Interested in meditation? Let’s chat about it.
Today, I am taking a suggestion from Teresa (who commented and made a request over at 1000dayvow.com), and writing in a general way about my experiences with meditation to ground some possible expectations.
You can check out my other posts on meditation on this blog here. And you can read an interview I recently gave for elephantjournal.com, How to Bring Discipline to Your Practice.
One thing that is up for debate is exactly what meditation is. In my opinion, like so many things in life, there is no one thing that meditation is.
This would be my current working definition: Meditation means taking time to be consciously with your self.
It seems to me that all of us, to one extent or another, and with differing degrees depending on the occasion, navigate through life primarily through heuristics. We learn short cuts that we can rely on (more or less) to help us cope with the sometimes overwhelming amount of information that life can present us with. When dealing with all of that, it can get easy to forget the original source of a particular short cut, and keep using it past it’s due date. We can also loose ourselves behind a set of easy assumptions about what & who we are.
Meditation gives us a chance to cut through that.
By sitting consciously with our own being, keeping our awareness strong, focused, and present, we begin to peak past the wall of habits and presumptions. We can examine where we operate purely mechanically, and where we get creative. We can differentiate between what was installed by others, and what we came to ourselves. The meditation practitioner gets the chance to make informed choices as to which habits to keep, and which ones to discard or revamp.
In one version of the Buddha’s story, he did exactly this. When under the Bodhi tree, exploring the middle path he came to see the trends that were running his life. Some of those had negative connotations. By becoming consciously aware of those negative impulses, he was able to re-wire his system for more positive impulses. In one formulation, it is said that he saw that behind every negative action was a positive impulse. If that positive impulse could be exhumed from the layers of habit, examined, and honored, then the same actions could result in positive consequences. Yelling at a child to save them from grabbing something hot goes from a punishment and an infliction, to an act of compassion. The scream of derision and blame becomes a shout of warning and love.
All of that is imminently possible with meditation, and this shows just one of the many benefits that can come from the practice.
To get more on point with what I think Teresa was asking though, I will share some of my specific experiences.
Let me start by saying that it’s a vast area of exploration. The amount going on in the inner space, as far as I can tell, rivals all of what’s going on in outer space. I am not talking about just our immediate occupancy. I mean all of reality. In a way, each of us seems to be not only a mirror of reality, but in a sense a full version of it. The clearer you can make that mapping of the inner space to match the outer space, the less bumpy the ride.
In my time on the meditation cushion I have had lots of wild rides. I’ve also had sessions that were barely removed from naps. My favorite times are the ones with no fanfare and simple plain attention.
I’ve had my life pass before my eyes.
I’ve had previous lives pass before my eyes.
I’ve meditated on cushions, pillows, dust, towels, benches, beds, chairs, logs, boulder, bean bags, grass, and dirt.
I’ve twitched and spasmed and moved to internal energies balancing themselves.
I’ve been taken on tours “back stage” of reality by a threesome of energetic beings who have been visiting me since I was 12.
I’ve had plenty of lower back and knee pain. (Remember to stretch!)
I’ve ceased to exist as a personal noun.
I’ve cried, and laughed like a fiend.
I’ve doubted that anything good would ever come out of the practice.
I’ve been assailed by thoughts galore!
I’ve seen the source of hundreds of my habits and been able to (slowly!!!) modify them over time.
In the eternal wisdom of RAW, I’ve seen beyond doubt what a Cosmic Schmuck I can be. (Often!)
I’ve spoken to myself when I was a frightened child, soothed the historical pain, and let that child sleep safely.
I’ve been to places I was afraid I would never come back from. (Pro tip: Go further! Safety is one more step.)
And through it all, there I was. Before, during, and after.
In a sense, meditation is like going to a movie, either one that you have not seen before, or one of your favorites. No matter how many trailers you’ve seen, or how many times you’ve seen the movie before, you have not seen this play of that movie until you go see it. Once you do you may be swept away on an existential roller coaster with mighty peaks, and abyss like depths. Through it all, it’s just a movie, and when the timer rings (or the incense burns out, or the audio track ends, or whatever you use to demarcate your practice) you will be there and the movie will be a memory.
I want to also say that I categorically deny that meditation is a path to awakening in itself. Meditation gives us a skill, and an opportunity. It can also be a support structure for awakening. There can be awakening openings that occur during meditation, but as far as I can tell there is not really a causal connection. Meditation provides a context, and an equanimity, with which to come to terms with our awakening.
Those are my ruminations on meditation for today! I hope you enjoyed them!
Drop me a comment and let me know what you thought! Peace!