do that in such situations in life.

As I was saying: we take life too seriously. One day I was sitting with a meditating monk in Sri Lanka and we were chatting and he said something very interesting. He said: sometimes I see life as a joke. And then he added very seriously: Sometimes it can be a bad joke. Then he said: But still it is a joke.

Anything else as a solution for fights? Anything else about meditation? To work with fights. One question was about computers, anything else? This is good, I am learning also.

Reviewing Meditation

Retreatant: What is the best tool to remember the tools?

Godwin: So it is interesting that on one occasion the Buddha said: The importance of spiritual friends is that we have the tendency to forget things, especially forget the Dhamma, forget the techniques, and he said: This is the function of very good spiritual friends, to remind each other when we forget. So it is interesting that even this kind of forgetting has been an old problem! So this was presented by the Buddha on one occasion.

So one suggestion I would like to offer is - this could be a very good exercise - a kind of review, what is called a review meditation: So each evening, even after work, if you are feeling very tired and exhausted, you can just sit somewhere in a very relaxed position and just review, go over what had happened during the day. This has to become a kind of habit, so that even if you cannot do it every day, at least once in two days in the evening. Maybe you can make a note somewhere so that it can really help to remind you in the evening to do this reviewing.

And in this reviewing what is important is go over the good things you have done during the day. And then also to remember the situations where there were emotions, where monsters arose during the day. In doing this it brings up very good insight, good understanding, about how you spent the day, and the different things which have happened; and it is very objective because you go through not only the wrong, bad, things but you also remember the good things.

And in doing that you review: Now today I got angry around 9 o'clock in the morning and it was there for about one, or half an hour, and what did I do during that time? So maybe you forgot the tools. So now that is the time to remember: today I forgot the tools, and this is what happened to me, that is okay, but let me use the tools now. Ah, these are the tools. And then the next day - this can be very amusing and entertaining sometimes - you are waiting to get angry, you are waiting for the monsters to arise, and you are remembering to use the tools. And what is paradoxical is, when you are waiting for the monsters to arise, they normally do not arise. And if they arise, because you are ready with the tools, you might remember to employ them at that time.

So if you can remember to do this review meditation everyday or - as I said - once in two days, you have a simple device. Then two beautiful things will be happening: One is that you will have a very good understanding about how you are spending the day and you see not only the negatives, you will also see the positive things, that are happening to you. That's number one. The second beautiful thing is that each evening, because you are going over the tools you are prepared for the next day.

You can also use the Buddha's advice in this connection, where you could say maybe to your partner, your friend, or whoever is at home, just to remind each other: Now when you get angry or when you have this emotion, I will try to remind you of the tools. And please, when I get angry, please remind me of the tools. This would be a wonderful spiritual relationship.

If there is nothing else, we can do some chanting and maybe we can discuss tomorrow. So I think we will have the early morning schedule. Then I think after the working meditation is over we can meet for a last sitting at 10 or 11, and we can also have a small discussion. Again I might think of things about how to integrate meditation into everyday life, and the retreat will come to a close at lunch.

So I would like to tell you that tomorrow is going to be a very important day. Please do not think that tomorrow is the last day, and then we are going home, because I would like to offer some suggestions, how you can really use tomorrow, it can be seen as a real preparation for going back to everyday life. So from tomorrow morning you can start to talk. And today you might have found how difficult it is to talk with awareness.

Talking with Awareness

So tomorrow please make an effort, just to remind yourself: Am I talking with awareness, am I really listening to another person? Please try to use speaking tomorrow in the context of the practice as far as possible.

And one thing I have noticed today is the tone of the voice. So it is interesting that when we start to talk how we suddenly forget the tone, and sometimes we are even shouting. It is funny: we start very softly and then after some time we are shouting! Only others can hear that, you do not realise your tone of voice yourself. So tomorrow be conscious of the tone of your voice.

Because in quarrels in everyday life, one thing that always changes is the tone of the voice. You can investigate: when there is a quarrel, how does the tone change? That is something very interesting to watch and also to listen to. Also when you are talking, just to pay some attention to what is being talked about, just to know what is being spoken about.

And tomorrow I know that when you start working meditation, your speed will immediately change; like with the speaking, we are walking, we are doing things very, very fast. Because you have maybe only a limited time. You cannot do everything, so you suddenly get very, very busy, do things quickly. In that situation, see whether you can remind yourself: Now can I slow down a little?

It is a very interesting experiment, even on the street you can try this, suddenly if you have time you say to yourself: Now let me walk slowly, just for five minutes. Immediately there is a change, a difference in what is taking place in you, as soon as you make an effort to slow down what you are doing. Please experiment with this tomorrow.

Another suggestion I would like to offer is, especially when you clean your room tomorrow, before leaving, please feel grateful that you have had this opportunity to occupy the room during the last few days. Can you see whatever you are doing for the room as an act of loving-kindness to the next person who comes to this room: May he or she feel good, feel happy, may he or she find the room in a very nice condition.