I am reading the book, An Open Heart, by the Dalai Lama, and I've been really surprised at the way he describes the different types of meditation. I have really wanted to include meditation into my daily routine, but it can be so hard for me because I've had only one idea of meditation in mind--trying to quiet the mind, not think about anything and focus on breathing (what he calls 'Settled Meditation'). If you're like me, this can be really hard to do, especially as you're just starting to meditate. With all of the proven health benefits that meditation can offer, though, I've really been trying to figure out a way to do it.
I was excited to read about what he calls 'Analytical Meditation,' which is basically when we analyze something in our minds to such a degree that we actually gain empathy or closeness to what he refers to as the 'chosen object.' Appreciation and desire intensify as we contemplate the qualities of this object. He explains that we can "cultivate virtues such as patience and tolerance in much the same way" by contemplating the qualities of those virtues, how it will make us feel, what kind of environment it would create, etc.
Now, if this seems difficult, he brings up really good points about how we actually do this very often in our lives. We analyze and contemplate the qualities of material possessions, people or situations often. Recently, I've caught myself doing this when we were shopping for homes. I'd daydream about a certain house (that I had only ever seen on pictures, mind you), how it would look when we decorated it for Christmas, how it would smell when we had the windows open on a spring day, how it would be cozy on a winter morning, how Olivia would play in her spacious room….Usually, I would daydream like this about the houses that we a) couldn't really afford and b) were much too spacious and extravagant for what we actually need. And we all do this with stuff…be it new boots we're dying to buy, a new car we really want, a new job we just know will be better, a love interest that we are preoccupied with, a conference we are so worried about attending…Our mind can obsess over these things to the point where we can make them totally amazing and wonderful or totally vilified and horrible…creating these vivid images and scenarios in our minds until we are just SURE of their qualities--good or bad.
So, you're saying if we devote the same mental energy to contemplating, analyzing and appreciating all of the qualities of personal virtues, like patience, kindness, or tolerance, we are not only meditating, we'll likely become those virtues after a regular practice of contemplating them?! Ok, Dalai Lama, I'm going to try this.
One virtue I want to work on is patience, mainly as it pertains to my emotions. I am the kind of person who doesn't hold in my emotions…at all. If I'm happy, I laugh boisterously. If I'm upset, I pout and wail like Lucille Ball in 'I Love Lucy.' And if I'm angry, you know it. Patience is defined as "the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset." Yep, that's what I need.
On one hand, I usually like this about myself, because I get it all out, usually I'm fine and over the intense emotion shortly. My husband has now adapted to this, and if I'm being Lucy, he knows to just chuckle and wait for me to stomp around for a bit to get over it. But, I've found that sometimes I let really stupid things make me angry (other mamas with little sleep and fluctuating hormones, can you relate?!), and instead of being patient with whatever or whomever the cause of my anger is, I let it get to me and immediately react, which never ends well.
So, I'm going to meditate on this....I'm going to picture--just as we do with material possessions we desire--how my life would be if I was more patient and calm with my emotions. I am going to visualize myself as a calmer version of myself. I'm going to picture myself breathing through an emotion and calmly letting it go. I'm going to contemplate my family life down the road with teenagers, and the ability to not let their antics make me react angrily. This seems lovely.
I'll report back on how this goes. In the meantime, care to try this with me?
What kinds of virtues do you want to possess? Go ahead and picture yourself having them. Really think about what kind of person you want to be, and then think about the virtues a person like that has. Do you need to be more patient? More tolerant? Give more effort and energy towards projects? Be more generous? More honest with yourself and others? Our minds possess the powerful ability to create and analyze scenarios, qualities and appreciation for things we do not have. So, let's use our brains to cultivate good virtues and stop pining over things that are unnecessary materials things or stuff that's out of our control.