What is meditation?
Monday, May 15, 2017
Meditation is a method of allowing the conscious mind to come to a state of stillness and effortlessness. Many of us have tried to learn this and found
that at first, it is impossible to stop our mind from wandering here and there. In the beginning, the mind moves around, the body complains, our nose
itches and we scratch it, or our back hurts and distracts us. Maybe there is too much noise from the traffic or someone sneezes or someone’s giggling
or we keep getting interrupted by our children or our friends, or we keep going to sleep or there isn’t enough time because we have so much to do.
The possible distractions are endless.
All these problems aren’t because of how our life is, or because of how we think – these problems are how we think. Usually we don’t notice how we think
because we’re so busy doing things, but the moment we stop doing things and sit still, we get to see how difficult and noisy we are all the time. Many
of us are either annoyed or despairing at seeing this and blame it on meditation, or blame ourselves. Once again, we’re just displaying how we think.
It goes on and on.
Just notice the feeling of the breath in the nose and listen for the sound of it when we can’t hear it…this dynamic silence is the stillness that Hafiz talks about in his poetry. This is meditation. ‘To pour the divine into you, God needs you to be still. You don’t need to ask Hafiz anything else about your most important lesson.’ Hafiz
The first part of learning to meditate, is to learn to still the mind. This is the most vital requirement. The trick to doing this is in not taking any
of our opinions seriously. This sounds strange. We think we know this or that. We definitely know that this thing is beautiful or correct and that
this other thing is ugly or wrong. I had a friend many years ago who couldn’t believe that people liked listening to accapella jazz music. She was
sure that they only played it to annoy her. According to her, ‘Nobody could like that stuff!’ She grew up only listening to pop radio and believed
that all people really only loved pop music. She hadn’t been acquainted with opera, jazz, blues or classical music and was convinced that people only
pretended to like all of these. This was really the view from her geography and her social demographic.
Opinions - what to do about them? We can’t just stop opinions with our mind or get rid of them by saying that opinions are bad. That’s just another opinion,
another part of the story. Meditation has nothing to do with this story mind. Many years ago, I heard the Indian mystic Osho, answering a question.
The question had something to do with theology and the man who asked it was at odds with his girlfriend over some obscure point. Osho just answered,
‘In any argument, the one who is the most serious is wrong.’ This is a very valuable teaching. If we are alive and possessing an ego, a sense
of I-ness, then we will have opinions. But we don’t need to be attached to these opinions. Our I-ness always makes us think we’re special in a certain
way. For some of us, this means we think that we can achieve anything – for others of us, it means we think so poorly of ourselves that we think we
are incapable of achieving anything. Both views are just exhibiting an attachment to I-ness – so really they’re no different.
Practicing meditation is just a tool to help us to have insight into the achieving mind. Essentially there is no need for this, as it only requires direct
insight, not sitting still. The Zen Master Bankei refused to let his students meditate for thirty years because he thought it just distracted them
from being aware at all times. Eventually he relented and let them sit for thirty minutes every morning and night. Even Bankei reluctantly agreed that
sitting still was of some benefit.
Our state of mind equilibrium, is similar to keeping a sailboat moored in a strong current. Just as we need to have an anchor for the boat, we need an
anchor for the mind. In the beginning, the simplest thing to tie the mind to is the breath. If you think this is too simple, remember that this thought
of yours is just another opinion and the Buddha did this practice every day – how bad can it be?