Calm Abiding by Scott Probst
Calm abiding meditation is one of the main tools we can use to improve the way our mind functions. Mostly we are either distracted by any number of things in our lives – material things, emotions, wants and problems – or we are intensely focussed on the world in a way that makes our mind more chaotic. Calm abiding meditation is a way that we can begin to undo this.
Calm abiding meditation can be simply a tool that we use to make our mind more easy to keep in order, and less prone to flights of distraction, anger or clinging that make our lives stressful and less productive. This is closely related to simply learning calm abiding techniques and practising them regularly. At the same time, calm abiding can also be a method of being able to gain insight into the actual functioning of our mind. Which one of these results we get from meditation depends on our motivation for using meditation as a tool.
If we really just want to learn to calm ourselves down and have less stress, learning and practicing calm abiding meditation will help, most of the time. If we find that this improves our quality of life, then this is a good enough reason to use meditation. Sometimes though, when we manage to slow our minds down and have a better idea of what happens mentally, we begin to notice things that happen, and this makes us curious to know more. The things we notice might even be somewhat troubling. For example, we might notice that certain kinds of thoughts and feelings are particularly difficult to have without getting involved and upset, or we may begin to sense that the reality of what we feel is sometimes open to question.
Investigating these further questions is the difference between simply using calm abiding meditation techniques and practising calm abiding in a Buddhist sense. From a Buddhist point of view, use of calm abiding techniques is combined with an approach of framing our meditation experience with certain ideas. Many of these ideas have crossed over into common use today, particularly within the practice of psychology. One example of this is the idea of ‘thought surfing’ or ‘emotion surfing,’ where we attempt not to get caught up with feelings but try to just watch them come and go, so we are floating on the top of the waves of thought, rather than getting picked up and carried along by them. This idea comes from the Buddhist observation that moments of thought come and go, and none of them have an independent, true existence apart from the fact that we observe them and act on them.
We can even take this idea further, because to most of us it seems logical that we are in fact in some way closely related to our feelings and thoughts. That is, we think that who we are is defined in some way by how we think and how we react to things. But if through meditation we find that these things have no substantial existence, then as a consequence we might begin to wonder who ‘we’ are. There are varied Buddhist approaches to resolving this issue, however, to begin to approach any of them in more than a superficial intellectual way, we need to be practicing meditation so that our approach is based in solid experience. Otherwise we are not really making any solid inroads into the way that our mind works. That is why calm abiding meditation is the practical platform for other kinds of meditation.
Before we get to any of this however, we have to walk before we run. This is where learning calm abiding meditation comes in. In very simple, concrete steps, it is possible to learn and practice calm abiding meditation so that our habits of mind begin to change in practical ways: so we are not caught up in every little thing that comes along; so that we feel more free to deal with the world without fear or anger or indifference; so that we can develop patience and tolerance for things that would otherwise test us sorely. Calm abiding meditation can be learnt in regular steps, so that we can gradually build up method of training our mind to do all these things.