- Why Meditate?
- Why Guided Meditation?
- What’s the Difference between Guided Meditation and Sesshin Training?
At a workshop on leadership given by Henry Givray, president and CEO of Smith-Bucklin, he cites two qualities of great leaders being self-awareness, and self-management. Self-management (or self-control) comes through motivation to change, and developing discipline to alter behaviors. But what process do you follow to become more self-aware, that is, heightening awareness of your own strengths and limitations, knowing fully your values and ideals, or even knowing what you do and how you do it? Meditation, and many other closed-eye processes are a way bring focus to your own thoughts by shutting down the myriad of stimuli that bombard our senses every moment of every day. Ever tried sitting down and thinking about one thing, and then thinking more about tangent elements of that one thing, and soon you are wondering why you were thinking about that one thing in the first place? Being able to calm down our expansive mental abilities to think and analyze many things at once takes some form of actual physical intervention, and meditation is one of the simplest and self-capable forms of performing this feat. You don’t have to soak in a sensory deprivation chamber, or alight atop a Himalayan mountain in order to achieve a state where you can focus deeply on something. The difference is similar to taking a brief glance in a mirror to check your appearance, or looking deeply at your own reflection in the mirror to see every aspect of your physicality, even what you may dislike seeing (and perhaps even being motivated to change.)
Sometimes, even the process of closing one’s eyes and attempting to pacify one’s thoughts doesn’t come easily. Too many daily distractions have piled-up creating worrisome subjects, or maybe the thought you want to focus upon isn’t easily visualized or even comprehended. You may even not know where to begin with really complicated situations. That’s when having something else provide the structure and attention focus for you helps a lot. Even your own voice and listening to your own verbalizations to yourself can help bring the extra framework of stability needed to train our mind’s excess capacity to think about many things at once, to calm the active and continuously curious senses back down to a state of focus and reflection. This is why many forms of meditation involve use of verbalized sounds or phrases, or mantras, which help achieve the same state of thinking. Psychologically, when you task your mind to repeat an endless phrase, which doesn’t require much thought other than to make the same sounds over and over again, with closed-eyes, you have occupied your mouth, mind and body with a single task to accomplish, which through repetition, physically hones in your awareness and senses towards a common focus — even if that task is to say, “Ohmmmm…” over and over again (or in the case of those of us in the Oracle IT software world, we might use “select * from dual;”.)
So, having achieved that nice, “happy place” state, how do you go about re-focusing on that thing you wanted to ponder, whether it was self-reflection, or how to solve a problem? That’s where guided meditation comes to play. It takes a lot of practice to maintain that state of inner calm, and also be able to introduce something else to think about, without upsetting the tranquility by piling on subject after subject to think about – as we all have so many things we’d like to figure out. Having another person or even a recorded voice instill that verbalized change of subject is how we can assist ourselves to stay focused on our own calmness, while the outside world introduces the subject of study. Listening to this podcast is a form of that kind of guidance, as you listen to each word and form images in your mind of what is being said. Guided meditation also facilitates that same process, whether in the form of a pre-recorded meditation audio track, playing Deepak Chopra’s Leela video game, or with another person providing the verbal support and guidance.
In Shinnyo-en, as in all forms of esoteric practice, self-reflection is one of the key forms of training to support our own development towards building a persistent world of harmony and joy. Shinnyo sesshin meditation training was developed by Master Shinjo Ito as a way to bridge the elements of the original Shingon form of sesshin, which involves complete isolation from the outside world and many rigorous hours of continued meditation practice, with the needs of the contemporary and practical world of today. This version of sesshin training has been arranged into differing levels of focus, ranging from simple self-awareness, to meditative problem-solving and crisis resolution. Depending on your own individual needs or objectives, you can choose to train in whichever level is most suitable for the particular area of focus you feel you need to work on as a priority. But the common element is the same – it is not that the words that the meditation guide gives you are the prescribed answers to your problems; it is about how you interpret those words, and what actions you take to actualize their meaning. The guide-person is a virtual verbal mirror for your own self-reflection. How you perceive what is said, is the key to understanding your own inner thoughts and what you do, and how you do it. And if you get the bigger picture, that’s also what the entire world is, and everyone around you – a mirror of your Self.
From this month’s Shinnyo Reflections newsletter, sesshin is one of the keys to creating a world based on friendship. The Shinnyo-en community, together with the practitioners and temple staff as a whole, are working to create opportunities for more people to be able to receive structured sesshin. That structured setting practice goes beyond reflecting on the indications we receive. It involves thinking about our connectedness to others, putting ourselves in the place of others, and working together with others. In the process, some of our own deep-seated fears or worries will naturally evaporate—leading us to becoming more courageous overall. By acting on what inspires us and applying in daily life what we grasp through the meditative practice of sesshin, we can truly change our lives. And this starts from not being afraid to step forward because you really care for the wellbeing of others. This selflessness and letting go of attachment will surely help us to break free from the cycle of karmic suffering toward the joy of being spiritually liberated. Our efforts to act on our sesshin training experiences nurture us to overcome whatever hurdles we may face.