Jason Siff, author of Unlearning Meditation: What to Do When the Instructions Get in the Way, and the soon to be released Thoughts Are Not The Enemy: An Innovative Approach to Meditation Practice, will be returning to antipodean shores this October, for a series of workshops and retreats.
Details of his retreats and workshops, which will be held throughout October near Adelaide, Melbourne, Mulumbimby and Sydney, can be found on the Recollective Awareness Meditation Australia website.
For those unfamiliar with Jason and his books, I’d like to share how I came across his work, and what kind of effect his approach to meditation has had on my own practice.
It was probably about five years ago now. I had been in the habit of occasionally Googling ‘meditation’, just to see what was out there. I’d usually trawl through the first 20 or so pages of results, becoming increasingly underwhelmed – even disillusioned – with the quality of the information available. On this day, however, I stumbled upon Jason’s Skillful Meditation Project site, and found a series of articles, and a collection of audio recordings introducing Recollective Awareness. Here were voices with something unique, interesting and helpful to say about meditation.
Coincidentally, Jason happened to be travelling to Australia shortly after, and I was able to attend a couple of workshops he ran in Melbourne. Listening live clarified further some of the key concepts he shares on his website, namely that:
- meditation does not have to be about trying to stop, manage or control one’s thoughts
- interest or curiosity can function more effectively than willpower or effort, in developing focus and calm
- many of the goals we set ourselves in meditation are highly idealised and unrealistic – they tend not to motivate us, but may lead to disappointment and failure
- we can be much kinder to ourselves in meditation, and that by being gentle we establish much better relationships with our thoughts and feelings
- a more open and receptive approach to meditation allows us to learn from all of our experiences, including those that might otherwise have been considered hindrances
- by journaling, or spending time recollecting what happened in our sittings, we can develop much greater awareness of what goes on in our meditation practice, and from there learn more skillful ways of meditating.
None of these concepts were all that familiar to me at the time. Many of them seemed quite radical, even revolutionary. Here was someone offering guidelines that were almost the opposite of those I had received previously. Here was one lone voice questioning the entire tradition, the accepted wisdom, around what meditation practice should look like.
I’ve since found other examples of such ‘radical’ premises, and noted a general shift towards these more realistic and genuinely kind approaches to meditation, but in my experience, they are certainly not yet mainstream ideas. I believe many people would find meditation and mindfulness much more useful and palatable practices if they were.
Recollective Awareness, I believe, has made my meditation practice a far more flexible and mature one. Technique has been replaced by a genuine interest in my own experience. Goals have been replaced by an interest in what’s unfolding now. A busy mind, or turbulent emotional experience is now something to be welcomed.
I do not have to chisel myself into some desired shape. I can just tune into the shapes arising.