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Using Meditation to Deal with Pain and Death

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Excerpts of talk given by Ven. Thanissaro at a conference on AIDS, HIV and other immuno-deficiency disorders

The role that meditation can play in facing issues of pain, illness and death is not a pleasant topic, but an important one. Sadly, it’s only when people are faced with a fatal illness that they think about these issues, and often by that point it’s too late to get fully prepared.

Although what medicine can do for AIDS, we shouldn’t be complacent. Even if AIDS or its adventitious infections don’t get you, something else will, so it’s best to get prepared, to practise the skills you’ll need when medicine Chinese, Western or whatever can no longer help you, and you’re on your own. As far as I’ve been able to understand the only way to develop these skills is to train the mind. At the same time, if you are caring for someone with a fatal disease, meditation offers you one of the best ways to restore your own spiritual and emotional batteries so that you can keep going even when things are tough.

A lot has appeared in the media books, newspapers, magazines, TV about the role of meditation in treating illness and emotional burn-out. usually when the media gets hold of a topic, they tended to over or under-estimate what meditation is and what it can do for you. This is typical of the media. Listening to them is like listening to a car salesman. He doesn’t have to know how to drive the car or care for it. His only responsibility is to point out its selling points, what he think is he can get you to believe and sell out your money for. But if you are actually going to drive the car, you hav`e to study the owner’s manual. Meditation is a user’s manual to help you when the chips are down.

The breath meditation is a good topic no matter what your religious background. As my teacher once said, the breath doesn’t belong to Buddhism or Christianity or anyone at all. It’s common property that anyone can meditate on. At the same time, of all the meditation topics there are, it’s probably the most beneficial to the body, for when we’re dealing with the breath, we’re dealing not only with the air coming in and out of the lungs, but also with all the feelings of energy that course throughout the body with each breath. If you can learn to become sensitive to these feelings, and let them flow smoothly and unobstructed, you can help the body function more easily, and give the mind a handle for dealing with pain.

Sit comfortably erect, in a balanced position. You don’t have to be ramrod straight like a soldier. Just try not to lean forward or back, to the left or the right. Close your eyes and say to yourself, ‘May I be truly happy and free from suffering.’ This may sound like a strange, even selfish, way to start meditating, but there are good reasons for it.

First is, if you can’t wish for your own happiness, there is no way that you can honestly wish for the happiness of another. Some people need to remind themselves constantly that they deserve happiness, we all deserve it, but if we don’t believe it, we will constantly find ways to punish ourselves, and we will end up punishing others in subtle or blatant ways as well.

Second is, It is important to reflect on what true happiness is and where it can be found. A moment’s reflection will show that you can’t find it in the past or the future. The past is gone and your memory of it is undependable. The future is a blank uncertainty. So the only place we can really find happiness is in the present. But even here you have to know where to look.

If you try to base your happiness on things that change sights, sounds, sensations in general, people and things outside you are setting yourself up for disappointment, like building your house on a cliff where there have been repeated landslides in the past. So true happiness has to be sought within. Meditation is thus like a treasure hunt: to find what has solid and unchanging worth in the mind, something that even death cannot touch.

Now, bring your attention to the sensation of breathing. Breathe in long and out long for a couple of times, focusing on any spot in the body where the breathing is easy to notice, and your mind feels comfortable focusing. This could be at the nose, at the chest, at the abdomen, or any spot at all. Stay with that spot, noticing how it feels as you breathe in and out. Don’t force the breath, or bear down too heavily with your focus.

Let the breath flow naturally, and simply keep track of how it feels. Savor it, as if it were an exquisite sensation you wanted to prolong. If your mind wanders off, simply bring it back. Don’t get discouraged. If it wanders 100 times, bring it back 100 times. Show it that you mean business, and eventually it will listen to you. If you want, you can experiment with different kinds of breathing. If long breathing feels comfortable, stick with it. If it doesn’t, change it to whatever rhythm feels soothing to the body. You can try short breathing, fast breathing, slow breathing, deep breathing, shallow breathing whatever feels most comfortable to you right now... Once you have the breath comfortable at your chosen spot, move your attention to notice how the breathing feels in other parts of the body.

Start by focusing on the area just below your navel. Breathe in and out, and notice how that area feels. If you don’t feel any motion there, just be aware of the fact that there’s no motion. If you do feel motion, notice the quality of the motion, to see if the breathing feels uneven there, or if there’s any tension or tightness . If there’s tension, think of relaxing it.

If the breathing feels jagged or uneven, think of smoothing it out... Now move your attention over to the right of that spot to the lower right-hand corner of the abdomen and repeat the same process... Then over to the lower left-hand corner of the abdomen... Then up to the navel... right... left... to the solar plexus... right... left... the middle of the chest... right... left... to the base of the throat... right... left... to the middle of the head... [take several minutes for each spot] If you were meditating at home, you could continue this process through your entire body — over the head, down the back, out the arms and legs to the tips of your finger and toes but since our time is limited, I’ll ask you to return your focus now to anyone of the spots we’ve already covered.

Let your attention settle comfortably there, and then let your conscious awareness spread to fill the entire body, from the head down to the toes, so that you’re like a spider sitting in the middle of a web: It’s sitting in one spot, but it’s sensitive to the entire web. Keep your awareness expanded like this you have to work at this, for its tendency will be to shrink to a single spot and think of the breath coming in and out of your entire body, through every pore. Let your awareness simply stay right there for a while there’s nowhere else you have to go, nothing else you have to think about... And then gently come out of meditation.

Right now I’d like to return to a point I made earlier: the ways meditation and its role in dealing with illness and death tend to be under and over-estimated, for only when you have a proper estimation of your tools you can put them to use in a precise and beneficial way. I’ll divide my remarks into two areas: what meditation is, and what it can do for you.

First, what meditation is: This is an area where popular conceptions tend to under-estimate it. Books that deal with meditation in treating illness tend to focus on only two aspects of meditation as if that were all it had to offer. Those two aspects are relaxation and visualization. It’s true that these two processes form the beginning stages of meditation you probably found our session just now very relaxing, and may have done some visualization when you thought of the breath coursing through the body but there’s more to meditation than just that.

The great meditators in human history did more than simply master the relaxation response. Meditation as a complete process involves three steps. The first is mindful relaxation, making the mind comfortable in the present for only when it feels comfortable in the present can it settle down and stay there. The important word in this description, though, is mindful. You have to be fully aware of what you’re doing, of whether or not the mind is staying with its object, and of whether or not it’s drifting off to sleep. If you simply relax and drift off, that’s not meditation, and there’s nothing you can build on it. If, however, you can remain fully aware as the mind settles comfortably into the present, that develops into the next step.

To be continued

නිකිණි අව අටවක පෝය

නිකිණි අව අටවක පෝය අගෝස්තු 13 වන දා බ්‍රහස්පතින්දා අපරභාග 12.53 ට ලබයි.
14 වන දා සිකුරාදා පූර්ව භාග 11.42 දක්වා පෝය පවතී.
සිල් සමාදන්වීම අගෝස්තු 13 වන දා බ්‍රහස්පතින්දා ය.
මීළඟ පෝය අගෝස්තු 20 වන දා බ්‍රහස්පතින්දාය.


පොහෝ දින දර්ශනය

Second Quarterඅව අටවක

අගෝස්තු 13

New Moonඅමාවක

අගෝස්තු 20

First Quarterපුර අටවක

අගෝස්තු 27

Full Moonපසෙලාස්වක

සැප්තැම්බර් 4

2009 පෝය ලබන ගෙවෙන වේලා සහ සිල් සමාදන් විය යුතු දවස

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