We were teaching a workshop in England when Ed asked the group: “If you like to suffer then raise your hand.”
Surprise, surprise, no one raised a hand. So, if we don’t like to suffer, why do we continue to do it?
It seems like we must love to suffer, as all the ways out of suffering are staring us in the face. If not, then why do more people drink alcohol than meditate and why do more people eat fast food than get exercise? Why do we love everything that’s bad for us and keep away from things that do us good?
Presumably it’s because we really don’t like ourselves too much and live in such a way that our own needs take second place. Or we believe we’re invulnerable and will go on forever. But once a cycle of self-denigration gets started, it takes a huge amount of determination to shift gears.
Which can be even harder when our mind is like a deranged monkey, leaping from one thought or drama to the next, never allowing us time to be quiet and still. Meditation can actually make a huge difference with this, which may sound far-fetched but it’s a direct way to cut through the chaotic monkey that’s constantly making excuses and supporting our resistance. But while drinking alcohol can kill and meditation can save, there are far more people who drink.
Here are some ways meditation can change you:
1. Chills you out.
Quiet time is the most effective remedy for a busy and overworked mind: in a stressed state, it’s easy to lose touch with inner peace, compassion and kindness; in a relaxed state, the mind clears and we connect with a deeper sense of purpose and altruism.
Any time stress is rising, heart closing, mind going into overwhelm, just focus on your breathing and quietly repeat: “Breathing in, I calm the body and mind; breathing out, I smile.”
2. Releases anger and fear.
If we don’t accept our negative feelings, then we’re likely to repress or disown them, and when denied they can cause shame, depression, hatred and violence.
Meditation enables us to see how selfishness, aversion and ignorance create endless drama and fear. It may not be a cure-all, it’s not going to make all our difficulties go away or magically transform our weaknesses into strengths, but it does enable us to release self-centered and angry attitudes, while connecting to a deeper inner happiness.
3. Generates appreciation.
Start by taking a moment to appreciate the chair you are sitting on. Consider how the chair was made: the wood, cotton, wool, or other fibers, the trees and plants that were used, the earth that grew the trees, the sun and rain, the animals that maybe gave their lives, the people who prepared the materials, the factory where the chair was built, the designer and carpenter and seamstress, the shop that sold it—all this just so you could be sitting here, now.
Now extend appreciation to every part of yourself, then to everyone and everything in your life: “For this, I am grateful.”
4. Develops kindness and compassion.
Every time you see or feel suffering, whether in yourself or in another, every time you make a mistake or say something stupid and are just about to put yourself down, every time you think of someone you are having a hard time with, every time you see someone struggling, upset or irritated, just stop and bring loving kindness and compassion.
Breathing gently, silently repeat to yourself: “May I/you be well, may I/you be happy, may I/you be filled with loving kindness.”
There is a reservoir of basic goodness in all beings but we easily lose touch with this natural expression of caring and friendship.
In meditation, we go from seeing our essentially selfish and ego-bound nature to recognizing that we are an integral part of a far greater whole. As the heart opens we bring compassion to our human fallibilities. Meditation is, therefore, the most compassionate gift we can give ourselves.
5. Actives harmlessness.
Simply through the intent to cause less pain, we bring greater dignity to our world: harm is replaced with harmlessness, disrespect with respect. Ignoring someone else’s feelings or needs, thinking thoughts of revenge and dislike, affirming our hopelessness, or seeing ourselves as incompetent and unworthy are all causes of personal harm.
How much resentment, guilt, or shame are we holding on to, thus perpetuating such harmfulness? Meditation enables us to transform this through discovering our essential goodness.
Without sharing and caring, we live in an isolated, disconnected and lonely world.
We can take meditation ‘off the cushion’ and put it into action as we become more deeply aware of our connectedness with all beings. From being self-centered, we become other-centered, concerned about the welfare of all. Spontaneous expressions of genuine generosity are seen in our capacity to let go of conflicts or forgive mistakes, or in our desire to help those in need.
We are not alone here, we all walk the same earth and breathe the same air; the more we participate, the more we are connected and fulfilled.
7. Invites us to be with what is.
The very nature of life includes change and unfulfilled desire and a longing for things to be different than how they are, all of which brings discontent and dissatisfaction.
Almost everything we do is to achieve something: if we do this, then we will get that; if we do that, then this will happen. But in meditation, we do it just to do it. There is no ulterior purpose other than to be here, in the present moment, without trying to get anywhere or achieve anything. No judgment, no right or wrong, simply being aware.
Meditation enables us to see clearly, to witness our thoughts and behavior, and reduce our self-involvement. Without such a practice of self-reflection there’s no way of putting a brake on the ego’s demands. But stepping out of the conceptual mind doesn’t mean stepping into nowhere or nothing; it doesn’t mean that there is no connection to a worldly reality.
Rather, it is stepping into sanity and greater connectedness. Then we have no more need to suffer!
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Ed: Catherine Monkman