Week 6 Teacher Notes: Developing an Independent Meditation Practice
7:00pm — Silent Meditation
20 minute silent meditation.
Start the final session with a 20 minute silent meditation. This is an opportunity for students to see how far they’ve progressed and how they manage without guidance.
Invite students to spend twenty minutes meditating in whatever way they like. They can choose one of the techniques introduced in previous weeks, or indeed any technique they are familiar with. They could even make their own technique up, or just tap into their intuitive or instinctive sense of how best to use the time. Encourage them to be creative and to try out new or different ways of meditating, especially if they always meditate in a particular way. Let them know that it’s okay to try out multiple techniques in the meditation, or not to use a technique at all. They are also free to move and free to just sit and think.
Take some time to debrief the meditation, asking students to reflect on how far they’ve progressed. You may ask them how they think they would have managed if you had set this exercise in Week 1.
I often ask students to give themselves a mark out of one hundred. I then ask them why they gave themselves that particular rating. This is a good way to identify the ways in which students judge themselves — and to suggest that such judgments can be safely relinquished. For example, student may say that:
they didn’t feel they were well focused
that they were thinking too much
they didn’t do as well without guidance
that they were restless
that it took them longer than normal to relax
These comments provide an opportunity to offer reassurance and encouragement. You can remind students that they are only just beginning, and that it’s natural to experience such ‘difficulties’. More importantly, you might suggest that whether one is well-focused and calm doesn’t matter so much. What is critical is the attitude one brings to such experiences. What’s paramount in meditation is how you treat yourself. Are students being kind, gentle, encouraging and supportive (to themselves)? Hidden motivations or agendas — such as a deeply rooted desire to escape from discomfort, or certain thoughts or emotions — can completely sabotage a meditation practice. It’s critical to recognise and correct such attitudes where possible.
Other students will express surprise at how well they did, how easy the meditation was or how quickly the time passed.
7:30pm — Optional Material
Everything from here on is optional. You may like to check in with the class and ask them what interests them most, or if they have any questions. Based on that feedback, you can continue with the suggested program below, or review or introduce new material.
We have now covered all the foundational meditation practices. These are the techniques that most people use most of the time, and they tend to focus on sounds, the body and the breath (which we’re almost bound to notice any time we meditate). We’ve also explored more advanced practices in which we explore both our thoughts and emotions.
Over the last five weeks we have:
defined what meditation is
explored how meditation works
learnt about the meditative process
experienced what it’s like to meditate and what to expect, and
investigated some new ways of relating to thoughts and emotions
It’s up to you how we continue. We can revise or revisit meditations from earlier in the course, we could do a meditation specifically on pain or illness. Or I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about how to proceed post-course, or about meditation in general.
Sometimes, there will be so many questions that all you’ll only have time enough to answer them. At other times there won’t be any questions, or suggestions at all, and you might just jump into a meditation of your own choice.
7:45pm —Meditation on Pain
A Meditation focusing on pain requires some preliminary information, so take some time to discuss the concept and rationale for meditating on pain. Explain that when we say pain, we aren’t just referring to things like headaches and injuries, but to the full gamut of possible sensations we may experience in meditation (or life) — from minor irritants like an itchy nose, through to emotional discomfort (boredom, agitation), through to mental disturbance, existential angst, intense physical pain (e.g. a migraine or worse), and everything in between.
So why meditate on pain?
Given this broad definition, we can expect to be experiencing some degree of pain quite frequently, certainly in every meditation sitting. Therefore, it’s useful to have helpful strategies for relating to this pain. Habitually, we try to avoid, repress or block out pain. We take a Panadol when we’ve got a headache, we down a beer or two when we’re feeling stressed. Unfortunately, these strategies rarely help us to deal with the causes of our pain, and may actually make it worse (e.g. hangover!).
In this meditation we introduce strategies which help you to explore discomfort with an open mind. Instead of avoiding pain, you’re encouraged to examine it. By doing so, you begin to identify the thoughts, emotions and attitudes which amplify your experiences of pain, and can then modify your responses in ways that alleviate it.
How do we do this? By getting very curious and interested in our pain, by having a willingness to explore the sensations, to notice how they change over time and by using a range of simple visualisations or ‘cognitive frames’ in order to obtain a more objective or emotionally detached view of the pain.
The remainder of the class can be dedicated to summarizing the course material, answering questions and offering suggestions on what to do post-course in order for students to continue developing their skills.
Meditation is easy to do. With a little practice you can soon relax your body and calm your mind to some degree. If you just want to relax and sleep better you can get good results with just a few minutes a day. Other benefits will take more commitment and you will need to be clear about your objectives and set a plan in place to achieve them. Hopefully you will now know that meditation is neither dead easy nor impossibly complicated. The techniques we’ve learnt over the last six weeks are all fairly simple — and I trust that you’ve found them easy to understand. If you can apply them repeatedly — and that is the key — their compound effect can lead to very good results.
Even if your aspirations are modest, it is still important to know what you are doing, and to check that you are getting what you want. It’s easy to meditate in a rather mindless, automatic fashion, but you’ll pay the price for that carelessness. So, to start, ask yourself:
Why do I want to meditate?
How much time am I prepared to invest? (Both daily and over the coming months)
How, where and when will I do it?
The clearer and more detailed your answers are to these questions, the more likely you are to succeed. I suggest you write them down and revisit them several times over several days until you are sure your aspirations have a good practical base. It can be difficult to develop a new skill. Here then is a Basic Plan, to get you started.
Aim to do the 7 Deep Breaths (or a shortened version, e.g. Three Sighs) half a dozen times each day.
Do a short (1 — 3 minute) version of the Bodyscan 2 — 3 times a day.
Apply our helpful attitudes (permission, curiosity, kindness) in all kinds of situations.
Do an 8 — 15 minute meditation daily, even if only in bed at night.
This is a total time investment of about 15 minutes a day, and it needn’t interrupt anything else you do. The challenge is simply to remember to do it, and to keep doing it.
Try to get into a good routine. Aim to do ‘Three Sighs’ every time you walk out your door, or get out of the car or into the tram, or when you stand up and start to walk somewhere. Once you get comfortable at this, you may find it naturally continuing into a bodyscan as well.
Make sure you get the most out of this course. You won’t understand perfectly how to meditate after six weeks. Make use of the books and cd’s available, as well as the course notes and website. Attend group sessions or repeat the course some time down the track. Most people need some kind of repetitive guidance for months before they can really do it well on their own.
If you follow a plan like that outlined above it can be enormously valuable for you. Just to be able to relax consciously whenever you need to can turn your life around. It can give you immediate relief from insomnia, migraines, anxiety and panic attacks. It will help you enjoy life more and be more balanced and focused during the day. It will take you a month or two to consolidate this ‘Basic Program’, but before that has happened you will find that you are naturally moving to the next stage anyway.
Where to from here?
Keep in mind that it will take some time to consolidate the basics. Also, recognise that they are just the basics. There’s more to meditation than what we can cover in six weeks. Ultimately, you’ll probably want to let go of the ‘training-wheels’ and develop your own independent meditation practice, which doesn’t rely on any particular technique, nor the guidance of someone else. This is what we endeavour to teach you on our Intermediate Course.
Here are some options to consider.
Repeat a Basic Course. (As repeat students you’re entitled to a $35 discount).