Shamatha Course and Retreat

Recently I taught a course on Shamatha meditation at Yamantaka FPMT center in Bogotá, Colombia. Shamatha means calm-abiding and attentional training through meditation. At the end of several weeks of teaching and practice, we had a meditation retreat to put all the things learned into practice.

 

What projects are worthwhile?

Have you ever felt motivated to do a project that at the time seemed very significant, or get involved in a job or activity that would be of much benefit to others? But as you started to develop it, you started to face the obstacles that come with any type of business or project?. You realized that in order to do that, you had to fight tirelessly, to do things that were unpleasant and that required money and effort and that there was no guarantee of success, not even knowing if it would really benefit humanity.

You questioned whether your motivation behind this project was not in some way also dominated by some self-centered desire, to get recognition, or money, or some kind of personal benefit. You met people who opposed or discouraged you, telling you that it was not worth investing your time, or that it was not a good idea nor a useful project.

Little by little you felt more and more discouraged, less motivated, and finally decided that it was not worth putting more time and energy into that project. You finally quited. And you started to wonder what’s really worthwhile?

I have been there, and the only thing I have found worthwhile is to watch my mind closely, to see how thoughts arise that crystallize into motivations, motivations that produce emotions that feed the energy that leads to action. Be aware,  what is your motivation behind each action?. And when you discover that it’s a self-centered motivation, ask yourself if it’s really worthwhile.

Reflecting on our actions, becoming aware of our motivations, emotions and thoughts, is what really is worth, only in this way we begin to know ourselves, to become better people, more attentive, kind, generous and patient, and when we are dedicated to this observation and transformation we can begin to act wisely, effortlessly and selflessly. Action happens in a natural way. And when there is no necessary action, the stillness of our body, whether in the sitting position or in the supine posture, allows us to continue to observe our mind, in the present, releasing the clinging to the past and to the future.

What is it really worthwhile for you?

Cultivating a brave compassion

Friends, here’s a great video of Ven. Robina Courtin in which she teaches us how to cultivate a brave compassion. The translation into Spanish was carried out by me during her teaching cycle in Bogotá.

Enjoy it and if you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

 

Motivation

Our motivation is what determines whether our meditation practice is a superficial patch to relieve some stress and relax us, or if it is a deeper practice that can lead us to completely free ourselves from dissatisfaction, pain, fear and discover genuine happiness. Moreover, our motivation may be so great that it leads us to practice meditation not only for our own benefit but also for that of others.

I recommend reading the article where I talk about how to structure your meditation session. Thus, when we sit down to meditate we spend the first 1 to 5 minutes of our practice reflecting on the motivation for which we meditate, trying to be honest with ourselves. We reflect on how important it is to train our minds to change habits, to cultivate attention and concentration and to free ourselves from mental afflictions. Think of the benefits of training your mind in attention and wisdom and cultivating emotional and mental balance. Think that your formal sessions are equivalent to going to the gym but in this case what you are training is the mind. And reflect on the positive effects of practicing daily. Thus we are motivated to practice properly.

Reflect on how valuable it is to have health, free time and desire to train your mind, and appreciate every moment in which you can sit and meditate, because you don’t know when disease, old age and death will come. Determine to take advantage of every moment, living in the present with a calm and attentive mind, cultivating a good heart and developing your wisdom.

At the end of our meditation, we commit to continue to be attentive to the motivations that move us to think, speak and act in a certain way. As we become more aware of why we do everything we do, we will realize what the motivations behind our actions are, and gradually we will realize that when we have selfish and self-centered motivations, we will be generating problems and suffering for ourselves and others. So little by little our main motivation will be to make ourselves and others happy.

Introduction to Meditation

The word meditation is sometimes used to refer to the act of reflection or relaxation. But in the context of contemplative traditions meditation involves habituating the mind, training it to cultivate specific mental states, habituating it to think or to visualize in a certain way or simply let the mind observe itself. There are also analytical meditations where you begin by reflecting on a topic but once the understanding is reached, you let the mind dwell in that understanding. So, meditation involves staying or arriving through a method to a non-conceptual experience.

Every day you meditate unconsciously, as you repeat and become used to certain thoughts, moods and reaffirm emotions and behaviors. Some of us are experts in meditating on anger, others on visualizing our enemies, self-criticism, and so on. There are also those who have trained to respond with patience and tranquility in any circumstance. But we all know that it is much easier to cultivate a negative habit than a positive one, because we tend to blame others and justify ourselves. Without realizing it, every day we are reinforcing habits and behaviors that cause us dissatisfaction and suffering.

Meditation is also called contemplation. Since it lead us to a state of contemplative or non-conceptual consciousness. This is not something from other world, we have all experienced it, for example when we are concentrated in an activity that does not require much analysis and reasoning, allowing us to enter a state of flux, we lose notion of time because we are totally present and relaxed. Like when we go out on the road and after some time of monotony in which we relax because there is not much to do, the driving is done almost automatically and there are few changes, we enter that state of relaxation that at the same time is very alert, but it doesn’t require a great intellectual process. Some authors speak of the left and right hemispheres, they say that when the left one doesn’t have a logical task to solve, it allows the right hemisphere to take control and this allows a more panoramic perception that includes all details and the relationships between them.

In many spiritual, philosophical, and contemplative traditions this ability of the mind to train itself has been valued greatly, and methods for consciously performing this training have been developed.

However, each tradition has given a different flavor to the contemplative practice, some have made it more devotional to produce certain exalted mental states, others have made it more technical for people who need to follow a technique step by step, others have developed analytical meditations to help people who are very rational to come to a conclusion through analysis and then to let go of the analysis while they rest to the mind allowing the acquired knowledge to settle, so to speak.

Thus, an endless number of different forms of meditation have been invented or discovered, with different aims and conditions.

Here are some of them