When face to face with oneself, there is no cop-out.
The first time
I’ll never forget the first time I ever meditated. I didn’t mean to meditate, I didn’t even want to, but it was that sister of mine again. It was years ago. It was some guru’s birthday or some sort of spiritual holiday and she needed a ride to Gold Hill, near Boulder. I took her there and we ate a good vegetarian dinner in silence. Afterwards, I met a couple of her friends from the ashram. Then we all went over to the meditation hall. I remember she told me, “Now, if you want to leave the meditation early, just slip quietly out that side door.” I thought that was kind of a funny thing for her to say to me: 1) What made her think I was going to leave early, and 2) Like, I couldn’t find the door or what?
Anyway, they started chanting. I thought it was kind of weird, but harmless. Then they started meditation, just sitting there, still, without moving, for what seemed a week. I couldn’t stand it, my brain was on overdrive doing the grocery list, a grant proposal I was working on . . . boy, I want a cigarette, spin, spin, spin. I couldn’t stop it. I wanted to jump up and jog around the room just to move. Finally, I had to do as she had instructed, or should I say predicted, and head for the side door. Wow, was it good to get out of there and go sit in my car and get distracted by the radio. So I sat there and listened to the tunes and waited for her.
I didn’t get it then, but I get it now. That is the entire point. You are supposed to sit there and see how crazy you really are, how haphazard, how obsessed, how unaware, how violent, how angry, how selfish, how neurotic, how dramatic, how insecure, how “not in the moment,” how charged, how caught up, how “not directly involved,” how distracted, how completely overtaken you are with your own constant chatter.
Yet distractions are beautiful: alcohol, TV, movies, food, friends, family, conversation, cigarettes, recreation, music, shopping, travel, games, motion (trains, planes, motorcycles). They are all diversions from your true self. Meditation is a very effective way to find out who you are, not to mention, to help you get centered and get what you want out of life.
As Eddie and Debbie Shapiro sum it up in their book, Out of Your Mind—The Only Place To Be!, “When all the trappings are taken away there is nothing but a vast emptiness. Finally we are left with that which transcends all true phenomena, our true selves.” [Eddie and Debbie Shapiro, Out of Your Mind—The Only Place To Be!, Rockport, MA: Element, Inc., 1992, p. 53.]
How much of our daily life are we aware of? What do we think about all day? How many times a day do we judge others? How many times a day do we think about sex? What percent of our life are we daydreaming or wishing we were somewhere else? How many times a day do we have negative thoughts? How many times a day do we put ourselves down? How much of our day are we really present to whom we are talking or what we are doing? How many times a day do we lie to other people because we do not have the personal courage or integrity to simply tell them the truth? How many times a day are we inauthentic? What is our life force really spent doing?
There are as many ways to meditate as there are religions. In fact, almost all religions engage in some sort of meditation, because their founders know that you really don’t know what is going on until you stand still and take a quiet look. “Be still, and know that I Am God,” says the Old Testament. Some meditations are like positive affirmations, some are like those in The Artist’s Way, writing and investigating what is going on; some mimic the statues of the meditating Buddha where the goal is to empty your mind.
Meditation is defined often as a state of focused attention through which one emerges into an ever-increasingly clear awareness of reality. Different sects of religions use different techniques, including imagery, breath control, observation, and mantras.
Great meditation authors
Osho, in his great book entitled The Everyday Meditator, states, “Stopping the world is the whole art of meditation. And to live in the moment is to live in eternity. To taste the moment with no idea, with no mind, is to taste immortality.” [Osho, The Everyday Meditator, p. 31.] This has fifty or so different meditations for different things from laughing, dancing, working, loving, and whirling. It is a really fun book.
Joko Beck recommends in Everyday Zen that you just sit still and be aware of all your thoughts, like a witness: “I am thinking about my car not starting. Now, I am starting to think about how my neighbor made me mad this morning.” She says that if you label your thoughts and be aware of them, sooner or later you will tire of your old worn-out thoughts like a movie you have sat through 500 times.
It works, not quickly, not easily, and not without severe pain, because what you have to do is “be the pain.” That means face it, feel it—cry, scream, yell (without lashing out at others, a hard one). So if something very painful occurs in your life such as divorce, death, or some other sort of loss, you need to feel all that pain, for as long as it takes. That is the only way to get past it. I highly recommend Beck’s book.
A great master
I recently attended a lecture in Boulder by His Holiness, Orgyen Kusum Lingpa. The flyer from the Shambhala Center described him as “a preeminent Dzogchen meditation master and treasure revealer from the Golok region of Tibet, where he is an abbot of three major monasteries. He is distinguished in his ability to receive and transmit teachings that have been hidden for generations. This will be a unique opportunity to hear a qualified master present the Dzogchen view of Buddhist meditation.”
It was a very small gathering of people held at a Boulder woman’s home. He stated that just sitting in the meditation position of legs crossed and hands in one’s lap is very beneficial to “bind the body, helping] bind the mind. The mind which is under the power of constant thought activity is like the Sun and the Moon being controlled by the constant rolling of clouds.”
Meditation practice, he said, is to help abate powerful mental disturbances and provide even the most miserly, coarse, intense minds a greater ease, happiness, comfort, and calm state. Trying to tame the mind is like a parent trying to get a child that doesn’t listen to follow directions.
Before His Holiness began his lecture and while we were waiting for the interpreter to arrive, we briefly meditated with him. It was one of the most powerful meditation sessions I have ever had.
I sit down and sort of meditate everyday, but really it is more like a really nice quiet space and time every morning when I get to write down who and what is getting on my nerves, and then plan my daily activities. His Holiness stated that this sort of practice may help organize your day, although it is not going to bring you any lasting peace or get you closer to anything meaningful.
I have read many of the great meditation books, and I always know what they are talking about intellectually, but this was the first time I ever practiced with a great master, and it was powerful. They say in many of the books how important it is to practice with a master and with a group of like-minded people. I thought this was simply to remind you to meditate, but I see now that the great masters really can transmit information or energy via their very presence.
The Tibetan Buddhists have a meditation in which you think about your body being a corpse. The purpose is for you to accept and get used to your body decomposing and decaying because that is the truth, and if you can accept it, then you can get beyond it and start living.
“The object of walking is to relax the mind,” Thomas Jefferson said, adding that “you should, therefore, not permit yourself even to think while you walk; but divert yourself by the objects that surround you.” [Young, Dr. Tim. The Way to Christ Technique of Meditation, p. 126.] Sounds to me like a Buddhist walking meditation.
Some of the benefits of meditation include healing of the body, quieting of the mind, stimulating creativity and balance, and calmness. Many people find an enhanced sense of efficiency.
A Catholic nun I have worked with years ago gave me the book, Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh. “Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves,” the author states. He continues, “Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully each minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live.” [Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1987, pp. 14, 15.]
How can one get started in meditation?
I would get a good book recommended below, or choose among many others. Just browse in your bookstore, health food store, or library. I would pick a type of meditation that suits you. Then just follow the directions as well as you can. Many meditation classes are offered through night schools, Hare Krishnas, and Buddhist centers. Look up meditation in your phone book or ask around.
Or just go ahead and try it on your own. Kathleen McDonald, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist nun, in her book, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide, has the following advice for beginners:
- In order to experience the benefits of meditation it is necessary to practice regularly.
- It is best to reserve a room or corner especially for your meditation sessions.
- It is good to start with one of the breathing meditations.
- In the beginning it is best to meditate for short periods—ten to thirty minutes, and end your sessions while mind and body are still comfortable and fresh.
- Mind and body should be relaxed and comfortable throughout the session.
- Have no expectations.
- You need a teacher.
- Don’t advertise, referring to your breakthroughs. Meditation is to be practiced, not talked about [Kathleen McDonald, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1984.]
This is a really great book for the beginner and includes many meditations.
One last thought: “It is through meditation that the bridge of communication is built between the unfolding human soul and the inner guide, the transpersonal self.” [Kroeger, The Seven Spiritual Causes of Ill Health, p. 126.]
Other suggested reading:
The Art of Meditation by Joel Goldsmith
Theory and Practice of Meditation, edited by Rudolph Ballentine
The Experience of Insight by Joseph Goldstein
Everyday Zen by Joko Beck
The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron
Write to the MA Center, P.O. Box 613, San Ramon, CA 94583 for a catalog. They have wonderful tapes including the MA on Meditation tape.