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Yesterday during my meditation I had a very persistent intense itch in my ear for what felt like the entire 40 minutes. I tried to just notice the itch and not react by scratching it. As soon as the bell went I had a good scratch. Afterwards I just really couldn't see what the point was of sitting doing this. The itch was just a distraction and I felt I would probably have been better off just scratching it to begin with instead of wasting 40 minutes resisting it. Can somebody please help me get some clarity about this. Meditation just feels so pointless a lot of the time for me.

  • Yes, meditation is pointless, just like everything else. That is the point :-) – user2341 Nov 16 '17 at 23:26
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It may seem like a small matter, but even the slightest movement during meditation can be a very disruptive act. It all depends on the depth of your practice. Initially, your mind is pretty much the equivalent of a racing torrent. As your mind stream crashes around on the jagged stones of your hindrances, hang ups, and other obstacles, you aren't going to notice if a boulder or two happen to go rolling into the water. But let's compare that to a more developed mind. Here, the current is slow, the water deep, and the surface is tranquil. Even a feather alighting on the water is going to send noticeable ripples.

In a sense, this is the very essence of samatha meditation. The calmer the mind, the more apt you are to have insight into your own subtle afflictions. Moving around, even slightly, can really disrupt that process. The best thing to do when you are facing physical discomfort is to radically accept what it is arising and follow your breath fully to the end. If you are open and fully attentive, those minor discomforts will vanish.

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The attitude to meditation varies by school. In Mahayana, we don't do the "just notice itching, itching" piece.

Instead, I was instructed to set the mind at ease, the sort of mood you find when you finally get a vacation after a long year, and have a good stretch in a chaise longue on the beach. It's like "pheeeew, finally, I have the moment to myself to get back to my senses". You stop chasing problems and desires like a hamster in the wheel, you take a deep sigh, you come back to the present moment, and you finally take a look at your surroundings and yourself. "Where am I? What's going on? What the hell was I doing all this time? Let me just sit down and get back to my senses." Then you hang in this state until the thoughts and memories inevitably come up. When they do come up, you don't let them carry you away too much, but you don't forcefully ward them off either. You have the strings of your guitar somewhat relaxed but leave enough tension for the music to play. When you notice the thoughts have carried you away, you just smile (you don't have to - I smile because I find it funny every time) and notice this fact (you don't actually say "thinking" or "thoughts" nor say it in your head, you just realize you got distracted). And then you bring yourself back to the beach and the chair and your vacation mindstate. This works like a laundry machine for the mind. You go back to the slow stable self (the sitting part), while letting other parts of the mind process the suppressed issues (the bubbling up part) and you let the two layers integrate (by mildly watching for distractions and coming back).

Specifically in your case, I would scratch my ear or adjust my posture etc. For me, meditation is coming back to my vacation, not a torture.

  • I agree, and I would usually make reasonable adjustments in meditation. We used a seat that had back support, because sitting for two hours or more was not uncommon (when we wished to). But I noticed that if I made one adjustment then a steady stream of distractions, itches, pains etc would follow, so it takes some self-discipline to regulate it. Sometimes it was very warm, sometimes cold (easier to deal with), sometimes noisy outside (bark bark bark for hours)... – user2341 Nov 16 '17 at 23:41
  • Sure, there's an element of discipline. After all, you're meditating, not just spacing out. – Andrei Volkov Nov 17 '17 at 0:08

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