What can you learn from Buddhist meditation that you can’t from a meditation App?
My mental health has been a struggle for me in recent years. Nothing severe, I’m one of the lucky ones, but it was enough to make me feel like life was a tar-like fog to wade through, exhausting, lonely and at times dark.
Then, by chance or should I say by some magnificent good karma ripening, a Buddhist entered my life. I was an agnostic who respected religion but felt there was no single belief system that felt right – though I’d always assumed that if any religion would fit, it would be Buddhism. Now I had someone to ask daily questions and learn more from – what good fortune!
“In recent years our knowledge of modern technology has increased considerably, and as a result we have witnessed remarkable material progress, but there has not been a corresponding increase in human happiness. There is no less suffering in the world today, and there are no fewer problems. Indeed, it might be said that there are now more problems and great dangers than ever before.”– Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Modern Buddhism
She did more than just answer my crazy questions about her beautiful and profound faith; she inspired me. So impressed was I by her attending a 4-week meditation retreat (4 weeks!!! How? Why? What is a fire puja?!?!?) that I fired up my meditation app (I used headspace but other apps are available) and committed to doing 10 minutes of breathing meditation every day for the same time period.
I was overjoyed when she returned, not only because breathing meditation was a huge stress reliever, but also because of the difference this small practice had made, and I was eager to learn more. Thus, began a newcomer’s exploration of an ancient but oh so important religion.
For just 10 minutes (or as close as I can get with my noisy family) of silence a day, eyes closed and concentrating on my breathing, gave my brain space, some of the constant clamour of noise quietened, I felt more content, more focused, and it unlocked my compassion for others, made me a better listener, and, I believe, made me a better person in general.
My friend encouraged me to try a Buddhist meditation, on a regular basis, and generously loaned me her The New Meditation Handbook.
While grateful, I was content with my app; in fact, I was intimidated and unsure how to meditate without audible guidance. How do you meditate on a specific topic?
With some gentle nudges and encouragement from my friend, I attended a number of Kadampa Meditation Centre Southampton, General Program classes and quickly learned how to meditate on Buddha’s teachings. I got over my reservations and finally attempted to work my way through the handbook unguided, though with plenty of peeking at the book. To be honest, it was difficult at times, and I struggled with some of the meditations – did I even believe in rebirth and different realms? I found the prayers uncomfortable at first, because I’d been clinging to my lack of religion for so long and strangely felt a strong sense of pride in not being religious. I was afraid of being judged by others, so praying forced me to step outside of my comfort zone.
There was no sudden realisation that this was amazing and life-changing, but I rejoice for those who do experience this when they meet Dharma. It was much more subtle than that for me. More than once, my appreciation for dharma arose as a result of not practicing for a short period of time and feeling terrible as a result. When I restarted, I felt immediate relief. Now that I’ve let go of my reservations about praying, I find that the more I practice, the more I want to practice; each meditation is new, and the prayers add depth to my practice.
This was it! The medicine I needed – Buddha’s teachings. Though I was interested in Buddhism at the time, I now realise it was very superficial. The meditation app I used would talk about things like loving-kindness, shared human conditions, and so on, but it never brought them into the meditation to take the ideas to a personal and deeper level.
With yet more encouragement from my friend (I owe her so much), I finally agreed to try the Foundation Programme (in-depth): it turns out that, despite the child and the dog, I do have time to devote an evening a week to my practice; I just had to try. (Special thanks to hubby for his unwavering support.)
My practice is still not as consistent as I would like, but the fact that the wish is there is important, as it makes me apply the effort to change habits and integrate Dharma into my daily life. It has been a little over a year since my first ‘meditation retreat’ consisting of 10 mins guided breathing meditation per day, and my life has become so much more meaningful.
Buddhist meditation classes vs meditation Apps
Breathing meditation provides me with the mental space to observe my mind without judgment, as well as being a much-needed daily stress reliever, however, Buddha’s teachings go further and deeper, providing me with the conditions needed to develop and control my mind, allowing me to be more mindful of my reactions and behaviours.
Not only this, but Buddha’s teachings equip me with the tools to navigate this impossible life, as he teaches me the solutions to my actual problems, and the more I learn the more I discover there is more to learn. I can read the same topic several times and each time Venerable Geshe-la teaches me something new or adds another dimension. A life filled with learning to benefit myself and others- it’s all I have ever wanted, I just didn’t know it.
The best decision I’ve ever made!
My advice to anyone who benefits from a meditation app is to go to your nearest Kadampa Centre, such as Kadampa Meditation Centre Southampton, and attend some of their General Programme (weekly meditation classes). It may not change your life the way it has and continues to change mine, but it is worth investigating because if it does, it will be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself and every living being.
Find out more about our meditation classes
If you want to learn more about Buddha’s teachings, click here for weekly meditation classes, as well as weekend meditation courses and meditation retreats that are available to those in Hampshire, West Sussex, Dorset & Isle of Wight.