At our last monthly meeting in February we explored the four skills that a meditator should develop.

They are:

  • Calming and Collecting the mind

  • Moving closer to experience

  • Moving away from experience

  • Keeping the three universals in mind

Calming and Collecting the mind

Our entire spiritual path rests upon the ability to be mindful and aware of our experience. If the mind is agitated and scattered, it is not possible to be present with what is happening. Therefore, we need to train the mind to be more present, steadier and calm. This is achieved through our meditation practice with the anchor, or primary meditation object. Whether the object is the breath, body, or sounds, we form the intention to keep the attention on that object, and return it to that object whenever we notice it has wandered away.

Calming and collecting the mind allows us to experience a pleasure that is not associated with any worldly object. This supports our ability to renounce the sense pleasures that we had been mistakenly looking to for our happiness. Knowing that a more sublime and subtler form of happiness is available can renders the other objects of our sense desires less attractive.

Moving closer to experience

The tendency of the untrained mind is to touch an experience just briefly and then flitter away, looking for the next pleasant hit. Not staying with an object, including objects of the heart and mind, for any length of time doesn’t allow us to really see it as it is. This leads us to often have a mistaken view of what it is we are experiencing. This view informs how we think about, and eventually speak and act in relation to that object. When the view is wrong or mistaken, our speech and actions will be in accord with that and lead to suffering.

The classic example is that we’re walking along a path in the woods and see a snake. Fear arises in our mind and we jump back in panic. Once we’ve moved away, we look more closely and see that what we thought was a snake was just a piece of discarded rope on the ground. Misperceiving the object caused the fear to arise in the mind and caused us to act by jumping back, based on that view and that fear.

Resting on the ability of the mind to be calm and collected, at least to a degree, we can then connect with the experiences of our life more closely and form views of them that are actually in accord with the truth. The classical teaching on this is that we experience objects as impermanent (Anicca), Unsatisfactory (Dukkha) and selfless (Anatta). To the degree that we experience objects in this way is to the degree that we stop demanding that they provide us the happiness that they are inherently unable to provide.

Moving away from experience

This can be a skill that people have a hard time accepting is important as we journey towards awakening. The collective understanding in the popular culture of this country is that if you run into difficulties, you just try harder, and if you can’t overcome something, you’re not trying hard enough, and/or it’s your fault.

Knowing when to, and how to move away from a difficult experience we are having is a skill that every meditator will need at some point in time as they walk the Eightfold Path. This is a very nuanced arena and will vary in how it’s implemented from person to person. A couple of universal points would apply to most everyone though.

  • We stay with experience as long as we can be with it. Being with it means that we’re able to know what is happening without being lost in it. Or, at least not lost in it regularly enough so that it doesn’t completely define our world.

  • If we can’t be with experience, when we realize that, we move the attention away from the experience. We start with the most subtle forms of moving away. If these don’t give us the relief we need, we apply methods that are less subtle.

  • Some methods of moving away from experience while doing formal meditation, from the most subtle to the most gross include:

  • Simply noting the difficult experience. This momentarily creates some distance from the experience.

  • Moving the attention to the anchor. This occupies the mind with another object for as long as the attention will stay with the anchor.

  • Moving the attention to a part of the body that is grounded, like the sit bones on what you’re sitting on or the bottoms of the feet on the floor.

  • Opening up the eyes

  • Standing up

  • Ending the meditation and occupying the mind by reading, writing, doing a puzzle that works the brain, calling a friend, or watching a movie.

Keeping the Three Universal Characteristics in mind

The ability to do this rests, in part, on the ability to calm and collect the mind, and to move closer to our experience. This allows us the opportunity to see the three characteristics of Change, Unsatisfactory, and Selflessness in our experience.

See the three characteristics also rests on the intention to do so. You can take a sitting period, or part of a sitting period where you look at the experience of your anchor, or whatever arises in your experience through the lens of one of the three characteristics. Starting with looking at change can be good, as it is the truth of change that informs the other two characteristics of truths. Although, each characteristic or truth informs the other two.


Here’s an interesting practice.  Whenever you notice that you are suffering, check and see what form of change you are resisting. For instance, you are traveling to the store and come upon a traffic jam and start to lament how long it’s going to take to get to the store and whether it will be open when you get there, and so on.  What actually happened?  You went from traveling at whatever mph you were going, to traveling at a slower mph.  It changed, and now you are resisting that change!  So, look and see if you can find what change you are resisting when you realize you are suffering.