When I was young I was haunted by fear and anxiety. I had panic attacks. If something was slightly good, I was very, very happy. If something was slightly wrong, I was very upset and filled with emotion. But when I was 14 and completing my first year of a three-year retreat at the Sherab Ling monastery in northern India, I decided to really apply the meditation technique that I had been taught. I sat in my room by myself and meditated for three days. I faced my fear. After that my panic attacks were gone. It took me two more weeks of practice to recover completely. Since then, I don’t have panic attacks.
Now I have two styles of practice in my daily life. One would be called a session, when I close the door and window and sit on the cushion or bed and meditate for an hour or two. In the other, I combine my meditation with everyday action—working, eating lunch or dinner, talking with other people, and especially while I am teaching.
The time of my meditation session varies from day to day. Sometimes I prepare my breakfast the night before. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t take a shower or anything; I eat a little bit of breakfast and then practice. After I finish my session, around nine o’clock, I take a shower and start the rest of my day.
When I am traveling, the timing and setting are a little bit different each day. I don’t bring a meditation cushion with me, only my mala beads. When I am at home in India, at Sherab Ling, or at my own small monastery in Nepal, I usually meditate in my bedroom. I either face the window where I can see the sky, or I face the shrine. If I become bored, then I think “this year I will face the shrine,” and I switch.
There are different methods of meditation. One is called open-present, and it is very good to practice while I am teaching. My mind is totally clear and centered in the clarity aspect of mind. It means my mind is totally calm and aware, but not really focused on any special thought or emotion. From that state I can teach, and my teaching becomes more clear.
For beginners, it is important to move between the three main practices—shamatha, or calm abiding meditation, loving kindness compassion, and emptiness— because the three methods support one another.
For beginners, it is important to move between the three main practices—shamatha, or calm abiding meditation, loving kindness compassion, and emptiness— because the three methods support one another. At first each will feel fresh, but then after one week, two weeks, it becomes boring and dull. At that point I tell people to forget about that one and change to another. But for me, I rest in the open-present practice, which is also called natural mind. Loving kindness compassion and emptiness naturally grow from natural mind practice.
Since I learned to meditate, I don’t have so many ups and downs, with one day feeling wonderful but the next day sad. My mind is calm, and it is very easy. But sometimes negative emotions and problems are good for practice.
Since I learned to meditate, I don’t have so many ups and downs, with one day feeling wonderful but the next day sad. My mind is calm, and it is very easy. But sometimes negative emotions and problems are good for practice. If everything is good and convenient—there is a nice temperature in the room, I’m not hungry or thirsty—then there is not much meditation because it is easy to forget. But once you have some challenge or suffering, then it is easy to meditate. I will go into my natural mind, and these things do not bother me. It is like a runner in a race, the challenge of competition will make him focus and work harder.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (mingyur.org) is a teacher and master of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He has a deep interest in science and was a research subject in Richard J. Davidson’s famous brain studies of monks meditating.