Meditation has become fashionable, even trendy.
Or at least that’s the impression that some practitioners might want to give. Cool people do it; so do celebrities.
It’s meant to take away your anxiety, make you more centred and bring you serenity. It is the preserve of gurus, hippies and alternative lifestylers. It’s supposed to be all about the breath, sitting with your body and a finding a calm mind.
The practice brings to mind Buddhist priests who sit in the lotus position and the laughing face of the Dalai Lama.
Yet, despite its apparent popularity, it may also be the case that for the ordinary person it is as much clouded in mystery as it was when it came to the West from Tibet and other Asian traditions in the 1960s.
The images and popular representations of the practice seem to reinforce its foreignness and its distance from our everyday lives. Certainly, for some, this is part of its attraction. For others, it is weird and has nothing to do with living in a prosperous contemporary society.
The overriding question about meditation is this: Why the hell should I care? It’s okay for those who are into it, but I’m okay. I don’t need it, do I?
I want to begin to answer that question by suggesting something that is not often said by teachers and practitioners of meditation. Meditation is an existing core experience for human beings. Let me say that again, so you don’t miss it—it is an existing core experience.
I consider meditation to be a practice and an experience that we all share. I want to dispense with seeing it as some esoteric Asian practice. Rather, I define meditation as deep awareness, or as a highly focused awareness of our bodies, our senses and our souls.
In everyone’s experience there are heightened moments of such deep awareness. It could be sitting on a beautiful beach and watching the waves wash in. It would happen when listening to inspiring music. It could emerge when lying in the stillness of a bath and contemplating life. It might unfold at important turning points in one’s life, surrounding such events as births, triumphs, disappointments and deaths. It certainly has particular intensity in sexual union with someone you love.
When it does happen we experience great clarity, stillness, ease and the contentment of being in the moment, without the regrets of the past and the expectations of the future. Meditation, or as I call it, deep awareness, exists for all of us. It is in us; it is something that most of us desire.
The experience of being meditative is part of the human condition that goes back thousands of years and is in all religious traditions. To a more or less extent all of us have experienced meditation and enjoyed its benefits, even if it is fleeting and irregular, even if we don’t call it meditation.
What a formal meditation practice does is bring discipline, regularity and depth to this core human experience. By bringing this regularity of practice, by working within a tried-and-true structure (that Buddhists and others have honed over thousands of years) and by investigating our feelings, thoughts and processes in a systematic way, there is the possibility of finding lasting calmness, focus and stillness. Buddhists call the outcome of such a disciplined practice, calm abiding.
What we all share in those incomplete but lovely moments of heightened focus, at a beach, on a walk, with someone, can now become regularised and made into a beautiful refuge in the busy and chaotic modern world.
So, meditation is not so far away. Really it is very close and its benefits are for everyone.
Author: Edwin Creely
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Richard Masoner
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