We’ve been talking about the freedoms that arise naturally out of the regular practice of meditation. I could go on in this vein indefinitely, but I think you get the idea. Meditation has real value. It can enhance your life in every moment. Yay, for meditation! Isn’t that nice!
I have noticed that the most committed meditators are those who come to it out of crisis. They know first hand that meditation is not just a life enhancer, but a life saver.
Many years ago I came back to daily meditation after several years away. I returned to it because I was desperate. I was in a health crisis brought on by stress and mourning. In this state, the value of meditation was crystal clear. I took refuge in it and as my practice grew, it supported me.
When I went through another loss a few years later, my meditation practice was firmly in place and I noticed that instead of being lost and tossed on the waves of emotional turmoil, instead of gasping for breath and feeling like I was drowning, I was able to surf the rough waters, fully present as I rode the waves of my many emotions as they arose and fell. I didn’t escape pain or sorrow, but I didn't add more suffering. I found in each moment a way to hold sadness, joy and whatever else arose as they arose, neither dreading, nor clinging, nor grasping. What a difference!
So when I hear people say they to want to fit a regular daily practice of meditation into their busy lives, but haven’t managed to do so yet, I can't help myself from wondering what could I say, what could I do, to get them to take that next step toward a daily practice. How can I get them to see its akin to putting a well stocked life on board to be there for them when hard times come?
For hard times come to us all. Life deals up a panoply of challenges indiscriminately. Suddenly we are facing a loss – of a loved one, a way of life, our health, a relationship – and if we don’t have that life boat chances are we sink into the sea of misery, denial, fear and guilt that rises up around us. We lose perspective, we lose faith, we lose so much more than just that which we initially lost. We can’t seem to find a way to be with what is happening and not be crushed by it. And when we do eventually recover, it’s like having been out at sea for a long time before the life boat comes to the rescue. Yes we survive, but our recovery from the experience is hindered by the fact that we went for so long exposed to the sun, the cold, the lack of drinking water and food to eat.
In that crisis state many of us get the bright idea to take up meditation. Suddenly we see where we could fit regular practice into our daily schedule. But at that point it’s like rebuilding a house that’s lost its very foundation, instead of having done regular maintenance all along to keep the house in good shape. It is hard! So hard! Imagine trying to sit in silence with a storm raging in your mind, with your body feeling the weight of overwhelming emotions! It is so much easier to train our minds now when we are dealing with the little emotional ups and downs, the little judgments, the little irritations that make life seem less than pleasant.
So today I want to do more than paint more rosy pictures of all the enhancements brought on by meditation, these freedoms we’ve been discussing. I want to really confront the resistance to regular practice, to look at the reasoning that arises when we decide to put off putting this life boat aboard.
Perhaps we don’t believe anything bad will happen to us, even though we know that we are human and subject to all the challenges life brings to us all.
Perhaps we are concerned that daily practice will change us somehow, make us different from who we are, and we are very comfortable with who we are, thank you very much.
Perhaps meditation seems boring compared to other more stimulating choices of activity.
Perhaps we just don’t see where we can fit it into our busy schedules.
Perhaps we get started on a practice but haven’t been able to make it a habit because our schedule varies a great deal.
Perhaps we don’t want to be a ‘meditator,’ whatever that means to us.
Perhaps we like to meditate in a group and it’s not the same when we are alone.
Perhaps one of these reasons resonates with you, if you don’t have a daily practice, or perhaps some other reasoning arises as you sit quietly and ask yourself, “What is keeping me from developing a regular daily practice of meditation?”
I don’t want to rush in and offer rebuttals to any of these thoughts that might arise, but I do ask that you sit with them, and question them a little more deeply. Ask for more clarity. Ask “Is this true?” Ask “What am I afraid of?” And as in every process of this nature, be compassionate and respectful of the answers. If this are the honest feelings, then there is no arguing with them. Accept the truth of them.
Then perhaps you may find that openly expressing these feelings give you the opportunity to see them more clearly. If you hear yourself saying, “Meditation is boring,” you can ask what it is you want to be distracted from, what could possibly be richer and more interesting than this moment with all its sensory options?
If you have a scheduling challenge, you can ask if there are any activities during your day that are less nourishing than a regular practice of meditation. (Sometimes we think we need to have periods of watching mindless television or internet surfing as a way to relax, when if we were meditating daily we wouldn’t have gotten so stressed or exhausted in the that we needed that escape in the first place!)
Clearly I believe that meditation is a powerful and easily accessible tool that offers impressive benefits. But I also know that there are other forms, other ways that we can come home to our quiet inner spaciousness. Perhaps there is some way you are already accessing this spaciousness, or some way that with slight adjustments you could make an already existing activity more meditative – walks in nature, swimming, gardening, knitting, yoga, etc. Look for solitary activities that you could infuse with more mindfulness, practicing staying fully in the moment. It might simply be removing the iPod, creating an agreed upon period of silence in a nature walk with friends, or pausing before beginning a physical activity to set the intention to be present and to really sense in to the body.
But in all honesty, nothing I have ever seen can truly take the place of a regular sitting practice. So I urge you to give it a chance in your own life if you haven’t done so already. If you already have a daily practice, then you understand exactly what I’m talking about. If you had a practice, then let it go, then discovered yourself struggling again, you really know the benefits first hand. And if you started up again and found the benefits again, what a wondrous homecoming to this moment.