Sunday, November 16, 2008

Walking Meditation and a Glass Half-Full

Yesterday I went to a 1-day meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City. It was my first time there, though several people (Mom, Alice, Eric, Jill) have been telling me about it for a while. It's a good place. The format and feel of the retreat was rather different than the 1-day I'd been to at the CVC's South Bay Hall, so it was an interesting contrast.

Most significantly, the sitting periods were shorter (45 minutes) and they alternated with periods of walking meditation. I don't think I was terribly interested in the idea of that much walking at a retreat, but I found that I really appreciated the opportunity to practice mindfulness in a different physical context. Also, it provided a physical break from the sitting, while keeping your mind focused on meditation, rather than having complete breaks between sessions. That gave it a different sort of continuity, mentally at least, if not physically.

Gil Fronsdal gave the talk at the end of the day, but the part that I think I most needed to hear was something he just quickly noted in his morning welcome. He pointed out that as your meditation practice improves, you can actually go through a phase of having it feel more frustrating. For example, if you're just daydreaming the whole time and not noticing, an hour could potentially pass pretty quickly and stresslessly. But every time you do notice your attention wandering, you have to bring it back to focus. If you're catching it every time, that could easily happen dozens of times in that same hour. And that's incredibly frustrating, because you constantly feel like you're messing up and starting over. So you just need to remember that the correct comparison when you're learning is not to absolute concentration, but to absolute daydreaming, or whatever your mind would otherwise be doing on its own. Appreciate the number of times you were able to rein in your wandering mind, rather than worrying about the number of times it wandered off.


Erin said...

Hey there Graham! So, what are you supposed to concentrate on during your time of meditation? Just curious. :)

Graham said...

Hi Erin! In short, you could probably sum this up as concentrating on being completely present and aware in the current moment. And non-judgmental about it. Awareness and equanimity together are what you're practicing.

For more info, see Gil's brief meditation instructions, and my own post about my first meditation retreat.