Martine Batchelor Week 1 Q & A

Martine Batchelor

These questions relate to Martine Batchelor's Week 1 video, "Meditation on the Breath," from her Tricycle Retreat, Break Your Addictive Patterns.

You said you did Vipassana and Zen meditation what in essence is the difference?  many thanks Wendy

Martine responds:
Dear Wendy,
These are two different techniques of meditation.  Vipassana meditation is based on awareness, Korean Zen is based on questioning.  What they each do is quite different, but being Buddhist meditations both help us to cultivate concentration and experiential enquiry together, which will lead us to develop creative awareness.

Thank you Martine for the teaching.  I am not sure that I understand how cultivating concentration and experiencing the impermanent nature of things help develop creativity.  Could you say more?  Megan

Martine responds:
Dear Megan,
Concentration and experiential inquiry help us to dissolve the power of mental and emotional habits for example, which often fixes and limits us; by doing that the habits can go back to their creative functioning, which we can manifest with wisdom and compassion.  Here by creativity I do not necessarily mean art (though it could help there too) but more that it gives us more choices and fluidity.  We feel less stuck and thus can become more creative in our responses to what we encounter internally or externally.

Martine, thank you so much for your teaching--and thank you for your very personable introduction to the retreat!  Your cat is adorable, and I appreciate seeing the red roofs of your village. 

I'd like to ask further about the distinction you make between cultivation and effect, which helps us  perceive the habit of checking our meditation.  Could you relate checking one's meditation both to the issue of correct effort in practice and to the issue of anxiety, or anxiety as a habit? 

Martine responds:
Good point.  You are right, there is a fine line between correct effort and self-checking.  Being aware of how we meditate and see if it is helping us in terms of becoming somewhat more calm and clear in general in the long run is essential; this is cultivating appropriate effort.  But sometimes one can be anxious to do the right thing, when there are no right way to do it,  but only the way one can try to do it in this moment in one’s individual circumstances.  Sometimes it is not necessarily anxiety but the habit of measuring as in “how am I doing?”; in moderation it is fine but done every two minutes it is not going to help, as when you are checking you are not meditating.  Sometimes it can also be due to certain specific expectation or some impatience.  Anxiety as a habit is a much longer theme, which might be best treated personally via email through my website.

Thank you, I like the suggestion of walking meditation if you are feeling sleepy when you are going to meditate in the early morning.I will try that this week. What would you suggest to do during meditation when I get caught up in thinking about a conflict i have with a coworker? I am having a hard time letting go of feeling offended by some of the things this person does. How can I release these feelings. I tend to ignore or let it go and try to have compassion for her suffering but I still seem to get caught up feeling offended.

Martine responds:
This is a difficult question as there are different things to look at.  Is it a one-off conflict?  Has it happened several times?  Does the person offend you in general or at particular times?  Do you come in contact with this person several times during the day or once a week?  Do you feel offended often or now and then? When you meditate in daily life, the things that you feel stronger about will occupy your mind.  What I would recommend is to let it be in the background without focalising on it specifically, let it arise and pass away.  Try not to feed it by fixating about the specifics or looking for all the upsetting things the person might have done ever.  Try not to proliferate or exaggerate it. It could be that the person does upsetting things and then if nothing can be done about it, you will have to learn to work around it, or it might be that the person has been educated differently or see the world in such a different way that you cannot understand why she would ever do this.  Different people can apprehend and perceive the world in such different ways.  I am sorry it is hard to answer not knowing the context.

Hi Martine, this is my second question. You said focus on where you feel the breath most.  I used to meditate with the focus on the breath in the belly.  Then I decided I wanted to focus a bit more on honing my concentration so I changed to the nostrils.  I wanted to cultivate more concentration to promote an ability to relax but not go to sleep.   I seem to alternate between feeling sleepy and anxious, especially on retreats. If I do more insight meditation then I just go off into a dream or have to be constantly mindful of the anxious body.  Concentration meditations might help me with feeling anxious.  Always having to face these anxious feelings results in me very subtly pushing them away (acceptance through gritted teeth if you get my meaning).  At times I want to return to the belly.  Sometimes I think the nostrils make me think more.    If I want to promote my ability to concentrate then what would you recommend?  I want to do both concentration and insight, but think my insight would benefit from better foundation concentration.  I would be interested in your thoughts on the balance of insight and concentration and whether this is different for differently inclined individuals?  This is my first online retreat, looking forward to it.  Many thanks Wendy.

Martine responds:
Dear Wendy,
In fact if you are often feeling anxious I would recommend different types of meditation.  If you try to concentrate too hard you will feel tense.  In order to develop concentration one needs to develop more ease.  Concentration serves to anchor us into our experience and bring spaciousness in our mind.  The point is to come back often to the breath, not necessarily to stay with the breath for long.  Have you tried body scanning?  Was it helpful?  Have you tried metta (loving kindness) meditation?  Did it seem helpful?  Personally I would recommend listening meditation.  If you want to talk more about this, contact me via email through my website.

I think that the balance of insight and concentration depends on your objectives.  If you want to attain deep states of concentration and calm, then you will have to focus on concentration in restricted circumstances like a retreat.  If you want to develop mindfulness to use in your daily life, I do not think that you require a high level of concentration.  Insight meditation just means that as we meditate we noticed that things change time to time.  They arise and pass away and if they stay a little while, they also change within themselves.

If you want to develop concentration, try metta meditation or body scanning, both are quite efficient methods.

Dear Martine,

I found your remarks about cultivation vs. effect very helpful. Could you say even more about this? You gave an example of an unhelpful type of thought pattern that I slip into during meditation ("is this going ok?") and I wonder if you have even more examples of unhelpful thought patterns.

Another thorny problem I have is that I start to fall asleep about 8-12 minutes after I begin sitting (I fall asleep even faster when I lie down for the night). When I feel drowsy during formal (group) zazen, I cannot get up to walk until the bell is rung. Any suggestions on how I might handle this?

Thank you for your teaching.


Martine responds:
Dear Alan, 
When we are meditating, we are trying to cultivate concentration and experiential enquiry, which will help us over time to develop calm and clarity.  Because we have a tendency to measure and check things up, we start by meditating, that is cultivate concentration and experiential enquiry (in whatever way we meditate according to the method that we follow). But quickly often we move into a position where we are looking at what is happening as in: Am doing this right?  Is this working?  I should be more calm.  Why am I not more calm?  I have too many thoughts?  Etc.  It really does not matter that one has thoughts, what is important is to return again and again to the posture, the breath or sounds, whatever you are focusing on.  When one is checking, one is not actually meditating.  Of course it is essential to know if one is trying too hard or too little, but this only need a light check up as in: am I tense or not?  If one is tense, one relaxes a little?  If one is too loose, then one firms up a bit.

I make the difference between mental functioning and mental patterning.  Everyone has many different mental functions/abilities: planning, reflecting, imagining, judging, comparing, etc.  These over time can become mental patterns when we have these thoughts in a very repetitive manner, which then become like grooves of the mind.  There are two main ones in meditation: daydreaming (which comes from imagining) and ruminating (which comes from reflecting).  I have written about this in Meditation for Life and Let Go.

If you have a tendency to fall asleep easily, I would recommend that you walk briskly for five minutes before coming to the meditation session.  Then time to time check your back and redress it if it has slouched a bit.  You can also open your eyes fully and look up towards the ceiling without tilting your head and ask yourself a few times: who is sitting?  Who is breathing? And then come back to eyes half-closed and meditation on the breath if it is what you do.  Also try to eat a small amount before you are going to do a group session; if you sit in meditation after a main meal, it will be difficult not to feel sleepy.


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