How to start a successful meditation practice

Up to half of all new meditators stop the practice before they gain any benefits. Here’s the explanation why and some clues to building a great meditation habit.

Need help to get your meditation practice going?

How can I learn how to meditate? The answers are pretty simple and backed by centuries of experience in meditation.

Sometimes even experienced meditators find it difficult to meditate, although the obstacles we encounter later on are different from those that trouble us at the beginning.  But please remember that meditation and mindfulness are forms of mind-training; this means we are literally changing brain function and structure over time.  So in the first weeks, when you start to meditate, you are likely to be doing something quite unnatural; meditation practice is simply about training yourself in a new way of working with your body, speech and mind.  Therefore, it can be difficult to begin with, just like  learning how to; run, play a musical instrument, or learn a new language. The first principle of meditation, therefore, is that practice makes perfect. 

However, before committing yourself to a particular method or a teacher, you should satisfy yourself that they are suitable for you and consistent with your goals. Only when you feel confident with the technique can you dedicate yourself to regular practice.  I think this is the case with secular medicalised meditation and mindfulness as well as traditional methods.  Your starting point as a new meditator is to find something that appears to be reliable.  However, meditation should never cause pain or suffering, so if your practice leads to physical or psychological difficulties you should stop immediately.

If you have reached the point where you have a method that you’re confident with and a teacher that is reliable, you have the foundations to build a regular meditation practice.  If my own new students still find difficulty meditating at this point, I encourage them to commit to three weeks of practice or take a break.  Practising four times a week over three weeks is usually sufficient for a new meditation student to get comfortable with sitting still, holding a normal meditation posture and working with the psychological concepts of the practice.  In short, they should know how to sit and what they are supposed to be doing with their mind.  Typically even at this stage, the major obstacle is controlling one’s thoughts, which is the ultimate goal of meditation.

Meditation and mindfulness are not for everybody, almost everyone has the capacity for some meditation, but they may lack the motivation.  If you’ve undertaken three weeks of practice in a reliable method with a competent teacher and are still not making any progress, you may want to rethink your strategy.  Your meditation teacher may have some explanations and guidance for you.  But eventually, you may need to identify a more suitable teacher or method, or just ‘park’ the idea of meditation for a while and return to it at a later point.

Some meditators experience almost immediate benefits from practising and have visible signs of: improved emotional stability,  mental health, and happiness. At this point, meditation practice becomes much easier because we can see the effects. Many people stop meditating or develop bad habits before they reach this point and so never really create the relationship between meditation and its great potential. But if you don’t see immediate benefits, don’t be distracted by the progress of those around you; meditation is a highly personal experience.  Your progress as a meditator is dependent on many causes and conditions, sometimes physical, sometimes psychological.  My understanding from teaching hundreds of people to meditate is that those with the greatest persistence tend to reap the most significant rewards. 

This is an excellent moment to summarise.  Firstly find a method that meets your meditation goals and connect with a knowledgeable teacher. If you experience difficulties meditating at the beginning, talk to your teacher and consider committing to three solid weeks of practice to develop a basic meditation capacity.  If the meditation leads to physical and mental suffering, stop immediately and seek advice. Once the basic skills have been acquired, it is usually a matter of training.  In traditional meditation, it is typical to change meditation teachers and meditation methods as you develop, but the fundamental challenge of working with your mind remains the same.

It is frequently said “the only bad meditation is the one you don’t do”.

Good wishes to you all for your meditation practice and drop us an email to let us know how you are getting on.

Does lots more meditation lead to better mental health?

“I’ve been meditating for seven weeks; it’s having a big effect on my mental health, I know monks meditate every day, if I meditate more often or for longer, will I see more progress?”

Is more meditation better for your mental health?

Consider medicalised meditation as a treatment and follow the instructions given by your health care practitioners. Spiritual meditation practice offers much more freedom but it has a spiritual rather than a wellbeing goal.

There is no simple answer to the question. Most medicalised meditation forms have been studied over relatively short periods, eight or ten weeks, for example.  And three or four sessions a week is a fairly typical level of practice. Few scientific studies reliably explain the cognitive mechanisms underpinning meditation’s benefits, and we have even less data regarding the optimal frequency and duration of meditation in clinical contexts. From the scientific history of meditation and mindfulness, it appears that experiments used eight to tend week cycles of treatments on an arbitrary basis, and that has just been repeated ever since. As a starting point, you should ask your meditation teacher or Doctor to explain if more meditation is likely to be helpful in your particular case.

Although the use of meditation in a medical context assumes that most people meditate in a similar fashion and receive the same benefits, this is far from true.  Individual differences are amplified during mind-training.  While one person may experience little benefit, someone sitting right beside them can be transformed by the practice.  Typically, in scientific studies, we average the effects of meditation across a group; this makes it hard to predict the benefits of medicalised methods in individual cases.  In thinking about the frequency of meditation practise, we need to consider; the current state of your health, the particular technique you use and your overall capacity as a meditator.

Things are different when we think about spiritual-based meditation. It’s not unusual for experienced Buddhists to meditate more than once a day or for several hours at a stretch when on a retreat. But in many cases, experienced practitioners have developed their ability to meditate over many years. Secondly, they are likely to be meditating for spiritual rather than wellbeing goals.  Buddhists access methods that are supported by hundreds of years of anecdotal and observational experience. A traditional meditation master may have taught tens of thousands of students. In contrast, some new forms of meditation and mindfulness have only been around for a short time, and the data supporting their clinical use may be based on studies of just a few dozen people. However, even in spiritual practice, there are occasions when too much meditation can be counterproductive.

An important distinction to make here is that traditional meditation is often regarded as a practice, which means it is not the goal. Instead, the meditation method is likely to lead to new ways of thinking more generally. Medicalised forms of meditation and mindfulness rely on the method itself as the treatment without the support of more broad-based changes to the patient’s world view. 

Is mindfulness a medical or spiritual practice, and does it matter?

Mindfulness comes in many forms, not all may be right for you or your health and wellbeing goals.

Is mindfulness spiritual?

This is a question asked my many scientists and therapists over the last fifty years, and you can find spiritual, medicalised and blended forms of mindfulness in use today.  There is also an obvious follow-up question: does it matter?  The answer will depend on each person, why they wish to meditate, and what kind of method they feel more comfortable with.

In the context of meditation, mindfulness was first translated into English from the Buddhist pali term sati at the end of the 19th century by the scholar of Asian languages Monier Williams. By the 1970s, scientific research into spiritual forms of meditation was already quite advanced, and meditation scientists started investigating how spiritual meditation could improve human health and wellbeing.  In the mid-1970s, psychotherapists were using Buddhist meditation in therapy sessions.  Jon Kabat-Zinn took the use of meditation in psychology a stage further in 1979 when he created his own Americanised version of Buddhist mindfulness and called it Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Over the last 40 years, MBSR has been used in many different ways.  The most successful application is the combination of mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (MBCT). MBCT is now used as a low-cost group therapy to support patients at risk of relapsing into a third phase of clinical depression.

Although there are hundreds of forms of secular/medicalised mindfulness (MBIs), the scientific evidence supporting their clinical use is mixed. There are now concerns about some of the claims made by scientists for the benefit of medicalised mindfulness. If you’re thinking about using mindfulness to support your physical or mental health, you need to ask your doctor or therapist about the reliability of the method they recommend.

So how is this similar or different to spiritual or Buddhist mindfulness? Although the term mindfulness was translated from Buddhist texts, its original meanings are more complex than today’s psychological definitions. Firstly, in its original settings, mindfulness is one of eight interrelated elements, so its use in isolation fundamentally changes its psychological effect.  Also, different schools of Buddhism have different ways of understanding mind and matter.  For example, the meaning of mindfulness in Tibetan Buddhism may differ from Sri Lankan Buddhist insights.  We should also remember that Buddhist meditation is concerned with spiritual progress, which in traditional understandings, is linked to physical and mental health. The health benefits of spiritual practice inspired the relocation of meditation to psychology. But by removing its spiritual elements, meditation changed, perhaps altering its curative potential. Comparing spiritual and medicalised meditation is complex; maybe it’s easiest to consider them similar but definitely not the same.

We know from individual research studies that there is a wide range of potential health benefits in meditation. But we don’t always understand the underlying cognitive mechanisms, and when seen collectively, the results from individual studies are not always reliable. There are thousands of different meditation methods, and even with medicalised forms such as mindfulness, recommending a practice can be problematic. Typically medicalised mindfulness is run over a relatively short period, typically eight or ten weeks.  It usually is designed to tackle a specific health problem, such as depression, but rarely addresses the root causes.  Spiritual based forms of mindfulness are used as holistic practices to enable progress along a path. Spiritual progression appears to be linked to wide-ranging health and wellbeing improvements, but these are not the practice’s primary goals.  For people approaching mindfulness meditation for the first time, understanding your own needs and identifying the appropriate method is essential.  Make sure your meditation teacher/therapist is appropriately experienced or qualified, and ask them to explain how their form of meditation works and what evidence there is for its effectiveness before you begin

How to improve your meditation practice. Immediately!

The secret to better meditation. It’s much closer to home than you realise!

The influence of your physical environment on the quality of your meditation is an under-researched area. All the time that neuropsychology struggles to demonstrate what meditation is and how it works, the impact of your meditation environment will remain a secondary issue for scientists. But there is a risk that this creates a ‘catch 22’ situation in research, where failing to attend to the meditation environment contributes to inconclusive results. So let me draw your attention to the importance of your meditation space. Looking across the psychological evidence, there is every reason to assume, where, when and why you meditate are just as important as the method you use. Scientific studies from educational psychology have demonstrated that the place where you learn is correlated to your academic progress. As medicalised meditation has been reduced to simple mind-training, there is every reason to see this as a useful comparison with modern meditation and mindfulness.

On a practical level, I can tell you that when I created a calm and appropriate meditation space in my small house, the benefits from my practice multiplied. If someone has a very high or very low motivation to meditate, the room they choose to practice in rarely matters. But for the 95% of people who have ’normal’ levels of motivation, factors such as ambience, quality of method and teacher reliability become directly linked to the success of the practice. So what do you need to think about?

My first principle of meditation is to always to find a reliable teacher; someone who will be able to instruct you on all matters, including where and with whom to meditate. But there are a few principles that everyone working with meditation should consider. In all probability, few people have a perfect space to meditate in, so the chances are you will have to think about creating one. From the options you have available to you, where does your practice work best? From this starting point, you must pay particular attention to this space; it can be a spare bedroom or a corner of your own bedroom. Exclude all physical and mental obstacles to your meditation practice from that space. Create the best possible sensory experience, no bad smells, distracting noises or unpleasant images. Ensure you keep your mind stable whenever you are in the space, even if you are not meditating. In this way, you build up supportive embodied cognition; this means that when you sit down on the cushion there, your mind is already ‘in the zone’.

There’s a lot more material on this subject, if you have questions post below or send us an email.

Keep your brain healthy; it’s the only one you’ve got

Evidence indicates that brain structure and function can be maintained and augmented through particular forms of meditation.

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Taking responsibility is the key to brain health

In recent decades psychology and neuroscience have made progress in explaining brain functions and dysfunctions. But we still know far too little about how the human brain ages. In studies linked to meditation and mindfulness the vast majority of research (I’d estimate in excess of 80%) has been undertaken with participants under the age of 25. There is some research interest in people of retirement age and with people suffering from particular health problems. But if you trawl the academic databases for investigations of the effects of meditation on people in the 30 to 65 age range you will find relatively few studies and even fewer reliable conclusions. The irony of this lack of research is that this is the age at which cognitive decline is supposed to happen (from the early 30’s onward). It’s also supposed that dementia typically starts its journey in middle age, perhaps decades before the full symptoms manifest.

A concept that can be found throughout psychology and neuroscience is ‘age related cognitive decline’; the general correlation between age and brain function/structure. It is a pretty uncontroversial idea, we all carry around the stereotype that as we get older we can expect to experience ‘senior moments’, a lowering in cognitive ability. I’m not going to dispute that this does appear to be the pattern. But my experience of meditation is that the rate of cognitive decline is flexible. I’ve seen the transformation in people’s ability to think, problem solve and remember. There is also some evidence from neuroscience to support the premise that decline in cognitive function can be influenced by a range of activities, meditation in particular. This is not to say that meditation may keep your brain forever young, rather that you have a degree of control over how your own brain ages.

Whilst certain forms of meditation do appear to be linked to improved cognitive function, the neuroscience is at a preliminary stage. It’s clear that different forms of meditation have different effects, and meditation isn’t the only thing we can we can do to influence the development of brain function and structure. It should always be considered that just as some activities appear to support brain rejuvenation, others have the opposite effect. Anyone over the age of 30 is likely to benefit from maintaining, and where possible increasing cognitive function, meditation however is a cornerstone of this process. Keeping your body in good shape takes some time, effort and commitment, this is also true of mind training

If you are interested in learning more about how meditation may be able to help keep the brain in better shape, sign up to to this blog or drop us an email. If you’d like to know more about the hard science behind meditation and brain health visit the Science of Meditation website.

Overcoming obstacles to meditation; practicing in prison

Obstacles to meditation include resistance to start and a failure to continue. Perhaps meditation groups in prison can offer us some inspiration?

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Ongoing institutional meditation programmes demonstrate the ability of Buddhist approaches to benefit a wide range of people, even in challenging situations. Compassion Works for All is involved in activities including  the running of meditation groups in US prisons.

Cliff Plegg has been volunteering for Compassion Works for a year, his primary role is leading a monthly meditation class in an Arkansas correctional institution. In addition to teaching meditation, Cliff is also compiling a list of yoga and meditation resources that prisoners can engage with when they are released. Plegg has overcome a plenty of challenges in his own life having been diagnosed with avascular necrosis. This pattern of someone overcoming personal obstacles, then moving on to trying to help others is a pretty common theme in meditators.

So what does a volunteer meditation programme in an Arkansas prison have to do with UK meditators? Meditation is taught by different organizations in prisons around the world, some more well known than others. The universal appeal of meditation transcends geographical and cultural barriers. Meditation has an appeal which inspires both teachers and practitioners from all parts of society. Unfortunately the challenge isn’t only getting people to start a practice, but also to continue it to the point where it has a lasting effect. This ‘biting point’ of meditation is the moment at which the benefits become apparent at the level of personal experience. When someone knows something is delivering a significant and sustainable benefit,  it becomes much easier to make an informed choice regarding the value of the resource.

Just one session can be enough to get a sense that meditation is a useful or interesting activity, this however may not the ‘biting point’. Only when the student understands, (however fleetingly), that they have some control over their experience of the world can the meditator pass to an intermediate level of practice. I am a great believer that all meditation is useful on some level, most of my own students have tried meditation of some informal kind before they engage with a more regular practice. But such is the hype of the meditation ‘industry’ that a casual observer might imagine that sitting on a cushion once or twice may be sufficient to unravel years of negative thinking.

The common factor between meditators  in Canterbury, Rochester or Arkansas is that we all see the potential of meditation to offer us solutions for our day to day problems. Once that important first step is taken, the next goal is to establish a practice, to continue to the point of realizing what the method is able to do. I don’t take a prescriptive approach to meditation, students must want to do it and feel it’s right for them. My advice has been the same for at least a decade, if you want to meditate, find a reliable teacher (or guidance), use an authentic and appropriate method and put in the necessary effort.

I offer good wishes to Cliff Plegg and all meditators, particularly those currently incarcerated.

Is diet a key factor in meditation?

Biome and meditation, what you eat and drink may be exerting a strong influence on your meditation practice.

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One of the biggest problems in researching the benefits of meditation is understanding the potential confounds. In essence, what factors other than the meditation method itself exert an influence on subsequent behavior. Lifestyle questionnaires normally reveal significant differences between long standing meditators and the wider population. Given the range and diversity of meditation methods available, generalisations are quite difficult . However I’d expect experienced meditators from the Buddhist schools to eat less meat and take fewer intoxicants than the wider population. There are also more subtle variations. For example, in some approaches, meditators may drink alcohol yet abstain from scallions (the food group that includes garlic and onions). Another group might have a tendency to eat meat but not consume any food after their lunchtime meal. So does this matter and if so why?

The emerging research of the human microbiota (microorganisms living in or on humans, primarily in the gut) is demonstrating an increasingly close connection between gut bacteria, health and wellbeing. This is a dynamic area of enquiry but studies have implicated gut bacteria in conditions as diverse as obesity, migraine and depression. Typically science demonstrates a correlation between gut bacteria and a particular condition. For example people that suffer from migraines tend to have different bacteria when compared to people not suffering from migraines.

The key message is that meditators should think about what they eat if they want to maximize the benefits of their meditation practice.

The early signs are that the human biome may be more influential than causal in health. Meaning that your gut flora makes it more or less likely that you will or won’t suffer from a particular condition. Our gut flora is established at birth but it is subject to changes throughout our lives. We introduce bacteria from a range of sources, primarily from what we eat and drink. So if, for example, it was discovered that bacteria associated with eating chicken was linked to depression  (which it isn’t as far as I know).  It would have implications for meditators working with depression.

All this won’t come as any great surprise to long standing practitioners, many of the people in my own meditation circle already think about what they eat quite carefully. The influence of the biome on human health shouldn’t really make any difference to meditators. Reliable meditation is likely to have an effect in every instance, although your practice might be strongly influenced by what you eat.

Meditation for better health: you are the answer

Meditation for better health, how to build a successful meditation practice.

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The evidence we highlight on these pages is generally of the empirical kind, contemporary scientific investigations, surveys and experimental research projects. This isn’t the only ‘proof’ to which we have access, but it is often what a significant part of our audience finds most compelling. Not that I see my role as to ‘compel’ or convince anyone to meditate, however discussions about the benefits of meditation or mindfulness can be supported by hard data. But over time personal experience has been more influential than sensationalized news headlines.

Meditation is one of the great human resources, it’s able to transcend a wide range of health and well-being problems, most people can engage with it, it’s easy to start, exists in multiple formats, crosses most cultural boundaries and once learned is a lifelong tool and support.

Stephen Gene Morris

Credible first hand accounts, traditional explanations and contemporary science have all been useful guides on my own path. Unfortunately they don’t deliver the motivation to carry on, this generally comes from within. In the early stages of my meditation development there were difficulties, the first few sessions felt OK but there was no real indication of the benefits that were going to unfold. Looking back I felt somewhat ambivalent, I was starting to get a sense of proportion but there was no sign of the great and positive changes to come. The support of my fellow meditators and meditation teacher were helpful at these early stages, but the commitment to practice had to come from me.

Building a long term meditation practice is filled with many obstacles, there are reasons why they occur and strategies to overcome them (these depend on what your practice is). But progress is always marked by your own determination to continue. The most important obstacles tend to be the first you encounter, typically when you start. Most beginners will have little to compare the experience of ‘sitting’ with. And so the initial discomforts and struggles with discursiveness tend to put many students off before they ever get going.

Unfortunately several of the people that I have taught to meditate didn’t persevere to the point where their health and wellbeing improved. I don’t have reliable records but I’d estimate the majority of people that meditate for ten consecutive weeks go on to develop a practice. They may not maintain it, but they have started on the path to meditation. Given that the evidence for the health benefits of meditation with,  anxiety, depression, and stress are now overwhelming, there’s little logical excuse not to start, and even less not to persevere. But scientific evidence doesn’t amount to much when pitted against the human ego. Traditional Buddhist meditation rests on the idea of avoiding the extremes and to not follow the whim of every transient thought. Without being able to push through the basic resistance1 and to discipline your mind, meditation cannot be successful.

Meditation is a method for self-transformation, the direction and depth of that transformation depends on the meditator. Overcoming obstacles is a natural part of the dynamic nature of self-transformation. If you decide you’d like to meditate consider that you are the solution to your own problems, the meditation method simply offers a context within which you make it happen.

 

Footnote

1 While most reliable forms of meditation are unlikely to create serious physical or psychological discomfort. If you experience any significant problems consult a qualified and experienced teacher. The resistance referred to in this article are issues linked to distraction, poor concentration and an unwillingness to ‘sit’.

The only bad meditation is…

By definition the best meditation is the one that you do. Those you miss are unlikely to bring any benefit.

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Sleeping meditation?

Probably one of the oldest clichés in the meditators’ handbook but as true today as it ever was…

“The only bad meditation is the one you don’t do”

I should say at the outset, no personal criticism is intended, many meditators struggle with motivation even after many years of practice. People must be free to choose to meditate or not. However as a long standing meditator and teacher of meditation, the most common reason why people fail to achieve their meditation goals is a lack of perseverance. On occasion even the most motivated practitioner sustains their practice just by ‘pushing through’. I have heard highly regarded teachers say that meditation should always be a joyful experience. Whilst I’d generally agree with this, the joy is often more palpable at the end of meditation rather than the beginning. I can’t think that I have ever once regretted sitting on the cushion; but I have felt inertia, and apathy before I started. The point is… how do you create the meditation habit if not by meditating?

Like many useful maxims this saying can be understood on different levels. The outer understanding is that without effort, any skill or expertise is unlikely be accomplished. It is not intended to suggest that all meditation brings great benefit and that meditation will always be a sublime experience. Rather it stresses that meditation is a practice, an activity which improves through repetition. By lengthening the intervals between repetition the effectiveness of the practice is weakened, like most things in life.

There is a second level of understanding, that without overcoming distraction or laziness meditation will never be mastered. In one sense meditation is the practice of maintaining either focus or non engagement. The failure to meditate because of distraction can be thought of as the failure of the meditation practice itself.

Another point to consider,  particularly for experienced meditators, is the clinging to a sense of good or bad meditation or good or bad conditions to meditate. This is perhaps my  problem, a bad day at work, setbacks with my research, domestic disturbance and the conditions for meditation feel less than auspicious. However time and again it’s these difficult moments that meditation provides the greatest support with. And yet the ego still wants to negotiate, give it a miss today then meditate twice tomorrow or I am too tired, too stressed or too demotivated. And yet years of meditation have taught me that my practice is one of the few activities that increases my energy levels, lifts the spirit and provides the clarity to overcome my obstacles.

This is perhaps the challenge I’d offer to anyone who has meditated for more than a couple of months? If you  know that meditation helps you overcome obstacles why would you let obstacles stop you meditating? Clearly if you feel that meditation generally doesn’t give you any great benefit it would be pointless to continue. But if you (like most of us) actually feel that practice is useful why stop? Is it that there is something compelling on the TV, on your diner plate or on your mind?  Were these the very reasons why you came to meditation in the first place?

I’m not a great believer in resolutions, however it is the time of year when one can find the motivation to abandon activities that have proven to be meaningless and return to practices that have something meaningful to offer.

 

May all the beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.

Nondual meditation: path to lasting happiness and joy

Nondual meditation is an established goal of authentic meditation practice. Leading to greater joy and clarity.

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Self-other duality, a path towards detachment.

One of the characteristics of traditional meditation methods, and other forms of spiritual  practice, is their ability to demonstrate the limitations of artificial constructs, such as the separation of self from other. Ideas that polarize our thinking of self and other into distant opposites, are generally thought of as forms of dualism. There are a range of explanations for how dualist thinking develops but we know that it doesn’t effect everyone in the same way. It’s also broadly accepted in both psychology and contemplative science that it is possible for people to access and work with their own world view (mind world) in this regard.

If all this sounds very theoretical and not of relevance to people who simply want to meditate to improve health or wellbeing read on! In materialist societies self-other dualism is everywhere, inequality, poverty and sexual harassment often manifest because a person or a group of people are working on the basis that their needs must be supreme. Unless you stop and think about it, this may seem to be a natural order. The fact that ‘I’ and ‘you’ exist, and that we are not the same person is a commonsense way of looking at the world. However the idea that my needs, thoughts and opinions take priority over all (or most) others is problematic. The interrelated nature of society means that not to recognize that others are in fact like ourselves, with real and pressing needs, is a great limitation. I’m not talking about any practical concerns in this regard, simply how we are able to understand the world and function within it.

I remember talking to a successful entrepreneur about the benefits of meditation. He explained to me how he was self created, his success was based only on his hard work and endeavor. I asked him about his education, work experience, family life and anything else that was important to him. He had been to good state schools and a leading  university in the 1980’s, his first job was for a large international employer within a graduate recruitment and training programme. He said his childhood was “OK” but mentioned that significant financial support had come from his relatives. He spoke of the importance of his family. He also told me that the sport of cricket was an influence in his life.

To embrace self-other duality is to turn you back on partnership, mutual support and co-operation with every other living being in the universe.

Stephen Gene Morris

Just by talking about his past he started to unravel his own narrow view of the world. He acknowledged the benefits of a state funded education system, his debt to teachers, nurses, doctors, colleagues and friends. He never used the concept of ‘self made’ in my hearing again. This wasn’t an epiphany, and didn’t lead to any great change in his life (as far as I know). But is shows the persuasive and subtle nature of self-other duality. Inside our heads we can create a ‘mind world’, running in parallel to the actual world. The clearer our understanding of the real world, the better we function within it. This does not mean an abandonment of all of our individual concerns, but their integration with the real or material world. We do have agency, we can choose what we do and work towards our goals. But the idea that other people don’t have a right to the same freedoms is not helpful. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean we have to accept negative or disruptive influences into our lives.

Many people come to meditation to resolve conflicts between their ‘mind world’ and their material world. Problems develop when our view of self and other becomes detached, disengaged. We may think that others should be doing (or not doing) things for us, that life is unfair, or that something is really not working for us. It may be true! People don’t always do what they should and life can be hard. However if we have developed a disengagement between self and other, the chances are that we are not seeing the real world, rather interpreting it through our ‘mind world’. This is an ancient problem described in different cultures including contemporary western psychology1.

If you want to gain greater clarity and to reduce the distortion between your ‘mind world’ and the real world. Meditation can broadly help in three ways.

  • When a method tackles one side of self-other dualism, typically self cherishing or lack of compassion, it can only be one stage of the practice (an incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling stage).
  • When an authentic practice and the guidance of a reliable teacher are conducted in an implicit nondual context. This working over time can demonstrate the empty nature of dualistic concepts.
  • When the method and the teacher offer authentic, explicit nondual training.

Meditation can allow you to gain a greater clarity of how things fit together in reality. If you can subtract problems linked to self-other duality from normal day to day challenges, life becomes more joyful and dynamic.

Also consider that traditionally, addressing the distortions encountered through dualism can be supported by reasoning as well as meditation. Although accounts of the process suggest reasoning alone generally fails to deliver full clarity. However it does mean that through reliable observations we can become aware of dualistic phenomena and how they limit our thinking. Tools such as metaphors and thought experiments may be useful in this regard.

 

Footnote

  1. A range of perspectives in western psychology acknowledge the limitations of self other duality. Elements can be found in areas such as classic psychoanalysis, cognitive, embodied cognitive and developmental psychology, neuroscience, critical psychology and phenomenology. A problem is however that the basic theoretical frameworks (ontologies) of some of these approaches are dualistic. For further information look into subjects like, mirror neuron theory, theory of mind, fundamental attribution error and phenomenology.