If you are anything like me, then there is a part of you that has longed for the kind of connection to another human being that would—for once in your restless life—allow you to feel completely at ease in this world.
Have you found that person yet? You know, the one who fulfills, by virtue of their being, all of the promises others have made (and often broken).
I have. But like any relationship worth having, it requires some dedication.
By now the many psychological and physiological benefits of meditation are now well-known.
For me, these benefits are the bi-products of a much more profound, life-altering, path-changing “benefit” of meditation. That benefit is meditation’s impact on relationship.
Relationship in that full, rich sense of being this dynamic, ever-changing field of interaction between you and the world around you, and between you and you. And it’s really here in the field of relationship where I have found the richest treasure from a contemplative practice.
Years ago—right before meeting my husband and uprooting my life in the U.S. for one in Switzerland—I had a steady meditation practice. It was not particularly Buddhist, nor was it not. It was inspired in part by an author and teacher, whose teachings deeply resonated with me.
And it was really consistent.
I was single at the time, and would retreat to my bedroom early most evenings to read, write, and meditate. In the beginning, an underlying anxiety would accompany me every time I started to meditate. I felt anxious not knowing what I’d encounter in the uncharted territory of my inner castle. It didn’t take long, though, before this anxiety was transformed into a sublime familiarity.
I began to so deeply relish these opportunities to be there, with me.
One evening in late October, while I was lying on my bed staring into the darkness of my room, a new sense manifested.
Out of nowhere, I had a feeling that there was a presence with me.
I said out loud to myself: I’m not alone.
I wondered sometime later if this was what others would call the presence of God. It was almost as if I could have reached out and felt my way through the darkness to touch the inhumanely large, refulgent angel hovering over me.
But I recognized it as me.
It was like this meta-me, this observer, that surrounded me. It didn’t matter what I was doing after that—sitting in a meeting at work, going out with friends, driving in my car—it felt as though there was someone with me constantly observing and attending to every moment I experienced.
It was potent and radical and lovely beyond words.
But what was perhaps most beautiful was the depth of caring, kindness and compassion that emanated from this presence. It was as if I had a friend, and that friend attended to me in the way a good friend does.
It was as if a constant, silent and unconscious dialogue was always taking place between us.
The end result was not a permanent state of happiness. Rather, in every moment, regardless of what I was experiencing, this friend was there like all-encompassing hug. What came from that was a sense of unspeakable calm.
You see, this friend is also an adult.
Cultivating such a relationship with yourself is like having a personal steward of the soul. She is bold and caring and unafraid of what she finds hidden in the depths of your psyche because she is wisdom itself.
Her capacity to hold your pain with kindness is limitless.
That fractured part of you loosely cobbled together in the earliest part of your life; a life which was characterized by instability, abuse, distrust and broken relationships. You know that pain. Don’t worry, she’s got it, and you know it with an unshakeable trust.
The important feature of my relationship to this feeling of presence was that it was a thing continually renewed in my evening mediation.
I was regularly and purposefully renewing this relationship to self over and over again. Like a muscle we train during exercise, or the muscle memory we build when we practice a new instrument; the repetition of vocabulary of a new language we’re learning.
Regular, steady, and dedicated attention.
A well-known Buddhist and mindfulness researcher once described how patience, kindness and compassion are cultivated in the act of meditation. Every time we wander off during meditation we learn to gently bring our focus back to the object of our attention (our breath, our seat against the cushion or chair, our hand resting on our knee).
We do this endlessly and without worrying about whether or not we are having a “good” or “bad” meditation.
Without berating ourselves for being unable to “stop” our minds.
With patience toward our wandering minds.
With kindness for the fact that that’s what our minds do, they wander.
With compassion for the evaluating and berating we do anyway.
And in a very real way we cultivate, nourish, and grow these qualities within us; qualities which invariably spill out into the world. We enhance our ability to experience these qualities in the world and we begin to embody them. Cultivating these qualities time and again in a dedicated practice is the foundation upon which we build this relationship—this friendship— to self and keep it flourishing.
Occasionally, we have the feeling we are thrown into chaos.
Maybe we find ourselves surrounded by a lot of newness, within which we don’t easily find the space for a meditation practice. Perhaps some trauma or accident occurs, an illness or death. Sometimes the internal chaos becomes normalized and therefore harder to sense when we’re not paying attention. For me, it’s during this habitual chaos—being busy, busy, busy—when the relationship is most susceptible to neglect.
But she is always there.
And in moments during the habitual chaos—while washing the dishes or putting away toys—when I have lost contact for a time, I’ll suddenly have this sense, like a call out of the blue from a dear old friend, that seems to say,“I’m still here.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Carrie Marzo / Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photo: Arunabha Kundu / Pixoto