Sathi talks about how different physical spaces can affect your meditation practices. He also gives some tips on what makes an environment more inviting to meditation. Several meditators shared their own experience with the effect of different spaces as well as setting up a special place for their meditation practice.
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Recorded on March 14, 2020, from the online session.
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A meditator mentioned how different her meditation is online than it is at the Meditation Center.
[Sathi] There are a few things the meditators have been talking about for years and years, about the effects of the mind by the environment. When you go to certain places you already feel calm. When you go to [other] places you feel agitated. Some environments make you angry. Some environments make you tired.
Think about your house. You have a lifestyle in the house. Going into a different state of mind you need a different environment. Not just physically, but this invisible environment [is] also carrying some energy. That is why a neutral place is very helpful. But, that doesn't mean you can't meditate. You can try.
We all are expecting the same meditation that we used to have. Then, we are always comparing that.
[Meditator] Exactly. And I thought I didn't do that. And there, I just got caught.
[Another Meditator] I had a similar kind of thing happening and a little bit of a revelation in the middle of this session, "Oh, I should be meditating in the same place I always meditate."
I really believe Bhante, what you said about the environment. It shapes on so many levels. Right? So, I'm used to meditating in a certain place. Like that is the place where I know to get right into that space.
I'm in my office. This is not the right place. I'm feeling all the oddest vibes. Which are compulsive. "I gotta do this. Oh, l should do that." and then, the whole time [sound of exasperation] being here. It made it extra hard for me.
[Sathi] Let me tell you something that I noticed a few weeks ago. I moved my computer out of the bedroom to a different location at the Center. I noticed that in the past, whenever something comes I just jump into the computer and check it.
Now, I find that I don't do that. Even when something comes to my head I don't jump into the computer like that. I keep that in my head, "Okay, I'll do that later." Already I have that peacefulness there by changing the environments.
What is happening, we are always forming habits and a mental environment by using the surroundings. Then we go on automatic.
As a meditator, what do you do? You take time to recognize it. That recognition will happen very slowly. The reason is, we are always defending our actions. We are defending our habits. Our way of life. [We say to ourselves, ] "My way of thinking is the ultimate."
But to recognize this we have to have strong mindfulness. We select friends who support our ideas. When we are angry, we want our friends to be angry too. For the same reason. We select and gather people who are angry with us. That is what we are looking for. [Buiding] that comfort zone.
For the meditator, we are stepping out of this comfort zone in order to see what is going on. That's one of the biggest differences you are going to notice practicing at home and outside the home because your home is your comfort zone for something else. For relationships. For connections and other emotional engagements.
How to hold those things while you are meditating. That is why most meditators find a neutral place in their home to practice meditation. One of the basic advice we give meditators is to ask them not to meditate in the bedroom. The reason is, the bedroom is used to sleep. As a meditator, sometimes we are fighting laziness or sleepiness. Sometimes your mind will say, "You are very tired today. Go ahead and sleep." So, instead of meditating, you lay down a little bit. [laughing]
There is another thing. We ask people not to meditate in front of a mirror. And also, asking people not to pick a corner where a lot of things and clutter are. Just to find a quiet place.
That is the reason [meditators in the] Zen Buddhist culture sit in front of a wall. That is how they started it. Because when you look at [a blank] wall you don't see anything else. It has become a tradition or practice.
We need to understand the purpose of these practices and how to avoid those difficulties.
[Meditator] These rituals of grounding or centering are interesting in light of what is happening on [Highway] 101. How many of you take 101 to get to the Center? Coming down, there's a windy hill. Is everyone familiar with that? About two or three weeks ago bulldozers came through and plowed hundreds and hundreds of trees about halfway down. I didn't realize it until they did that, how an important part of my process that was. Kind of getting grounded before I came to the Center. Because the trees are really important to me. There's something about them that really is nourishing and very grounding for me. So, I felt unsituated. Just off. Like I'm going to have to find a different... I know you can't tie yourself to certain circumstances and we need to get beyond that. But, that was an important way of getting centered, or getting grounded ritual, for me, prior to coming to the Center.
Like now I maybe have to have music or maybe something else that will get me into that proper mindset. Something is different, something is unsettled for me.
[Another Meditator] I find myself doing variations on meditation. So I have my deep meditations as we would do as a group, or like this morning. But also, when I'm in a waiting room, standing in line, or even at a traffic light, I go into a meditative state. It is not as deep and not as long, but I still hit that sweet zone just for those few moments.
I've been spending a lot of time in doctor's offices. So, that turns into a really meditative state because they always knock before they come in. And, it is always quiet and safe.
So, I find myself doing different variations of meditation instead of just the deep meditation every morning or in a certain place. That gives me a lot of flexibility and keeps me calm too.
[Sathi] Yes, what I'm hearing is that you are finding a way not to do anything with your mind and you are finding at each environment to close your eyes and allowing your mind to become calm. Of course, then that way, it allows you to have a different state of meditation or different state of mind.
The difference is the level of freedom. When you come to group meditation you know that for half an hour nobody is going to knock on your door. There you have that freedom. But, at the doctor's office, you know you are in a safe environment but, anybody can knock on the door at any time. That doesn't give you 100% freedom. It is giving you a safe environment and a calm moment. So, in order to have a very good, calm meditation, maybe you have to fulfill 10 areas. But, at the doctor's office, you only fill six or seven areas. But, it is still good. That doesn't mean it is a bad meditation. Actually, you are wise of using that [time] and not waiting for 100% [freedom].
Even today, with all the difficulties and most of us just could come and sit down even though you are at home. Maybe you have some family members around you. Maybe you have to tell them, "Don't disturb me." You don't have that luxury that you have at the Center for all the ten points completed. But, it is still six or seven. It is still... Also, part of your mind is a little bit uncomfortable because you are just staying away from everybody and having your own thing. Part of your mind is wanting to accommodate them as well because you don't want to be a bad person.
This is a very good opportunity to check our minds in that way. Also, I totally agree, that there are different variations of your practice. But, when you can give that 100% of freedom than your mind will get into a deeper place.
Our challenge is, how can we [develop] 100% of freedom in that environment? That can be our challenge. It is not really about others. It is about what you are thinking about them. Because you are the one that is uncomfortable [while meditating at home].
When you are sitting at the doctor's office, and in the back of your mind, you have the idea that any second they will be knocking on the door. You can sit thereby holding that thought or you can sit there by trusting yourself whenever they knock on the door, I will open [my eyes]. I have confidence that I will hear that. So, you can give totally freedom there too. But, it requires a lot of practice, confidence, and determination.
[Meditator] My other challenging meditation or mindfulness is in the dentist's chair having my teeth cleaned. When I feel that anxiety rising up, then I do the breathing. Maybe that is a scale of one compared to what I would do at a retreat. But still, it is calming and it gets me focused on what the hygienist is doing as opposed to what I am worried about. That's on the bottom scale. That's my least enjoyable meditation. [laughing].
[Sathi] How about others? Any thoughts?
[Meditator] I kind of like the session. It was in between what I usually do and what we do at the Center. We had the elements of being at meditation and having all our old friends together with me. But, I still had my dog out there. I could hear her. The sounds are different. There are no cars. The A/C, I have the vents right next to me. There's no water fountain. But, I have some birds in the summer, outside. It is like trading one sound for another.
I'm totally tricking the environment because I have incense lit. It kind of smells the same. So, okay, that works. And, I'm sitting on the floor, so that is similar.
[Sathi] And you have all the same people coming to your home today. [laughing]
[Meditator] I thought, it took me a while to get to that place because the visual stimulation is a lot more obvious because you are in front of the computer, and all the different colors and brightness, and whatnot. So, I kind of like the difference in what needs to get set up. "I have to water the plants!" [laughing] Is the audio/video working? It is a trade-off in a way, right?
I thought it was kind of interesting. My mind was running through the usual patterns. Not the same thoughts but, what happens. It was interesting for me.
[Another Meditator] I always meditate in my home in my bedroom/studio/office where everything happens. But, I'm sitting in a different location. I think my experience today was also being new to sitting in front of the computer, meditating. Not being quite sure how all this worked with you. Not being familiar with mindfulness, I've been meditating, but I do a different type every day. So, there was the heaviness in my head due to the uncertainty of what was going to, how was this going to work, what was this about? And that sort of thing.
There could be a little bit of not being able to let go entirely and be free in my meditation because of some of that uncertainty. I don't know what to think about... I use computers a lot but in a limited sense with my work. But, meditating in front of them, I have to say, I don't know. Something about the energy from computers is not always real beneficial for me. I appreciated the focus Bhante when you mentioned finding a place to concentrate on your breath. I found that right inside my right-upper nostril was where my focus was. [laughing] It was so funny that it was so pin-pointed that I would come back to that when I found my mind wandering.
[Sathi] Okay, good know you can feel your breath. Next time keep your attention there. As a meditator, we have to recognize we are always forming life patterns and habits. Remember the meditation is something we have to form and introduce with a lot of effort. A lot of determination. Because meditation is not commonly encouraged practice. It is only done by people with depth in their mind and who are really respecting their own self, their own mind. And people who know the value of keeping calm. Everyone talks about it, but few people take actions.
Most of you know that when I'm traveling I don't tell people openly about my travels. The main reason is when I tell people that I'm traveling, then they think, "Bhante's not there today." Then, they don't come.
What happens, we lose the momentum of coming to meditation. I always find that when I'm traveling to Sri Lanka or when I go somewhere for a few weeks. When I come back I don't have the same group. If I miss meditation classes for three or four weeks, in order to see the same group again it will take about two months. Because, what is behind it, it is not happening intentionally, it is happening because that is how our mind works. We slowly lose our sense of the value of meditation.
Introducing meditation [practice] is very difficult. And, maintaining meditation practice takes a regular, continuous effort. With even a slight change in the effort, we will lose the strength of the practice.
I appreciate all of you who came to meditation today. I know it is sometimes difficult to be apart from family members, especially when they are at home. But, we used to do that on Saturday mornings but you were leaving your home to come to meditation. They are sacrificing too, being quiet and not disturbing you. Not coming to where you are. They are supporting your practice.
[Meditator] I think it is an interesting shakeup to say, "What habits do I have in my practice that makes me most comfortable?" It takes us back to comfort and how does my mind behave differently? I think it is a good shakeup to see where are my habits? And, where am I getting just a little bit lazy in my practice? Or, not lazy, but, a little too comfortable in my practice. Maybe it is not as portable as I say it is or that I want to believe it is.
This reminds me that my home practice is not strong right now. That's okay. I have that awareness. But, now what do I want to do with that information to help strengthen [my practice]? I keep thinking of that lesson, what we don't strengthen, atrophies. Unfairly, but, there's truth in that.
[Another Meditator] I haven't thought of this in years but back in the days when I was in Arizona and I went to the Center where there was a teacher who was talking about setting up your space intentionally at home. For years, I forgot about this, but I had a special spot and I had a candle. It was a sign for me like it was aromatic, visual, kinesthetic. There was something about that process. It is nice having this conversation again to think about more mindfully setting up my space again like I used to have it. Give myself those entries. I remember Bhante, awhile ago you talked about the beginning, settling rituals we do in our daily practice. I still adhere to this to some degree, but I've let it go a bit. I had a structured way of getting into that space. It was the type of breath I was doing. Body relaxation process and it is good to reinforce that those rituals can be an important way to be more "efficient", that kind of irks me, but that kind of ideal of using the climate more wisely and optimizing that time.