Meditation Instructions – Part III

Running Time: 5:41

In this video, I want to build on some of the meditation instructions from Week 1 to help you deepen and refine your practice through the skillful use of intention.

Now, I’ve mentioned intention several times in conjunction with meditation and informal practice, but I haven’t really given you much detail about how to use them. So, that’s what I want to talk about next.

At a fundamental level, intentions are the driver for everything. Every thought and every action starts with an intention. They’re powerful stuff!

And intentions are absolutely key to advancing in your practice. Proper use of intensions allows you to work intelligently, using finesse and skill, rather than brute force and struggle. Here’s how it works.

It begins with setting an appropriate goal for your meditation session, as I discussed in Week 1. This goal helps you to form an overall intention for your practice.

At a fundamental level, all you need to do during your meditation session is hold and periodically refresh that intention. That’s it. Attention to the sensations at the nose follows your intention. Awareness of the broader context allows follows from your intention.

More specifically, if you look at this broad intention, you can break it down into a bunch of smaller micro-intentions related to the actual mechanics of what you need to do during your meditation session to achieve your broader goal for that session.

Let’s look at an example to make this more clear.

Let’s say your goal was to notice the start of every physical sensation associated with the breath at the nostrils, while maintaining an awareness of other sensations.

The micro-intentions for this broader goal include the following:

  • at the start of every inhale, you want to notice the beginning of the sensation of air moving into your nose at the nostrils
  • at the start of every exhale, you want to notice the beginning of the sensation of air moving out of your nose at the nostrils
  • maintain a background awareness of other sensations

And, if your attentional stability is great enough, you can also have micro-intentions for noticing the start of all of the various sensations that arise at the nostrils over the course of a single inhale or exhale.

During your meditation, rather than struggling or forcing yourself to focus your attention on what you want, you gently apply these micro-intentions at the appropriate moment.

Here’s an animation that gives you a sense of how this works during a meditation session. I’ve slowed things down so that you can see what’s happening, moment by moment.

So, on a practical level, what you actually do during your practice is, you allow your body to inhale, and because of your intention to observe physical sensations at the nose, your attention goes to the rim of your nostril and notices the feeling of air going in. You label that as “in”, or whatever your label for that sensation is.

Typically, the sensations associated with the exhale are less distinct, so there’s a tendency to space out a bit and miss some of the exhale sensations.

So what you do is you quickly and gently — refresh your intention to notice the sensations associated with the exhale. As a result, these sensations become more distinct and easier to notice. And you label that sensation as “out”, for example.

After the exhale, you again gently refresh your intention to notice the inhale, and that helps you to observe the sensations more clearly.

With each inhale and each exhale, you quickly and gently refresh your intention. This results in a very engaged form of practice. You can go very deep very quickly, without getting drowsy or dull. Your alertness builds over the course of the meditation session and you finish your practice feeling more “with it” than you did when you started.

Now, sometimes, there’s a slight lag between your intention and your ability to more clearly notice your meditation object. Don’t worry about that – don’t make that a cause for straining. You want to keep a gentle touch, like a feather. You’re using skill and finesse, rather than straining or force.

Each time you inhale and each time you exhale, if you gently refresh your intention, you’ll find that your object becomes progressively easier to notice and more distinct.

You’ll also probably find that it’s easier to remain with your object and not get lost in thought.

And you can use intentions in a similar way to maintain a background awareness of other physical sensations, sounds and thoughts, and especially, the quality of your attention. It works the same way.

It also works really well for developing equanimity. Just periodically refresh your intention to allow your meditation object to be just as it is.

Basically, whatever you’re working on in your meditation session, you can guide your practice skillfully, with much less effort and much better results, by using intentions in this way.

And once you get the hang of using intentions like this in your meditation practice, do the same thing for your daily life practice.