“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.”
When working with clients, I frequently recommend meditation as as an adjunct to acupuncture to help resolve their health issues. This advice is frequently met with responses like, “But I don’t know how,” or “My mind is too chaotic to concentrate.” In today’s post, let’s examine the first concern.
Usually when we learn a new skill in our culture, we are taught how to apply specific principles to achieve a particular end result. Whether baking bread, driving a car, or designing a satellite, the learning process normally follows a linear theory and application model. So, believing that one needs to acquire new information in order to “qualify” to meditate is understandable, given how we have been conditioned to learn throughout life.
However, the interesting part about meditation is that it is a process of unlearning rather that of acquisition of new information. In meditation, we reveal the truth by seeing through and discarding all that is not true. To add more ideas to one’s head about “how to” meditate can confound the process. Meditation requires a letting go of what we think we know in order to arrive at direct knowing, prior to thought. The mind cannot understand this, of course, because it is a thinking machine. Yet, we are not our minds, nor our thoughts. In meditation, we come into direct contact with knowing itself without the illusion that there is a separate observer who knows. All that we think we know is simply thought, and thoughts are not reality. So, in meditation, we learn to experience reality directly, without superimposing a conceptual framework of thought on top of it.
I have to laugh every time I try to write about awareness, because I am using words and concepts to try to convey the ultimate futility of words and concepts in the realm of spirituality. That is why I preface this article with the above quote. Another way of expressing that words and concepts are not reality is to say, “The menu is not the meal.” I can describe the delicious taste of pineapple to you all day, but without tasting it yourself, you will never truly understand, even if you have a Ph.D. in food science. A teacher once said that the main function of spiritual discussion is to trick the mind into thinking it understands; at that instant, the mind is quiet, and only then can true understanding arise.
Saying “I don’t know how to meditate” is akin to saying I don’t know how to watch a sunset. If we look at a sunset with a scientist, s/he may be able explain to us how the refraction and scattering of light is creating the breathtaking display in front of us. Yet all this does is add thoughts into our mind to superimpose upon our experience of the beauty of the sunset. This knowledge actually detracts from our experience. The more empty the mind is when watching the sunset, the more we are in communion with it. In Zen, this is called “beginner’s mind.” If we are preoccupied with worries, although we may be physically present, we will not truly be there to experience the majesty of the sunset. Likewise, if we are comparing the sunset with others that we have seen in the past, some of our attention is being pulled from the present moment. When one is truly watching the sun go down, s/he IS the sunset and there is no “me” there watching it. It is the same with meditation. All we are doing in meditation is looking at reality without judging, resisting or commenting. In doing this, the sense of a separate self disappears, and all that remains is awareness.
So, now you may be saying, “Great, that sounds good. So, how do I meditate?” LOL. I could answer by saying, “Don’t do anything, just be.” But that’s a really annoying and sanctimonious answer. Having a framework for establishing a meditation practice is valuable, and resources for this abound.
But, let’s return to the question “How do I do it?” Although to ask this is quite reasonable, the question itself stems from a misunderstanding of what meditation is. The notion that there is anything to “do” in meditation betrays within us a deep seated distrust in ourselves and, by extension, in the fabric of reality. We feel a compulsive need to manipulate our reality because we fear that we are not safe to simply be as we are, as if we would vanish if we stopped striving. Ironically, in a sense, we do vanish when we stop striving, or rather the false sense of self vanishes. When we feel safe, we don’t feel any need to try to change anything. So, one portal into meditation could be to ask the question, “What does it feel like to completely trust this moment and everything contained within it?” By meditating deeply on this question, we may arrive at the realization that peace is available to us at any moment, independent of circumstances.
As I touched upon earlier, I am not condemning the use of a method to establish a meditation practice. A framework is of immense value. However, as is illustrated by Buddha’s raft parable, clinging to the meditation theory or tradition after it has served its function perpetuates illusion. We use the raft to cross the river, but don’t need to carry it once we have arrived at the other side. When I first heard this story, I believed that if I meditated diligently, a time would come when I would have crossed the river, and I could let go of the teachings once and for all in a blaze of glory. After over twenty years of practicing, I am coming to understand that I get into the raft each time I sit on the meditation cushion. On occasion, I leave the raft behind, but it is always there for me to use as needed.
Ultimately, we must each find our own answer to the question of how to meditate. We can follow various paths, but the price of admission into true meditation is invariably the same: a willingness to surrender all attempts at control coupled with an earnest curiosity. When we let go of our beliefs about what is true, only then can we experience truth directly. We are the truth, and this is the birthplace of spirituality.