The common perception of meditation is that it’s something you can do on occasion to relax, calm yourself, and improve your health. You may also hear something like, “it also helps you remember your connection to the divine by bringing that specific energy into you.” Here we consider the why of meditation more specifically. “Bring that energy into you” is basically a vague reference to 3rd jhana, where you experience yourself as merged into something greater than yourself. Practically speaking, to be in 3rd jhana you can’t just set an intention and have it happen to you. Life and meditation are like a staircase from Hell to Heaven and you have to take each step — there are no elevators where it happens to you just because you want it. You have to get 1st jhana first, and to do that you have to free yourself from every disturbance either negative or positive. Those are the stairs by which you can “visit Heaven” during a meditation period in jhana. That means, e.g. if you are concerned about the noise your neighbor is making while you meditate, you have to let that go and not care whatever noise they make. Also, simply plugging your ears may not do it, because you know that you are plugging your ears to avoid something disturbing and that’s enough to miss 1st jhana. It’s not a matter of arranging circumstances until you feel good, it’s a matter of feeling good regardless of circumstances. Rev. Gene Larr, in “Your Dawning Awareness” puts it simply: “Keep your mind still and allow it to relax….All distractions should be removed because you are going to have to still your mind and any of these distractions that can be removed before the practice of stilling, the easier it will be for you.” And here we move into the how of meditation. Keep it still and allow it to relax. Just as I’ve been saying, ‘let go and pay attention, at the same time’. The common instructions for meditating are to separate yourself from the external senses and let go of your thoughts. That’s good, but ANYTHING that catches your attention needs to be let go of to get to 1st jhana, not just the external senses. Typically a person who hasn’t meditated or is not too settled at the time is most distracted by external sounds, etc. But after some practice or in a more settled state, I see folks more often get caught by their reasoning mind mulling over problems, memories, etc. On the other hand some people get more often caught by how their body feels. There are many techniques and crutches to help with specific things, but in the end you have to let those things just be and realize you are independent of them. 1st jhana is just the sudden sensation of that freedom, when you feel your “body and mind dropped off” as Dogen Zenji wrote.

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