Mark asked:

“How do you suggest dealing with physical sensations during meditation? e.g., hunger, anxiousness, etc.”

Trizia asked:

“[How do you] deal with very bad health problems/chronic pain? While I was meditating...I kept getting distracted due to pain.”

Both questions deal with physical sensations considered to be distracting or unpleasant. First on the practical side, choose (as best you reasonably can) a time and place to meditate that minimizes physical discomfort. For instance, if you are ravenously hungry, take a little time to eat and digest before meditating. When my back is bothering me, I find the right pillows to support my back before I sit to meditate. If you’re sensitive to loud sounds, wait for the kids to stop their music before you sit. When I’m at home, I ask my wife what she’s up to before I meditate, so I can pick the room where I’m least likely to be interrupted. Look to minimize distractions, both internal and external, before meditating.

The bad news is, having done the first does not mean we’ll be free from discomfort during meditation and often our choices of times and places are limited. The good news is, meditation is a fertile place to explore the nature of pain and discomfort.

At their root, physical pain, hunger, fatigue, anxiousness, fear, etc. are comprised of physical sensations. As with all objects, physical sensations come and go and constantly are changing. The first approach is not to focus on the unpleasant or distracting sensation but be aware of the “space” in which the sensations are occurring. Allow the sensations to arise, stay, morph, go, return, etc. as they naturally will. Allow the sensations to do what they will in an attitude of benign indifference. You’re not trying to get rid of them or change them in any way. Be the eternal and vast sky in which clouds and storms appear, recede, and disappear. The lightening, rain, hail, and wind don’t harm the sky, and the sky could care less what appears in it. Notice, as you rest in this inner posture of benign welcoming, whether the sensations you considered to be painful or distracting are still as so.

Sometimes our identification/attachment to certain sensations is too strong or distracting and the first approach—of being expansive—doesn’t seem to work. If you feel you are immersed in pain or discomfort, this is an opportunity to explore their nature. Distinguish between physical discomfort and our aversion to that discomfort. If you are experiencing pain, the sensation is often accompanied by us internally shouting “I don’t want this…when will this end…GO AWAY.” I find that this aversion to pain, this inability to accept the pure physical sensation—let’s call it psychological suffering—usually causes more discomfort or distraction than the sensation itself.

Keenly become interested in what is happening. Where is the pure sensation? How is it experienced without the mental overlay? Ask the questions “Where is pain… Where is discomfort…Where is distraction?” Can you find them among the pure bodily sensations? Where is aversion? To what extent, if at all, are the pain and discomfort distracting, without aversion to them? Play with this as long as you are interested and see what you find. If this doesn’t engage your attention, it’s better to eat some ice cream and watch a movie!

Finally, the most direct inquiry is, Who is it that is in pain, or discomfort, or is distracted? Can you find a “person” there? What is pain or distraction if there is no person there to experience pain or distraction? While this may sound far-fetched or abstract, try this inquiry. Look as diligently as you can for the “one” who is distracted. See if that “one” can be found.

I hope you find this helpful and fruitful. Let me know.

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Jacquelynne asked:

"Meditating makes me feel sleepy at times. How can I meditate in a way that helps me feel more awake and energized?"

First, some practical suggestions. We all have daily rhythms; try meditating at a time of day you are naturally more energetic. Place more attention into maintaining a straight spine and erect posture. If you're really feeling sleepy, slowly stand up, keep your eyes closed, and continue meditating in a standing posture for a few minutes, then sit down again.

Second, become interested in sleepiness. How do you really experience it? What are the precise bodily sensations that we associate with being sleepy? Can you allow those sensations to appear and morph without a judgment about them? If sleepiness seems to be a problem, is that "problem" just a thought or series of thoughts you are believing at that moment?

Lastly, investigate who it is that is sleepy. Is the awareness that knows sleepiness itself sleepy? Is that awareness ever fatigued? Is there a fundamental aspect of you that never sleeps?

Good luck; I hope this answer doesn't send you into slumber!

* * *

Don asked:

"First, great program. How do you "inquire" of the nature of the awareness (what does it look like?; does it have a texture?), while vacating the space and letting the thoughts go by without judgment or focusing on them? I had trouble doing both."

Thanks Don! I'm going to take your question in two parts.

How do we "inquire" into the nature of awareness when awareness is not an object and therefore does not have the familiar characteristics of objects, such as form, texture, color, duration, etc.?

There are two types of investigation. The first is through the intellect and is progressive in nature. We use the tools of observation to gather facts and then employ logic and experience to reach conclusions (or at least theories or possibilities) from those facts. 

The second is direct. What is it we can know directly without going through the intellect? Ask yourself: Am I aware?; Am I conscious? We may not be sure what we are aware of, (it could be a dream, mirage or illusion), but we know that the awareness/perceiving/knowing of it is real. Did you have to ponder whether you are aware, or did you instantly "know" that you are aware and conscious? That instant, non-mental knowing is direct knowledge.

We investigate awareness via that direct knowledge. When you ask in meditation, What does awareness look like?, see what comes to you without thinking, without analysis. Same with the other questions. See what comes up, what directly arises.  

I will rephrase the second part of your question as: How can I rest in or remain aware of awareness while engaged in the realm of objects, such as thoughts? Let's go back to the metaphor of the TV screen and picture. We usually don't notice the screen when then picture is on and we're absorbed in the story, but the screen is still there, of course. In fact, the picture cannot exist without the screen, while the screen exists without the picture. We might say then, that the reality of the screen is more substantial than the reality of the picture. 

With a little shift in attention (and some practice) you can watch TV and still be aware of the screen. Try it. It is like keeping a bit of your attention on the background while being mostly engaged in the foreground.

Awareness and the objects that arise and appear in it are similar to the screen and picture, (the screen being our metaphorical awareness and the picture the objects). Instead of being lost in the world of objects and the stories we create from them, we can shift slightly and, at the same time, be knowingly aware of awareness. 

It's not as hard as it sounds; give it a try!

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Thomas asked:

"What about the value of the "guidance" of a leader, such as yours today, talking us through the segments today? Do you have recordings for this purpose?"

Help is great. I suppose it's not impossible to learn to play the piano through a correspondence course, but having a piano teacher is an immeasurable benefit. With meditation there are many "helpers" out there, especially on the Internet. Utilize those you resonate with and benefit from.