A place for people interested in introspection, self awareness, mindfulness, meditation and training the mind to abide in a state that is free from the constant flow of meaningless chatter, mind theatrics, and discursive thought.

Hallmarks of a Successful Mindfulness Meditation Practice

From Zero to Enlightenment in ??? Days

Human nature dictates that when we enter any sort of practice or discipline, we feel the need to gauge our results, to know how well we are doing, or even if we are practising properly. Traditional wisdom has been that trying to keep track, to compare, to figure out ones position in relation to the goal we seek, whether full enlightenment, or simply just a calmer, more peaceful mind, is nothing but a distraction and hindrance to the practice. For others however, not knowing what to expect or how to even know if they are making any progress can be a deterrent. 

Throughout most of the last few thousand years that meditation has been practised, it would have been very difficult to prove or disprove much of the benefits or progress that a practitioner was making simply because it is a highly subjective and mostly inward experience that can not easily be viewed or measured externally. However, this does not mean that progress is not capable of being measured. In fact, science and medicine are both studying and proving that the physical and mental benefits that result from prolonged mindfulness practice are not only real and measurable through brain scan technology, but also are extremely beneficial to one's happiness, health, and well being.

First time meditators frequently find the experience unnerving since this is often the first time they have had to sit quietly in a way that allows them to fully notice just how busy their mind is, and to sit with it and try to become comfortable with it. With the realization that they don't seem to have the ability to quiet their own mind at will, they may feel as though their mind is uncontrollable. The sudden realization of not being in control of ones own mind can be extremely uncomfortable and may even scare some people away from meditation.

For those who are brave enough to weather the storm of thoughts that must be faced in all of the early meditation sessions, the first hallmark quickly becomes self evident, the realization that the free flow of discursive thought is of such volume and intensity as to have become an impediment to ones own well being.

For the practice of mindfulness and self awareness to develop at a pace with which one can observe real progress within themselves, there are two essential skills that need to be developed. The first is to learn to steady the mind, to develop strong concentration skills through increased awareness, by simply paying attention to what is going on inside. With diligent practice, we can  retrain the mind not to keep wandering off in discursive thought and mind theatrics by learning to notice when it does and to keep pulling the mind back onto task. With continued practice, the mind learns to become steady and controllable. It is not difficult to see how beneficial to everyday life it would be to build and develop such a skill.

The second essential skill to develop is to learn to take those increased awareness and concentration skills and turn them inwards, to learn to observe the flow and patterns and content of thoughts and emotions as well as the causality and effects of those thoughts, or in other words, to observe our own Karma. The goal is to 'Know Thyself' thoroughly and intimately, but to do so in a completely objective, non-judgemental way. Simply allow the thoughts to happen without allowing the mind to become engulfed and lost in them like happens when we daydream. 

Sustained attention is the mind's learning mode, we learn by paying attention. Paying diligent attention to the flow of internal events, thoughts emotions, and physical sensations, allows the mind to learn what it is doing by becoming aware of itself. Objective and non-judgemental observation of ones thoughts is key, because judgements prejudice the learning mode by pre-supposing outcomes based on our past experiences.

Both of these essential skills develop symbiotically, each helping the other to develop. Increased concentration allows the mind to remain on the task of self observation, and as self awareness develops, and the mind starts to connect the dots between the thought patterns, and see the effect those thoughts have on our inner states and on our interactions with others, it will naturally stop indulging in thought patterns that are not serving in our or others best interests. This results in a reduction of mental activities and discursive thoughts, which in turn makes it easier to maintain concentration and awareness. In other words, the practice begins to sustain itself. Even if one does begin to slip back into old patterns of thought or behaviour, because of the practice of watching and being aware of the inner world, the Karma of those patterns becomes so recognizable that any re-emergence of uncomfortable inner disharmony and turmoil will bring the practitioner back on course, and in this way the practice becomes self correcting.

The key to developing both of these skills is sustained awareness and attention. Awareness is a silent knowing, knowing that you are thinking, knowing what you are thinking, knowing what emotions you are experiencing, and knowing what is going on in your five senses. This skill is developed simply by paying attention and being aware of everything that is going on inside at all times. 

Formal meditation is the training ground for learning these skills, and everyday life is where the training is put to use. As the ability to be aware of ones inner self develops and increases during meditation, it then becomes essential to transition these skills to everyday life, otherwise all of the training will have served no real purpose.

 Increased concentration, awareness and attention allows the inward reflecting mind to stay on the task of self awareness, and self observing. As a result, this increased self awareness allows one to recognize and to stop indulging in thought patterns and behaviours that are not serving in our own best interests. This process of self observation allows the thought patterns that generate our self created disharmonies, regrets of the past and worries and fears of the future. to become obvious and thus easier to simply let go of.

The process of repeatedly noticing thought patterns and behaviours that do not serve our best interest, and dropping the habit of indulging in them causes them to gradually become less frequent. These thought patterns require our indulgence in order to exist. If we indulge them, we are in essence conditioning the mind to consider them as important and therefore they will persist. When we form the habit of letting them go over and over again, we are retraining the mind to understand that they are not important, and eventually will stop arising.

With ongoing persistence, the mind will find itself ever increasingly abiding in a silent, peaceful, quiescent state. This state is the true state of being fully present. Even the slightest mental activity of noting or judging ones surroundings or outer world can only occur after an event since the mind takes time to form thoughts. Therefore, any form of reflection serves to take one out of the present moment. This does not mean that skilful reflection should not be engaged in. Rather, any skilful reflection must occur with complete mindfulness and not allowed to spin off into discursive mind theatrics.

As this process of being fully present, through silent observation of internal and external events develops, it becomes obvious to the practitioner that this mind state is one of true freedom, free from any self created disharmony. This in turn allows one to realize that the feedback loops of thought that are generated are not really an essential part of our existence.

To the beginning practitioner, this may cause some confusion, since it is easy to think that we can not exist without thoughts. We are not loosing or inhibiting any ability to reason, plan, learn or problem solve. We are simply learning to stop allowing conditioned thought patterns to colour our judgements and reasoning, and to stop engaging in mind theatrics and the mental role playing of the Ego that seems to spontaneously spin off from legitimate uses of the mind.

A mind that can abide in silence is a mind that is at peace, content, free and therefore a truly open mind.

So how long does this process take? That depends on the practitioner, and on how conditioned the practitioners mind is, and how much effort, dedication and diligence the practitioner is willing to put into their practice.

Although there are stories of individuals reaching enlightened states in relatively short periods of time, this is more of an exception to the rule than anything else. Expecting the mind to flip spontaneously into an enlightened state is a lot like expecting to win the lottery the first time you buy a ticket. Realistically, the benefits of the practice are developed over months, years, and often over a lifetime. Quite simply, it is a function of the effort that is put into it. Poor effort yields poor results, great effort reveals great results, 100% effort produces 100% results.  You get out of it what you put into it.

You have to do the work!

Michael L. Fournier

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