dealing with problems s 97
thesensationandnottofallshortofit.Don’taddanythingtoit,and
don’tmissanypartofit.Don’tmuddythepureexperiencewithcon-
ceptsorpicturesordiscursivethinking.Andkeepyourawareness
rightinthepresenttime,rightwiththepain,sothatyouwon’tmiss
itsbeginningoritsend.Painnotviewedintheclearlightofmind-
fulnessgivesrisetoemotionalreactionslikefear,anxiety,oranger.If
itisproperlyviewed,wehavenosuchreaction.Itwillbejustsen-
sation,justsimpleenergy.Onceyouhavelearnedthistechnique
withphysicalpain,youcanthengeneralizeittotherestofyourlife.
Youcanuseitonanyunpleasantsensation.Whatworksonpainwill
workonanxietyorchronicdepressionaswell.Thistechniqueisone
oflife’smostusefulandapplicableskills.Itispatience.
Problem2:LegsGoingtoSleep
Itisverycommonforbeginnerstohavetheirlegsfallasleeporgo
numbduringmeditation.Theyaresimplynotaccustomedtothe
cross-leggedposture.Somepeoplegetveryanxiousaboutthis.They
feeltheymustgetupandmovearound.Afewarecompletelycon-
vincedthattheywillgetgangrenefromlackofcirculation.Numb-
nessinthelegisnothingtoworryabout.Itiscausedbynervepinch,
notbylackofcirculation.Youcan’tdamagethetissuesofyourlegs
bysitting.Sorelax.Whenyourlegsfallasleepinmeditation,just
mindfullyobservethephenomenon.Examinewhatitfeelslike.It
maybesortofuncomfortable,butitisnotpainfulunlessyoutense
up.Juststaycalmandwatchit.Itdoesnotmatterifyourlegsgo
numbandstaythatwayforthewholeperiod.Afteryouhavemedi-
tatedforsometime,thatnumbnesswillgraduallydisappear.Your
bodysimplyadjuststodailypractice.Thenyoucansitforverylong
sessionswithnonumbnesswhatsoever.
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98 mindfulness s in plain english
Problem3:OddSensations
Peopleexperienceallmannerofvariedphenomenainmeditation.
Somepeoplegetitches.Othersfeeltingling,deeprelaxation,afeel-
ingoflightness,orafloatingsensation.Youmayfeelyourselfgrow-
ingorshrinkingorrisingupintheair.Beginnersoftengetquite
excitedoversuchsensations.Don’tworry,youarenotlikelytolevi-
tateanytimesoon.Asrelaxationsetsin,thenervoussystemsimply
beginstopasssensorysignalsmoreefficiently.Largeamountsofpre-
viouslyblockedsensorydatacanpourthrough,givingrisetoallkinds
ofuniquesensations.Itdoesnotsignifyanythinginparticular.Itis
justsensation.Sosimplyemploythenormaltechnique.Watchit
comeupandwatchitpassaway.Don’tgetinvolved.
Problem4:Drowsiness
Itisquitecommontoexperiencedrowsinessduringmeditation.You
becomeverycalmandrelaxed.Thatisexactlywhatissupposedto
happen.Unfortunately,weordinarilyexperiencethislovelystateonly
whenwearefallingasleep,andweassociateitwiththatprocess.So
naturally,youbegintodriftoff.Whenyoufindthishappening,apply
yourmindfulnesstothestateofdrowsinessitself.Drowsinesshas
certaindefinitecharacteristics.Itdoescertainthingstoyourthought
process.Findoutwhat.Ithascertainbodilyfeelingsassociatedwith
it.Locatethose.
Thisinquisitiveawarenessisthedirectoppositeofdrowsiness,
andwillevaporateit.Ifitdoesnot,thenyoushouldsuspectaphys-
icalcauseofyoursleepiness.Searchthatoutandhandleit.Ifyou
havejusteatenalargemeal,thatcouldbethecause.Itisbesttoeat
lightlyifyouareabouttomeditate.Orwaitanhourafterabigmeal.
Anddon’toverlooktheobviouseither.Ifyouhavebeenouthauling
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dealing with problems s 99
bricksallday,youarenaturallygoingtobetired.Thesameistrueif
youonlygotafewhoursofsleepthenightbefore.Takecareofyour
body’sphysicalneeds.Thenmeditate.Donotgiveintosleepiness.
Stayawakeandmindful,forsleepandmeditativeconcentrationare
diametricallyopposedexperiences.Youwillnotgainanynewinsight
fromsleepbutonlyfrommeditation.Ifyouareverysleepy,thentake
adeepbreathandholditaslongasyoucan.Thenbreatheoutslowly.
Takeanotherdeepbreathagain,holditaslongasyoucan,and
breatheoutslowly.Repeatthisexerciseuntilyourbodywarmsup
andsleepinessfadesaway.Thenreturntoyourbreath.
Problem5:InabilitytoConcentrate
Anoveractive,jumpingattentionissomethingthateverybodyexpe-
riencesfromtimetotime.Itisgenerallyhandledbythetechniques
presentedinthechapterondistractions.Youshouldalsobeinformed,
however,thattherearecertainexternalfactorsthatcontributetothis
phenomenon.Andthesearebesthandledbysimpleadjustmentsin
yourschedule.Mentalimagesarepowerfulentities.Theycanremain
inthemindforlongperiods.Allofthestorytellingartsaredirect
manipulationofsuchmaterial,andifthewriterhasdonehisjobwell,
thecharactersandimagespresentedwillhaveapowerfulandlin-
geringeffectonthemind.Ifyouhavebeentothebestmovieofthe
year,themeditationthatfollowsisgoingtobefullofthoseimages.
Ifyouarehalfwaythroughthescariesthorrornovelyoueverread,
yourmeditationisgoingtobefullofmonsters.Soswitchtheorder
ofevents.Doyourmeditationfirst.Thenreadorgotothemovies.
Anotherinfluentialfactorisyourownemotionalstate.Ifthereis
somerealconflictinyourlife,thatagitationwillcarryoverintomed-
itation.Trytoresolveyourimmediatedailyconflictsbeforemeditation
whenyoucan.Yourlifewillrunmoresmoothly,andyouwon’tbe
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100 mindfulness s in plain english
ponderinguselesslyinyourpractice.Butdon’tusethisadviceasa
waytoavoidmeditation.Sometimesyoucan’tresolveeveryissue
beforeyousit.Justgoaheadandsitanyway.Useyourmeditationto
letgoofalltheegocentricattitudesthatkeepyoutrappedwithin
yourownlimitedviewpoint.Yourproblemswillresolvemuchmore
easilythereafter.Andthentherearethosedayswhenitseemsthat
themindwillneverrest,butyoucan’tlocateanyapparentcause.
Rememberthecyclicalternationwespokeofearlier.Meditationgoes
incycles.Youhavegooddaysandyouhavebaddays.
Vipassanameditationisprimarilyanexerciseinawareness.Emp-
tyingthemindisnotasimportantasbeingmindfulofwhatthemind
isdoing.Ifyouarefranticandyoucan’tdoathingtostopit,just
observe.Itisallyou.Theresultwillbeonemorestepforwardin
yourjourneyofself-exploration.Aboveall,don’tgetfrustratedover
thenonstopchatterofyourmind.Thatbabbleisjustonemorething
tobemindfulof.
Problem6:Boredom
Itisdifficulttoimagineanythingmoreinherentlyboringthansitting
stillforanhourwithnothingtodobutfeeltheairgoinginandout
ofyournose.Youaregoingtorunintoboredomrepeatedlyinyour
meditation.Everybodydoes.Boredomisamentalstateandshould
betreatedassuch.Afewsimplestrategieswillhelpyoutocope.
TacticA:Reestablishtruemindfulness
Ifthebreathseemsanexceedinglydullthingtoobserveoverand
over,youmayrestassuredofonething:youhaveceasedtoobserve
theprocesswithtruemindfulness.Mindfulnessisneverboring.
Lookagain.Don’tassumethatyouknowwhatbreathis.Don’ttake
itforgrantedthatyouhavealreadyseeneverythingthereistosee.
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dealing with problems s 101
Ifyoudo,youareconceptualizingtheprocess.Youarenotobserving
itslivingreality.Whenyouareclearlymindfulofthebreathorof
anythingelse,itisneverboring.Mindfulnesslooksateverything
withtheeyesofachild,withasenseofwonder.Mindfulnesssees
everymomentasifitwerethefirstandtheonlymomentintheuni-
verse.Solookagain.
TacticB:Observeyourmentalstate
Lookatyourstateofboredommindfully.Whatisboredom?Where
isboredom?Whatdoesitfeellike?Whatareitsmentalcomponents?
Doesithaveanyphysicalfeeling?Whatdoesitdotoyourthought
process?Takeafreshlookatboredom,asifyouhaveneverexperi-
encedthatstatebefore.
Problem7:Fear
Statesoffearsometimesariseduringmeditationfornodiscernible
reason.Itisacommonphenomenon,andtherecanbeanumberof
causes.Youmaybeexperiencingtheeffectofsomethingrepressed
longago.Remember,thoughtsarisefirstintheunconscious.The
emotionalcontentsofathoughtcomplexoftenleakthroughinto
yourconsciousawarenesslongbeforethethoughtitselfsurfaces.If
yousitthroughthefear,thememoryitselfmaybubbleuptoapoint
whereyoucanendureit.Oryoumaybedealingdirectlywiththefear
thatweallfear:“fearoftheunknown.”Atsomepointinyourmedi-
tationcareeryouwillbestruckwiththeseriousnessofwhatyouare
actuallydoing.Youaretearingdownthewallofillusionyouhave
alwaysusedtoexplainlifetoyourselfandtoshieldyourselffromthe
intenseflameofreality.Youareabouttomeetultimatetruthfaceto
face.Thatisscary.Butithastobedealtwitheventually.Goahead
anddiverightin.
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102 mindfulness s in plain english
A third possibility:thefearthat youarefeeling maybeself-
generated.Itmaybearisingoutofunskillfulconcentration.Youmay
havesetanunconsciousprogramto“examinewhatcomesup.”Thus,
whenafrighteningfantasyarises,concentrationlocksontoit,andthe
fantasyfeedsontheenergyofyourattentionandgrows.Thereal
problem hereis that t mindfulness s is s weak. . If f mindfulness s was
stronglydeveloped,itwouldnoticethisswitchofattentionassoon
asitoccurredandhandlethesituationintheusualmanner.No
matterwhatthesourceofyourfear,mindfulnessisthecure.Observe
thefearexactlyasitis.Don’tclingtoit.Justwatchitrisingandgrow-
ing.Studyitseffect.Seehowitmakesyoufeelandhowitaffects
yourbody.Whenyoufindyourselfinthegripofhorrorfantasies,
simplyobservethosemindfully.Watchthepicturesaspictures.See
memoriesasmemories.Observetheemotionalreactionsthatcome
alongandknowthemforwhattheyare.Standasidefromtheprocess
anddon’tgetinvolved.Treatthewholedynamicasifyouwereacuri-
ousbystander.Mostimportant,don’tfightthesituation.Don’ttryto
repressthememoriesorthefeelingsorthefantasies.Juststepoutof
thewayandletthewholemessbubbleupandflowpast.Itcan’t
hurtyou.Itisjustmemory.Itisonlyfantasy.Itisnothingbutfear.
Whenyouletfearrunitscourseinthearenaofconsciousatten-
tion,itwon’tsinkbackintotheunconscious.Itwon’tcomebackto
hauntyoulater.Itwillbegoneforgood.
Problem8:Agitation
Restlessnessisoftenacover-upforsomedeeperexperiencetaking
placeintheunconscious.Wehumansaregreatatrepressingthings.
Ratherthanconfrontingsomeunpleasantthoughtweexperience,
wetrytoburyitsowewon’thavetodealwiththeissue.Unfortu-
nately,weusuallydon’tsucceed,atleastnotfully.Wehidethe
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dealing with problems s 103
thought,butthementalenergyweusetocoveritupsitsthereand
boils.Theresultisthatsenseofuneasethatwecallagitationor
restlessness.Thereisnothingyoucanputyourfingeron.Butyou
don’tfeelatease.Youcan’trelax.Whenthisuncomfortablestate
arisesinmeditation,justobserveit.Don’tletitruleyou.Don’tjump
upandrunoff.Anddon’tstrugglewithitandtrytomakeitgoaway.
Justletitbethereandwatchitclosely.Thentherepressedmate-
rialwilleventuallysurface,andyouwillfindoutwhatyouhavebeen
worryingabout.
Theunpleasantexperiencethatyouhavebeentryingtoavoid
couldbealmostanything:guilt,greed,orotherproblems.Itcouldbe
low-gradepainorsubtlesicknessorapproachingillness.Whatever
itis,letitariseandlookatitmindfully.Ifyoujustsitstillandobserve
youragitation,itwilleventuallypass.Sittingthroughrestlessnessis
alittlebreakthroughinyourmeditationcareer.Itwillteachyoualot.
Youwillfindthatagitationisactuallyratherasuperficialmental
state.Itisinherentlyephemeral.Itcomesanditgoes.Ithasnoreal
griponyouatall.
Problem9:TryingTooHard
Advancedmeditatorsaregenerallyfoundtobeprettyjovialpeople.
Theypossessoneofthemostvaluableofallhumantreasures,asense
ofhumor.Itisnotthesuperficialwittyreparteeofthetalkshow
host.Itisarealsenseofhumor.Theycanlaughattheirownhuman
failures.Theycanchuckleatpersonaldisasters.Beginnersinmed-
itationareoftenmuchtooseriousfortheirowngood.Itisimportant
tolearntoloosenupinyoursession,torelaxinyourmeditation.You
needtolearntowatchobjectivelywhateverhappens.Youcan’tdo
thatifyouaretensedandstriving,takingitallsovery,veryseriously.
Newmeditatorsareoftenoverlyeagerforresults.Theyarefullof
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104 mindfulness s in plain english
enormousandinflatedexpectations.Theyjumprightinandexpect
incredibleresultsinnotimeflat.Theypush.Theytense.Theysweat
andstrain,anditisallsoterribly,terriblygrimandsolemn.Thisstate
oftensionistheantithesisofmindfulness.Naturally,theyachieve
little.Thentheydecidethatthismeditationisnotsoexcitingafter
all.Itdidnotgivethemwhattheywanted.Theychuckitaside.It
shouldbepointedoutthatyoulearnaboutmeditationonlybymed-
itating.Youlearnwhatmeditationisallaboutandwhereitleadsonly
throughdirectexperienceofthethingitself.Thereforethebeginner
doesnotknowwhereheisheadedbecausehehasdevelopedlittle
senseofwherehispracticeisleading.
Thenovice’sexpectationisnaturallyunrealisticanduninformed.
Newcomerstomeditationexpectallthewrongthings,andthose
expectationsdonogoodatall.Theygetintheway.Tryingtoohard
leadstorigidityandunhappiness,toguiltandself-condemnation.
Whenyouaretryingtoohard,youreffortbecomesmechanical,and
thatdefeatsmindfulnessbeforeitevengetsstarted.Youarewell
advisedtodropallthat.Dropyourexpectationsandstraining.Simply
meditatewithasteadyandbalancedeffort.Enjoyyourmeditation
anddon’tloadyourselfdownwithsweatandstruggles.Justbemind-
ful.Themeditationitselfwilltakecareofthefuture.
Problem10:Discouragement
Theupshotofpushingtoohardisfrustration.Youareinastateof
tension.Yougetnowhere.Yourealizethatyouarenotmakingthe
progressyouexpected,soyougetdiscouraged.Youfeellikeafailure.
Itisallaverynaturalcycle,butatotallyavoidableone.Strivingafter
unrealisticexpectationsisthesource.Nevertheless,itisacommon
enoughsyndromeand,inspiteofallthebestadvice,youmayfindit
happeningtoyou.Thereisasolution.Ifyoufindyourselfdiscour-
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dealing with problems s 105
aged,justobserveyourstateofmindclearly.Don’taddanythingto
it.Justwatchit.Asenseoffailureisonlyanotherephemeralemo-
tionalreaction.Ifyougetinvolved,itfeedsonyourenergyandit
grows.Ifyousimplystandasideandwatchit,itpassesaway.
Ifyouarediscouragedoveryourperceivedfailureinmeditation,
thatisespeciallyeasytodealwith.Youfeelyouhavefailedinyour
practice.Youhavefailedtobemindful.Simplybecomemindfulof
thatsenseoffailure.Youhavejustreestablishedyourmindfulness
withthatsinglestep.Thereasonforyoursenseoffailureisnothing
butamemory.Thereisnosuchthingasfailureinmeditation.There
aresetbacksanddifficulties.Butthereisnofailureunlessyougive
up entirely. Even if f you u have spent twenty y solid years getting
nowhere,youcanbemindfulatanysecondyouchoose.Itisyour
decision.Regrettingisonlyonemorewayofbeingunmindful.The
instantthatyourealizethatyouhavebeenunmindful,thatrealiza-
tionitselfisanactofmindfulness.Socontinuetheprocess.Don’tget
sidetrackedbyanemotionalreaction.
Problem11:ResistancetoMeditation
Therearetimeswhenyoudon’tfeellikemeditating.Theveryidea
seemsobnoxious.Missingasinglepracticesessionisscarcelyimpor-
tant,butitveryeasilybecomesahabit.Itiswisertopushonthrough
theresistance.Gositanyway.Observethisfeelingofaversion.In
mostcasesitisapassingemotion,aflashinthepanthatwillevap-
oraterightinfrontofyoureyes.Fiveminutesafteryousitdownitis
gone.Inothercasesitisduetosomesourmoodthatday,anditlasts
longer.Still,itdoespass.Anditisbettertogetridofitintwentyor
thirtyminutesofmeditationthantocarryitaroundwithyouandlet
itruintherestofyourday.Atothertimes,resistancemaybedueto
somedifficultyyouarehavingwiththepracticeitself.Youmayor
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106 mindfulness s in plain english
maynotknowwhatthatdifficultyis.Iftheproblemisknown,handle
itbyoneofthetechniquesgiveninthisbook.Oncetheproblemis
gone,resistancewillbegone.Iftheproblemisunknown,thenyou
aregoingtohavetotoughitout.Justsitthroughtheresistanceand
observeitmindfully.Itwillpass.Thentheproblemcausingitwill
probablybubbleupinitswake,andyoucandealwiththat.
Ifresistancetomeditationisacommonfeatureofyourpractice,
thenyoushouldsuspectsomesubtleerrorinyourbasicattitude.
Meditationisnotaritualconductedinaparticularposture.Itisnot
apainfulexercise,orperiodofenforcedboredom.Anditisnota
grim,solemnobligation.Meditationismindfulness.Itisanewway
ofseeinganditisaformofplay.Meditationisyourfriend.Cometo
regarditassuch,and resistancewilldisappearlikesmokeona
summerbreeze.
Ifyoutryallthesepossibilitiesandtheresistanceremains,then
theremaybeaproblem.Certainmetaphysicalsnagsthatmeditators
sometimesencountergobeyondthescopeofthisbook.Itisnot
commonfornewmeditatorstohitthese,butitcanhappen.Don’t
giveup.Goandgethelp.Seekoutqualifiedteachersofthevipassana
styleofmeditationandaskthemtohelpyouresolvethesituation.
Suchpeopleexistforexactlythatpurpose.
Problem12:StupororDullness
Wehavealreadydiscussedthesinkingmindphenomenon.But
thereisaspecialroutetothatstateyoushouldwatchoutfor.Mental
dullnesscanresultasanunwantedbyproductofdeepeningcon-
centration.Asyourrelaxationdeepens,musclesloosenandnerve
transmissionschange.Thisproducesaverycalmandlightfeelingin
thebody.Youfeelverystillandsomewhatdivorcedfromthebody.
Thisisaverypleasantstate,andatfirstyourconcentrationisquite
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