Mindfulness – Meditation – Contemplative Studies Schedule and Details
While there are many forms of contemplative practice (pilgrimage, journaling, story-telling, ceremonies and rituals, for example), this course will focus on the practice of Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness is a skill, one that we will work on developing and applying as we study contemplative practices. Over the course of our five week program, we will engage in sequential and structured meditation exercises, which will culminate with our 4 day intensive meditation retreat. We will also be learning some T’ai Chi, a kind of “meditation in motion.” On this page you will find further information about the contemplative studies schedule for the program.
Meditation practice cultivates, among other aptitudes, what is called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is often defined as “non-judgmental moment to moment awareness.” This definition does not fully capture the concept of mindfulness, but it does describe a skill, an important one, that you develop when you develop mindfulness. So we’ll take this as a provisional definition and starting point that we can modify and refine later.
By “non-judgmental” here, we should understand “judgmental” in the sense of passing an an unfounded evaluation, letting thought be shaped by biases, conscious or unconscious, past experiences or future expectations, and on those grounds thinking of the object or event observed as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. How much is the content of your ordinary perceptions shaped and changed by what you perceive as something you like, or dislike, or are neutral toward?
By “moment to moment” we may understand that mindfulness is attention to each moment as that moment is present. After reading through these remarks, for the next few hours note how little of that time your mind is attending to what you are doing and where you are at that very moment, and how much of the time your mind is diverted off, attending to something already past or to some future expectation. Try to get some sense of how that may alter your present experience.
By “awareness,” we should understand that meditation is a practice of alertness, attentiveness, and acute observation, and with that comes also sharpened focus and concentration. We function very much out of habit. Think about how much goes on and how much you do without actually being consciously aware of what you are doing. And note how much “static” constantly races through your mind, and how you are generally unaware of that static, unless you consciously attend to it. Give it a try and find out how it is impossible, by force of brute effort, to make yourself pay attention to just one thing and prevent your mind from wandering.
Mindfulness is a concept that comes from the Buddhist traditions, and the English word “mindfulness” is the usual translation for sati (Pali) or smrti (Sanskrit), which literally means “memory” or “remembrance.” As we explore, we shall discover how mindfulness is in the present moment but not just about the present moment, and how, while not judgmental, it does involve judgment and discernment.
During the program, we will be engaged in meditation practices for part of every day. Throughout, we will be experiencing different meditation techniques, extending our meditative “endurance” threshold, discussing central concepts in contemplative practices, and thinking about applications in everyday life. It is important to keep in mind that, while you will read about and we will reflect on successive stages or steps in contemplative practices, no individual should hold onto any kind of expectation about any sort of “accomplishment” to be attained. “Progress” is not an appropriate category with which to approach practice–what matters is not keeping your eye on a “goal” that you hope to eventually attain (a natural but counterproductive inclination), but attending to whatever actually arises and passes as it arises and passes. This does not mean that you can or should have no goals, but that we want to avoid an unproductive relation to goals.
A high point in the contemplative exercises during the program will be our 4 day retreat. This will be an intensive experience. It is important to recognize in advance that you likely will also find it a difficult and trying experience at times as well. The retreat requires serious engagement, and, while it is a wonderful opportunity to come to know yourself in a way you have not before, you may also encounter and have to deal with periods of discomfort and frustration. During the retreat we will
-be in a beautiful natural setting, which is clean, safe, and hygienic, but also very simple
-sleep on the temple grounds in clean but austere quarters
-rise very very early in the morning (well before dawn!)
-eat only two meals per day (morning and before noon). (Plenty of water is always available and there will be a nourishing liquid snack, such as soy milk, later in the day.)
-have cold water for washing and bathing (mai pen rai, no matter, Thailand is very warm…yes, but it still may be a big adjustment for you!)
-not talk very much at all
-and of course have numerous long silent meditation sessions
T’ai Chi (meaning “supreme”) and Chi Gong (“manipulation of chi”) are forms of moving meditation rooted in the Chinese martial arts tradition. Chi is the Chinese concept of the life energy that pervades all things, and is the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine as well as martial arts.
T’ai Chi places emphasis on mental awareness and mindfulness. The flow of continuous movement led by a calm and harmonious mind not only tones your muscles, but also increases the flow of chi, and is an excellent complement to meditation practice. Like in China, across Thailand you can see people meeting up early every morning in public parks to practice T’ai Chi. Throughout our program we will periodically begin the day by learning and practicing Chi Gong and T’ai Chi forms from the 24 form Yang style. You can watch a video of this form here.