Meditation on the Perception of Light

This meditation is useful for fighting drowsiness. Here’s how the Buddha describes it: “But if by doing this you don’t shake off your drowsiness, then attend to the perception of light, resolve on the perception of daytime, [dwelling] by night as by day, and by day as by night. By means of an awareness thus open & unhampered, develop a brightened mind. It’s possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.”

This ISN’T meditation in the sense of honing your concentration by focusing on a single aspect of reality. Neither is it a Vipassana style exercise where you try to see the world as it really is, whatever experience arises.

Instead it is a tool devised to combat a particular problem: drowsiness. For me, drowsiness isn’t really a huge problem in meditation, but sometimes it does arise, especially on intensive retreats where you stay awake most of the time.

The idea is to recall an experience of bright light, and mentally focus on that experience. It could be a glimpse of the sun, a candle, or a glint of light on a metal bumper. Whatever. It’s quite a different sort of tool that what we’re used to doing in meditation. It is not reality. It requires mental input. It is not universal. It serves a particular function.

But here’s the thing: it works! The next time you get drowsy, try it!

Now, here’s the thing: just because you are sitting with your eyes closed doesn’t mean you are following the breath. Maybe 90% of the time that is the best way you could be spending your time. But sometimes it isn’t. If drowsiness, for example, is in the way of you really being able to follow the breath, then here are some tools to try. So today I’m going to talk about all the things that might HELP your simple breath meditation.

It’s true that there are issues that we can’t do anything about. Situations that just have to be endured with equanimity. But I think sometimes we way OVEREMPHASIZE equanimity. Equanimity is sort of a last case type scenario after doing our best to deal with a situation in a positive way. This is true in life, but it’s also true in meditation.

The Buddha was once asked what kind of meditation HE does. He said that he simply dwelt in emptiness. Sounds great, right? There are definitely days I would love to do some serious dwelling in emptiness. But that’s not what he taught for US to do. That’s what a Buddha or an arahat does. We still have spiritual work to do.

We have to observe what’s happening in our meditation and react! We don’t just live with bad meditation. We work to make it better! This requires noticing our state of mind, and it requires acting.


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