An oyster may not like that irritating grain of sand in its shell, but it manages to transform it into a precious pearl. That’s quite a feat. Just like beautiful roses growing out of smelly manure, or a delicate butterfly emerging out of a caterpillar.
It’s a process of transformation and, luckily, meditation does exactly the same thing for us, as through it we awaken to the exquisiteness of our own true nature. By sitting quietly with awareness of whatever is going on in our life, however irritating or challenging it may be, we can gain a greater picture by seeing round it, through it, and beyond it. In this way, annoyance is transformed into acceptance and insight, challenges into clarity, shit into gold. Adversity is as much a stimulus for change as it forms the compost from which we grow.
As it gains popularity, so a huge amount is being written about meditation—what it is, what it is not, and how to do it. Meditation has been associated with everything from affirming ourselves as thin/rich/in love to visualizing ourselves bathed in white light, to contemplating our navel. Yet really it is none of these.
Rather, it covers a vast arena of experiences and activities, from watching our breath, repeating mantras or sacred sounds, moving rhythmically, washing the dishes, walking in nature, silent prayer, to opening our heart to ourselves and all beings, and awakening to self-realization. Through all this the real ‘key’ is awareness. It enables us to see our own limitations and self-centered nature more clearly, and to discover the depth and beauty that lies within us.
However, the ego-mind is rarely still; most of the time it’s as busy as a drunken monkey, leaping from thought to thought or drama to drama, recollecting what we should have done, hoping, fearing, having all kinds of internal dialogues, just as the monkey leaps from one branch to another. When we do take the time to be still we are bombarded with how loud and active our monkey mind really is.
In our award-winning book, Be The Change, meditation teacher Sakyong Mipham addresses this issue: “Even though our mind is always like this, when we first begin to meditate we might say, ‘Meditation is terrible. It has made things worse for me.’ Nothing got worse; we just stopped and noticed our mind. That is all. It is like getting out of the car on the highway and realizing how fast the traffic is moving.”
Meditation is both an experience of being who we really are, as well as the practice that invites us to be in this state. No one practice is more effective or important than another. Whatever the form, it is simply finding that which works for each of us. It may be a combination of them all or it may just be sitting with whatever presents itself. Anything we do with awareness is meditation, as awareness –– or mindfulness –– leads to the experience of radiant awakening. It is being fully present with what is. It is the freedom to be okay with whatever arises in the mind, and to be completely ourselves. In the process we become the oyster transforming our reality.
We were on a meditation retreat in Thailand and each day a monk would ask us the same question: “Are you happier today than you were yesterday?” His question was a genuine one. We were on a meditation retreat and if we were not beginning to feel happier as a result, then what was the point of being there?
Our monk was not just asking us if we were happier; he was revealing to us that the very purpose of life is to discover the inner peace that is our deepest joy.
He was saying that there is enough pain and suffering in the world already, unfulfilled desire and a longing for things to be different, all of which brings discontent and dissatisfaction. He was constantly emphasizing that, through meditation, we would find a deeper happiness that arises naturally from within us.
Meditation enables us to transform difficulties into solutions, release the boundaries and limitations of separation and merge into oneness. It is an experience of profound joy and intimate familiarity, a feeling of coming home that reminds us so completely of who we really are that we forget we had ever forgotten. There is just this.
Editor: Lindsay Friedman / Brianna Bemel