The Goal of the Hope Meditation Program
One of the first things I suggest to newcomers at Hope is their brain has been tricking them and that this is the real cause of their suffering. Most clients have no problem accepting my theory, in fact, it’s usually something they have figured out for themselves already. The problem is that just knowing that your brain is tricking you is not enough to stop your brain from tricking you.
I doubt there are many of us who believe that someone like Derren Brown (famous UK magician) has any actual magical powers. We know he is fooling us in some way, and there is a rational explanation for his amazing feats. Unfortunately, (or fortunately if you like being amazed) this knowing he is a trickster doesn’t stop him fooling us every time– in order to stop being fooled by Derren, we would need to first understand the trick.
It’s the same with brain, if you want to stop being fooled by your brain, you need to understand the trick. The goal of the Hope mindfulness program is for you to develop the ability to see how these tricks are being performed – once you gain insight into a trick, you can never be fooled by it again. The more of these tricks of the mind you understand, the more freedom you gain.
The Stages of Meditation at Hope Rehab
• Stage 1 – Resting in the Body
• Stage 2 – Opening Up
• Stage 3 – Deep Concentration
• Stage 4 – Insight
Stage 1 – Resting in the Body
By the time we arrive at rehab, we are usually completely disconnected from the body. We have spent years fluctuating between chemically induced numbness and out-of-control thinking. Some mental numbness may last for the first few days or weeks of rehab, but once it wears off, we can find ourselves completely at the mercy of thoughts.
One of our first goals when we meditate is begin resting in the body. At Hope, we use mala beads to help us do this. By focusing on the sensation of holding a bead, we direct our attention away from thinking to the physical body. There are a number of reasons we want to do this including:
• By deliberately directing our attention to where we want it to go, we are developing concentration
• Our attention can only be on one thing at a time – when we are focusing on the body, we are not caught up excessive thinking (which is the cause of most of our suffering)
• We find amazing peace by resting in the body – when we are exposed to enough of this peace, we realize it was what we were looking for all along (the need to abuse alcohol or drugs then falls away)
• We gain insight into the fact that we have no real control over thinking, and this means we begin to identify less with thoughts.
Stage 2 – Opening Up
Concentration is like a flashlight that allows us to see what is happening in the mind. The more of this mental stuff we can see, the more likely we are to develop insight.
Just sitting down to meditate every day is probably not going to be enough to guarantee access the deepest states of meditation. This is because there are certain thinking patterns blocking the way.
One of the most difficult of these mental roadblocks to overcome is ‘ill-will’ – this refers to a distrust we have of ourselves, other people, and the world in general. So long as this roadblock remains, our mind will probably never become still enough to develop powerful concentration.
Being ‘closed off’ from the world means we have built strong defenses around ourselves that require excessing thinking to maintain. Our mind is in a state of siege, so it is no wonder that when we sit down to meditate, we find it hard to concentrate.
The practice of the Brahma Viharas (divide abodes) is probably the most powerful way to begin letting go of those powerful patterns of thinking that are blocking our way to deep concentration. Meditations based on the Brahma Viharas include:
• Metta (loving kindness) allows us to develop a sense of openness towards the world
• Karuna (compassion) allows us to just be with discomfort rather than escaping into obsessive thinking
• Mudita (sympathetic joy) is the cure for patterns of thinking associated with jealousy, competiveness, envy, and conceit
• Upekkha (equanimity) is to ability to just be with what is rather than escaping into thoughts about how things should or shouldn’t be
Stage 3 – Deep Concentration
Once we have begun to overcome the obstacles to concertation, we can start to access the deepest states of concentration. Here we will discover amazing bliss and peace – comfort and ease way beyond what we have achieved using any drug. At this stage, meditating for an hour or more becomes effortless, and the wonderful feelings we enjoy in meditation will start to follow us into our daily lives.
For a lot of people, achieving deep states of concentration is the goal of meditation, but settling just for this may be selling yourself short. The problem is that even when you are easily able to access the jhana states (deepest states of meditation), it doesn’t stop you from behaving like an asshole when you are not meditating – e.g. I had my first taste of jhana as a teenager, but I still ended up addicted to alcohol (and all the misery that went with that) for almost two decades!
Stage 4 – Insight
Deep states of concentration give us a taste of freedom, but it is insight (vipassana) that makes this freedom a reality – it is through insight that we get to understand the trick so we can never be fooled again. If we want to begin understanding the mind, we need to use our high level of concentration to observe it in action. This means we just sit and look. We can also use self-inquiry (e.g. who is experiencing this?) to guide our exploration of the mind.
It may take many years to progress from stage one to stage four of meditation, and it is not a journey you are going to complete during your time at Hope. Don’t worry – you can begin to notice amazing improvements to your life even at stage one of meditation (in fact, you may never feel the need to go beyond stage one).