Avoiding the Dangers of Isolated Samadhi

“What the hell is isolated samadhi?” you may ask. Currently we’re in a mindfulness meditation boom and samadhi is not emphasized as often in this practice. With mindfulness practice, we’re focusing on objects, such as breath, body, emotions and thoughts. We watch them arise and pass away, doing our best to see their impermanence moment to moment. This is a wonderful practice and helps us become more familiar with our minds, our habitual patterns and how we function in the relative world.

Samadhi is a state of meditative absorption where we access deep insights into the mind and heart and the nature of interconnection. In samadhi, our minds are calm, our meditation is effortless and often includes feelings of bliss, joy and equanimity. It has great appeal but I find many practitioners of mindfulness don’t reach this state often. Their concentration isn’t developed enough or the focus remains subject/object oriented. In samadhi, the subject/object separation disappears. That is, “self and other” cease to exist as a fixed experience. A strong mindfulness practice can lead to samadhi. But it takes commitment and adequate time devoted to meditation.

I began my practice in the Zen tradition, where samadhi was emphasized. Through rigorous practice, I quickly reached deep states of meditative absorption. I found it invaluable in helping me with intractable depression and grief; I was able to see thoughts and emotions as empty of any abiding reality. I found the courage to experience the grief and depression directly, which allowed them to finally pass through to their end.

But I also became aware that many accomplished teachers seemed lost outside of the meditation hall. They spoke eloquently of emptiness and seemed to have deep dharma insights. But their “everyday” behavior was puzzling and in some cases, inexcusable. Whatever clarity they gained through samadhi was lost as soon as they entered the everyday world. It was as if a barrier had been erected between the two, and no amount of practice penetrated the clouded mind of craving and addiction. I was on the receiving end of this craving with two Zen teachers and it shattered my trust in the path. I didn’t understand how such seemingly awakened men could be so blind in other parts of their lives.

I started to realize they had not developed their capacity to be mindful in daily life in a way that would bridge their insights and samadhi from the cushion. I knew didn’t want to follow that route, so I took up Vipassana mindfulness as a counterbalance to samadhi practice. I had to let go of my pride of accomplishment on the path and approach this practice as a beginner. With its emphasis on ethics and compassion, and de-emphasis’ on holding teachers up as gurus, Vipassana helped me find a way back to the practice and to the dharma. This doesn’t mean I think one practice is better than the other. Both have merit and both need to be approached in a balanced way.

Many newcomers do best when they begin with mindfulness. But at some point they may need more. Mindfulness and meditative absorption are both important practices. I would not abandon one for the other, nor emphasize one over the other for the mature and committed practitioner. They are not mutually exclusive. Just enter the way with a good dose of compassion and find the path to your heart. All practices are like a finger pointing to the moon, as one saying goes. We don’t want to mistake the finger for the moon, and become attached to any one practice. Knowing when to let go is as important as skillfully developing these practices. When I let go of samadhi, I didn’t lose it, but gained another doorway into compassion and insight, especially in my everyday life.

Mindful Awareness Workshop

Emily and Vincent Horn, The Buddhist Geeks
Saturday February 20, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Nashville Friends Meeting
Sponsored by One Dharma Nashville

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What is the difference between mindfulness & awareness? Both mindfulness and awareness reveal different features of our conscious experience, while remaining inseparable. Depending on which lens you peer through it changes how you see.

In this workshop we’ll explore both the practice of mindfulness–actively noticing what you notice as you notice it–and awareness–simply being. We’ll use guided and silent practices as well as interactive social meditation. By learning these different techniques we move closer to being able to meld them into an integrated whole. Mindful awareness is the coming together of effortless being and active investigation. It’s being able to differentiate what’s arising in our experiential field while also resting in an undifferentiated awareness of it all. When we can move between mindfulness and awareness, merging and blending the two modes together, we become more responsive to our experience of life.

Workshop cost is $50 – $75 sliding scale plus dana (donation) to the teachers. Please pay at the highest level you can afford so that we can also offer reduced fee spots. Please pay at Paypal here and enter the amount you will pay. To pay by check, instructions are here. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

Emily Horn is a meditation teacher trained by Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. Her teaching style is influenced by Mindfulness meditation and revolves around the interwoven nature of contemplation, personal unfolding, and daily life. She is the director of operations at Buddhist Geeks.

Vincent Horn is part of a new generation of teachers & thinkers translating age-old wisdom into 21st century code. Vincent has been called a “power player of the mindfulness movement” by Wired magazine. He is the co-founder and CEO of @BuddhistGeeks and @MeditateIO.

Mindfulness Retreat for New Retreatants

 

Saturday, January 30, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Nashville Friends House
Led by Lisa Ernst and Paloma Cain

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Retreats are an invitation to nurture a continuity of mindfulness. This Retreat for New Retreatants is an opportunity for those who have little or no retreat experience to practice for a full day of mindfulness in the company of others who are new to retreats. The schedule will include meditation instructions, how to be on retreat, as well as shorter sitting and walking meditation sessions. This day will be mainly in silence. There will be adequate time for discussion including how to sustain practice in daily life.

Cost is $50 plus dana (donation) to the teachers. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need. For information email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com. To register through paypal, go here. If paying by check, follow the instructions at this link. Be sure to include your email address.

Lisa Ernst has been meditating for over 25 years in the Zen and Vipassana traditions. She received teaching authorization in the Thai Forest lineage of Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfiled and Trudy Goodman. Lisa teaches classes and workshops in a wide variety of settings and leads retreats nationally.

Paloma Cain, MA, has been studying and practicing meditation since 1997. Her work is informed by her studies in Insight Meditation, Tibetan Buddhism, clinical and depth psychology, religious studies and the visual arts. She leads classes, retreats and professional trainings in Mindfulness Meditation.