One of my friends is a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He’s an actual Tibetan born in Tibet,
not an American who has converted to Tibetan Buddhism or learned Tibetan Buddhist meditation.

If you’re actively involved with some religious or spiritual tradition, I recommend getting to know a high-ranking leader within that tradition. Friends of this sort can fill you in on behind-the-scenes information about the practices you do and you can hear about things you otherwise never would.

As an example, my friend Yeshe (name changed for privacy reasons) gave me a call one day and said he was giving up his role as head of a well-known monastery. This surprised me because his was an important and honorable position.

Naturally, I asked why he was leaving.

His answer was simple, “Too many politics.”

Not the first thing you imagine about life in a monastery.

My point is you may discover there are unnoticed or unseen features of the meditation practices you do and it might be good to explore them a bit.

One time I visited Yeshe when he was teaching a workshop. A student requested that he teach a specific Tibetan Buddhist meditation. There were several beginning meditators in the class.

So Yeshe taught them a mindfulness meditation technique in the Tibetan style. When the twenty-minute practice was complete, a lot of people reported enjoyable experiences. Some used such strong adjectives that I started to think they were making it up, or at least embellishing their experiences.

Eventually, a woman in the circle spoke up and told Yeshe, “I couldn’t get this practice to work, and that’s usually how it is for me. My thoughts are always going off in different directions. I cannot concentrate, I cannot focus and when I try to visualize, I can't maintain the image. I simply can't do it."

I found Yeshe's reply to this woman very impressive, because it was something I'd never heard a Tibetan monk acknowledge publicly. It gave me an inside view of the monastery, and I found it honest and revealing.

Yeshe said, "Most of the monks who meditate for hours a day at the monastery or in caves on top of the mountain, if you brought those monks to America and you let them loose in an American shopping mall, they would struggle, also."

The woman looked visibly relieved. But then she thought of something else and asked, "So what do I do about that?"

Yeshe’s response this time was even more of a surprise than his first reply. He said, "Practice more."

I found it shocking that no one else apparently saw what a contradiction this statement was. First he tells her that even the hard-core meditators would have trouble if they lived the way we do, and then he suggests to her that more practice would help her do better than they would in these circumstances!

How is it that "more practice," which for a lot of us would still be less than an hour each day, could resolve issues that monks who practice ALL DAY would have?

I think this conversation points to something interesting about the issues people have with meditation and the reasons for those issues.

For one thing, we see that particular problems with meditation are quite common. The fact that these issues are so common could mean that the real problem is with the meditation method itself, not in the way people practice the method.

It also points out the rather strange idea that practicing more of something that doesn’t work will somehow help it to start working.

I would love to see conversations about these kinds of meditation issues to be more out in the open, not just between professional meditation teachers but in ways that include the students as well.

It could be that this would give us some new ideas about these kinds of issues. Or perhaps we would discover basic problems in our ideas about meditation and how to get better as a meditation student and how to bring daily life and meditation together. This might bring us to have more realistic expectations and honesty about what we’re doing.

This alone might improve our experiences in meditation practice. I am suggesting this both because I find it interesting philosophically, and also because of my own personal experience. When I began looking into the basic ideas underlying my practice and examining the meditation techniques I was doing, it led to an end to how I had been practicing for thirty years. What opened up instead was an entirely new way conceptualizing meditation and practice that gave me much more reliable and consistent results. After sharing my discoveries with other people, they reported something similar.

Author's Bio: 

Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."

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