We were doing a book signing in New York City. Oscar-winning actress Ellen Burstyn is one of the contributors to our book, so she joined us for the evening’s event at Barnes & Noble. During question time a woman in the audience stood up and said,
“I came here to see a movie star but I’m leaving wanting to learn how to meditate!”
The lady had come wanting to have a fun evening, had been fed some nourishing wisdom, and was now interested in exploring meditation. This inspired us to see how there are three essentials to the spiritual journey: eating, or feeding and nourishing our inner self; playing, by not taking ourselves too seriously, while compassionately accepting our shortcomings and weaknesses; and meditating, or awakening to inner peace and freedom.
Eat: What can we eat that is not just through our mouth but will bring us real meaning and a deeper satisfaction? What can we absorb or take in that nourishes the yearning within us for something more fulfilling and genuine?
This longing for more arises when the material world begins to lose its taste and allure, when we realize that life is much more than the dramas, dreams, wants, wishes and fantasies we experience daily. We hunger for truth, for what is real and sustaining rather than fleeting and insubstantial. So we start searching, reading, learning, absorbing, going to meetings and to different teachers. This may take us into many varied, sometimes confusing and often hilarious places, but we need the experience of this inner food, this spiritual nourishment, in order to find our own truth. It is as essential to our spiritual health as are protein and vitamins to our physical health.
Play: The more we “eat” spiritual food by absorbing the teachings of various traditions and exploring different paths and methods, the more we discover and get to know ourselves. Which can be both delightful and challenging. One of the greatest lessons we have learned over the last 30 or more years of practicing and teaching meditation is not to take ourselves or our issues too seriously.
It is essential to play, otherwise the journey can become a struggle and we will not be happy. Play includes seeing that whatever arises in our monkey mind is workable, that when we fall we can get up and start over again, laughing at our humanness we do. It means recognizing the pull of the ego mind, the never-ending desire for more, and how easy it is to be selfish. Many people see self-discovery as a serious and challenging journey, yet having fun with our own minds is essential. We need to dance, sing, even be a fool, enjoying the exquisiteness of awakening.
Meditate: The lady at the book signing asked what the difference was between prayer and meditation. Ellen happily answered by saying that, “prayer is when you talk to God, and meditation is when you listen to God.”
Meditation has been associated with everything from affirming ourselves as thin/rich/in love to visualizing ourselves bathed in white light to sitting cross-legged with closed eyes and doing nothing but contemplating our own navel. Yet meditation is none of these. Rather, it is both an experience of radiant emptiness, as well as the practice that enables us to see our limited and self-centered nature for what it is and to discover the depth and freedom that lies within us.
Meditation puts on the light in an otherwise dark room. It enables us to see through illusions and relax into our true nature. Without meditation it is like being in a desert without water. We look everywhere for satisfaction, but like a mirage it cannot be seen or found.
In essence, meditation is both nourishing and playful; it feeds our spirit and releases us from the drama of the ego mind. In this way all three move together, feeding and deepening each other.
Photo of Laughing Buddha by Hannah Sheffield at flickr.com
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