Monthly Archives: November 2009

Overcoming “Fight or Flight” in Meditation

We humans, over the span of millions of years, have evolved partly due to our ability to recognize harmful situations and either flee from them or eliminate them. Psychologists call this our “Fight or Flight” response. And while this is quite useful for staying alive and propagating our species, it has an adverse effect on making progress in meditation.

Running away from less than pleasurable experiences is precisely what NOT to do in meditation. Responding in such a way to feelings of aversion is part of what got us in to this mess of suffering in the first place*. It’s not that we should be like some unbalanced ascetic who goes looking for pain in order to purify our karma. That’s just as unskillful as running away from unsatisfactory experiences or chasing after pleasure. Rather, what we should learn to do is allow such experiences to come into our awareness and pay attention to what happens. In my experience, when an unsatisfactory thought or sensation arises there are three outcomes that may follow:

  1. It could go away. 
  2. It could persist.
  3. It could change.

Now, these three outcomes are true regardless of what I desire to occur. That is, unless I decide to change positions, or get up and stop meditating altogether. But then I’m right back where I started, running away from suffering as if in a game of cat and mouse (and of course, I’m the unlucky mouse). But if I resolve to infuse each and every unsatisfactory experience with mindfulness, I will make progress.

After coming to know this simple truth for myself, I made note of it in the form of a “rule” of meditation. The rule is: whatever is presenting itself in the present is exactly what needs my attention in order to make progress. If I ignore the discomfort and try to dwell on something else (e.g. what enlightenment will be like, or what stage comes next, what I want for lunch tomorrow, etc.), progress gets stunted.

My advice to you, oh reader, is to commit yourself to diving in to whatever experience arises in the moment. If you feel edgy, or tired, or angry, or painful, or anxious, or depressed, or lusty, or whatever else, you must continue to pay close attention to the experience in order to make progress. I know it seems counterintuitive to most every other situation you’ve ever found yourself in. Nonetheless, I sincerely encourage you to give it a try. Do not fight. Do not take flight. Stay right where you are give your fullest attention to what is actually occurring in the present and you will surely make progress.

*According to Buddhism, the three primary causes of suffering are greed, aversion, and delusion.



Filed under Buddhism, Meditation, Personal Development, Psychology

Meditative Progress is Within Reach

I am providing the follow excerpt as encouragement for those of us who meditate not as ordained monks, but as householders…

Though a monastic lifestyle might be more conducive to enlightenment than a busy life within the world, when it comes to individuals rather than models all fixed preconceptions collapse. Some lay people with heavy family and social commitments manage to make such rapid progress that they can give guidance in meditation to earnest monks, and it is not rare at all to find sincere monks deeply committed to the practice who advance slowly and with difficulty. While the monastic life, lived according to the original ideal, may provide the optimal outer conditions for spiritual progress, the actual rate of progress depends on personal effort and on the store of qualities one brings over from previous lives, and often it seems individuals deeply enmeshed in the world are better endowed in both respects than those who enter the Sangha.

 Lifestyles and Spiritual Progress, by Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is not to suggest that the monastic training is irrelevant to the practice of meditation. The monastic setting may provide an optimal setting for progress on the spiritual path. However, as the familiar disclaimer states, individual results may vary. The particular setting of spiritual practice matters less than the traits of the individual, just as with music, or dance, or any other discipline worth developing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t think you are unable to make progress in your meditation practice simply because you are unable to devote yourself to extended periods of monastic style training. If you wait to begin a practice until the optimal setting becomes available, you will more than likely never begin at all. So, learn to make the most of what you have, and know that real progress is within reach.



Filed under Buddhism, Meditation, Personal Development