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Meditation Program Description:

by Jason Siff

     This is a program designed by Jason Siff to gain truthful and "accurate" information on vipassana meditation practice in usual daily life.  You can try it at home.   There is no need to travel to a retreat to use it.  Your observation skills and ability to recall meditation experiences after each sitting will be of great help. Nothing that happens in meditation should be considered not worthy of reflection.   Mindfulness of activities and thoughts/feelings outside of meditation is also recommended.

     The Meditation Program is to be fit in with your regular daily life, though you may need to make changes in your schedule to accommodate daily sittings.  The Program should be tried for six to ten days, keeping a journal of all meditation sittings during this period of time, as well as observations about mental states outside of meditation.  The journal entries should contain dates, times, and length of sittings; and regarding experiences outside of meditation, some indication of how long after the last sitting the experience occurred.  During that time, you will need to sit in meditation for at least one hour a day and no more than four hours a day. The meditation sittings can be twenty minutes to one-and-half hours long.  In order for you to evaluate the effectiveness of this method, you should practice no other type of meditation during the journal period. 

     The Basic Meditation Instructions presented here should be read before beginning the Program, even if you have worked with Jason before.  They can be consulted again after either of the first two sittings, but then should not be looked at throughout the rest of the six to ten day period. It is hoped that being completely without "outside" instructions or guidance for a period of time will encourage you to make use of indications you find within your practice as a guide.

     At the end of the six to ten days, you may send Jason Siff a copy of your journal.   After reading it he will contact you and discuss your meditation sittings with you.  If Jason finds the material suitable for publication here on the Web, he will be asking your permission to use your journal.  Strict anonymity will be maintained.  However, if you prefer that nothing in your journal be published, your wish will be respected.   People who do not want to undertake the discipline of the Program, but have descriptions of sittings they would like to discuss with Jason, are also welcome to send in their notes.


by Jason Siff

New Revised Edition, July 1998

The Moving and the Still

    We begin by making a distinction between the moving and the still. Seated, with eyes closed, I ask you to show a preference for the still while allowing the moving (thoughts, feelings, breathing) to continue uninterrupted. What you will readily know as the still will initially be external physical contact, which will be felt at certain contact points. You can start with either one of these:

     1) the touch of your hands on your lap or your knees, or
     2) the points of contact of your legs, feet, and rear against the cushion or the floor.

     Showing preference is simply the intention to prefer the stillness of the contact points over the pursuit of the planning, thinking, and regurgitating of your wandering mind. It is essentially showing preference for being in the present moment, even though your mind may only be drawn into the present for a few seconds at most. Even as you show preference for the stillness of your body sitting, there is an acceptance of your thoughts and feelings. You gently allow your mind wandering to coexist with your awareness of the contact points even if your mind wanders for a long time.

    Following these instructions, you may experience lengthy periods of your mind being very active, making it difficult for you stay with the contact points for even a few seconds. You may wonder if sitting with all this mental chatter is really meditating; I assure you, it is. The purpose here is to gently acquire a vantage point of stillness from which to observe the activity of your wandering mind. We cannot force our minds to be still, for that will just create more agitation, tension, aggression, and self-dislike. In this path of gaining greater peace and tranquility, we use peaceful means from the very beginning.

    Along with the instruction to show preference for the stillness of the body as you sit, I usually suggest that people put aside all of their expectations and ideas about meditation and sit without any goal, objective, or purpose in mind. Just allow the meditation process itself to unfold without trying to control or judge it. It does not matter if you are doing it right, for the only way to fail at this is by attempting to control your meditation experience instead of letting it be just what it is. Through this approach you will learn a natural way of being in your experience but not entirely of it, and in time you will develop what I would call a natural form of detachment.

Calling Back to Mind

     Once a preference for the contact points has been partially established (where you find yourself able to stay with them for a few seconds, without your mind wandering, or, you are able to maintain a split and somewhat equal awareness of both your body and your mind), then you may be able to call back to mind immediately prior thoughts and feelings. The wandering mind cannot be observed in the present moment; it requires an act of recollection.

     Calling back to mind immediately prior experiences can be done in the meditation sitting when you have become aware that your mind has wandered and completed a thought process. At that time you may gently return your attention to the contact points and then consciously recall one or two things that occurred. Use a word or phrase to name where your mind went, and then continue meditating as you have been. The word or phrase that you use at any time need not be exact or even accurate, for it is the acts of recalling and naming that are important. Through this practice you are developing the ability to track your mind when it wanders and know afterwards where your attention has gone. The technique of naming (mentally using words to notice your experience) can be dropped after a few minutes, so as not to create additional verbal thinking.

     An example may help you with this: while I am meditating, my mind wanders to something that I had said earlier in the day. As I am thinking about this I feel bad about what I said, and I become anxious about what the other person may now think of me. I begin to make up an apologetic speech for this person, and, at that moment, I become aware that my mind has wandered, and then I find that the energy to complete this speech has gone. I bring my attention back to the contact points and I consciously recall that I was talking to this person and felt bad about what I said and then started to plan a speech. If I hadn't already practiced naming my experiences in this sitting, I would mentally name "talking to this friend, feeling bad, planning an apology," as these were the three things in the experience that stood out from all of the rest. This type of naming is to be done without analyzing or making attempts to figure things out; it is done purely as an act of calling back to mind the main things that can be easily remembered.

     The scenario in the example stated above will most likely occur at times when there are quiet spaces between thoughts, where your mind is able to lose its energy to pursue a particular feeling, thought, or fantasy for too long. Often, however, there will be periods of a great deal of thinking, where there will be few quiet spaces occurring, and at these times you can make an effort to take a short break from your thoughts every few minutes, and then try to recall where your mind has been. This need not be thorough, but it should be a way for you to simply know what your mind is doing, where it is going, and what it finds so attractive or interesting.

    Through these periods of calling back to mind your thoughts and feelings, specific themes in your mind wanderings will become apparent to you.


You Belong in the Meditation

     By allowing your mind to wander, you will find that the themes of your thinking during meditation often circle around yourself. They contain memories, recent as well as distant, plans for the future, habitual ways of thinking and reacting to situations, and a host of feelings, perceptions, likes and dislikes. Usually, when you are not meditating, these mind wanderings are "you"; they are made of you, you are the main character. This way of relating to our minds is so well practiced that it is not going to stop just because we have decided to meditate.

     Meditating with the earlier instructions may have the periodic effect of dissipating the energy of your mind wanderings, and you will find the thoughts and feelings diminishing on their own, leaving your mind less preoccupied and more open and light. That is one scenario, and it is one that often yields the desired result, but does not provide any insight into the supports and conditions that keep such mind wanderings alive and active. Thus, though the mind quiets down, it is only a temporary peace, as your mind will once again latch onto the same themes it has before.

     I have seen that the most direct way through this is to know the supports and conditions of the mind wanderings by seeing into what fuels these thoughts and feelings. A good place to look is at the themes found in the mind wanderings.

     For instance, building on the example used earlier, instead of there being just an isolated event of feeling remorse over something that I had said, I find that during the meditation sitting my mind keeps going to memories of things I said and did that I now regret. My mind wanders to thoughts about how others see me, and I notice a feeling of shame that comes along with a sense of being less than others. This sense of inferiority and the shame are experienced as constants in this sitting; they clearly support and condition all the mind wanderings around remorse over past actions, and as I sit with them, they become prominent and the remorse becomes secondary (it may even vanish completely).

    This is not an intellectual process, for one is in the feeling while looking into it. It is analogous to ways of working with emotional experience in certain psychotherapeutic techniques, where the client is directed to focus on a particular feeling and speak of what comes up around that feeling as a way to understand that emotional experience more clearly. But it is not psychotherapy, since it is going on internally as a sub-process of the larger meditative process, and is not done to find a remote cause of the experience (as in the person's childhood), but rather to bring one into contact with the existing causes to be found in the present moment. Thus, instead of looking at childhood experiences of shame, as one would in most forms of psychotherapy, I would look at my immediate experience of shame being supported by a sense of inferiority, both of which condition and fuel each other, keeping the emotional experience alive. In meditation, when the supports vanish, the mind becomes tranquil, and one experiences a temporary freedom from those thoughts and feelings; and though no end is found, no cure is reached, there is the knowledge of how, by seeing the conditioned nature of our experience, our minds can be free from inner conflict and turmoil.

     These are the basic instructions. The initial instruction on showing preference for the still over the moving is the foundation of this practice. The later instructions on calling back to mind are to be used when your mind is sufficiently tranquil and alert. The last instructions, on knowing the themes of your mind wanderings and seeing into their supports and conditions, are to be used in sittings where you are able to call back to mind prior experiences and see into the themes of your mind wanderings.

     As a side note, only attempt to observe the in breath and out breath from a point of stillness. At some time, while you are aware of a particular contact point or your whole body posture, the rise and fall of your diaphragm will be discernible. When observing this from a still vantage point, your breathing does not become altered, enabling you to be with the natural breath.

    Also, when you meditate, do not attempt to block out any sensory input. Hear the sounds around you, smell the scents and odors that greet you, and when you open your eyes, take a long, fresh look at the colorful world around you.

Copyright 1998 Jason Siff

For free distribution only.

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