September 21, 2010

Is Meditation Your Friend or Your Enemy?

Did you ever wonder why we resist something that connects us to peace of mind and inner happiness?

Isn’t it ironic how often the best things for us can be what we avoid the most? Something like meditation, for instance, that can bring us such joy can appear as unimportant, boring, and we have little time for it. Yet this is like being addicted to poison while resenting the antidote!

Some years ago, we were in Thailand, attending a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Each day a cheerful Buddhist monk would come to teach, and he would always ask us: “Are you happier today than you were yesterday?” As he said this, a wide smile would fill his face because he knew that we were confronting numerous obstacles to happiness, and not just the ones in our own minds. As beautiful as the coconut grove was, we were living with mosquitoes, centipedes, and snakes, sleeping on wooden planks, and did not eat after midday. How were we expected to find happiness amidst such extremes?

Yet despite his humorous tone, the smiling monk’s question was a genuine one. We were on a meditation retreat. If we were not beginning to feel happier as a result, then what was the point of being there? Why meditate if we don’t enjoy it?

Every day he asked us that same question, “Are you happier today than you were yesterday?”

This had the effect of highlighting the extent to which we were preoccupied with our own concerns, doubts, and conflicts, and even how difficulties can actually feel more familiar and meaningful than joy. How easy it was to blame physical discomforts for our lack of happiness!

This highlights how important it is that we make friends with meditation. We are not here to battle with ourselves; meditation is not the enemy. Nor do we need to make excuses, complaining that our mind is too busy or restless. Rather than resisting stillness, we can let the business and discomfort become our meditation.

In the same way, it will be of no help at all if we feel we have to meditate, and then feel guilty if we miss the allotted time or only do ten minutes when we had promised to do thirty. It is much better to practice for a just a few minutes and to enjoy what we are doing than to make ourselves sit there, teeth gritted, because we have been told that only thirty minutes will have any affect. Meditation is a companion for us to have throughout our life, like a dear friend we turn to when in need of reflection, inspiration, and clarity. It is to be enjoyed!

Almost everything we do in life is to achieve something: If we do this, then we will get that; if we do that, then this will happen. We are not used to doing something without an agenda. If our purpose is to try to achieve a quiet mind, then the trying itself will create tension and failure.

Instead, we are just with whatever is happening in the moment, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. No judgment, no right or wrong. Watching whatever arises and letting it go is all that is required. It is more of an undoing than a doing. There is no ulterior motive other than to be here, without a goal of succeeding or of trying to get anywhere.

Practicing meditation means slowly and gently training the mind to do something it may not have done before: to be still. The technique gives the mind an activity, and every time it wanders off on a thinking spree, simply notice this and bring it back to the practice. The experience of stillness is accumulative: The more stillness, so slowly the mind becomes quieter.

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