There's a big problem with the Western Meditation movement that no one wants to talk about. Until now.
In this article, we will cover what's wrong with western meditation, how to fix your practice, and why it's so important to attaining Awakening and Enlightenment.
"I’ve been meditating for years, but if I'm being honest, I don’t really enjoy doing it. I meditate because I think I’m supposed to, but I mostly find it boring and it is not something that I like to do.
Will I ever enjoy doing it, or is that not the point?"
If you can relate with the question above, then I have good news, I can tell you why: it's because you've been taught how to meditate incorrectly. Boredom (or even having a restless mind) is a guaranteed sign that you aren't actually meditating, it's a sure sign that you're just sitting still...and yes, that's boring. I understand that some practitioners aren't going to like reading the rest of this, because they have developed their own views and notions, but allow me to explain as this goes against the rote teaching in the West and there is a lot to gain from keeping an open mind on this subject; so let's dive right in!
(Warning: the text that follows may be considered seditious and incendiary. That is not the intent; the intent is to highlight and correct in no uncertain terms.)
COMMENT: Huh, so, I was taught to meditate wrong?
Meditation is highly-misunderstood here in the West; shockingly so. Most long-time meditation practitioners are under the false guidance that Meditation is a breathing/awareness practice. That form of meditation is only a small part (...the very first part...) of a larger compendium of meditation practices; and meditation practices are intended to be used to develop the skills needed to realise Awakening and to make our way along the path toward full Enlightenment. Truth be told, no amount of relaxing in awareness or trying to concentrate on the breath is going to lead to much more than a temporary distraction from the day-to-day problems that cause so much irritation.
Meditation is a mind-training exercise. It's very much like taking your mind to the gym for a workout; it's not technically difficult, but is a lot of effort. And, you should be far too busy meditating to possibly get bored (or even lost-in-thought) while doing it. Yet, most people aren't taught that. Instead, they are instructed to "just be" or to just "let it go." How can we possibly "just be” or "let it go," our brain doesn’t work that way; and that's not what's been taught for the past several thousand years. You can't do nothing, and expect to get some sort of profound results. If it were that easy, we wouldn't need meditation and everyone would be Awakened.
Developing the skill to "let go" comes as a natural by-product of developing the clarity of your mind through training the mind in concentration and insight; which is something you learn how to do with proper instruction from a skilled meditation teacher. "Letting go" isn't supposed to be an instruction, it's the description of one of the qualities that a skilled and highly-attained meditator consistently experiences during meditation, and using it as an instruction to teach meditation students is like teaching aspiring pilots how to fly a jet by just telling them over and over to "just fly." It's nonsense and you have to complete ground school before you can solo in a cockpit. Letting go is no different.
QUESTION: So, what does this mean for my meditation practice?
Standard meditation coaches who are part of the popular Western meditation movement are trying to teach an end-result (e.g., letting go) without having the direct understanding of what that means, and without knowing or caring that there is actually a path to get there. It's unfortunate, and it's like being an adult who is trying learn how to swim by being told just to kick your legs: you may eventually learn to move around in water without sinking, but you will never attain anything that way.
Being able to find and steadily hold the object of your meditation isn't something you can just do, not even over-time, it requires specific instruction and practice in properly applying and balancing (1) concentration, (2) effort, (3) focus, and (4) mindfulness. While it's generally not complicated to learn these, it is impossible to learn these if they aren't even taught; and they are hardly ever mentioned in Western meditation circles. And so, if you haven't been specifically taught how to find and, more importantly, how to hold the object of your meditation (your breath for example), then your time spent on the cushion won't serve much purpose and you'll mostly just be wasting it.
And that's not the worst part of it. Sadly this entry-level form of meditation is where most meditators, even dedicated and skilled ones, stop — spending the rest of their lives stuck at the stage of: being mindful, being present, and being with their breath. In proper meditation circles, reaching this skill-level is referred to as the beginning. Ironically, it's only once you've developed the skill to hold your object of meditation, with stability and resilience, can the real work of meditation actually begin. Concentration and awareness are the first things that are taught in the East, because without them, you can't make further progress; yet in the West they mostly the first, last, and only things that are taught.
QUESTION: Ok, so meditation is different here in the "West," why should I care?
During the transition from East to West, basic (and critical) understandings about the reasons we spend our time in meditation, the Stages of Meditation, and how meditation works, stopped being taught, and if your teacher — regardless of his or her credentials, history, or celebrity status — keeps telling you to just "be present," "be gentle," "explore," or "relax," get up and run, you're trying to learn how to meditate from someone who isn't teaching you how to actually meditate, they are just telling you how to feel should you manage to do it correctly by accident. From a practical and academic point of view, most of the "big names" in meditation today teach as if they only possess a shallow knowledge of what they are talking about, which is why they are so repetitive.
Even worse, many of the experts will suggest that "there is no wrong way to meditate" and that the best way to meditate is to find the way that "works best for you and your lifestyle." That's a nice thought, but it's not true and it's why so many people struggle to realise the greater benefits of meditation.
There are many reasons why all the experts either miss or don't teach these fundamental points, but since they all seem to be using the same go-to-market strategy (e.g., selling to the most common denominator), they do; and so they keep telling people to just "be" or "don't resist," or whatever. Those kinds of instructions are not just lazy, they're irresponsible, because they're wrong and they waste everyone's time; and that is the main reason why I caution clients and serious meditation practitioners from learning from the majority of Western Meditation "experts."
COMMENT: Hey now, these "experts" are pretty popular, and they studied in the East, so they must be good!
McDonald's is popular in Asia too. Nevertheless, if you still wish to partner with a mainstream teacher then I recommend picking one at-random. What you will get from most is pretty much the same from one meditation coach to the next. I don't mean to discount their contributions, nevertheless they've all read the same stuff, learned the same process, and apply the same template in the same way, to all people—and books, videos, and retreats are no substitute for regular, one-on-one, personal guidance. And few of them have ever experienced the end-results that they are trying to teach. And that's why so many people either fail, or never make progress past the initial hurdles, leaving the very-real and very-attainable concepts of Nirvana or Enlightenment strictly as myths that they will never-ever directly experience. That's like sitting at the flight controls of an air plane, and just sitting there smiling instead of using it to take you to your next destination. Sadly, it's a waste of all that time spent on the cushion.
QUESTION: So, what's different about Being Peacefully?
I help people attain Awakening by helping them cut through the noise of contemporary Buddhism and carve out a personal practice that tightly focuses on the practices, views, and ideas that directly lead to Awakening and help you progress into and through the stages of Buddhist Enlightenment. I will also work with you to transition your study and meditation into real-world application and practice. Learning how to effectively turn every moment into another moment that you can practice the Dharma is the keystone to significantly accelerating your progress and making fundamental improvements to your life in ways that cannot be achieved without explicitly doing so. Teaching people how to do this is exactly what I do, and it's what will lead you to your moment of Awakening and progression through the stages of Enlightenment.
The training and coaching you will find here is skilful, experienced, and based on your current capabilities and your inner potential; and one that is deeply rooted in applied-Buddhadharma. It's so important to your success (and the time that you spend meditating) to be mindful of the guidance you follow as it will determine the speed and quality of your progress; and your overall enjoyment of your practice. This is what sets Being Peacefully apart from the over-reductive and over-saturated MBSR/Western Mindfulness Movement and what makes Being Peacefully so successful.
If you feel stuck in your meditation, or are still only doing breathing meditation, or don't feel as if you are making progress toward Enlightenment any more, then you've come to the right place.
I offer authentic and transformative meditation training and dharma coaching and I encourage you to message me to learn more.
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Michael Turner is a deeply accomplished and realised enlightenment trainer and pre-monastic dharma life coach. He emphasises and teaches the practical application of Buddhism in our everyday lives to make real progress toward Enlightenment and is particularly adept at explaining them in ways that can be easily understood and practiced by Western Buddhists. He has been meditating and cultivating the techniques to generate indestructible happiness and inner-strength for more than 25 years and has helped countless numbers of people enhance their capacity for resilience and happiness in real life.