The Meditation Edition
The confluence of Kim’s trip to India and my increasingly frequent conversations about meditation with clients has inspired me to devote a blog entry to the topic of meditation. Meditation has been a vitally important part of my life for many years. In this issue, I will share a few insights I have stumbled upon in my own path as well as resources I have found to be of great value in understanding meditation:
Meditation is all about being, not at all about doing.
The question I am most often asked by clients when discussing meditation is, “What do I do?”, “What do YOU do?”, or “How do I do it?” While this is a useful question in most arenas of life, doing and meditation as I have come to understand it are not related. Certainly there are various practices to help still the mind, from reciting mantras, to watching the breath, and countless other forms of manipulating the focus of one’s attention. While these practices have practical value in inducing a peaceful state of mind, they are more of a form of self hypnosis that, by themselves do not foster insight that arises during meditation. The aim of meditation as I understand it is to realize the true nature of reality. This happens through looking with receptivity, without an agenda or constraints. I am not suggesting that one abandon all rituals and structured practices. These sadhana have great value and I find great value in my own regular practices like Hatha yoga. However, meditation free from the compulsion of doing is something subtly different.
So if we don’t “do” when we meditate, how do we “be”? We watch. We observe. We witness. We listen. These are various ways of saying: We allow everything to be as it is. What good is that? For one thing, everything is as it is already! So, the only sane thing to do is to look reality squarely and not resist something that has already arisen into being. When we cease resisting, clear perception arises. We are able to see things as they truly are without the distorting filter of our belief structures. With acceptance comes an open receptivity. With the absence of manipulation, everything can return to its natural order.
The inability to stop the mind from racing does not preclude one from having a meditation practice. Likewise, difficulties and discomfort in meditation are not only natural, they are essential.
Clients often say “Oh, I can’t meditate, my mind won’t stop racing.” It’s similar to people saying, “I can’t do yoga because I am too tight.” My standard response to this is, “That is like saying ‘I can’t drink water because I am too thirsty.'”
Alternatively, some people say, “Oh, I just fall asleep.” What happens if we don’t place a judgment on the mind racing or falling asleep and set aside time to meditate anyway? Everything changes. Eventually, the racing mind quiets, and the dull mind becomes attentive. Be gentle with yourself. Give no importance to the racing nagging mind, and it will cease to have power over you. Likewise, allow yourself the rest that you need and dose off in the beginning, and you will be once again refreshed and alert. When we give ourselves the license to have the experience that is emerging at any given moment, a natural flow emerges, things right themselves without effort, and all actions arise spontaneously out of stillness.
Practitioners often grow discouraged with their meditation practice when difficulties invariably arise. A common protest is “This practice is supposed to bring me peace, but leaves me feeling miserable!” Looking within reveals dark places and hurt places. Anger, grief, confusion, fear arise… So why go to the trouble to look at these places within ourselves? Because these blind spots distort our perception of reality. They influence the way we talk to our family, the way we treat each other, and the way we regard ourselves. When we can see with compassion and without judgment the pain that dwells within us, a miraculous dissolution takes place, leaving peace in its wake… Leaving us open-hearted and free of the fear borne of holding on to past pain. I won’t pretend to know why the universe works this way, but it has been my experience that the looking itself brings about a healing.
The more we let go of the expectation that we will immediately enter Satori upon sitting for meditation, the more easefully the process of realization unfolds in its own timing.
Meditation is more a process of subtraction than addition. To perceive the truth, we simply let go of the false.
We live in an object oriented society in which focus is turned almost entirely to the external. A natural feature of this orientation is consumerism and materialism. However, because all forms are unstable, no acquisition can provide lasting fulfillment. A blind obsession with the next newest best thing develops in an attempt to fill a chasm of desire.
So, how to dismantle this dysfunctional pattern of over-consumption endemic to our culture? Start with ourselves. Watch, notice, observe. See the mind grasp at that which it desires and resist that which it fears. Then look even deeper to notice that the value judgments the mind places on the various experiences and objects of perception cause the reactions of aversion and craving. These value judgments arise from the beliefs to which we cling. What does reality look like without these beliefs? It looks like it is! Reality. What does it look like with the beliefs? Delusional at best. A hellish nightmare at its worst. Meditation facilitates a falling away of that which is not real, leaving only the truth. No special knowledge need be acquired. Quite the opposite is the case. To much knowledge gets in the way of true insight.
So there are my philosophical ramblings for the month. If what you have read has sparked an interest in exploring meditation more deeply, here are some resources that articulate these ideas with infinitely greater elegance…
I Am That
The quote at the top of this email one of my all time favorites. It comes from a book called I Am That, a transcription of dialogs between the Indian sage Sri Nisargadatta and his pupils. The book has been a touchstone for me in my spiritual life for the past several years, and I often refer to it for guidance and clarity. The sage’s sole concern was with human suffering and the ending of suffering. It was his mission to guide the individual to an understanding of her/his true nature and the timelessness of being. He taught that mind must recognize and penetrate its own state of being in order to recognize timeless being without identification with the observer or the observed. If you would like a hard copy, I Am That is available on Amazon.
If you have listened to a guided meditation while receiving acupuncture at Stillpoint, Adyashanti is the dude you were listening to. I have attended numerous meditation retreats led by Adya, and he has been a great guide for me in my life. If you are interested in getting his guided meditations on CD along with a book about meditation, you can find them here: True Meditation. Adya also offers webcasts on Wednesday evenings at 6pm. To learn more and get updates about upcoming podcasts, go here: Adyashanti.org.
Also, if you are just getting started meditating, feel free to talk with me about any questions you may have. Although I make no claims to being a Bodhisattva, I love to talk about the nature of reality and perception and I more than happy to share suggestions on beginning a meditation practice. I wish you well on your journey.
Joe Curcio and the Stillpoint team