When people ask me:
“What’s the purpose of meditation?”
I always have to pause. Even though I practice everyday and I teach mindfulness, it’s difficult to answer that question. I wanna say just practice itself is the purpose, but I can also say to be there fully for your loved ones… or to be happier and kinder… or to be better at life (maybe not lol). I pause because if anyone starts meditation to get somewhere or somehing, that may cause more confusion and stress. Because things may not be going to be the way you want it to be.
When I meditated to be calmer, sometimes it happened but sometimes it didn’t. And when it didn’t, I got even more frustrated meditating. I may have missed the point (if any) of meditation there. Just to be with whatever arising. One quote from Bhagavad-gītā says;
“The secret of human freedom is to act well without attachment to the result.”
It’s so hard to understand though!!! I wanna do things and get better! But it’s saying that it’s not the case. I ties to kindness will result in kindness but not the way you expect or imagine. The tomato seeds will grow into tomatos not watermelons but you can’t control how red or how big or when it’s going to be ripen…. am I making sense?
So for me the purpose of meditation is just to do it. And on the course of it, I may be kinder and happier. It’s a bonus!!
I was listening to Rich Roll Podcast, discussing about vegan diet. And there are friends on the whole30, no carb, no sugar… it’s amazing how many things there are with food and diet. And with all the diet structure, the people seems to be generally happier doing it.
It got me wondering… what is it to do with all the diet stuff???
Oh, the people are just more aware of what they do in everyday life to be healthier and happier.
I’m sure there are many nutritional stuff happening, of course, but just the core of it is that people are more awake and know what they are doing. Taking up on anything new, language classes or fitness classes, naturally makes us pay attention more. And it usually comes from a good intention. That’s just so beneficial!
Having a program or structure help us to be aware of what’s aligned or not aligned. Not aligned doesn’t mean bad or wrong. But just having the structure for having one is really enough. That would simply help us see what’s going on around it, around us.
And of course, I’m gonna say (haha), mindfulness is really the direct way to work with the awareness and maybe become a bit happier and kinder. I love doing fitness and health stuff too but always come back to the cushion.
It’s fun to see all the different trends of diet come and go. And it now seems like a good idea to eat whole food veggies and grains and all that, which we have had here all these time… like for a long long time.
Meditation has been here also for at least 2,600 years. And people started to notice again that it may be a good thing. With the time tested aspects and recent science studies, I think it is a good thing. Experientially I know it is good for me.
I could live without or with little veggies but I may not be in great health. The same goes to meditation. I had lived with very little meditative exercise for 30 years but I was not in good mental shape. Some veggies I didn’t like but I came to like them, like eggplants and kale. Now I mostly eat vegetables, no meat. In a million years, I had never thought I would stop eating meat growing up in Japan. But you never know.
Meditation practice is not always fun or amazing, sometimes even annoying and boring. But I came to enjoy it regardless of how I feel about it that day and just keep going. Just like I keep making choice of eating veggies.
Metta meditation, so-called loving-kindness meditation, is very powerful to make better friends with yourself and others. Basically you send well wishes towards yourself and others by repeating loving-kindness phrases such as may I (you) be well, happy and peaceful. I know it sounds cheesy but it really is a wonderful practice when all those bit$hy judgy voice is going on over and over in the head.
There are many ways to do this practice. I recommend the book Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg to learn more about it. There are classically 6 categories of beings that you send well wishes to: self, teacher, friend or family, stranger, difficult person, and all beings. In the Buddhist scripture, there are 2 categories: self and all beings. Practicing with the classic 6 categories is a great place to start.
Anyways, I live in New York City and commute by subway everyday. This is just a funny way to keep going with the practice outside of formal sitting practice:
- Count the number of stations I have to get to. (42nd St to 66th St on 1 train would be 3 stations)
- I send well wishes to different categories in between stations. (42nd-50th is self, 50th-59th is friend, 59th-66th is all beings)
- Don’t miss the stop!
If I have to go up to 6 stations, that’s great! If more? I sandwich with quick mindfulness of breath to start and end. So that’s 8 stations!!! Wow. That’s Queensboro Plaza to Canal St on N train… Sounds good to me.
When I started to mediate, I just stuck with mindfulness of breath for a while. I dance, and the awareness of body has been very very familiar part of my life for a long time. I still take ballet classes, PT (physical therapy) exercises, yoga, pilates… daily to stay in shape for the show. Concentration is one of many things people get out of these intense physical training as well as discipline. And when I’m dancing in class or on stage, the music and everyone around really come together. It’s a wonderful state of mind. And I see it in other dancers too… just being there in the present moment. It really moves me.
And one day in ballet class I realized how silly we all look. All of us, grown-ups, just dedicating to bending knees and stretching legs. Also I realized how sweet and wonderful that is. It’s the same thing in yoga classes or meditation classes. All of us made time and came to do whatever it is together. When I realized that, my daily meditation practice slowly sifted to metta (loving-kindness) practice. I no longer felt repeating the phrases like a chore or silly woowoo wishes. I genuinely felt the wishes to be well for myself and the others. I still do practice mindfulness but the thought I had, “hmmm, I’m just gonna stick with the breath for now,” really faded away.
May all beings everywhere be well, happy, and peaceful…
It is important to go to a bit more concentrated meditation environment once in a while. The first and last time I went on a week retreat was last summer. With the show schedule 8 shows a week, I’m not be able to do that for a while. I’m trying to come up with some creative idea to sit a little longer.
My fiancé and pup went away for a few days and I had a day off to myself. It’s been 7 weeks since Miss Saigon opened. I wasn’t going to do much and enjoy just chilling out for a day without a plan.
I happened to take 10 AM class at MNDFL , which led me to take another at 11 AM, then noon… the same teacher was teaching for those three classes and told me that she was teaching another three in Williamsburg. I don’t think she was telling me to come but I said ok I’ll see you there. I ate and did a little yoga, and headed to three more classes.
In the end, I sat around 4 hours that day. That’s pretty good to me. The midday sit is usually hardest… I just fall asleep lol There was moments of that too but over all the momentum that was building up that allowed me to just be with whatever arising was fun to see.
And there comes another day, I can’t even count the breath up to 10. Haha.
The one thing I learned through mindfulness is that I’m not going to stop thinking. The mind thinking is as natural as my body breathing. I guess trying to stop thinking is like trying to stop breathing…. not smart lol My teacher would say if you can stop thinking you are either dead or enlightened.
It becomes a bit problematic when I get hooked into the inner narrative/ story I tell myself. So I come back to the body sensation of breaths because it’s always there whether I like it or not, which really means that breathing is happening in the present moment. For the thinking mind, maybe I don’t have to push it away but just watch it as I can observe breathing…… sometimes.
I teach and practice mindfulness meditation. I only practice Vedic meditation. It’s interesting to see some people with meditation practice go about what’s good and bad or right and wrong. And I get why to some points. But really any meditation is good meditation I think.
I got interested in Vedic meditation because of the teacher training to be a mindfulness meditation teacher. My peers are all lovely people but even then when it came to Vedic meditation I felt the room went a bit defensive or skeptical. Some of my good friends in theater community practiced Vedic meditation so I just wondered why. I am in the business now and people I would start to teach were going to be those in theater community. I just wanted to be clear for people about any techniques even though not to teach, because mindfulness and Vedic meditations are two techniques that are coming to be more popular these days.
One reason some people have strong opinions about Vedic meditation is the money part. Sometimes transcendental meditation (TM) and Vedic meditation has image of taking lots of money, a week of your salary, so basically sliding scale. It’s for this 4-day course where you get initiated to the practice and get the “secret” mantra from your teacher. The amount of money you spend on the short course and the secrecy of mantra may give some people their skepticism.
But if you practice mindfulness to some extent, you start going to retreats which cost a few hundreds dollars at least (usually sliding scale available). You keep going then you could spend enough money to cover the week worth of salary. Also once you do the 4-day course, you can go back to group sitting or refresher classes for free even with different teachers. My teacher explained to me about the secrecy of the mantra like this:
Vedic meditation doesn’t work if you don’t get initiated to the practice, so if you tell your friend your mantra and she tries it, then doesn’t work. She may never try Vedic meditation again. That’s taking her possibility of practice away.
Here is my teacher Lodro Rinzler and my teacher’s teacher Thom Knoles talk about this topic.
I lived in Indiana for a year when I was young and 17 as a high school exchange student. It opened my little Japanese world to whole another level. I did not speak much English though I read and wrote all right. My loving host family was very religious in the most wonderful ways. They were kind and understanding. We still stay in touch and see each other once in a while after 16 years!!!
Anyways, I went to their Presbyterian church every Sunday for the service and adult Sunday school. I must say I really appreciated the teaching there. Though mom (I still call her that) and I have some discussions going because I am a gay man about to get married, the church was about love one another and accepting differences. A long story short, in the end of the year I was blessed by Jesus, and I had a period I called myself a Christian. I still could. What Jesus represents in the bible is wonderful. I truly can say that the relationships I had with people in Indiana opened up my heart tremendously.
In the context of meditation, Meggan Watterson talks about how there was meditation practice in Christian tradition, also about the prayer. For anything, I still learn about the bible through the RobCast.
In the end, any wisdom traditions have wonderful things to offer. And I’d say Jesus and I are in a pretty good term now.
I practiced at home alone for more than a year before I started to go to group sittings. Good two years until I found this wonderful home MNDFL where I got certified as a meditation teacher.
Putting that aside, it is a wonderful place to practice with other people who has similar interests without any dogmatic religious teachings. I still practice at home alone daily, but going to MNDFL is very important part of my practice. Having teachers in person who came from different traditions and can answer questions on the spot is amazing. Also with hearing other people’s experience through meditation makes me feel I’m not alone.
Don’t get me wrong. There are tons of amazing groups/places in the city for meditation. But MNDFL offers so many teachers from different lineages in one place through out the day and week. What a great gate way to start the journey. I’d say you may wanna find out yourself why you would take a meditation class!
I don’t want to make this blog all about Buddhism and religious stuff, but I must say it’s hard to separate:
1. I grew up watching monks visiting home and going to temples in Japan so I don’t mind the religious aspects of it.
2. Mindfulness came from Buddhist tradition although what’s taught here is usually secular version of it.
3. A little mystic, magical, rainbow, unicorn, woo-woo in life wouldn’t hurt anyone.
So the three schools of Buddhism are Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. I talked about Zen(Mahayana) and Tibetan(Vajrayana) because that was a part of my earlier journey meditating in NYC. Theravada Buddhism is called the oldest one. Again and again, with my micro knowledge, they go back to original teaching of Buddha in the Pāli Cannon (scripture). In the US it is also known as Insight or Vipassanā. Those who brought the big part of mindfulness practice back to the west are in this tradition, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield… so yeah.
Actually I practice and research a lot on this tradition now, because those people have written great books on mindfulness and loving-kindness. It gives me a nice guideline to practice and teach mindfulness. Also I listen to the podcast created by Dharma Punx. It’s mixture of Buddhism and neuron science, making the teaching very relatable to daily life.
I will write about different wisdom traditions too but the bottom line is….. it’s all the same shit in a very positive and wonderful way. There are so many similarities with different emphasizes. One may suit someone better in some ways, but really it’s all very good is what I want to say.
When I was practicing with Andy P.(on the app lol), he would sometimes ask to set an intention. I watched so many anime growing up, usually things come up to me in cartoon ways. Every time for me then it was Princess Mononoke…
“To see with eyes unclouded by hate”
They translation gets very particular about the hate but basically seeing clearly with unclouded eyes. So that was my intention for a long time, still is. It is very helpful for me to have any simple humane intentions for meditation practice. Usually after settling in the posture, I briefly ask myself or remind myself why I practice. Especially when I do that in the morning, the intention of the practice seep into the day and carries on.