Samatha is an important part of many meditative traditions, including Buddhist meditation schools. Although many people practice some form of samatha, most aren’t familiar with the foundation of this important practice and how it differs from mindfulness, insight, and concentration.
What is Samatha?
Samatha is a form of meditation practice that builds tranquility and calmness of mind. The word itself means the slowing down or pacification of the mind, and samatha may be understood to mean the calming and slowing of the mind and its mental objects. It is a foundational practice in Buddhist teachings around meditation, and one that leads to mindfulness, insight, and wisdom.
If you’ve meditated before, you have experienced different levels of samadhi, or concentration. When we develop this one-pointedness of mind, we develop samatha. As we practice samatha meditation, the mind grows calm and patient, able to see experience more clearly. It is a prerequisite for developing insight and wisdom, and samatha practice can help us develop everything from mindfulness and insight to compassion and equanimity.
Why Practice Samatha?
Samatha is an important meditation practice, especially for those beginning a new meditation practice. The purpose of this meditation practice is to develop a mind that rests in calm abiding. When we develop the ability to rest with a mind of ease, we can tune into experience with increased clarity.
Think about your own experience. When your mind is active and reactive, are you seeing clearly? In moments of anxiety, we may find the mind thinking rapidly. We don’t see clearly, and are activated. This is the opposite of what we do in samatha practice.
With samatha, we develop the ability to calm the mind and rest in a state of increased ease. This gives us the ability to practice mindfulness and see the experience without reacting so strongly. When thoughts and other experiences arise, we can observe them with a patient awareness and develop some insight. Samatha is a necessary practice to develop a calm mind that can cultivate insight and wisdom.
With samatha practice, we can develop deeper wisdom and insight. It also can be beneficial to us in daily life. We are able to ground ourselves during our days, rest in a state of ease, and decrease our levels of anxiety and stress. Samatha practice over time can lead us to a state of increased calmness.
Check out our page of Anxiety Quotes for some great thoughts about anxiety and worry.
There are different ways we can practice samatha. The most common way is through the development of samadhi, or concentration. Concentrative meditation is most often done with the practice of observing the breath, but may also be done with the practice of metta meditation.
Through the development of samadhi, we are able to focus the mind on one object. This may be any number of mind-objects, but we most often use the breath in Buddhist practices. Cultivating samadhi means we are able to rest with one object in our experience with ease and one-pointedness of mind. As samadhi develops, the mind grows in ease. As such, samatha practices include mindfulness of the breath (anapanasati).
Below is a traditional concentration practice using counting and the breath, followed by a metta practice. In both of these meditation practices, you can develop samadhi in order to calm the mind.
Samatha and Vipassana
Samatha is a practice that can help us with our vipassana, or insight practices. When we practice samatha and calm the mind, we are able to see experience more clearly. Vipassana practice without a calm mind can be difficult and possibly not even useful. By developing a calm mind, we allow ourselves the opportunity to develop insight and wisdom.
As you build the ability to concentrate on one object and quiet the mind, you can then take that quality of mind and bring it to an open awareness practice. If you are struggling in your mindfulness and insight practices to see clearly, I recommend starting with samatha practice and cultivating a mind that is more at ease and able to focus on your experience!
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Right intention is an important part of the Buddhist path, and one of the factors on the Noble Eightfold Path. Sometimes referred to as Wise Intention, Wise Resolve, or Wise Thought, this is traditionally the second factor on the path. I recently wrote a talk about the subject for our Thursday night group at the center, and thought I would write a post about the subject as well.
Right Intention in the Suttas
The Pali term we translate as right intention is samma sankappo, and is often translated as wise or right (samma) thought or intention (sankappo). As a part of the eightfold path, it is a foundational Buddhist teaching, and something about which the Buddha spoke repeatedly. Here is a beautiful and clear definition of this teaching directly from the Buddhist suttas, courtesy of AccessToInsight:
“And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill-will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve.”
The Buddha also spoke of practicing mindfulness, recognizing when we have right resolve and wrong resolve:
“And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong resolve as wrong resolve, and right resolve as right resolve. And what is wrong resolve? Being resolved on sensuality, on ill will, on harmfulness. This is wrong resolve…
“One tries to abandon wrong resolve & to enter into right resolve: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong resolve & to enter & remain in right resolve: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right resolve.”
This points toward the intricate way in which the different factors of the path are related to one another. We recognize when our thoughts and intentions are unwholesome, and work to abandon them. When we notice ourselves with unwholesome intentions (such as those for sensual pleasure, ill will, or harmfulness), we practice seeing it clearly (Right View), putting effort forth to abandon it (Right Effort), and recognizing that it is causing us suffering (Right Mindfulness).
In the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta the Buddha encourages his son, Rahula, to reflect on each action of the body, of speech, and of thought before acting, while acting, and after acting. This sutta encourages us to connect with our intentions and actions, how they are inter-related, and how they can cause suffering or liberation.
The Basics of Right Intention
We can take the Buddha’s words on wise intention and incorporate them into our daily lives. We can start with the traditional teaching of wise intention as the intentions of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness. These three intentions build the foundation of this teaching. We can investigate these intentions in our own experience, and see how they fuel our actions and speech.
When we’re a beginner to mindfulness, we may not see clearly how our intentions give rise to our actions. The Buddhist teaching on wise intention is intimately connected with wise action, as our intentions and thoughts often give rise to the ways in which we behave. Thus, as we purify our intentions, we can act from a place of kindness and wisdom.
The first intention offered traditionally is the intention of renunciation. This word may mean something different to a monastic than it does to a layperson, but the core of it remains the same. When you hear the word renunciation, you may think of the monk or nun who gives up worldly possession in pursuit of a spiritual life. Renunciation here is the intention, not necessarily the actual action.
In Buddhism, renunciation means we let go of attachment. Let’s say you are a layperson, living in a city. You likely have a roof over your head, food to eat, and water to drink. But you also may have a nice cell phone, a car, many clothes, etc. To practice renunciation doesn’t mean you need to get rid of these extras. Rather, you can cultivate non-attachment to these things. Attachment and clinging are one of the three unwholesome roots that lead to suffering.
In my experience, renunciation comes from a place of understanding what karma is. When we cling to things (material or spiritual), we are creating the conditions of suffering. We can cling to things like our cell phone, our favorite outfit, or the ease of mind from meditation. With right intention, we resolve to let go of these attachments, not to get rid of everything!
One of my favorite teachings on letting go and the inevitable uncertainty of experience comes from Ajahn Chah:
“Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”
The second traditional wise intention is that of good will. This is taught as the opposite of ill-will, or wishing for others to be in pain. This can help us understand good will as the simple wish for others to be happy. If this sounds familiar to you, it may be because this is one understanding of metta, the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness. As one of the four brahma-viharas this is an important practice that helps us care for the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us.
In relation to right intention, we can check in with our intentions to see if we are wishing for others to be free and well, if we are wishing for others to experience suffering, or if we fall into indifference regarding the wellbeing of others or ourselves. We use mindfulness to recognize where our intentions are in a given moment, and to abandon the unwholesome intentions. We also can practice metta meditation in order to cultivate a mind and heart inclined toward caring and good will.
The third and final intention is that of harmlessness. This includes harmlessness in actions, speech, and thought. We may understand this harmlessness as observing the training rules offered in the five precepts. A basic way to practice harmlessness, the five precepts offer us a way to take care of ourselves and our community.
With wise intention, we intend to cause no harm to other beings. We can watch when we intend to cause harm and when we are mindless about our intentions and their relation to causing harm. Sometimes we fall into craving or clinging and forget our intention to cause no harm. The cultivation of the intention of harmlessness comes through seeing clearly, compassion practice, and consistent awareness of our intentions and actions.
Cultivating Wise Intention
Like any other teaching in Buddhist tradition, right intention is to be understood, worked with, and cultivated. It isn’t just a teaching about which we read and suddenly awaken. Rather, we put effort forth to cultivate this quality. As we practice more and more, wise intention comes more naturally.
Renunciation and Letting Go
To practice the intention of renunciation and letting go, we can do a few things. First, we can of course practice meditation! Below is a meditation on letting go you can use to cultivate this quality of renunciation.
We can also use mindfulness to notice the impermanence of experience, and how we cling and crave. Furthermore, we can tune into how our clinging and craving cause suffering. This understanding and wisdom can help us recognize in daily life when we fall into the intention of getting more, holding on, or avoiding. When we notice these intentions, we can make an effort to replace the thought with a thought of non-clinging or non-attachment.
Goodwill and Harmlessness
Metta practice really is one of the best ways we can cultivate the intention of good will. This is essentially the foundation of the teaching of metta. Here is a metta practice you can try. As we practice cultivating this quality more and more, we fall into the intention of caring for the wellness of others more easily.
Compassion practice can also help us to cultivate a wise and caring heart toward suffering, and lead us to the intention of harmlessness. When we tune in with wisdom to the experience of suffering, we see how painful it is. Below is a compassion practice you can use to cultivate a mind and heart inclined toward caring about suffering.
With harmlessness, it may be helpful to investigate the five precepts as a practice and investigation. Where do these precepts feel difficult for you? How can you use the precepts as the jumping-off point for an investigation into your intentions of harmlessness in the world?
Connecting Intention and Action
We can use the Buddha’s teachings to Rahula and reflect on our actions before, during, and after we act. Part of this is looking at the intention behind our actions. Were we acting out of love and wisdom, or out of fear and instinct? As we begin to cultivate wholesome intentions, we can see our actions follow suit.
One of the best examples of this is the teaching of generosity. In Buddhism, there are two separate qualities: dana and caga. Dana is generosity, and refers to the act of giving in a wholesome manner. Caga is the state of mind and heart which is inclined toward giving. When we cultivate a generous heart (caga), we practice generosity (dana) more often. This is a perfect illustration of how an intention can lead to an action, and how they are inter-related.
As we cultivate wisdom, loving-kindness, and compassion, the heart grows more inclined toward giving. As we grow in caga we take more generous action. It’s the same with many other things. When we cultivate anger or allow it to control us, we take more actions out of anger. When we cultivate the intention of ease and freedom, we take actions that lead us toward happiness.
One of the best ways we can use this as an investigation is by reflecting on actions we are taking or have taken. What was the intention behind it? Sometimes we may find our intention was not clear to us in the given moment. This is an opportunity to practice right intention and really bring your intentions to the forefront of your awareness. Does this intention lead to wholesome states and ease? If it doesn’t, don’t encourage it by acting upon it!
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Meditation doesn’t grant you with a superpower but makes your mind clean and life happy. This is your key to a joyful and fruitful life you’ve been always dreaming about.
Today a modern person needs at least 48 hours per day. It is a necessity to manage everyday healthy homemade food, career, family, sport, meetings with friends, reading and a healthy sleep without a rush. How does meditation help to manage all this within 24 hours? By clearing your mind from disruptive thoughts and helping to obtain the inner peace.
Value of meditation
Sitting in a quiet place for fifteen minutes without any thoughts in your head is called the art of meditation. Sounds simple? Try it, and in thirty seconds you will notice how many disruptive thoughts you have. They usually appear from nowhere and sound like this: “Am I fully relaxed?”, “I am relaxing! Cool!”, “How do I look?”, “Did I close the front door?”, “What if I doing something wrong and fail?”, “How long have I already been sitting like this?”. These thoughts are dangerous because a person doesn’t notice them. There are a few techniques to get rid of them.
Free your mind
Does meditation help to free your mind? Yes, this is a perfect way to concentrate and free your head from everything. You start to finish your day with a clear mind which is much more productive and efficient than an overloaded one. Everyday practice is perfect for mental health. By starting doing it, people usually can’t imagine life without it because there is no other way to get rid of the messy and violent hurricane of thoughts and emotions in your mind and soul. Most CEO celebrities like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, were and are doing it.
Count your breath
How meditation helps to find the life balance? By regulating your deep breathing. The first, most common and simple technique to start the practice is counting you inhales. It is the thing that every Buddhist monk will recommend you to do to find the concentration and the inner peace. Start with ten deep inhales and exhales in a lotus pose. Count them out loud. Once you succeed, start counting them up to ten and then from ten back to one. It is the primary technique, to begin with.
Find your body center
You don’t have to learn or know the plenty of Buddhist notions to understand the main idea. What does meditating do to give you the sense of freedom and happiness? It helps you to find your center where the inner peace is located. Revealing inner peace will grant you with the sense of joy and security. The center of the body is considered to be a point under the belly button. Meditation changes not only your mind but also your body. You start to feel it and listen to its signals. A healthy concentration is a key to healthy thoughts and body.
Relax your muscles
What does meditation do for you? It helps you to feel every single muscle in your body. This is another amazing aftereffect which can only be reached with a constant everyday practice. Feeling and acknowledging your body makes you healthier. You ask how meditation can help me to relax in a lotus pose? It is not the most convenient one. Yes, muscles are working to keep your back and head straight, but all the other muscles of face, arms, hands, legs, stomach, shoulders can be relaxed. Close your eyes and investigate every single muscle with your inner eye to reveal from unnecessary tension.
Regular practice is a key to regular happiness
After a few days, weeks or month of regular practice you will find your understanding of what is meditation and how to do it to make your busy day more fruitful and less stressful. You can get rid of disruptive thoughts already during the first practice, but take your time if it didn’t happen yet. By experiencing all the benefits of meditation, you will have a chance to experience the art of healthy, happy and level life with maximum productivity. Try it once, and you will never stop doing it.
Bryan Davis is a psychologist, a freelance writer at https://edubirdie.com/ and Buddhist. He spent five years in Sri Lanka finding the perfect way of adding the practice to everyday busy life. The principles he has recognized are widely used by many business people and by him personally. He believes that it is the only clear mind that helps us to gain all the goals we set and not to dive deep into daily duties.
What Am I Doing with My Life? – Dealing with the Unknown
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What am I doing with my life?” I certainly have. We hear this quite a bit in our groups from our students. I was asked last week again about what to do with these thoughts and feelings when they arise, and thought I would write a bit about it.
It of course can be an overwhelming question when it arises, and I’ve found that my mindfulness practice can help me deeply with it. We may seek career counseling, advice from a mentor, or try many different things. Here’s a bit about my experience with this question and how meditation and mindfulness can help us.
My Personal Journey (So Far)
I haven’t always had a clear idea of what I would like to do with my life, and still don’t always. When I got sober at 19 I had a criminal record, a high school diploma, and a bunch of tattoos. I worked jobs that came my way, including an assistant in the real estate industry, a residential assistant at a sober living home, and a writer for a psychology website. During these times, I really did not wonder what I was going to do with my life, as I was young and happy just to be supporting myself.
In the years since, I have found myself continually returning to this question. I worked for years in the addiction treatment industry because it was an industry that was willing to hire individuals without clean backgrounds and with tattoos, but I never really loved it. I did love being present for suffering addicts, but enforcing rules I didn’t necessarily believe in was not my idea of an ideal job.
A few years ago, I began seeing a bit more clearly what I wanted with my life. As my practice took off and I fell into the role of teaching more often, I knew I wanted to work with meditation. As I worked in a position that was mostly enforcing rules and lacked any sense of intellectual stimulation or challenge, I knew I wanted to engage more mentally with my work.
I quit my “day job” to pursue my passions a few years ago. I began taking One Mind Dharma (then called The Easier Softer Way) a bit more seriously, and working in online marketing by answering Craiglist ads. Since then, I have worked with an awesome team to create One Mind Dharma into what it is today and started an SEO (search engine optimization) company. I’m able to spend my days working with meditation and dharma, and engaging my brain with the processes involved in bringing websites to the top of Google search results.
I cannot say for certain what I will do with the rest of my life, but I have learned a lot about dealing with this uncertainty and everything that comes along with it.
One of the biggest places of investigation for me surrounding this question is my sense of identity. How much of your identity is built around what you do for work? What about what you do for fun? Your spiritual/religious practice? Identity has value in moments. We connect with other people who share similar identities, find a sense of safety and understanding, and discover refuge. For me, this has been the sangha, or community of meditators. It has been my friends in the SEO and digital marketing industry.
We often take experiences and use them to form a sense of identity. A foundational Buddhist teaching is that of anatta, or not-self. Although this topic deserves its own discussion, it most simply is the idea that everything is without a stable self. We change, are fluid, and the sense of self we create is just that: created.
My work life is a huge contributor to the identity I create for myself. I identify myself as an SEO and a meditation teacher. I also use my work ethic and behavior in the workplace as a building block for identity. Of course there’s my relationship, and my identity as a husband and partner. Although these may be relatively wholesome uses of my time, it’s not entirely useful. Sometimes I get stuck in a fixed view about who I am, closing myself off to different experiences or the fluidity of life.
We also have pressure from ourselves, family, and society to be something perhaps. We’re pushed to do something specific with our lives and time, and this can impact our sense of self. We use comparison with others, with ourselves, and with our thoughts about where we “should” be. Instead of being present for our experience, we fall into the habit of self-judgement, comparison, and constant distress.
Try to notice when you are creating a sense of identity for yourself. It’s not to judge it as bad or wrong, but just notice it. Does it feel useful? What purpose does it serve? Again, remember that the goal isn’t to judge, but to notice what is happening in your experience.
Dealing with the Unknown in Life
We will always have unknowns in life. The future is quite often a mystery. Part of life is dealing with unknowns. We can find ourselves experiencing an immense amount of suffering over trying to figure out the future. This can lead to anxiety, stress, and fear. We want to control things that are often uncontrollable.
The first thing to recognize here is that we do have some power over the future. Robert T. Kiyosaki said, “Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.” This points toward the law of karma, or cause and effect. We do have the ability to take action today to affect the future we experience. Although we cannot control every variable, we can make choices today to push ourselves toward a place that feels wholesome. When I wanted to engage my mind more, I answered online ads for digital marketing until I was able to create a legitimate business.
We can also practice meditation and begin to notice our tendency to seek to control. A concentration practice can help us to collect the mind and learn to see the experience of resting in the unknown more clearly. Body scans can help us to cultivate the ability to see more clearly when we are experiencing some suffering in the mind and body. General mindfulness meditation can train the mind to be aware and caring when discomfort arises.
Facing the unknown is one of the greatest measures of my practice that I have experienced. To rest in the unknown with some equanimity takes practice, and I certainly am not always good at it. With continual practice, we can recognize there is an unknown in our life without letting it eat us away or control our behavior.
Responding with Compassion
The truth is that this can be painful, and we don’t always have an answer. Sometimes we find ourselves working a job we don’t love, dating somebody we can’t see ourselves with forever, or living somewhere that doesn’t work well for us. These moments of realization offer fertile ground for realization and awakening. We can work on cultivating a heart and mind that respond with a gentle letting go.
We hold views about who we should be, what we should be experiencing, or even what will make us happy. When we believe these thoughts, we suffer. We hold onto ideas about ourselves and miss out on life when we hold too tightly. We get stuck on something and miss the moments of happiness and joy that arise. It’s quite unpleasant, and we often respond by judging ourselves.
Compassion meditation for ourselves can be incredibly helpful. We can work to respond with more care and kindness when we’re experiencing something unpleasant. As we cultivate compassion, we become less reactive and are able to see the situation with more clarity and wisdom. We can see that these are just thoughts. As uncomfortable as they may be, we don’t need to hook into each and every one. Instead, we can respond with a wise compassion for the discomfort we’re experiencing.
When it comes down to it, we don’t need to know the answer to what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives. We can have an idea of what we’d like for ourselves and an understanding of what brings us ease and joy, but we will never truly know what the future holds. Instead of worrying ourselves to death, we can work with this experience and learn to respond with some compassionate curiosity.
There are many different types of meditation practice. One form is concentrative meditation practices, or practices that help us to build the ability to focus. There are many different ways we can cultivate concentration, although the most popular practice involves the traditional observing of the breath.
What is Concentration Meditation?
Concentration meditation is a form of meditation in which we train the mind to focus on one object. Concentration is an important part of Buddhist meditation, and can be useful outside the context of the Buddha’s teachings as well. It is believe that the Buddha himself was practicing concentration meditation when he became fully enlightened. Wise concentration is one of the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.
In concentration meditation, we are cultivating an ability to be with what is present in front of us for a specific period of time. It’s important to understand that it is a practice in which we are training the mind, so it’s natural that the mind wanders from time to time. As we continue to practice, we are able to focus for longer periods.
Concentration is cultivated by returning to the object of our awareness when the mind wanders. When the mind becomes active, we simply leave the thoughts or experience be and return to the object on which we are concentrating. Every time we bring the mind back, we are strengthening our ability to concentrate. We eventually grow able to leave the thoughts be and not hook into them in the first place through repeated practice with concentrative meditation.
Mindfulness vs. Concentration Meditation
Mindfulness and concentration are not the same thing, and are often misunderstood. Concentration is the quality of collectedness or one-pointedness. Mindfulness is an open awareness of what is arising in one’s experience, with the recognition of its level of wholesomeness.
Let’s take the sound of this singing bowl below. In mindfulness, you would likely notice the arising and passing of the sound, while also noticing if anything else comes up in your experience such as feelings in the body, thoughts, mental states, or other sounds. In concentration, we stick specifically with the sound from beginning to end. See if you can listen to the sound from the moment it begins to the moment it fades, and notice your experience with trying to stay concentrated.
Concentration and mindfulness differ in the expansiveness of our awareness. In mindfulness practice, we notice what is arising. In concentrative meditation, we collect the mind onto one object. Although different qualities, we use them both together often. In concentration meditation, we need mindfulness to know when the mind has wandered. In mindfulness meditation, we need some level of concentration to be able to focus on what arises in our experience.
Guided Meditations and Practices
There are many practices that can be beneficial in building concentration. The traditional practice involves working with the breath, and perhaps is the most well-known form of meditation. However, there are other ways we can build concentration. Below are a few practices that can be helpful. We offer more instructions and practices for concentration in our recent post 5 Practices for Building Concentration in Meditation.
This is a short practice in working with the breath to help build concentration. This is the most popular form of concentration meditation in Buddhism, and this practice comes from our 5 Minute Meditation Practices CD.
Metta meditation is the practice of cultivating loving-kindness, and is one of the Buddhist heart practices. Although it may not be thought of as a concentrative meditation practice, many teachers use metta as a way to build concentration. Rather than using the breath as the object of awareness, you can use the phrases of metta as the object.
Meditation on Letting Go
Letting go is certainly not a traditional concentrative meditation practice, but it can be helpful. As we cultivate the ability to see what is arising and leave it be, the mind no longer grabs onto each experience with such strength. This can help us in our concentration practice.
We also have a free concentration meditation script available here, which you may download to read yourself or for a group.
Hindrances to Concentration
There are traditionally five hindrances we face in developing concentration. These hindrances are:
Restlessness and Worry
Sloth and Torpor
The first hindrance, sensual desire, is the simple desiring for pleasant experiences. The second, ill-will, is the desiring to be free from unpleasant experiences. In meditation practice, we may notice ourselves liking and disliking, taking us away from the concentration.
Restlessness and worry are physical and mental states (respectively) in which we have too much energy that is unfocused. Sloth and torpor are similarly physical and mental states, but with the quality of low energy. The fifth hindrance, doubt, may arise as doubt in ourselves, our teachers, meditation in general, or the teachings.
With all five hindrances, the traditional teaching is to notice that they are present in order to free ourselves from their grip. Simply by noticing we are experiencing one of these hindrances, we free ourselves from its grip. If you find yourself tired, over-energized, or falling into any other hindrance, you can note it. Sometimes simply saying, “I am experiencing _________” to ourselves is enough to take its power away.
Tips for Cultivating Concentration
It’s not easy to cultivate concentration. Many of our students sit with concentration meditation and find it quite difficult and eventually give up. Here are a few tips for you in your cultivation of a focused mind.
We have to be patient when cultivating concentration. When I began meditating, my sitting periods were largely full of me fighting with my mind. Remember that this practice, like other meditation practices, takes time. Watch out for the tendency to fall into greed and craving, as wanting a concentrated mind too much can actually be a hindrance to concentration!
I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to strain in concentrative meditation practices, and many students report the same. Rather than straining to stay concentrated, try to bring a sense of gentleness for your practice. Imagine resting your awareness on the breath rather than forcing your awareness on the breath.
It’s Not a Competition
Meditation practice is a cultivation, a training of the mind. When you sit in concentration practices, it’s not about showing off how concentrated you are. Rather, you’re working to build the ability to concentrate. Remember this and allow yourself to grow. If your mind was already able to concentrate perfectly, you wouldn’t need meditation to begin with! Every time your mind wanders and you bring it back, it’s an opportunity to grow in the ability to focus. Treat it as a gift rather than an obstacle, and be proud of yourself for bringing the awareness back.
I’ve found that concentration is a quality that really strengthens with repeated practice. Although this may be said for many qualities we cultivate in meditation practices, it seems in my experience to be especially true with concentration. Try to practice regularly. If you’re doing other forms of meditation, start with a few minutes of concentration first.
Notice the Hindrances
We tend to have hindrances that arise repeatedly. I often fall into doubt and desire, while Elizabeth falls into restlessness and worry or sloth and torpor. As you practice, just watch what arises. You may begin to notice that one or two hindrances are arising more often than others. When you recognize your habit energies, you can grow in your ability to work with them.
Listen to Guidance
Finally, listening to guidance can be a great way to go. There are many meditations on YouTube and apps like Insight Timer. We also have some concentration practices on our meditation CD’s. Listening to guidance can help you stay on track, learn the practice, and get a hold of what works for you.
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“Journaling is like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time.” -Mina Murray
Our meditation practice clears the constant stream of mental chatter, opening pathways for us to journey to a state of mindful awareness, present to all of life’s opportunities. When we are present, we are fully connected to ourselves and the world around us. We are tapped in to the source within us that holds boundless creativity and unlimited potential. A meditation journal can be an incredible tool for recording insights, documenting our process, and providing ourselves within an outlet for expression.Keeping a meditation journal can help you to:
Connect With Your Inner Guidance
There is a voice deep down inside of you that is yearning to speak its truth! This is the aspect of you that holds all of the answers to any questions that you may have. You can access any information you are seeking simply by tuning into this deep, inner knowing and allowing yourself to receive. Our conscious minds are usually overloaded with information regarding the ins and outs of our daily lives. It is all too easy to lose ourselves in mountainous to-do lists and excessive advice from external sources. With meditation, we drop the baggage of the over-stimulated mind and slip into the still, serene abyss of intuitive perception. Try meditating on a specific question or simply asking for any important information to come though. Remain calm and open, waiting for the answer to arise. It might show up as a full-body sensation. A voice. An image.Be receptive and non-judgmental. Use your journal to record whatever comes to you. Let it flow uninterrupted – there is no need to criticize or critique. This is pure, free-form expression. When practiced enough, you will sense a clear distinction between the interjections of the ego and the sweet musings of spirit.
Release Subconscious Patterns and Conditioning
Our subconscious mind keeps a record of everything that has ever happened to us. It is a gigantic storehouse of every memory, every emotion, every experience that we have ever collected during our entire lifetime. If we don’t take the time to consciously clear ourselves of our past conditioning, we overflow with outdated, irrelevant information that could be taking up valuable space. Meditation frees up the mind and journaling allows the stagnant, subconscious material to flow and release from its confines. Try closing your eyes, putting your pen to the paper and seeing where your hand is lead. There is no right or wrong here – just mindful movement and meditative release.
Document Your Process
One of the effects of existing as a human being is riding the complex wave of emotions swept our way each day. We are able to feel on-top-of-the-world elation, earth-shattering devastation, and everything else that presents itself in between. It is safe to say that each day holds a unique set of emotions that ultimately influence our perceptions and actions. If we can shift our perspective to one of neutral observation, we begin to notice what influences our day-to-day interactions with the world. We view our lives from a place of non-judgmental witnessing where we can make choices that will benefit our highest good. By keeping a journal of your meditation sessions and current states of being, you accumulate valuable insights into what may be triggering reactional behavior or strong emotional responses. You start to appreciate the depth and remarkable range of your ability to feel, allowing for healthy processing and acceptance of all states of being.
Manifest Your Visions
Meditation opens the channels for visions, ideas, and insights to arise spontaneously. Having a journal at the ready to record whatever comes is a definite way to anchor creative conceptions into the present moment. This process teaches us to immediately act on our ideas, to actualize our dreams in waking reality. We give definition and physical form to intellectual concepts, exercising our ability to actively create our best possible personal and collective lives. We can also look back on past insights and gain inspiration in the present. The most influential teacher is the one within us, sprouting seeds of wisdom when we least expect it.
“Journaling has become one of the most gratifying and fulfilling practices of my life. Not only do I derive the daily benefits of consciously directing my thoughts and putting them in writing, but even more powerful are those I have gained from reviewing my journals.” – Hal Elrod
About the Author:
Morgan Zelmer is an artist, yoga instructor, meditation guide, and the founder of Art Form Yoga, a system designed to connect one with their utmost creative potential. She blends traditional yogic practices with innovative forms of artistic expression through empowerment sessions, workshops, and events.
Try as you might, you may never perfect the art of meditation in your lifetime. This is why it is called a practice. With effort and experience, you can become skilled at calming and quieting the mind, but there are common obstacles that can hinder progress.
In Buddhist tradition, there are five known factors that hinder progress in meditation.
Sensory desire (kāmacchanda)
This obstacle covers the type of wanting where a person seeks happiness through the five senses of sight, sound, taste, smell, and feeling. Sensory desire can manifest itself in various ways, including:
When you are attached to external pleasures such as those mentioned above, it is difficult to calm the mind. People who allow sensory desires to control them cannot have the type of mental control necessary to meditate. If you have a problem with any of the sensory desires, you can strengthen your meditation practice by addressing the problem.
Ill-will (vyāpāda or byāpāda)
People commonly misunderstand the definition of karma. Karma literally means “action” or “deed,” and it refers to the way our thoughts and actions create an energy that is returned to us. There’s a subtle difference between this and the what-goes-around-comes-around definition that society has adopted. Karma is not about revenge. In fact, your desire for revenge will only create negative energy for you.
To strengthen your meditation practice, avoid feelings of hostility, hatred, resentment, and bitterness. The following are thoughts, desires, and intentions that foster ill will and will hinder your ability to meditate:
Feelings of ill will are some of the hardest to control. This is why they are so harmful in a meditative practice. Be mindful of your thoughts and try to redirect any negativity throughout your day. This should help keep your mind strong for meditating.
We’ve all had days where we sat on the couch with our hand in a bowl of popcorn actively dreading anything that challenges our “relaxation.” Although this may feel good in the moment, it probably isn’t true relaxation. Heaviness of the body and dullness of the mind will halt your natural flow of inertia and may even usher you into a state of depression.
If you are guilty of the following two sloth-and-torpor activities, they are likely hindering your meditation practice.
Lack of exercise
Mindless activities (tv watching)
Anyone who has attempted meditation knows that it’s difficult to calm the mind. It’s even more difficult for people who succumb to restlessness and worry. Worrying thoughts spread like wildfire in the mind. Before long, they have taken over, and it’s difficult to recover. The more you let your mind wander towards thoughts of worry, the more difficult it will be to meditate. Think of your mind as a muscle. Every time you can reign in your restless thoughts, you are strengthening that muscle. Keep practicing.
Be on the lookout for the following thoughts and feelings that exacerbate restlessness and worry.
If you’re having trouble controlling anxiety or worrying thoughts, it may help to talk to a counselor.
Have you ever been so unsure of yourself or a decision that it’s all you can think about? Did I make the right choice? Is it too late to change my mind? These thoughts are normal, but they can get in the way of your meditation practice. If you have a general lack of conviction or trust in yourself, this is something you should work on. When self-confidence replaces self-doubt, you’ll find it much easier to achieve a state of calm relaxation. People who doubt themselves tend to feel a responsibility to overthink problems from all angles. The biggest problem with this behavior is that it can proceed without an end. Learn to avoid the following conditions, and you’ll spend more time in the present moment with a quiet mind.
Lack of confidence
Worrying about what other people think
Although many common obstacles are outlined here, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. You may find other ways that you are doubting yourself or succumbing to sensory desires. Any thoughts, intentions or behaviors that fall into the above five categories can hinder your meditation practice.
Awareness is always the first step in combating these obstacles. Once you understand exactly how and why your mind is being overstimulated, you can begin to address the individual problems and strengthen your practice.
How you address each obstacle will depend on your situation, strength and resolve. You may need help in the form of counseling to address one or all of these issues, and that is ok. Your ultimate goal is to gain control over these obstacles in order to strengthen and calm your mind.
This is a journey, and only you know how to reach your destination.
Check out our page of doubt quotes for more thoughts from leaders and teachers about doubt.
Refuge Recovery is a relatively new program founded by Noah Levine. Noah is a Buddhist teacher who has authored several books, including the Refuge Recovery book. His organizations Dharma Punx and Against the Stream have helped many people discover meditation, find recovery, and begin investigating the dharma. Together with a team of teachers and individuals in recovery, he crafted the Refuge Recovery program.
Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist approach to recovery that utilizes the Four Noble Truths to help individuals recover from the suffering of addiction. Like many other support groups for recovery, there are regular meetings, a basic text and literature, a mentorship relationship, and a program of action to take. Noah and many of the people who helped craft Refuge Recovery have experience with other recovery programs, and perhaps brought some of their experience to this new offering. Although based on Buddhist teachings, all are welcome and absolutely no experience with meditation or Buddhism is required.
My Experience with Refuge Recovery
I found Refuge Recovery when I was relatively new to recovery. I was pretty active in Alcoholics Anonymous in early recovery. I went to meetings regularly, had a sponsor, took others through the steps, had commitments, served on service committees, attended conferences, and stayed as involved as possible. However, I consistently felt like something was missing.
Although I did not see it clearly at the time, I believe I was trying different things in an attempt to make it work for me. I didn’t feel quite right, and tried doing things like taking a commitment on the General Service Board, getting a panel with Hospital and Institutions, and working my steps again. However, I found myself still just feeling like something wasn’t clicking right for me.
At the time, there was no book or Refuge Recovery program. There were simply Buddhist recovery groups at Against the Stream in Santa Monica. I had read Dharma Punx, and read Noah’s other books as they were released. When I began attending these Buddhist recovery meetings, I immediately felt more comfortable. Noah was there at one of my first meetings, and shared an idea central to Refuge Recovery: all beings have the power and potential to free themselves from the suffering of addiction.
As an atheist who struggled with the issue of a higher power in twelve-step, this really landed with me. It’s not that I thought I was all-powerful or could do it by myself, but the idea of turning my recovery over to a supernatural power just didn’t sit well with me. This new approach of taking action, responsibility, and control over my recovery really reached me and made me feel comfortable.
When I stopped going to twelve-step meetings, I caught a lot of crap from people. When I would see people around town or at Refuge meetings, I was often told that I had to come back to AA in order to stay sober. However, my sponsor in AA at the time perhaps said the most useful thing to me during this time. He was an old-school Big Book thumper with 35+ years of recovery in twelve-step, and told me that as long as I had a community of people to support me and was taking care of myself, he was happy for me. Although it was a difficult transition, I ended up going to Refuge meetings regularly, and letting go of the twelve-step program which didn’t really work for me anymore.
I will say that I am not here to bash twelve-step. It helped me greatly in early recovery. However, there came a point where it really didn’t feel healthy for my recovery anymore. When I found Refuge Recovery, the program resonated much more immediately and deeply with me, and it simply made sense. This isn’t to say that Refuge is the right answer for everyone. However, it has been my answer and the foundation of my recovery.
The Refuge Program
The Refuge Recovery program is relatively similar in format to other recovery programs like twelve-step. There is a book, Refuge Recovery, a mentorship relationship, and steps to take. Although I have never directly asked Noah or any of the founding teachers, it is my belief that they took much of what works about twelve-step in constructing this program. There are guiding principles, inventories, similar meeting formats, and a main office. In the last year or so, meeting directories have been printed, pamphlets made, and guidelines laid out.
In the Refuge Recovery program, the work is based on the Four Truths of Recovery, which are the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths adapted to be understood in the context of recovery. Meditation practice is encouraged, and the book offers some meditation scripts and suggested practices. There are also many instructions for those who are beginners to meditation practice.
Refuge Recovery meetings are generally pretty similar to other recovery meetings. There is a meeting format, time for participation, and a structure. Some meetings have a speaker and discussion, while others consist of some readings from the book. Generally, meetings begin with a guided meditation. Although I’m sure this isn’t true across the board, my experience with these Buddhist recovery meetings is that they tend to be more focused on growth and finding solutions than many twelve-step meetings I have been to. The principles discussed are often deeper than just drinking and using, and may involve mindfulness, compassion, equanimity, and a number of other topics.
Getting Started with Refuge Recovery
If you’re new to Refuge Recovery or interested in getting started, I recommend getting the book and finding a Refuge meeting near you. The book really lays out the program well, and a meeting can help you connect with those who know a bit about the program. You can also join the Refuge Recovery Facebook group if you’re on Facebook.
Differences Between 12 Step and Refuge Recovery
There are a few big differences between Refuge Recovery and the popular twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. First, Refuge Recovery teaches that recovery from drug addiction does not require reliance on a higher power. Instead, we use the practices of mindfulness, compassion, and other Buddhist principles to help us relieve the suffering. This doesn’t mean we go it alone. Sangha, or community, is an important part of the program, much as fellowship is in twelve-step groups. However, Refuge Recovery does not involve a reliance on any power greater than ourselves. Rather, we utilize the teachings of the Buddha to free ourselves from suffering.
Another big difference between Refuge Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous lies in the understanding of addiction and recovery. Twelve-step groups teach us how to turn our will and our lives over to a higher power in order to stay sober, and that we are always addicts or alcoholics. Refuge Recovery, on the other hand, gives us a set of tools to see experience more clearly, release ourselves from the bondage of addiction, and move forward in our lives. Seeing clearly is the point of mindfulness meditation, and Refuge helps us to look at the causes and conditions behind our addiction. The difference here is that Refuge doesn’t repeatedly demand we go to meetings for the rest of our lives, but encourages us to continue in our practice as we build a life in recovery.
The final difference I often see in Refuge meetings is that all are welcome. In many twelve-step groups, individuals are encouraged to stay on-topic to the program’s specific substance. That is, people are discouraged from talking about “outside issues” and other drugs at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Refuge meetings may have people who are heroin addicts, alcoholics, survivors of trauma, in recovery from a mental health disorder, or there because they have a loved one who is suffering from one of these things. In essence, meetings are generally open, and there is less differentiation between how our suffering manifests.
As Refuge Recovery is an important part of our lives here at One Mind Dharma, we do recommend checking it out! If you have any questions about the program, are looking for a mentor, or want help finding a meeting, please reach out to us!
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Many people are interested in the correct posture for meditation. Although you may think of meditation and think of the traditional sitting posture, we really can meditate in almost any posture at all. There are pros and cons of meditating lying down, and we all have to investigate for ourselves what is useful. We’ll offer some thoughts about it and a few practices that may work well for when you need to relax or lie down. To answer the question “Can you meditate lying down?” we will look at the Buddha’s suggestions, our experience, and a few tips we’ve found to be useful.
What the Buddha Says
Despite the common image of somebody sitting in full lotus posture, the Buddha actually instructed his followers to practice in multiple postures. In the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha’s words on establishing mindfulness, the Buddha spoke of establishing mindfulness in multiple positions. Specifically, the text reads:
And further, monks, a monk knows, when he is going, “I am going”; he knows, when he is standing, “I am standing”; he knows, when he is sitting, “I am sitting”; he knows, when he is lying down, “I am lying down”; or just as his body is disposed so he knows it.
In many other discourses, the Buddha suggested we bring awareness to the posture of the body, whether we are sitting, standing, moving, or lying down. Although this is not the primary posture for meditation practice in the Buddhist tradition, it is explicitly mentioned. When we begin looking at the Buddhist teachings, we can see that alertness and awareness are essential, and sloth and torpor are major hindrances. As such, we may want to be careful in choosing a posture, as we don’t want to fall into sleepiness or laziness.
The Downside of Meditating Lying Down
Before we jump into the pros and cons of meditating while lying down, it’s worth noting that we are all individuals with different experiences, and you should not take our word for what works or does not! In our experience, lying down can lead to sleepiness rather quickly. This is probably the largest downside, and one you may or may not find in your own meditation practice. Part of the purpose of meditation is to develop clarity and insight, and this may be hard to do when the mind grows tired.
When we lie down and close our eyes, we are most often sleeping. The mind and body know this, so when we do this to meditate, we may fall into sleep mode. If we are practicing mindfulness meditation, this can be a problem. However, if we’re meditating to fall asleep this can actually be a benefit. In general, the posture of lying down can lead to the hindrance of sloth and torpor arising, and this is something to watch out for in our practice.
The Benefit of Meditating Lying Down
On the other hand, lying down for a period of meditation may be a good fit for some people. One of the chief benefits people find from meditating while lying down is that it can promote relaxation and ease. If you’re doing a type of meditation to fall asleep, lying down may be the obvious choice. It can also help when we’re experiencing anxiety or restlessness, as the relaxed posture puts the body at ease.
There are also cases in which meditation lying down is much more accessible. Whether you have a condition which prevents you from sitting, chronic pain in the back or legs, or headaches, you may find that lying down is much more conducive to relaxation and clarity than sitting. There are many cases in which people find much more ease and concentration in one position than another.
Finding a Meditation Posture that Works
One of my favorite Buddhist symbols is the unalome, which represents the path to enlightenment. The reason I like this symbol so much is that it seems to represent the path as a non-linear one. We go different directions, investigate different practices, and use discernment to redirect ourselves. It’s a reminder that we can allow ourselves the space to make mistakes, find things that do not work for us, and continue growing.
You can investigate for yourself how to meditate in bed before sleep, lying down in the afternoon, or whatever works for you. Listen to your body and tune into your mind. As you continue to practice, you will begin to see what is working. Be open to what your body is trying to tell you. You may try a body scan to see what is going on with the body. You can also tune into the mental state to see if you find yourself alert and attentive, anxious and restless, or sleepy and unaware.
Lying Down Meditations
There are a few practices that work well with this posture. You really can try any practice you’d like lying down (other than walking meditation!), but here are a few of our favorites.
Loving-kindness, or metta, is the practice of cultivating a heart that is kind and loving toward people. In this case, we are working on cultivating kindness and gentleness with ourselves. Practicing with metta while lying down can be really beautiful, as we are taking care of ourselves by resting in a relaxing position.
Mindfulness of Breathing
We can also work with the breath while lying down. When we are resting on our backs, we can really tune into the different places in the body in which we can feel the breath. This can be a relaxing practice that works well while lying down!
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There are many Buddhist symbols, with different traditions using unique ones. Stemming from the Buddha’s teachings, the cultures through which Buddhism has passed, and spiritual traditions of the Buddha’s time, the symbols in Buddhism can be quite interesting to learn about! Here are some of our favorite symbols from Buddhism, along with a brief introduction to the history of symbolism in the tradition.
History of Symbolism in Buddhism
The earliest artifacts we have that show Buddhist symbolism come from a the centuries immediately following the Buddha’s death. It is believed that it was during the reign of Emperor Ashoka, a powerful emperor largely responsible for the spread of Buddhism, that people began representing the Buddha’s teachings through symbolism and art. The earliest symbols were the stupa and the wheel of dharma.
The Buddha did not encourage worship or veneration from his followers, and images of the Buddha and his teachings are believed to be rare during his time. However, the Buddha did use many images in his teachings as he did when talking about turning the wheel of dharma. Although the Buddha was well-respected among both monastics and laypeople who followed the dharma, he was not revered as a god or deity. The symbols that did arise after his death were largely images representing his teachings.
As Buddhism began to spread and split into different traditions, symbols became more common. There are symbols and art from when the Greeks came into contact with Buddhism, when Buddhism traveled to China and Japan, and from it’s evolution into different schools. Tibetan Buddhism and Vajrayana are known for strong use of symbols.
The Eight Auspicious Symbols
The Eight Auspicious Symbols come from Mahāyāna traditions, especially in Tibet. The origin is not known exactly, but it is believed to come from Indian traditions pre-dating the Buddha’s life. Some scholars believe it comes from a belief that these are the eight items the brahmin offered to the Buddha after his death. There are various teachings and interpretations, but here are the general beliefs surrounding these eight items.
The Lotus Flower
You’ve likely seen this symbol quite a bit. The lotus flower is a symbol representing the ability we have to live with wisdom and purity above the mucky waters below. Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh has a beautiful saying, “No mud, no lotus.” This reminds us that the lotus grows up out of the muck and into something beautiful. Because of this, the lotus is often used as a symbol of transforming our suffering into liberation.
The Dharma Wheel
The dharma wheel, or dharmachakra, is a common symbol used to represent the Buddha’s teachings. The wheel of dharma often has eight spokes to represent the Noble Eightfold Path. There are many different variations representing different teachings, but the wheel generally represents the dharma, or Buddha’s teachings.
The umbrella or parasol is a symbol of protection in many cultures, and Buddhist tradition is the same. In Buddhism, the symbol of the umbrella is one of protection from harm and evil. It represents the safety and refuge offered by the Buddha, his teachings, and the community.
The two fish, often mislabeled as koi, are generally arowana or another type of carp. They represent our ability to swim free in the ocean of suffering and delusion. Much as fish swim around freely in the vast ocean, this symbol reminds us that we can be free in this world.
The Conch Shell
The conch shell is believed to symbolize the beautiful sound of the dharma being shared. The conch is always portrayed with a spiral to the right, which is considered extremely rare in nature. This represents the rare gift of the Buddha’s teachings to us.
The Victory Banner
The victory banner is exactly what it sounds like. It represents the victory of the Buddhist teachings over ignorance, hatred, anger, delusion, and craving. Many monasteries and retreat centers are decorated with some form of victory banner, and secular buildings in Tibet may contain a victory banner.
The vase, or treasure vase, is a reminder of the potential of the Buddha’s teachings. When we learn to meditate, there is an incredible potential for awakening. From mindfulness and concentration to compassion and loving-kindness, there are many gifts and treasures of practicing the dharma.
The Endless Knot
There are a few different perspectives on the endless knot, or eternal knot. One is that it represents how everything is interrelated in this world. Another is that it represents the never-ending path of the dharma. There is always growth to be achieved, more wisdom to be cultivated, and truth to see.
Other Buddhist Symbols
There are many other commonly-used Buddhist symbols found in different cultures. The symbols and artwork varies greatly between countries and cultures, as can be seen in the difference between Sri Lankan symbolism and Chinese art. Here are a few standard symbols often used in Buddhism and Buddhist cultures.
The Bodhi Tree or Leaf
The Buddha achieved awakening under a type of ficus known as the bodhi tree. The leaf is a symbol of this potential for us all to awaken. The Buddha taught that we all have the seed of awakening, or Buddha-hood, within us. The bodhi leaf is this reminder.
The Buddha’s Footprint
The footprints of the Buddha are a reminder of two things. First, the Buddha was a human being, walking on this planet. This offers us the possibility that we too can awaken. Second, it is a reminder that there is a path to be followed offered by the Buddha.
This is an intensely charged symbol as it was adapted and reversed to represent an extremely hateful and violent movement. In India, the word itself means “good fortune.” Many scholars believe it to represent the sun and cycle of life, while others believe it to be a representation of the Buddha’s path. Many suttas, or sacred texts, were written with this symbol at the beginning.
The eyes of wisdom or Buddha eyes are used to represent the potential to awaken and see clearly. This is the purpose of meditation practice, and an intention of the dharma. This symbol is a representation of an awakened one’s ability to see experience clearly and know deeply.
The Three Jewels
The three jewels are a representation of the three things we take refuge in: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. These are integral pieces of the Buddhist path, and am important part of Buddhism from the beginning.
The unalome is a symbol for the journey to enlightenment. I personally love this symbol, as it reminds us that the path isn’t always straight, perfect, or even in the “right” direction. Our paths to awakening are filled with missteps, lessons to learn, and suffering.
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