A Qualitative Study of the Experience of NaÔve Meditators
Buddhism without the Buddha: Understanding the Experience of a Beginning Meditation Practice
University of Detroit-Mercy
School of Counseling
Chapter I Introduction
B) Mindfulness and Concentrative Meditation
C) Mental Self-regulation
D) Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
E) Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression
F) Mindfulness Meditation and Anxiety
G) Mindfulness Meditation and Substance Abuse
H) Mindfulness Meditation and Homework
I) Barriers to Meditative Practices
J) Problems with Research
Chapter IIII Summary and Conclusions
Chapter V Discussion
A) Bare Bones Meditation Instructions
C) Log Forms
D) Co-researcher One
E) Co-researcher Two
F) Co-researcher Three
Chapter I Introduction
It is rare that a substance abuse counselor encounters a client with a single, identifiable problem. The more likely scenario is a client with multiple disorders such as substance abuse and depression or gambling addiction and attention deficit disorder. There are also many common threads running from mental disorder to mental disorder not the least of which is the likelihood of reoccurrence or relapse. The possible utility of strategies like mindfulness meditation in helping clients to avoid reoccurrence of their problems and the ability to deliver this treatment in either a group format (or individually) makes the exploration of mindfulness producing technology an important area of research for counseling in general and substance abuse counselors in particular.
A counselor who intends to use mindfulness meditation as a therapeutic modality is encouraged to practice mindfulness meditation (Teasdale et al., 2000). Without a personal mindfulness meditation practice it would be very difficult to get at the marrow of the experience of meditation, including the difficulties faced by the beginning meditator. The literature on the subject of mindfulness meditation offers little in the way of insight into the beginning meditators experience. Since the beginning of my mindfulness meditation practice, this writer has kept regular notes on the experience of beginning to meditate. It has been the practice of this writer to treat meditation as an experiment. My approach to meditation was to start at the beginning, like a scientist, letting the data speak for itself. It was my intention to avoid becoming attached to the results or preconceived notions about outcomes. This, it would seem, is in keeping with the basic spirit of the idea of mindfulness or awareness as a metacognitive skill. Each session was treated as a unique experiment and direct experience was the teacher. As a meditator, I became an observer of my own thinking, sensing, feeling system. †These notes will serve as a useful starting point for researching the experience of the beginning meditator. Here are portions of the notes, having to do with beginning to meditate, edited into a readable format. I begin this research paper by making explicit my basic assumptions about my own meditation practice in order to avoid prejudicing the final data.
† Some initial speculations, hypothesis or visions that preceded my experiments with meditation included:
1) I wanted to be more open, open minded, more spacious (experimental minded)
2) I wanted to be calmer
3) I wanted to be clearer
4) I wanted to listen to the data as it is --- it is as it is
5) I wanted to be centered in the flow of the moment
First, the idea that a meditation practice is a series of experiments seems to align well with my experience. I have heard that the Buddha suggested that direct experience is the best teacher. You try an approach and if it seems to work you incorporate it into your practice. It may be practical to have a teacher direct you around failed paths based on his experience, but someone has had to have an experience in the first place in order to see what will work and what will not. A problem might arise if the experience of a teacher, based on his or her direct experience is so specific to his or her experiential context that it fails to generalize to his students. In that case, the students are taught a failed path which they will eventually have to overcome. Each meditation session is an experiment. Each session is a different experiment because the subject of the experiment is different.
I began to practice meditation five years ago when I found myself having to teach groups of addicts in a treatment center how to use progressive relaxation techniques. After making several failed attempts with these groups I happened upon†† Brainwave Suite (Thompson, 2005). I started to use the Alpha tape with very tense addicts. While it helped them marginally, I ended up gaining from the exercise as a sort of collateral affect. I began to maintain a relaxed, quiet state for periods of over 15 minutes. I used the tape for about a year in relaxation groups. Repeated exposure to this tape helped me to decide to meditate in a more traditional manner. I started by creating a place in my upstairs bedroom that would be set-aside specifically as a meditation spot. This place is a pleasant, well ventilated, space with an altar on which I have placed a variety of ambience creating items. There is a pleasant looking Buddha, an image of Jesus for my wife, candles and incense. The objects are not as important as the feelings they create.
The next problem I encountered was what would be the most sensible posture for me. I am an arthritic, fifty five year old who does not bend well. I tried a lotus posture. I could do it if I was propped against a wall. If I sat away from the wall my back ached badly. I realized that if I looked forward to pain and unpleasantness I would not last long. I tried sitting in a chair, but while I felt natural, it seemed wrong in some way.
†The kneeling position was perfect. My back could be straight with out discomfort. I realized that my torso needed to be erect in order to breathe comfortably and when I kneeled, breathing flowed easily. This was not true for me in the seated posture or in the lotus. I wonít even go into the leg discomfort in those positions.
Eventually, the kneeling position caused tendonitis because of the weight of my body resting on my ankles. I tried many work a rounds to solve this problem, but to no avail. I finally stumbled upon a seat that solved the problem. This simple wooden seat allowed me to sit in the kneeling position while it bore my weight thus saving my ankles. My back could be straight on the seat, freeing my breath to flow without too much effort. An equivalent possibility might be a kneeling computer chair. I tried the computer chair as an alternative to the kneeling bench, but while this might be even better for some people, especially if getting up and down are difficult, I found I preferred the simple wooden kneeling bench for comfort.
The most persistent problem I faced and still face in the kneeling position is the tendency to sink. Gravity. When sitting for periods of thirty minutes or more, I found myself compressing. The only solution I have come up with is to be very aware (mindful) of my sense of uprightness and to pull myself up if, as a result of lapse in awareness, I sink.
Then there is the question of eyes open or eyes closed. I have encountered reasons for both meditating with eyes open and meditating with eyes closed. Initially, I opted for eyes closed since it seemed easier to stay concentrated. Some warn that you may encounter visions of an unpleasant or pleasant nature with eyes closed which may distract you. I have so far adopted the strategy of keeping my eyes partially open when sleepy and closed in most other instances. So far I have had only changes in light quality, no visions. It is also harder not to fall asleep with my eyes closed. This is rarely a problem for me unless I am very tired. If I am so tired that I can't stay awake when I am meditating, I either complete the session in a standing posture or just go to bed and call it a day. Normally, I do not fall asleep when I am meditating. When meditating in a public setting, I tend to just barely open my eyes into slits and focus on the floor several feet ahead of my position.
My approach to meditation as I said was experimental. I tried mantras first, but did not feel as if they were my cup of tea. I settled on the oldest and simplest technique, mindfulness training. I decided to approach the project in partial actions. The first step would be to learn to follow the breath. My experience suggests that meditation practice is progressive in the same way that weight lifting is progressive. I am an old weight lifter. You don't walk into the gym and bench press a cow. You start with a small dog and progress to a cow. I began by using an approach I found recommended fairly often, counting the breath. The idea is to breath naturally. This is not a breathing exercise, but a mind training (strengthening) exercise. You let the breath be itself, but as you inhale, you count one, for the first breath, then two for the second breath until you have counted up to ten. Once you get to ten, you start back at one. You count either the in or out breath. Now this sounds pretty easy, but you would be amazed how hard it is to keep your mind on the task. The exercise is designed to help build concentration and the focus is the breath. When you lose count, you return to the breath and begin again. Basically, you canít count and think. Your mind will begin to drift to a thought or a plan and you just pull it gently back to the breath. You would think that the goal was successfully staying concentrated on the breath for prolonged periods of time, but this is deceptive. The activity of coming back to the breath is like weight lifting, the more you do it the stronger you get. It is the process of refocusing that is important not how long you can stop the thought flow. This exercise turns out to be very powerful because as you do it you become more and more concentrated until you can follow the breath without the counting.
I counted the breath religiously for over a year. Whenever I feel my concentration flagging or I lose focus during a session, I always return to the count even if I am pursuing another meditation technique. Counting the breath has become the root of my meditation practice. At first, counting the breath was tedious. My mind fought against the repetitive, boring nature of the exercise. The mind wanted to be free of the constraints breath counting placed on it. It wanted to chatter, to bounce from thought to thought, to plan and worry. The way I worked with this resistance was to take frequent breaks, counting for a few cycles, then letting the mind return to its habitual ramblings and then returning again to the breath. Instead of forceful, I was patient, gentle and pliant, but steady. Each time I stayed a little longer on the breath. I eventually developed the pattern of two meditation sessions per day for thirty minutes each.
Another difficulty I encountered is pushing the breath or following it? It is very difficult to discern. Sometimes I would discover I was practically hyperventilating because I was pushing so hard and others times the length of time between breaths seemed excessive. I would discover I wasnít letting myself breath, resulting in having to gulp air to catch up. The way turned out to be to follow the natural flow of the breath with the count. Just let the breath go and give each breath a number label after it has passed. If it was natural to take a deep breath, I took a deep breath. If it felt natural to take a shallow breath, I took a shallow breath. Placing your attention on a place where the breath is flowing, like the sound or feel of the breath being exhaled through the nose, might make it easier to keep the count. It is not a breathing exercise.
Breathing changes with posture. If you are pressed in because you are hunched or your shoulders are pressing inward, this compresses the chest area constricting the breath. A straight spine, belly thrust outward, shoulders back slightly seems to encourage natural breathing as does belly breathing, but still this is not a breathing exercise.
I do not completely close my mouth nor do I leave it open very wide. This is maybe because I have a crushed nostril, but it just did not feel right to close my mouth tight. The kneeling computer chair seems to maximize natural breath flow, but can be harder on the back. Eventually, as the depth of meditation (trance) increased I noticed that my breathing has slowed markedly so that I barely breathed compared to the beginning when I seemed to huff and puff. The more relaxed and easy the breathing becomes, the deeper the meditation and the deeper the meditation, the more relaxed and easy the breathing becomes. I have also noticed that the time that it takes to achieve a deep state of meditation is shortening.
As I moved to the natural next step of following the breath without counting, I became more aware of my whole experience. I found that my mind was pulled by sounds, body sensations and thoughts. During one period when I had been involved in a conflict at work with my employer, I got to experiment with the tenacity of my thoughts. The conflict was a blow to my sense of self worth and, since I had been cut off before I could defend my position, I felt an urgency to finish the business of the conflict out in imaginary conversations with my employer. I would drive to school and work with my mind cranking out these conversations practically non-stop. When I came to meditation, I found that the relaxed state seemed to be an ideal time to enter into this imaginary discourse. I would become lost in it and then remember that I was meditating. This went on for weeks. I would go back to counting the breath for a while and that would hold back the flood of self-validating thoughts. Counting the breath was an effective method of temporarily suppressing thought, however, if I let up for any length of time, it was back to the discourse. I decided to add a mindfulness exercise to my routine as a result of this experience.
Mindfulness meditation was not as much of a change as I initially thought it would be. In a sense counting the breath is being mindful of the breath. My next experiment in meditation was to continue following the breath, but when a sensation, feeling or thought occurred, I simply noted its appearance with a label like thinking, feeling or sensing and then returned to the breath. Instead of labeling the breath with numbers, I placed labels on sensations, feelings and thoughts. When the discourse with my employer would begin, I would label it a thought and return to the breath. I changed from experiencing the sounds, smells, plans, worries and irritations as distractions to beginning to see meditation as being with the experience without judging it. I was an observer of experience in the momentary stream. I could really be the scientist studying myself.
This brings up an interesting discovery (for me anyway). Up until this point, I always played music very quietly in the background while I meditated. The music seemed like white noise and when it stopped, I new the meditation session was over. It was kind of a timer. I decided at one point to meditate mindfully without the music as an experiment. I discovered that the music was a predictable pattern that I used to discriminate time increments. I not only knew when the meditation session should end, but where I was in the meditation session based on the place in the music. The music was like meditating watching a clock. This became apparent when I began to meditate without the music. I discovered that without the music timing the intervals, my sense of time passing seemed to dissolve. The music seems to have distracted me from staying in the moment without my really having noticed it.
The lack of a sense of time while meditating created the problem of the session lasting longer than I planned. I never expected that to be a problem because with the music I was always ready to quit meditating as the music reached the end. My back would ache and my legs would throb, telling me I had accomplished my work and that my well-deserved break was about to come. Without the music and the cues it presented, I had no sense of when the end was coming and the aching sense of accomplishment disappeared. I eventually started to use an alarm clock to time the session and when the bell rang I was surprised. I was lost in meditation --- the flow. Now I use an alarm clock, out of site, set for 30 minutes.
A Qualitative Study of the Experience of NaÔve Meditators
The practice of meditation has roots in many religious traditions (Schopen, 1992) but its most often associated with Eastern religions, in particular, Buddhism (Schopen, 1992). Buddhism, in its migrations, has adapted well to indigenous cultures and traditional religions. In the West, the basic elements of Buddhism, concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation, have found a welcome home in modern psychotherapy (Schopen, 1992). It has been the use of meditation techniques such as progressive relaxation, systematic desensitization and stress management by behaviorists that has placed meditation in the spotlight in psychological research (Schopen, 1992).
Meditation is co-occurring deep relaxation and highly concentrated focus (Murata, Takahashi, Hamada, Omori, & Kosaka, 2004). The term practice or skillful means is often used in association with meditation to denote a behavior acquired through repetition and effort (Murata et al., 2004).
Mindfulness and Concentrative Meditation
While there are numerous types of meditation techniques such as Zen or Vipassana, dividing them up according to the attentional strategy that they utilize places most techniques in either the concentrative group or the mindfulness group or a hybrid group that switches from concentrative to mindfulness in a purposeful manner (Delmonte, 1987). Delmonte (1987) however characterizes all meditative attentional modes as having essentially the same objective e.g. the production of insight into the nature of mental functioning.
Concentration on an object such as the breath or a repeated mantra resists habitual patterns of thought by constantly coming back to the object of meditation when the mind wanders. The result of this attentional resistance can produce insights into cognitive processes that may have otherwise hidden in automaticity. Delmonte (1987) refers to the concept of ďunstressingĒ as a suspension of the normal conceptual defenses, allowing for the expression of primary process or repressed material in concentrative meditation as an example.
†Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, de-centers the focus while giving equal attention to each mental object as it presents itself to consciousness with an accepting attitude of curiosity (Delmonte, 1987). In the concentrative strategy, the meditator forcefully keeps his attention on one object, such as the breath, resulting in stimulus habituation and suspension of the anticipatory stance that is customary to cognitive processing (Delmonte, 1987). In contrast, mindfulness meditation concentrates on the natural stream of consciousness, according to every object of mind a detached, curious openness that is a result of not taking a position on the object either pro or con (Brown & Ryan, 2004). The object is just is the object.
It is easy to see that both concentrative and mindfulness meditation require focus on an object (Hayes & Feldman, 2004). The idea that mindfulness practice is dependant on the skillful application of concentration leads naturally to the combining of concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation in a single practice (Teasdale, Williams, Ridgeway, Soulsby, & Lau, 2000). When the mindfulness meditator gets lost in thought, returning to the concentrative technique of following the breath can have a centering affect. With both strategies working in tandem, concentrative meditation can be seen as a form of thought suppression while mindfulness meditation can be seen as the non-judgmental acceptance of thought or the seeing of thought as a passing object without construal (Bishop et al., 2004). The combination of the two types, concentrative and mindfulness techniques, switching, presents the potential for mental self-regulation (Segal et al., 2002).
The idea of mindfulness can be seen as both means and ends. Concentrating on the flow of thoughts, feelings and sensations as they occur in a non-judgmental manner is the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is also a skill that results from this effort or a quality of consciousness itself (Bishop et al., 2004)(Brown & Ryan, 2004) (Hayes & Shenk, 2004). It has been suggested that mindfulness, as a meta-cognitive skill, is subject to enhancement by means other than meditation (Hayes & Shenk, 2004) (Brown & Ryan, 2004). Brown and Ryan (2003) assert that mindfulness can be measured with the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and can be seen as both a persistent trait of personality and as a state that can fluctuate in any given context. The value of mindfulness may reside in the habituation to an object that is essentially a moving target, a constantly changing stream of sensations, feelings and thoughts without the anticipatory valuing or construing that is typical of normal cognitive processing (Baer, 2003). The resulting meta-cognitive skill, which can be measured as it develops (Brown & Ryan, 2003), can lead to an increase in perspective taking (Baer, 2003), flexibility and self-regulation (Hayes & Feldman, 2004). Using the (MAAS), Brown and Ryan (2003) were able to correlate various measures of well being with increased MAAS scores including inverse correlations with neuroticism, anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
Kabat-Zinn (1982) suggests that increased mindfulness resulting from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) leads to an attitude of not taking thoughts to be facts, reducing the need to escape unpleasant thinking. The idea of avoiding aversive emotional states by self-regulating attention would be like looking at the devil as a passing object without making an appraisal or construal that engenders a fearful reaction (Hayes & Feldman, 2004). The use of (MBSR) with pre-medical and medical students suggests that overall measures of stress were reduced, including depression and anxiety and there was an increase in compassion towards patients (Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998). Kabat-Zinn (1982) found a lessening of stress levels using a variety of measures with chronic pain patients, patients with anxiety disorders and other stress-related maladies such as fibromyalgia and psoriasis. Bedard et al. (2003) in a preliminary study found indications of improvement in the quality of life on several instruments resulting from MBSR training with clients suffering from a closed head injury.†
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression
In Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (MBCT), a manualized treatment program that is based on mindfulness meditation, Teasdale, Williams, Ridgeway, Soulsby, and Lau (2000) have developed an encouraging direction for relapse prevention in formerly depressed clients. The mechanism by which relapse into depression is avoided is self-regulation of attention rather than the more traditional cognitive approach of restructuring or disputation. Segal et al. (2002) found that beliefs did not change from active depression to periods of remission. Instead, Segal et al. (2002) identified a ruminative cognitive cycling process that deepens depression. Using (MBCT), relapse into depression could be avoided by breaking the cycle before it reaches the point of no return. In the MBCT group the re-occurrence of depression was reduced by approximately half for the follow up period of the study (Teasdale et al., 2000).† Williams, Segal, Teasdale, and Soulsby (2000) studied the effect of mindfulness training, including mindfulness meditation, on the tendency in clients with a history of depression to present a cognitive style that includes an over-general memory. The present focusing effect of mindfulness training, including mindfulness meditation, indicated a reduction in over-general memory unrelated to current affect.
Mindfulness Meditation and Anxiety
Ramel, Goldin, Carmona, and McQuaid (2004) found that the MBSR eight week course, including mindfulness meditation, led to a decrease in the ruminative processes associated with depression as well as anxious symptoms, dysfunctional beliefs and need for approval. Kabat-Zinn et al. (1992) suggests that MBSR can strengthen mental self-regulation and thus contribute to symptom reduction in GAD. On the other hand, Wells (2002) cautions that the particular focus of mindfulness meditation may contribute to ideas of control as opposed to disconfirmation of catastrophic beliefs. The suggestion is, that if mindfulness is posed as an experiment in not worrying as opposed to a control technique, it will have better results (Wells, 2002).
Mindfulness Meditation and Substance Abuse Treatment
Breslin, Zack, and McMain (2002) point out that relapse in chemical dependency is often associated with avoiding negative affect, a control technique, as opposed to facing negative affect without using mood-altering chemicals, an acceptance technique. Relapse prevention tactics that encourage thought suppression might contribute to relapse because they are basically escapist in some of the same ways as control techniques such as drug or alcohol use, (Breslin et al., 2002). Tactics that encourage avoidance may confirm that dealing with negative affect canít be survived without using drugs or alcohol. Mindfulness based relapse prevention tactics however allow the addict to face the negative affect squarely while not seeing the negative affect as dangerous (Breslin et al., 2002). Instead, the negative affect is approached as a mental event and then the meditator returns to the breath (Breslin et al., 2002). The inclusion of the concentrative anchor of the breath in meditation produces relaxation (Monk-Turner, 2003) making it an attractive modality for stress reduction while desensitizing the meditator to the idea that he or she cannot tolerate negative affect without a drink or a drug (Breslin et al., 2002). Breslin et al. (2002) notes that the awareness created by mindfulness meditation of cues that activate hidden programs that lead to relapse may make it possible to circumvent those programs before they are activated (Breslin et al., 2002). Thus mindfulness meditation may replace automaticity with awareness in some key areas responsible for relapse. Separating the relaxation aspects of mindfulness meditation from the mindfulness aspects has been accomplished in a study of prison inmates (Murphy, 1995). In a head to head comparison of progressive relaxation versus mindfulness meditation, mindfulness meditation significantly reduced stress as measured by objective testing.†
Mindfulness Meditation and Homework
In both Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (MBCT)(Teasdale et al., 2000) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)(Kabat-Zinn, 1990) it is common practice to assign homework to a client. Scheel, Hanson, and Razzhavaikina (2004) indicated that there is a strong positive correlation between completing homework and positive outcomes in therapy. This is suggested as well in the research on mindfulness meditation in both (MBCT)(Teasdale et al., 2000) and (MBSR) (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). The idea that the more motivated to change a client is the more likely they will comply with homework was suggested as an explanation (Scheel et al., 2004). Some uses of homework identified in the research included recognizing automatic thoughts (Scheel et al., 2004), experiments and risks (Scheel et al., 2004) and an opportunity to own treatment. Homework was divided into types such as behavioral/non-behavioral, direct/non-direct and paradoxical/non-paradoxical (Scheel et al., 2004). Homework can also be used to separate clients into visitors, customers or complainants (Scheel et al., 2004). The drop out rates for Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Therapy groups (Kabat-Zinn, 1990) was reported to be relatively low for programs of this type.
There does not appear to be any specific research into the use of Mindfulness Meditation as a homework assignment in individual psychotherapy. Considerations to increase positive outcomes for any kind of homework assignments in individual psychotherapy included homework/client fit, perceived level of difficulty, strength focused and influence of therapist (Scheel et al., 2004).
Barriers to Meditative Practices
†††† Homework/client fit presents the therapist with the need to determine whether or not a client is appropriate for a particular kind of therapeutic intervention. Which clients are good candidates for mindfulness meditation exercises? Pelka (1985) found a correlation between capacity for absorption as measured by Tellegenís Absorption Scale and ability for inward attention and positive affect. Tellegenís Absorbtion Scale is also an indicator of ones ability to be hypnotized or achieve a trance state as in meditation practice (Pelka, 1985).
Yorston (2001) suggests that at least in some cases meditation can precipitate a manic episode. Walsh and Roche (1979) have also identified cases where vulnerable individuals involved in intense meditation practices that produce altered states of consciousness can exacerbate all ready existing schizophrenia.
†††† There are significant problems with much of the research on meditation as a general adjunct to therapy (Canter, 2003).† The biggest problem appears to be weak experimental design. In many studies, the researchers do not control for the differences in the kinds of people who elect to participate in research in which meditation is being used and between people who complete treatment versus those who do not (Canter, 2003). Canter (2003) also points out that in better-designed studies such as have been done by Teasdale et al. (2000) and Kabat-Zinn (2002), Kabat-Zinn (1990), the researchers have mixed cognitive interventions with meditation and as a result the specific effects of meditation can not be separated from the cognitive interventions.
There are numerous questions that have been left unanswered by the research:
1) What kinds of clients will get benefit from the use of mindfulness meditation? This needs to be determined for both individuals doing mindfulness meditation as a part of a group and as a homework assignment in individual therapy.
2) What are the barriers that appropriate individuals face as they try and participate in mindfulness meditation practice?
3) How can a therapist assist a client in overcoming these barriers? What role should the therapist play in encouraging mindfulness meditation practice? What kinds of preparation will the therapist need to assist the client and how best can the therapist prepare the client for the endeavor of mindfulness meditation?
Three co-researchers were recruited to join the study, which would require the ability to follow instructions independently and the willingness to commit approximately 30 minutes per day. Co-researchers ranged in age from 23 to 76. All were females. Co-researchers had to demonstrate good writing skills and not have been involved in practicing meditation prior to this study. Co-researchers were interviewed in advance to determine their appropriateness for involvement. At this time, written disclaimers and instructions were given to co-researchers and signed (appendices).
Co-researchers received written instructions (appendices). The written instructions included a simple meditation routine that took approximately 30 minutes per day. Co-researchers practiced the routine for the next fourteen days. Following every daily session, each co-researcher completed a log sheet (appendices). At the end of fourteen days, each co-researcher wrote a four to six page paper describing in detail the experience of meditation. This writer then interviewed each co-researcher to collect additional information and to clarify information acquired from their papers.
Interviews were taped and transcribed. The resulting output as well as the papers and logs were subjected to inductive analysis. Categories and themes were culled from the narratives and linked, when appropriate, with the intention of identifying testable hypothesis for future research.
Summary and Conclusions
An analysis of the data, resulting from the process of extracting themes from the written text, interviews, and logs, produced the following results.
2. Positive role models: Co-researchers who had a successful role model agreed that knowing someone whom had a positive response to meditation could help get over hurdles. Having a positive role model did not help over-come very strong negative beliefs about one co-researcherís personal ability to practice meditation.
3. Sense of purpose:† Co-researchers felt a need to establish that meditation had purpose or value sufficient to justify the effort.
4. Priorities: Co-researchers viewed meditation as an activity in a field of activities competing for time and energy. How much importance meditation was given in this field determined when and if practice occurred.
5. Short versus long-term positive outcomes:† Co-researchers wanted to get an immediate reward for the effort they were expending.
6. Discomfort: Co-researchers felt discomfort of both a physical and mental nature to be barriers to practice.
7. Other orientation: Co-researchers felt that having company to meditate with contributed to the experience of meditation by giving a sense of common purpose to the task.
8. Commitment: Co-researchers felt that making a commitment to a specific number of practice sessions for a specific length of time helped to get them past spots where their personal motivation might have waned.†
9. Similar experiences: Co-researchers with positive experiences in activities similar to meditation felt that those positive experiences made meditation easier to practice.
10. Goal orientation: The inability to achieve perceived goals, such as thought stopping, led to feelings of frustration. When the goal could not be achieved, there was often an inclination to give up. Goals were based on preexisting expectations about meditation.
Co-researchers generally felt that pre-existing negative beliefs about being easily distracted, impatience and lack of an inner calming ability would have to be overcome in order to feel comfortable with the practice of meditation. One co-researcher had such strong negative beliefs about her own personal capacity to meditate that she believed it was impossible for her to fulfill the expectations of the study. One co-researcher was concerned about religious conflicts and used terms like blaspheming and superstitious to describe preconceived notions about meditation. Co-researchers felt that these negative preconceived notions could interfere with practicing meditation.
Co-researchers felt that having a positive role model helped their practice. Co-researchers described knowing someone who had benefited from meditation as helpful to their meditation practice, particularly if they knew the role model well. Another co-researcher had a close relative that practiced meditation, but she had very strong negative beliefs about her own abilities to meditate despite this role model.
Co-researchers felt the need for a sense of purpose in their meditation practice. They wanted to feel that the energy they were expending was worth it. Co-researchers did not feel that doing something just because it was good for them was enough to give purpose to their efforts. They were interested in more tangible goals such as helping them stop worrying or sleep better. Vague rewards in the future did not provide enough purpose. Co-researchers felt that short-term positive outcomes were important to encouraging practice. The most discussed short-term rewards were improvements in sleep, reductions in stress levels, and feeling refreshed and invigorated. A feeling of pleasure both during and after meditation was noted as a valuable enticement for coming back to the cushion. Co-researchers described an endorphin induced pleasurable sensation. Co-researchers reported a marked relaxation response. This included feeling like they were in a trance, falling into a relaxing sleep, letting go, being oblivious and a sense of coming back to the world at the end of a session. One co-researcher felt the opposite, she worried about whether she was meditating correctly to the point that meditation was stressful for her and interfered with her ability to sleep. She reported hating meditation from day one.
† Discomfort resulting from pain, boredom, distractions, and holding still were seen as negative barriers to practice. Co-researchers felt that postural discomfort such as stiffness and feeling trapped resulted in prematurely ending a session. The environment where meditation took place was important for comfort. When the practitioner felt that the space was not conducive to meditation, the space contributed to resistance to practice. Environments that felt overly restrictive, excessively chaotic, distracting, too much caffeine, poor ventilation, did not support a comfortable meditation session.
Each co-researcher talked about being busy. The priority setting on meditation determined when and if practice would occur. Putting meditation off till the very last thing or bumping it from the schedule for another more important task was the number one reason for a skipped session or a shortened session. Not practicing when there were more pressures or seeing meditation as an after thought often led to missed sessions. Co-researchers could not fit meditation into their schedules unless they felt as if they had little or nothing else to do more important than meditation.
A co-researcher arranged to meditate with another co-researcher and reported that this spurred her on in her efforts. She felt like her efforts were not just for herself, but also for her co-meditator. She couldnít quit before the end of the session because it would be letting her co-meditator down.††
Co-researchers who had some success in another activity that they felt paralleled meditation, such as pilates or yoga, were more comfortable with meditation. One co-researcher equated meditation with self-hypnosis, which she felt legitimized meditation in her mind. Another co-researcher identified the way she felt when she worked on a painting with the experience of meditation except she did not feel fatigued after meditation like she did after artwork.
Co-researchers felt that having made a contract with this co-researcher to complete the fourteen sessions increased their motivation to practice. One co-researcher felt that she had forced herself to comply with the study out of a sense of duty despite very negative pre-existing beliefs about her capacity to meditate, a great deal of physical and mental discomfort and a very busy schedule. All co-researchers felt that they could not have gotten past the first few sessions without the commitment they had made to participate in the study.
The concept of stopping thoughts, though not made explicit in the instructions, appears to have been the elephant in the room. Each co-researcher believed that the goal of meditation was to stop thinking. This created feelings of frustration since co-researchers experienced racing thoughts, distractions, losing count, and a general inability to achieve their perceived goal of stopping thoughts. This confirmed feelings of negative self-efficacy. Each co-researcher shared the idea that meditation is a goal-oriented behavior. Not being able to achieve the goal resulted in negative feedback and a sense of failure.
†The purpose of this study was to elicit, from co-researchers, ideas for further study of meditation as homework in counseling. As a result of analyzing the data, it was the hope of this author that a body of testable theories could be inducted from the data.
A belief or beliefs about meditation will affect practice. An area of particular interest is beliefs about personal traits or abilities that create a perception that works against the treatment objectives represented by practicing meditation. Gauging the strength of these beliefs and whether or not these beliefs are subject to modification will be a necessary preliminary step to actual assignment of meditation as homework.
The development of an instrument for the assessment of beliefs about meditation would be a first step in screening for customers not amenable to the use of meditation as an assignment. Since an instrument all ready exists to evaluate the ability to enter a trance (Pelka, 1985) and for mindfulness†††† (Brown & Ryan, 2004), the addition of an assessment tool to evaluate beliefs about meditation could be useful for a counselor assigning meditation as homework. The proposed instrument could also be used to assess beliefs and expectations about meditation that tend to sabotage practice. In order to develop an instrument capable of identifying sabotaging beliefs, it would first be useful to know with some specificity what these beliefs and expectations looked like. This is certainly grist for a further qualitative study. The proposed instrument could identify negative beliefs about self-efficacy. It could further identify negative attitudes and expectations about meditation that might have a prejudicing affect resulting in sabotaging practice.
The way a consumer is prepared for practice by the counselor will play an important part in the outcome of meditation as a treatment objective. A controlled study of different ways of preparing a consumer for the practice of meditation could lead to a possible best practice. A counselor will need to be well versed in addressing beliefs that are prejudicial or erroneous in order to help the consumer overcome surmountable barriers, but on the other hand, a counselor will need to know when a consumer is not a good fit for meditation as an assignment.
Will counselor participation in meditation sessions improve the outcome? A study that compares counselor and consumer co-meditation with consumer only meditation as homework or consumer meditation groups as opposed to individual meditation could help identify which social setting has the best outcome. Are referrals to meditation groupsí best practice? Designing quantitative studies to test these questions will need to be accomplished before a counselor will be able to fully integrate meditation into counseling services.
Addressing difficulties encountered in meditation sessions of both a physical and mental nature will have an impact on achieving meditation related treatment objectives. Will a first hand knowledge of a personal meditation practice be a necessary credential for utilizing meditation as a homework assignment? Does a counselor who does not present as a role model of a practiced meditator have as good of outcomes as one who does?
In many respects assigning meditation as homework is similar to other types of assignments given by counselors to consumers. On the other hand, meditation is different from many types of assignments in a very basic way. In our western world, most activities are seen as goal orientated. An activity has an end result and is valued according to the value assigned to that end result. Goal orientated behavior requires that judgments are made about what has value versus what does not. Mindfulness meditation is the cessation of doing valuing and is therefore not a means to an end in a traditional sense. This is a foreign concept in a goal-orientated society. The question, ďwhatís it for,Ē will be as difficult to address for counselors as it will be for consumers to understand.
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Bare Bones Meditation Instructions
The following instructions are designed specifically for this study. Explanatory information has been reduced to a minimum.† Please make your best effort at using these instructions. The instructions are for 14 successive days.
1. Set aside a time and place in your day when you will not be disturbed for a period of from 20-30 minutes. The place should be comfortable and designed to feel like a special spot. This might be accomplished by placing appropriate reminders of the purpose of the place such as a vase of flowers, a meaningful picture or anything that makes the spot feel special.
2. Included with these instructions is a CD of meditation music. This CD is to be played at a low volume during the meditation session. The CD acts as a timer. When the CD ends the session is complete.
3. Position or posture should be comfortable and capable of being sustained for 15-20 minutes. The most important feature of any position is that the spine should be as straight as it can be without discomfort so that the breath can flow freely. Some suggested examples are a kneeling meditation bench, a kneeling computer chair, laying on your back on a firm surface, sitting on a chair with your back straight without resting against the chair back or if you are able sitting on a pillow on the floor, making sure that your buttocks are raised higher than your feet. Make sure that the position allows for you to breath freely and comfortably. Clothing should be loose so that nothing encumbers your stomach area that would interfere with breathing. Now you may start the music CD.
4. The following is premeditation warm up to test your position. Are you comfortable? Place the tips of your fingers on your stomach. Feel the natural movement of your stomach as you breath. Separate the breathing in from the breathing out. Feel how as you breath in your stomach rises and as you breath out your stomach descends. Imagine that your stomach is a beach ball. Imagine that as you breath in the beach ball fills with air. Imagine as you breath out that the beach ball empties of air. For a few minutes and without changing your natural pattern of breathing do this beach ball exercise. Notice when the breath is long, it takes longer to fill the beach ball. Notice when the breath is short, it takes less time to fill the ball. Check up. Are you comfortable? Is the breath flowing freely?
5. Place your hands in a natural position. You have noticed the separation of the in and out breath. Your breathing is natural and flows easily. If it is not, make any adjustments necessary to gain a comfortable, natural flow of the breath. The first step in beginning to meditate is to place your attention on your breathing. Notice the breathing in and the filling of the stomach area (the beach ball). Notice the breathing out and the deflating of the stomach area. Begin to count each successive out breath. As you breath in, notice that you breath in. As you breath out, notice that you breath out and count the out breath as one. As you breath in, notice that you breath in. As you breath out, notice that you breath out and count the out breath as two. As you breath in, notice that you breath in. As you breath out, notice that you breath out and count the out breath as three. As you breath in, notice that you breath in. As you breath out, notice that you breath out and count the out breath as four. Continue to count each successive out breath until you reach the count of ten. On the tenth count of the out breath, start the count over again at one and repeat until you get to ten. Continue counting out breaths to ten for approximately the first half to three quarters of the session. You will get better at figuring out where you are in a session as sessions pass. The music CD can help.
6. While counting out breaths there will be a tendency to lose count. When you realize that you have lost count, simply return to counting by starting over at one. Your mind will wander. You will get lost in thought, but when you do very gently and without recriminations return to counting your out breathes. Counting keeps your attention on your breathing, but your mind will want to do what it is used to doing and it will resist. Donít get frustrated. Just notice that your mind has wandered and bring it back to the breath. Start the count over at one.
7. At about the half or three quarter point in your session, try to maintain the focus on your breathing without the count. Notice the in breath. Is it long or short? Notice the out breath. Is it long or short? Keep your attention on your breathing without counting. When your mind drifts, just like you did while you where counting, gently bring it back to the breath. When a thought or sensation or sound intrudes on your concentration on the breath, just notice the thought or sensation or sound without your normal tendency to mull it over and then return to concentrating on the breath. If you find that your mind wandering is becoming out of control return to counting the out breath as before. Once the concentration has been stabilized, try concentrating on the breath without the count again. Do this for the remainder of the session.
8. After the session is complete, please fill out and date the log sheet for this dayís session. On the fourteenth day, please write a 3-6-page paper, double-spaced, describing your experience with meditation in as much detail as you can manage. Please forward the log sheets and paper to me as soon as possible. I may have some additional questions after the paper has been reviewed. Please feel free to contact me with any questions about these instructions. I hope that this experience is productive for you.
A Qualitative Study of NaÔve Meditators
Please read the enclosed instructions. If you choose to participate in this study, please sign on the bottom.
By signing this disclaimer, I agree to the following:
1. Under no circumstances am I being forced or coerced into participating in this study. Rather, I am completely volunteering my time and experiences.
2. I understand that following the included instructions carefully is important to the outcome of the study; however, I also know that I do not have to follow any instruction that makes me uncomfortable.
3. I understand that should I at anytime wish to withdraw from the study in part or in its entirety, I am free to do so.
4. I will to the best of my ability be truthful in all my responses.
5. I understand that no personal identifying information about me will be revealed in the paper that will result from my contribution.
†Signature of participant†††††††††††††††††††††††††† Date††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
If you would like a copy of the results of this study, a copy of the paper will sent to you.
Well, here goes. Will it be six pages, or sixty pages? I feel like I can only write about six lines, but I know that once I get going, I never quit with the verbal diarrhea. I can put it that way because I know you arenít quoting this word for word (that would be plagiarism). But I digressÖ excuse me, procrastinate might be a more honest way to put it.
So I tried meditating back then, but I turned it into a chance to ponder Christian verses from the Bible, to try to work my way around to extremely profound understandings, to get ďvoilaĒ moments. It wouldnít have made sense to me at the time that the goal was NOT to think profound thoughts, NOT to think, at all, with practice. Iíve always had pretensions of glamour for both my thoughts and my life. Meditating quickly fell off as a practice, because there seemed to be so many more important things to do with my time. These, too, were supposed to serve good purposes for the body and soul, like exercise, reading, etc.
The first times that I meditated for research, I knelt on a kneeling bench, or actually an ergonomic kneeling desk chair. It was sheer hell. My neck, which is sometime bent forward--I felt like I should try to keep nice and up and straight, good posture and allóhurt like nails screeching across a blackboard. Well, the effort of holding my neck back hard and straight felt stiff and painful. That kind of would start to dominate my thoughts. At first I felt trapped in my body, imprisoned, like someone in jail or paralyzed. It was horrible. I couldnít get to 10 any time, as my mind would wander off. The postural discomfort was the worst part, but the rest wasnít good either. I kept doing it, but didnít like it at all.
A little while into it, I hit upon the idea of lying down on my nice, soft exercise blanket. This was definitely an improvement. At least I didnít have the physical discomfort. The music was very relaxing. I started to be able to count to 10, although often I wouldnít catch myself until I was about at 18 or 20, or somewhere and then Iíd pull myself back to 0 and begin again. For some days I would, every time I stopped counting, fall into a sleep. I could say I was falling into a deep trance, but I think it would be more honest to say sleep and I would wake up a little while after the music had stopped or the tape was onto the next tune. I found this quite enjoyable, because I would wake up as from a deep relaxation. *** said that it was OK, as part of the instructions included experimenting.
The next hurtle I had to face was that I would often leave it until the last minute, the last thing of the day. At one point I had the thought that maybe I should do it in the middle of the day. Thereís a point where I always have a difficult transition period. On my days off, I do one thing in the morning, then about 12:00 Iím ready to move onto something else, but I get all listless inside and just sit and eat or maybe not even SIT and eat, but wander about eating in a fidgety way, watch dumb TV, etc. It doesnít matter which type of thing I do first, whether itís painting or housework, for instance. My day hits the skids at a certain point. Or I will come home from work and experience this same transitional malaise. So I decided to lay out my blanket and put on the tape and meditate. That seemed to work very well. I would come out of it refreshed and relaxed.
Imagine my disappointment when I stopped falling asleep while meditating. At first the time seemed to go a little slower, but then I got used to that. I think that is part of the work of meditating. Itís not supposed to be falling asleep and escaping thoughts, but learning to control them or to stop them. I realized that one of the delicious things about meditating is the relaxation. And once I stopped falling asleep, I realized that the relaxation comes not from sleeping and being oblivious, but the physical feeling of not moving the limbs or body. When the body isnít being moved for a while, it gets to take a deep and refreshing sleep, even apart from whatever is happening in the mind. I like that a lot.
I have tried to be somewhat kind to myself as far as the thoughts that come through my head. I donít try really hard to stop them, but just count whenever I am able to. Sometimes the thoughts swirl, but I keep trying to count. I have noticed this time and the times long ago when I tried to meditate, that coffee is definitely the enemy of meditation. When I drink coffee first, I simply canít stop the thoughts from coming. They have a total mind of their own on caffeine like kids having too much sugar at a party, flying around and inserting themselves here, there and everywhere. The midday or mid-afternoon break seems to be the best time for meditation, caffeine power has faded and nighttime tiredness hasnít taken over. Besides the medicinal nature of stopping at that point when my day is starting to get drifty, the mind is more in control.
After a while I started to realize that I looked forward to meditating. It must have created somewhat of an endorphin rush because it was that kind of thing that was drawing me to it. I would feel a sense of serenity and happiness if I put that into my day. In fact, I decided to try to keep doing it even after the research was through. I think of it like exercising.
One of the things that are hard for me still is trying to squeeze it into my life. Even though I only work part time, I always feel so much pull to do so many things. I busy in my own A.D.D. way from morning until night, attention flittering to the next thing I see and then onto the next. I keep thinking that this or that must be more important.
One thing Iíve noticed is that if I get busy all day and especially if I go out at night, I just canít get myself to meditate when I come home. I would rather just go to bed. So it is a mistake to leave it until the last thing at night.
Now that Iíve been meditating, Iíve come to see a use for it. At this point, I havenít been able to actually make use of it for this, but I can see that if I practiced long enough, I might be able to use meditating to help me when I wake up in the night worrying. If there is any change, any decision that has to be made, any danger facing anybody I love, or even just something like guilt over past sins and omissions or even more vaguely when Iím riddle with demons of generalized worthlessness and it gets me sitting up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, I think if I could meditate and stop the thoughts, I might be able to sleep. I hope that this will work someday.
I did try meditating once while out in the world, and it worked pretty well. I went really early to a movie and had to sit for a while hour before crowds flooded in and the movie started. This was while pre-show ads and such, kind of like muzak on an elevator, were playing. I decided to close my eyes and count 1 to 10, 1 to 10, breath, breath, 1 to 10 and then staring over. It worked. Instead of being all antsy and frustrated and bored, I just went away into the world of meditation. I think thatís a good use for it.
When *** explained to me that the TV was droning in one room and the lights were out in another with people sleeping, and she felt like she had no space to do it in, I felt the urge to kindness and I called her up with me. We lay side by side on the blanket. I knew for her it was suffering, but I hoped that being next to her and giving her space, would make it easier for her. That was gratifying, to help her and still help myself.
Iím going to try to keep doing it. Having had experience now with keeping exercise plans going over a period of time, with occasional misses and frequent success, I think I could use the same approach to meditation. I could think of it as an exercise routine. Weíll see if I keep it up. I think it helps that *** is setting an example. I like that lying on the ground am a part of my osteoporosis exercises, and so Iím kind of like killing two birds with one stone.
*** seems to think that meditating gets you in touch with God. I canít exactly see how counting your breaths or even being silent can do that, but I donít rule it out. I canít say that I have very good conscious contact with God in the past, so Iím willing to think that maybe some people like *** or gurus or even AA or Thomas Merton, whatever, might have a better feeling of contact than I have. I am humble in that area and open.
I would say that overall this experiment has changed my attitude toward meditation in a positive direction.
This part of my paper may be a repetition of some of what Iíve said before, but I am going to try to think of why it might be hard for a beginner to keep up a steady practice of meditation, even though it might have been for her prescribed by a counselor. I am going to try to lay out the conclusions Iíve drawn in a thoughtful way.
The only reason I kept meditating in the beginning was because I had made a commitment to do it. So a person needs some kind of a commitment, first off. Perhaps some of us need to have that commitment towards someone else, as a promise to keep up for a while, not just a commitment to ourselves, within ourselves. Along those lines, I donít know if I would have kept it up before I could feel any good results if I had been required to sign on for a period longer than two weeks. So maybe the commitment has to be for a reasonably short chunk of time.
Second of all, until a person has felt any positive effects from meditating, it is hard to do something on a daily basis that isnít particularly pleasant or that takes, albeit mental, work. It wasnít until a week and a half into the meditating experiment that I felt a kind of euphoria, or an endorphin-induced pleasurable sensation, not so much while I was doing it, but at the end as I was awakening from the stillness. Once that had begun, that feeling seemed to be carried within me for a while and even afterward my day would feel more upbeat, it kind of smoothed over into a generalized pleasant sensation. Until I had that feeling, from doing it for a while, I found it very difficult to continue. Once I felt that, I started to have the urge to do it each day because I felt like doing it would give me good results. (I just had a thought that if a person used an addiction like drugs or alcohol for an endorphin rush, finding an alternative, healthier source of that rush might be useful as a substitute.) I didnít know why I was doing it until I had that experience of good feelings from my practice. I could be told about positive results down the road, lower blood pressure, less worry, etc., but those distant rewards seemed like just vague possibilities that wouldnít have been enough to keep me going through the tough first days. So maybe a person needs promise of at least some soon-to-occur positive effect, not just pie in the sky future results. There are hundreds of things we know we should be doing because they are ďgood for us,Ē but which we canít make ourselves do because doing so requires change and is uncomfortable. Knowing something to be good for you is not enough of a motivating factor in the beginning of creating a new habit.††
Once the initial commitment was over with, the only thing that I think keeps me going is having someone to meditate with. ďMeditation time. Wanna join me?Ē No pressure, just a gentle opening up of a door and a hand beckoning me in. Now that I have experienced a good, serene feeling from meditating, which I know could happen again if I keep doing it, I still need that person ahead of me beckoning me on and role modeling the process. Especially since the contract or commitment is in the past.
If you wish to continue a practice beyond an initial commitment for anotherís sake stage, I think itís important to have worked out some basic factors near the beginning, like a quiet place to meditate, relaxing music or no music, positionókneeling, lying down, time of day. *** had trouble partly because she had no space that felt like her own and comfortable enough to totally relax and let go. Even if a person wants to change to more peaceful habits, if the environment around them is overly restrictive or chaotic, she is at a definite disadvantage. Here it helps to have a role model or a way-shower who has experimented with the process in advance and has something to teach out of his own experience.
I think itís a busy world and if Iím not made busy by commitments to the outer environment, I set a busy succession of goals for myself, for my day. I have to think of meditating as priority in order to keep in on the list and keep a daily time for it. That actual experience of serenity is what has helped it to be a priority, on the positive side.
There is another driving factor. On the avoiding the negative side, as in trying to avoid pain, I can see the possibility that if I get good at meditating I may not have to sufferóand it is sufferingóthe serious pain of my worrying about everything. If I could just silence my mind, I might be able to be free of constant negative over-thinking. I know that prolonged suffering of the consequences of lifestyle or mental thought process habits can be a great motivator in change. For instance, if I had not suffered anxiety attacks for so long, I know that I wouldnít have thrown my arms so passionately and wholeheartedly around Recovery, Inc. Because I knew that I was sick of my anxiety and it had become so unbearable, I was willing to do whatever was required to follow the Recovery program, even if I meant trying to control my thoughts (hard) and facing my fears head on (suffer until youíre immune to suffering). I had hit my bottom before I could grasp onto the solution. Along these lines, if I get sick enough of my constant worry, and I can see meditation as the way out of that, it is a motivating long-term factor and a future goal that can have an effect on my willingness to meditate.
Finally, I realize that the reason I felt like I could add this new habit to my life with possible success was that I had previously added exercising of my list of repetitive lifestyle habits. Although there were days when I had missed my exercise session over the past few years, I was able to go back to it and, even when hurdles like foot problems threatened to make the train skip the track and never get back on route, I simply looked for new and varied ways to continue getting the physical activity I needed for health. This gave me some confidence in myself as a person who could succeed.
In conclusion, I think itís important for a person to have 1) A commitment to get him started; 2) A positive result that sets in quite quickly; 3) Another person cheering him along and role modeling; 4) A conducive environment, time, space, quiet, etc. 5) A sense that this practice is a priority; 5) A full understanding of the more long-term benefits and possibly of how this habit can in the long run result in less personal suffering; 6) A sense of confidence or competence in the possibility of success based on seeing a connection with past successes in other areas.†††
†††† I have to admit that even before I started the study I was skeptical about my ability to meditate.†† Iíve always been the high stress type and also have had a lot of trouble keeping my mind from racing.† Any time of the day, at bedtime or on the drive to work or in the middle of class, I always have a million things on my mind.† It is not to say that I canít focus on a project or a job, but it is very hard for me to think of nothing at all.† In fact, relaxing is hard for me.† I also have the habit of taking on many tasks at once, which can be stressful.† *** has always said that meditation would be helpful for a busy and stressed out person like me.† This is one of the reasons that I decided to try out mediation for two weeks.† Like I said I was very skeptical, but I thought it was worth the effort.†††
†††† The first couple of times that I tried to meditate I felt positive.† I was trying something new and it felt good.† Unfortunately, as time went on the process got harder for me to handle and more and more boring.† I began to put off my meditation time until the end of the day.† I also could never make it through the whole twenty minutes without getting up and checking the time or feeling ready to scream.††† My feelings about meditation changed from an interesting endeavor I was undertaking to a burden.† I skipped a couple of days and really wanted to skip on the days that I forced myself to comply with the study.† I started to hate the study more and more.†
†††† I think one of the reasons that I had more trouble after the first couple of days was the fact that I didnít really have a peaceful place to meditate.† At first I would do it in my *** room where there was an actual altar set up with candles and a bench to kneel at, but my *** go to bed early, so I would often have to meditate in my room.† My bedroom just did not have that serene feel.†† I would lie on my bed or on the floor and I could never quite get comfortable.† For this reason, I had a lot more trouble getting settled into a peaceful state in my bedroom.† Putting off meditating until the evening did not work very well for me.† The problem was that I could not get myself to do what I needed to do throughout the day.† I could only get myself to meditate at the end of the day.† I would rather have done anything other than meditating, relax, watch tv, sleep, work, read or watch a movie.† It became even harder to comply with the study on days that I worked at both jobs.† I only get a couple of hours in between the two and an hour or two before I go to bed at night.† For this reason, I didnít want to meditate in my only free hours.† I would wait until right before bedtime on those days or sometimes I would not even do it at all.† In fact, the couple of days that I did not meditate were days that I worked two jobs.†
†††† One of the other problems that arose from putting meditating off until bedtime was that I had trouble sleeping after I did it.† Worrying about my meditation abilities and the effort it was taking would be going through my head so much that† it made it hard to relax enough to fall asleep.† I often have trouble settling my mind enough at night.† I never fall asleep right when my head hits the pillow.† Meditation may have been able to help this, but instead I feel like it was a detriment to my ability to sleep easily.† It was even harder to relax and to stop think about things when I had a new thing to worry about.† This might have been partly because the act of meditation was something I had to do to fulfill a commitment not a fun thing that I had chosen for myself.†
†††† Another reason why I had trouble meditating is because any outside noise would immediately grab my attention.† I am was very easily distracted, partly because it is in my nature to be that way, but mostly due to the fact that I really was not enjoying what I was doing.† Our dog, Iggy, would bark and I would lose count, birds would chirp outside and I would pay more attention to that sound then to what I was doing.† When this would happen I would try to start over counting like I was instructed, but it happened so often I would not feel like I was really doing anything worthwhile.† The music was also a problem with me.† I didnít really enjoy it.† Also, the music included sounds that were similar to the distracting animals and insects already in my surroundings.† I would have preferred music that was simpler and that lacked the extraneous sounds in the meditation CD.††
†††† My attitude might have been one of the biggest factors in how this study went for me.† I did not always have a positive feeling about what I was doing.† I admit I was very skeptical even before I started and I could never really break away from that.† This may have been why I hated the experience of meditating so much.† I think a positive attitude is important in undertaking any new task.† Usually I am more optimistic about things in my life, but I had known about meditating for so long and had already formed an opinion about it.†
†††† Taking on this study has definitely been a learning experience.† My feelings about meditation were not always positive, but I do not regret taking on the challenge.† There are a lot of interests that I share ***, such as science fiction movies, politics and reading, but I now know that meditation is not one of them.† I do not have the patience or the calming ability that it takes to become proficient at meditating.† For this reason, I will probably not be practicing what I learned in the study any time in the near future.†
When I first approached the idea of meditating I was a little anxious because Iíd had an experience of not being able to breathe, or so I thought. Even while studying the anatomy, etc., of the lung I would begin to monitor my breathing. Would this get in the way of meditating? We shall see.
I chose the upstairs hall where the floor was freshly sanded and clean to being this study. The large stuffed tiger was the only item in the area, plus the comfortable desk chair I sat in. With my eyes closed I began to just breathe and think about breathing. Having much neurotic experience with my breathing I quickly pictured a large red ball that rose and fell, emptying itself. As long as I could watch the ball I would forget to monitor my breathing in a way that would upset me.
Of course, I couldnít do the visualization and counting for more than about three times counting to ten. I would lose concentration and have to wait to collect myself. I spent several sessions perfecting the ball, the way it raised and then fell until it became a pink kind of open shell, empty.
I would get very sleepy; once, I actually did this as I was going to sleep at night and I went to sleep instantly, something I can never do. It was then I realized this is a form of self-hypnosis, a total departure from self. If I did it long enough and right.
Now, I have been drawing all my life. All art requires some drawing, but just drawing something removes me from the self; it feels like Iím not there, but I am concentrating and doing. It is not the same as meditating, I know, but there is the similar effect of coming to, back to the world so to speak. But I am very tired after drawing; I have been mentating a long time. This is not true of meditating.
After meditation I feel rather refreshed and new again. It took quite a few sessions before I could stop counting and just concentrate on my breathing and the ball. I have not had an instance of discomfort because I was aware of breathing in and out.
I am wondering if it is possible to concentrate on nothing, a void, while breathing. Perhaps this is what the visual ball is, as close to nothing as is possible. ďBeing and nothingness.Ē Maybe you canít be and hold nothing in your mind. Well, when you are unconscious there is nothing, but that is not a desirable state. So a sentient being has to be ale to choose where his mind is, rather than his mind choosing him all the chaotic input the world offers, with no filter.††