Calm Abiding Meditation:
Many Methods of Mindfulness
Calm abiding meditation forms the backbone of Buddhist meditation practice. Without developing a solid foundation in this core practice, we will not be able to settle our minds. Traditionally, we spend months or years learning, practicing, and experiencing the results of calm abiding meditation before we move on to other practices. And we never abandon calm abiding: this simple technique recurs throughout all types of Buddhist meditation. We can always continue to practice calm abiding.
Defining Calm Abiding Meditation
We practice calm abiding by resting our mind stably on an external object in a steadfast manner. We can use an external object such as a flower or a glass of water. Alternatively, we can choose to focus on a neutral sensation such as our own natural breathing.
Often, we say that the best object of focus is our own breath. Here, in this excerpt from a retreat teaching in Gomde New York, Tulku Migmar explains how we start to train with our breath and meditation.
Calm Abiding: How to Begin?
First, Tulku Migmar reminds us to check and make sure we are breathing. Can we notice this fact?
We now observe that we are breathing, and we know our breath it is always in the present moment.
Reflection question: Most of the time, do we know that we are breathing? Can we say that we are aware of the breath?
Let your mind rest on the breath like a child riding a rocking horse.
When training with focus, many thoughts of the past, present, and future will arise. As human beings, we think. These thoughts are very natural. We don’t look to block the arising of thoughts when we practice calm abiding.
Our single job is to allow the mind to rest on its chosen object continuously without distraction — maintaining focus like water flowing — keeping the continuity of focus.
Calm Abiding: Keeping Continuity
As we practice, we remind ourselves to rest with a gentle focus continuously. This is what we call the practice of mindfulness. We maintain an awareness that we are focusing on something. But often, even though we are staying mindful of the object for a few seconds or minutes, thoughts arise. And then we realize we are thinking of something else. We start having conversations in our brains, right?
Or maybe then our body starts to slump and the body falls asleep. Don’t worry, it is okay, this is perfectly normal. Simply begin again thinking that I can slowly, gradually reduce the distractions. Keep your eyes gently resting on your chosen object. Start slowly by maintaining your focus for just one to two minutes. Don’t feel bad if this seems like a very long time: you’re re-training your attention!
Calm Abiding through Repetition
Repeatedly come back to your object of focus and rest. Don’t follow the thoughts or sounds or distractions. Many sensory experiences will try to catch your attention. Gently, but repeatedly just bring your attention back. This process takes a lot of repetition. Come back to the original object again and again. This repetition is very important. It is even more important not to cling to anything we experience and not to judge our distractions.
Just let go whatever comes, Tulku Migmar reminds us!
Mindfulness Means Recognizing Distraction
We hear a lot these days about mindfulness. What does mindfulness mean in the context of calm abiding meditation? As soon as you know you are distracted: that is mindfulness. You are reminding yourself as soon as you notice! Tulku Migmar tells us not to, “get in the car and drive away,” with thoughts. We need to learn to catch ourselves before we become swept away!
Mindfulness means that the place you meditate and your mind have to be in the same physical place. If your mind wanders far away it doesn’t matter how long we sit on a cushion or in our chair.
Our job is to keep returning to our chosen focus. As we do this, we begin to notice so many things about our own thinking. We recognize that 70-80% of what we think is simply our own perception. We don’t judge the object. We’re not mentally commenting on the color of the flower or the shape of the object. Instead, we just one-pointedly pay attention to the object in the present time.