4th Self-examination

Self examination

After we select what we want to achieve in life, we need to know how to make it happen, how to solve problems when things go wrong, how to improve, how to maintain etc. All this administration and management can be called 'awareness', a kind of quality control.

Like walking across a busy Sydney road in rush hour, we are ambitious to cross the road, we put all of our effort to cross the road, and we focus our mind on walking across the road. But we are not aware of incoming car! Bang !

Awareness lets us know what is happening around us at the same time of focusing and working on our project. Awareness also enables us to know whether we are doing alright or not.  Like the car's temperature indicator lets us know the condition of the engine, awareness lets us know whether qualities of mind; will power, effort and concentration of mind are working properly or not.

How can we know that things are going into the right direction? Like making a cup of coffee, we know whether the coffee is right or not only when we sip it.  We may need to add more milk or sugar later.

When we practice meditation, and we don't feel relaxed yet, we may need to adjust and readjust these three qualities until they are in balance.

Firstly, if the will power is too strong and out of balance, our desire to get calmness of the mind is too much, until we start to feel frustrated during meditation. We may have to reduce that strong desire and expectation. One technique we can apply to solve this problem is to think that the practice of meditation is like to playing a game of basketball with nice friends.

When we play sport with friends, we will not expect to win all the time. We play just to have fun with friends. We should think of meditation practice like playing a basketball game with our own mind, not expectation to win all the time, and the meditation is just for fun. Don't meditate like playing basketball in NBL! It is a killing field in the basketball court, so stressful!

Oppositely, if the will power is too low, we may make excuses all the time to practice meditation. In this case, we may have to connect ourselves to an inspiring friend who loves to reassure us of the benefit of mindfulness, so we can re-motivate ourselves.

Secondly, effort, must be in balance with calmness of the mind. If we try too hard or too much, we may become restless. The hyperactive mind already has too much energy, it will never feel calm.

When we are too excited with a new house, we may not be able to sleep well.  We would like to change wall colors, we would like to relocate furniture, we would like to have a new garden etc. Without an initial calmness of mind to start meditation, we will become restless about the result. We want to feel relaxed, ASAP! So we keep on changing the meditation technique every ten minutes!

Be more patient. Good things always take time to bear fruition. A very nice French coffee takes time to be made. An instant coffee is easy and quick, but which coffee do you prefer? After we have carefully and mindfully chosen any technique, stay on that meditation until the result happens.  Then we can decide whether we should change the technique or not.

Now, if effort is too low, we may feel very lazy or always fall to sleep in meditation. Then, get out of your soft comfortable meditation cushion!  Never ever meditate on your super soft luxurious bed. Try these: open windows get more light and fresh air, wash your face or take a shower, stretch your body, take a few minutes to practice deep breathing exercises like Tai Chi or Yoga or do walking meditation. If these methods don't work, then set your alarm clock and go to bed, have a nice rest.  That is the best the Buddha can advise.

Thirdly, the concentration of the mind must be balanced with wisdom. As previously discussed, it is not easy to stay focused, but the benefit of concentration of the mind is calm and beautiful happy feeling. Some people may attach to this happy feeling, and stay on that calm meditation for a long time. To be free from the cycle of unhappiness in life, the calmness or relaxation is only a bus stop. It gives us a temporary break away from our hectic lifestyle. The journey to Enlightenment doesn't stop there. People must learn how to use calmness of mind as a spring board to proceed into Vipassana meditation where people will learn how to use the benefit of calm and happy mind to practice 'observing & seeing' the truth of body and mind and find release from all attachment.

On the other hand, people who don't have enough concentration of the mind, can't stay focused on meditation, may feel difficulty establishing observing practice in Vipassana meditation. The distracted mind has no clarity of what it is doing.  The disturbed mind is neither stable nor active to do a good job.  So learn to apply different additional meditation techniques to approach different hindrances.

For example, if the mind is distracted by anger, we may consider the disadvantage of holding anger and the benefit of forgiveness. Then we may practice Metta Bhavana, the loving-kindness meditation which involves the visualization of smiling faces of people who love and care about us. The Metta meditation can introduce a small amount of love and happiness. These two beautiful feelings are powerful enough, in the initial stage, to restrain anger in the mind temporarily, and leave the mind in peace for a short time, like a small dam retaining a huge water way. Later on we must learn how to remove the cause of anger totally by the practice of wisdom.

Awareness comes from the good practice of mindfulness. The regular practice of mindfulness will expand our perimeter of awareness to cover all other areas in life.


Now, we have all the four important ingredients of successfulness, but we need a cup and a good stir. There is no other meditation technique which can be more powerful than the breathing technique.

As we are breathing mindfully, we are able to build up will power. Have you heard the old saying 'take a deep breath before you make a difficult decision.' Actually, it is a natural mechanism that we always take a deep breath when we steady ourselves to do some 'mission impossible' like meditation.

The deep and refined breath can give us some comfort and ensure ourselves of whatever we would like to start; jumping over a fence, swimming in a shark-infested beach, bidding on eBay, or singing the song 'SOS ' to your upset girlfriend.

The refined breath helps us to maintain our energy to pursue our project and meditation. Each refined breath is so efficient that it gives us maximum level of Oxygen supply but less metabolism.

The concentration of mind arising from mindful breathing will last much longer. If practiced regularly and skillfully, the breathing technique will give us ability to stay focused every time we breathe, in any conditions, in any place.

The breathing technique can be used as an excellent biofeedback. We don't need to use any other objects to practice mindfulness. As we are still alive, every time we breathe, we are able to produce the strength of mindfulness. And this constant production of mindfulness will be used to monitor the balance of will power, effort and concentration of the mind.