Simple Pleasures in Meditation and Life

At a meditation retreat, the visiting lama was invited to meditate with the group. Of course he accepted, and in doing so, he said “Why wouldn’t I? What could be more pleasant than sitting in the peaceful state of alert relaxation?” It was a surprising response to some of the participants who hadn’t quite reached the point of finding pleasure in meditation. They knew that meditation is something that is clearly good for you and should be done. To them it was kind of hard and sometimes physically uncomfortable. Sitting for hours in retreat felt like a formidable endeavor, and worry crept in around the edges of the mind as they wondered if they were up to it. But here was this man who was able to be completely at peace in the experience and was able to enjoy it for what it was.

Yes, meditation requires a certain amount of self-discipline. And it may involve moving through some unpleasantness before releasing whatever process brought that to you. But once one gets beyond the worry and self-judgment, it can be quite pleasant, to say the least. Joyful, even ecstatic states may occur. Teachers may warn students not to get attached to those states. But how about we observe our own resistance to the pleasure of just sitting with an open mind while relaxed and alert?

Do you notice any thoughts that impede your meditation? Can you let them go? Can you just notice the pleasure of the experience?

Here is a simple mindfulness practice to orient you toward the pleasure of a moment. Direct your attention to your breath. After you exhale, delay inhaling for a few seconds until you start to feel the urge to inhale. When you do inhale, notice the pleasure that comes from breathing in and satisfying that urge. It may be subtle, but bring the pleasure into focus. Continue to notice the pleasure of the in-breath for a few more breaths.

Then shift your attention to the out-breath. As you exhale, you automatically relax your diaphragm, your ribcage compresses and the air flows out of your lungs. There is really no effort involved. It is all about letting go. That relaxation can be an experience of pleasure. Spend a few breaths attentive to that enjoyable feeling of relaxing with each out breath.

Soon you may notice that the in-breath has it’s pleasure and the out-breath has it’s different pleasure. What was automatic and a necessity, can be a source of enjoyment.

As you go about your day, be open to opportunities to experience a simple pleasure. Activities that we do often become automatic and we may lose awareness that they are pleasant. Eating, grooming the body, moving from place to place, performing simple tasks may contain an element of pleasure that we can lose track of, unless we are mindful of them.

May you have a pleasant day.

We first experienced the mindfulness of “Oxygen Pleasure” and “Relaxation Pleasure” with the help of a student of Shinzen Young.  We also found a longer PDF version of this meditation at the Insight Meditation Center website.

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© 2010 Tom Barrett