Increase your mindfulness leverage with the four meditation accelerators
If you have a regular meditation practice, you will gradually develop mindfulness skills. But if you want to speed up the process, to go deeper and wider, here are four methods we call accelerators:
- Trigger practice
- Duration training
- Motion challenge
- Situational practice
1. Trigger practice
Have you ever reacted faster to a situation than you wish you had? There was a sudden small crisis. The stress hormones washed over your brain. Before you knew it, primitive, unfriendly and imprudent impulses. hijacked your mind, particularly your emotions.
Or maybe you experienced something so pleasant, so comfortable that you lost control and sunk into it unawares.
Then you, like everyone at some time, have fallen prey to triggers.
One solution to triggers is to practice such experiences with attentive presence in a setting where you can control the circumstances. You can then take what you learn in trigger practice into everyday situations.
The result is less suffering in unpleasant situations, more satisfaction from pleasant situations, and the ability to choose wise and effective actions in all situations. You also further develop attention skills, so you have even more when you need them.
Trigger practice in your meditation
To practice triggers in meditation, you need a combination of a fitness center and a laboratory. Create a situation, apart from daily life, where control all aspects of the experience, including:
- The type of trigger.
- How intense the trigger is.
- The duration of the trigger.
- The duration of breaks between triggers.
By controlling these factors, you vary the experience to meet your needs and take on progressively more challenging triggers.
Another advantage of trigger practice is that you can train without the consequences of choices in everyday life.
The method for trigger practice is to expose yourself to something you know will create a mental and/or emotional reaction. You can go for either pleasant or unpleasant triggers but ultimately should work with both.
Television, YouTube, and music or radio streaming services are good sources of triggers for practice.
Retrieve a clip or file that you know is likely to elicit a reaction. Then do a meditation practice while keeping your attention partially on the sound or screen.
In principle, you can use most meditation techniques for this. You can turn toward the trigger or away from it to explore different strategies and challenges.
Fasting — intentionally refraining from your usual food consumption — is part of many traditional religions. It is an opportunity to work with the emotions and states of mind that such deprivation triggers. Fasting also often induces a special form of clarity and satisfaction.
Islam’s Ramadan and Judaism’s Yom Kippur are prominent examples of fasting. It is also a part of the Christian cultural heritage, though not widely practiced. The traditional Buddhist monastic code enjoins one meal a day, which many monks observe.
Many people find they have developed an unhealthy attitude toward their mobile phones, social media, and other modern digital forms of information and entertainment.
With information fasting — temporary abstention from digital communication — you can restore a balance with digital culture.
You can do an Information fast for one or more days or parts of the day. For example, you might experiment with a daily habit of not connecting to the internet before lunch.
2. Duration training
As with all training, developing attention skills is somewhat a game of numbers. The more you do, the more effect you get. The more minutes you put into high quality meditation, the more results you will experience.
“High quality” means that you try to have as much concentration, mental balance, and sensory clarity as you can in meditation. It is not about how quiet your mind becomes or how relaxed you get.
But it is also about how many minutes you sit in one stretch.
The longer you sit, the more your body calms down. And with that, the mind also calms. It becomes easier to concentrate, and your sensory clarity improves. You become more aware of subtle sensory experiences and go deeper into consciousness.
This is one reason we recommend regular meditation retreats, ideally at least a week a year. A retreat gives the body and mind a sustained opportunity to deepen calm and clarity, uninterrupted by daily life.
But you can also go deep in less time. Some do so in an hour, some after two, and others need longer. If sitting so long is uncomfortable, break it up with a little walking meditation or other movement. But keep the meditation going at all times.
Strong determination sitting
Strong determination sitting, or just strong sitting — adhiṭṭhāna — is a version of duration training.
In strong determination sessions, you resolve not to move for any reason, such as discomfort and even pain.
This is a well-known traditional accelerator because it helps you find satisfaction regardless of the context and situation. It is also a kind of trigger practice because it evokes particularly intense mental and emotional reactions.
NOTE: In strong determination sessions, there is a real possibility of injuring the body, so observe the following guidelines:
- Use a sitting position that you have already mastered. I recommend Burmese style. After conversations with many meditation teachers, I warn against the lotus position for strong sitting unless you can place your legs without help from your hands.
- Start with shorter sessions and gradually lengthen them. For example, do not go straight into two hours of strong sitting if you only have done it for half an hour.
- Notice how long the pain lasts after you get up from a seated position. If you are still in pain after walking for about half an hour, you have been sitting too long.
- You know your own body best. Proceed carefully.
3. Motion challenge
In this accelerator, you explore how much concentration, equanimity, and sensory clarity you can maintain in the midst of increasingly demanding activities.
Zen is sometimes described as training to be one with the situation you are in. That is a good model for this accelerator. Iconic examples are maintaining meditative qualities while raking the garden, playing the flute, practicing archery, and producing calligraphy.
During the motion challenge, try to devote yourself completely to the activity, without distraction, while keeping mental balance and sensory clarity.
Here is a list of increasingly challenging ways to practice meditation:
- Lying down.
- Sitting with eyes closed.
- Sitting with eyes open.
- Slow walking.
- Faster walking.
- Very slow walking.
- Walking in a challenging place.
- Easy physical training.
- More complicated physical training.
- Washing the dishes.
- Making a simple meal.
- Making a more complicated meal.
- Holding a “thoughtless” conversation.
- Watching less demanding TV.
- Watching more demanding TV.
- Having a meaningful conversation.
- Having a meaningful and emotionally charged conversation.
4. Situational practice
Life is a journey that often involves great challenges.
For someone with the right tools, life challenges provide a choice between intense suffering or intense practice. The pain equation is crucial here: suffering = pain x resistance.
Situational practice is an attitude where you choose to make everyday activities and challenges into opportunities for spiritual practice. You do not avoid triggers. In fact, you intentionally expose yourself to many kinds of triggers for practice, even when you can’t control the circumstances. You are actually looking for opportunities to turn all activities into small meditations.
You make life a monastery. Life becomes an arena where you practice with the same effort as monks, nuns, and ascetics.
You take refuge in life itself. You lean into it with as much equanimity, clarity, and concentration as you can.
Spreading tiny meditations throughout everyday life helps you make life an arena for practice. These are called micropractices.
Micropractices can be just a few seconds or up to a minute. You can use any meditation technique you like to suit the situation.
Just two or three micropractices a day has a noticeable effect for many. If you do ten or more, you are close to making everyday life your own monastery, where meditation permeates all activity from morning to night.