Sunday, May 03, 2009

On Meditation

Sharing thoughts about meditation seems like a contradiction. Isn’t meditation all about "taking out the trash" and ridding ourselves of rambling thoughts? Well . . . not necessarily.

Many of us have tried meditation, but grew discouraged and after a time, stopped practicing. Maybe because it seemed boring or we didn’t have time to just sit — but more likely, we decided that we weren’t good at "quieting the mind."

As if that were a realistic goal.

I suggest that we don’t need to quiet the mind any more than we need to plug up a bubbling hot springs. It is the nature of hot springs to bubble and the nature of mind to do the same, boiling off random thought-static, a kind of discharge that may serve a function similar to dreaming.

Thoughts happen. Emotions happen. Weather happens. We may prefer certain thoughts, emotions or weather over others. But none are directly controllable by our will.

Thoughts only become a problem when we mistake them for reality. We live in two worlds: An objective world arising within our nervous system and outside of our bodies, perceived by our senses. We also live in a subjective world of the meanings, associations, fears, beliefs and interpretations we make about that objective world.

Meditation enables us to discover the nature of mind, of thought, and to see them as a sort of illusion, a complication we impose on what the Zen masters call "isness" or "suchness" prior to mind.

Many people both misunderstand and idealize this practice we call meditation. But after all, it is a practice — an exercise — like doing push-ups or learning to juggle. As with any practice, it can be done well or poorly and can improve over time.

Doing push-ups over time will predictably strengthen the upper body. Meditation practice also brings noticeable benefits: an enhanced ability to relax, focus and concentrate; more patience; a sharpening of the senses (as we learn to pay attention); enhanced creativity, self-awareness (shadow-work), and insight into the nature of mind. An experience of no-mind.

Meditation is not, however, a path to enlightenment; rather, from the first moment we sit, meditation is the practice of enlightenment — a fundamental means of adapting the body-mind to an enlightened disposition of non-reactivity.

We sit with spine erect — not leaning forward into the future or backward into the past, but stable in this present moment. Meanwhile, our awareness takes on its ultimate role as Witness: We simply observe arising phenomena: thoughts, emotions, physical sensations. Yet we do not react to any of it; we merely bear witness to passing phenomena. Relaxed. Serene. Simply being aware. Being Awareness.

This is why some Zen masters, when asked "What is enlightenment?" may respond, "Just sitting." When beginners first sit, they fidget, think, react, wonder, daydream. As it turns out, "just sitting" is not so easy.

Most meditators use a technique or device to help focus their wandering attention: We turn our attention to our breath, or to a mantra (repeated inner chant), or to inner sounds (nad yoga), or we gaze at a visual image such as a yantra or mandala or just a single point.

Since many thoughts tend to impose physical tensions, the body naturally relaxes as we release our attachment to (or investment in) passing thoughts and impressions. Giving mind-stuff no energy or attention, we slip into a sleep-like or trance-like state in which "time flies."

Some call it the void, the quiet mind. Various studies suggest that spending time in this state provides deep, refreshing rest from the usually active state of the body-mind — doing, pushing, wondering, remembering, imagining, fretful with regrets of the past and anxieties about the future.

Meditation opens doorways to a temporary state of peace, a mini-vacation from self, mind, world. Many people quite enjoy this time out. The practice of sitting meditation, central to a number of eastern (or inward-directed) spiritual traditions, balance the western (outward or extroverted) orientation. In this way, meditation it provides a balancing effect for most active men and women.

In the approach to reality that I teach — the way of the Peaceful Warrior — we can enjoy this meditative disposition, this sense of divine detachment, even after we open our eyes, stand up, and go about our daily business. Various kinds of moving (dynamic) meditation provide a bridge to every-moment meditation.

The Zen masters teach kinhin, or mindful walking — the most basic form of moving meditation. Then there are the mindful Zen arts, like the tea ceremony, or the martial arts (including Taiji), and kyudo (Zen archery), flower arranging. Even western sports provide moments of deep immersion in the present.

But even these more active rituals, which pull attention out of preoccupations and mind-stuff and back to the present, are a form of training wheels. As peaceful warriors, we don’t just practice a sport or martial art — we practice everything.

In each moment we turn our attention to every action, to breath and relaxation. In this way, we transform everyday life into the ultimate meditation. It is not an escape or respite from daily life, but a way to transform daily life.

All meditative practices bring awareness back to the Present Moment, which is itself free of thoughts. (We can only think about the past or future; in the present there is only awareness.)

Meditate for pleasure and for balance — for a whole-body remembrance of the peace that waits for us in the eternal present. Here. Now.

But do not put this practice up on a pedestal as a special "spiritual practice." If we do so — if we treat certain times or activities as special or spiritual, we fall into the trap of treating other times as ordinary. Whereas in truth, all moments, all activities, are equally important. There are no ordinary moments; every moment deserves our full attention.

Let meditation become a way of life, a quality of attention we give to each moment of our daily life. It is a gift that returns to us a hundred-fold. Peace. Serenity. Reality as it is.

Dan Millman

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Blogger Lynn Somerstein said...

Ahh, meditation, every day, brings you home. Yes, I agree,it is enlightenment itself, and also, in another way, an enlightening expereience.
A meditation practice combined with psychoanalytis or psychotherapy helps locate the self within the Self.

12:03 AM  

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