July 28, 2016

Are You Trying to Escape?


I recently received the following email.

Is meditation a way of escaping reality?

My first thought was of Robin Williams who said, “Reality!! What a concept!”

Then I took a breath. It’s an important question:

Is meditation a way of escaping reality?

The short answer: it depends.

On what?

On our intention.

Think of intention as a continuum. On one end of the continuum is the intention of relief; on the other end is the intention of healing. If our intention is primarily relief, it’s likely that we’re using spiritual practice to temporarily escape from pain and suffering.

There’s nothing wrong with this.

Sometimes relief is exactly what we need.

If we’ve been working too hard for too long, getting some relief, rest and renewal is wisdom. If we’re caught up in a volatile, emotional, overwhelming situation, relief can be the best first step. Get out of the house, office, relationship—anything.

But relief can’t free us from suffering.

That’s not what it’s for. Relief is for temporary, well, relief. Even when seeking relief takes the form of spiritual practice.

Here’s how it works:

When we’re dancing and chanting to a rockin’ kirtan, sweating through yet another sun salutation, or laser-focusing on our breath, your attention isn’t on what’s bothering us. It’s concentrated, absorbed in the practice, and thus suffering thoughts and emotions are held in abeyance.

Our attention is elsewhere, and the relief is palpable.

Whew! So good!

The weight of suffering is lifted. The drama is quieted. The mind thinks, “It would be so good to stay here…forever.” But that won’t happen. Why?

Because relief, by its very nature, is short-lived. When the effects of relief wear off, we’re face-to-face with those suffering thoughts again. We’re back in the swirl and whirl of those confusing emotions.

Why do those thoughts and emotions keep showing up?

Because they need our attention, and when we use spiritual practice to seek relief, we’re doing the exact opposite.

That’s the problem with meditation as escape: we’re shifting attention away from the thoughts and emotions that need that attention the most.

The painful thoughts and emotions are crying out for attention. But, not just any attention. They are crying out for healing attention.

What is healing attention?

It is attention infused with loving awareness that is equal parts:

1. Compassion.

2. Non-identification.

3. Balance.

Healing attention infuses painful thoughts and emotions with loving awareness.

Loving awareness can feel the suffering of those thoughts and emotions without identification.

It is this unique quality—of being fully present and at the same time non-identified—that opens the conduit through which loving awareness can flow in to touch the thoughts and emotions that induce suffering.

When spiritual practice is focused more on healing than relief, it’s not an escape.

The choice to heal closes the escape hatch. Instead of being overwhelmed, we breathe and remain present. Instead of manipulating our experience, we witness and abide.

Being present, feeling without identification, opens us to the current of loving awareness that flows from stillness to the knots of suffering in our body and mind.

The knots of suffering don’t always let go with a contented sigh. Sometimes they fight back. Tighten up. It can be scary to let go. The patterns of self-protection don’t always welcome the blessing of loving awareness.

They can hunker down. Or rant and rave. At first, this can throw us back into seeking relief.

But with practice—yes it takes practice—we become more able to witness and experience the whole display without identification or reactivity. We feel with compassion, witness with non-attachment and open with balance so that the healing presence of loving awareness can do its work.

What does loving awareness do?

It reveals reality.

Beyond concepts.

Which is always better than we imagined.


What about you?

Are you leaning more toward relief or healing at this time in your practice?

Please share below in the comments.

Love & Shanti,


Author: Eric Klein

Image: Author’s Own

Editor: Toby Israel


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