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Meditation Lab I: Introduction part 2

Prof Chris Goto Jones discusses in this video how to sit and how to measure progress.
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So welcome back to the meditation lab of module one. We’re going to talk about some common concerns regarding how to sit, how to know when things are going well, and what to do when you get really bored. One question that always comes up right at the start of these courses is about how we’re supposed to sit. What is the correct posture, and how do we know when we’re doing it right. Part of the motivation for this question is about the kinds of preconceptions that we often have about what it means to engage in meditation practices at all.
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We imagine, for example, an austere Zen monk sitting perfectly upright with another monk walking around to check on everyone’s posture, and then hitting them with a stick when they slouch or fall asleep. Well, thankfully, this is not how things need to be for us. Remember, you’ve decided to follow a mindfulness course, not to engage in a process of training to become a Buddhist monk, or a yogi, or a martial arts master. So for us, they key thing is really just to be comfortable. You’re going to be sitting or lying in one position for quite a long time. Let’s say for now 20 minutes of the time.
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So you need to be in a position that isn’t going to cause you discomfort. Yes, lots of people like to sit on a cushion, on the ground, in one of various meditation postures. But others sit on a chair or lie in a bed or whatever they like. It’s not super important, and certainly not at this stage, and we can come back to posture later if it seems important to you. So for now, just know that it can be helpful for your practice to try to capture your sense of intention and motivation in your posture. We often talk about trying to sit in a way that embodies our intentionality.
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In other words, when you sit down, take a moment to check in with yourself, to see what your posture communicates to you. How does it make you feel about yourself? For many people, sitting with their back straight and self-supported, that is not leaning back against anything, helps them to feel dignified and determined and focused on their practice, as though they’re taking it and themselves seriously. And that’s agreat foundation for practice already. So we can experiment with postures as we go along, but my main point today is you shouldn’t be too worried about it, just sit and then we’ll see whatever happens next. A second concern that we should deal with at the start is about the idea of progress.
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This tends to emerge in at least two ways in most classes. The first takes the form of anxiety that we should get better at the practices as we practice them, indeed that this is very purpose of practice. Now there is some trace to this, you will find that the practices gets easier and more natural the more you perform them. However it’s really important that you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there’s an end point at which you will have mastered mindfulness. And hence that you should be able to graph your progress from mindlessness at one side to mindfulness at the other. This is not only impossible, but it’s also counterproductive.
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So it’s good to keep in mind that your practice doesn’t have a purpose, per se. Rather, your practice is your purpose. That is the purpose of our practice, is to make sure we sit down and cultivate mindfulness during the practice. There’s no need to stress about what happens next, whether you’re doing it right, or whether you’re getting better at it. Just sit. Just practice, and that’s it. A second way that the idea of progress can get into our heads, is in terms of the structure of mindfulness courses as a whole. We tend to assume, for instance, that the practices we do in week one are easier and less important than the practices we’ll do in week five.
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So we think we can leave early practices behind and forget about them. But before any of you get this idea, I want to say that it’s absolutely not true. The exercises we’ll do today might turn out to be the most important and powerful practices you ever encounter, or they might mean nothing to you, or their significance for you might change over time. Indeed, that’s most likely. So while there is a logic and a rationale to the sequence of the MBSR and MBCT courses, it might be most helpful to look at the practices we encounter throughout, as a manual repertoire from which we can always pick up something that suits us. You’ll encounter a range of different practices.
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And if you get to the end of the course and find that only one of them, perhaps the body scan from week one, this week feels helpful to you, then so be it. Just to be clear, this is not an excuse not to try everything, or not to practice everything to see what they’re like. But it is a reason not to stress if some things seem more helpful to you or more supportive to you than others. Perhaps, the last thing to mention then, before I let you get on with this modules practices, is this. It’s quite likely that you’ll find some of these practices really, really boring, and it’s true, they really can be terribly dull.
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Your feeling of boredom is your mind trying to get you to do something else instead. Instead of sitting, watch your breath, why don’t you watch TV, write an email, have a drink, or do just about anything else. Instead of doing this particular practice, why not skip ahead and try one of the more advanced practices later on incase they’re more interesting. Don’t do it. To some extent, overcoming the sense of boredom is probably going to be one of your biggest challenges. Although eventually it might also become one of your closest friends, and you’ll recognize him along the way when he comes to visit and welcome him in. Related to boredom is sleepiness, and for some of us this can be lovely.
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If you fall asleep while you’re practicing, that’s absolutely fine. Indeed it might be exactly what you need. However, you should not pretend that sleeping is the same as practicing. If you’re asleep, you’re not doing the exercise. So if you fall asleep during the body scan today, you should wake up and do the body scan, otherwise you haven’t done it. And I think that’s more than enough. Certainly enough chat for module one. So the practices for Meditation Lab 1 are very simple and foundational. You can find the guidance in the resources section of this course.
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In general, they’re focused on identifying our autopilot, that is our surprisingly resilient ability to live life mindlessly, and on starting to pay more attention on purpose to the sensations we experience in our bodies. Making us more mindful about ourselves and our activities. So in this module, the lab includes a mindfulness of a routine activity. It includes the famous body scan. And it includes our very first sitting meditation. Good luck.

How should I sit? How do I measure progress? How do I deal with meditations being boring? In this video I discuss these challenges.

What are the main challenges that you encounter during the exercises? How do these exercises feel for you?

Leiden University

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Demystifying Mindfulness

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