By Ken. M.
Over the last several years my wife has spent a week each summer hiking with some lady friends. Being retired, I would usually spend the week at home doing nothing special. This year, however, I decided to make my week alone more productive.
I have had a meditation practice for about eight years, which usually consists of two 30-minute sessions each day doing stabilizing meditation with occasional analytical meditations. My analytical sessions always seem to be fruitful. However, my attempts to calm the mind and concentrate on a single object have been most frustrating. My 30-minute sessions often degenerate into thinking about the past or making plans about the future. I am lucky if I can stay on the breath for a count of 20.
This year I decided to spend my week doing a shamatha (serenity or calm abiding) retreat at home. I told neighbors and friends that I was unavailable and shut down all electronic devices. I even decided to stop mail delivery. No TV, phone calls, emails, or text messages. I don’t tweet or do Instagram or Facebook, and I watch very little TV. So, I didn’t feel going cold turkey would be all that traumatic.
So, how did my week of intensive concentration go? Each day I did four or five meditation sessions of 30 minutes duration. In between, I did some walking in a nearby park and some Dharma reading. I also continued to watch teachings from the Abbey on YouTube. That was my only involvement with electronic devices.
I also decided to change the object of my meditation. Instead of the breath I started using a small Buddha statue. It is a lovely little thing measuring only four inches in height. It is painted red and, using my imagination, it appears to emit a slight glow. Before each session I would hold the little Buddha up in front of me at eye level and stare at it for several minutes. I would then put it in my lap but imagine it was still suspended in mid air.
My job during the meditation session was to keep visualizing it as clearly as possible, think about the Buddha’s excellent qualities, and keep that visualized image suspended at eye level. Each time my mind wandered the image would start dropping, and I would use introspective awareness and mindfulness to bring it back into position. For some reason this challenge to keep the Buddha suspended helped control my discursive thoughts. It distracted me from my distractions.
I am nowhere close to attaining serenity. However, my weeklong retreat has been very encouraging. I am hoping to combine this somewhat improved level of concentration with the other higher trainings of ethical conduct and wisdom in order to help me progress along the path to liberation and full awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings.