The following is a letter I wrote to a dear friend in response to his questions concerning my practices of meditation. Considering that this is becoming a popular method of practicing mindfulness, it is our hope that the topics discussed in this letter could be of use to many of our readers. Enjoy!
First off, let me applaud you for the sincerity with which you have undertaken this endeavor. I have no doubts that you are growing daily because of this pursuit. The farther I go down this road, the more clearly I see that all of life’s joys and woes stem directly from our thinking mind, and our ability to navigate its landscape.
A man who has true control over his thoughts becomes invincible to circumstance.
I have spent a great deal of time meditating over the past 7 years or so, and have given many of its forms due diligence. Truthfully, the type of meditation matters little compared to the sincerity with which it is practiced, and the reasoning for the very practice itself.
The right tool, used in the wrong way, can be even more detrimental than passivity.
We must first look at the reason behind meditation. The point of meditation is not to learn how to sit with calm equanimity on your bedroom floor, the point is to live this way out in the world. We far too often mistake the menu for the meal, the map for the terrain.
Consider meditation (at least the idea of purposefully setting aside time to meditate) the menu. It serves the purpose of giving us all the information to select the best possible meal (mode of living) for ourselves. But no amount of menus will ever satisfy our hunger.
Nor will any amount of meditation cease our hunger if we do not learn how to live.
I very seldomly make time to “meditate” these days, and If I do, it is usually a brief re-calibration to adjust my lens to appropriately view the world. I used to spend hours and hours in the woods meditating. So many Friday and Saturday nights in my early twenties were spent alone under a tree while my friends were at a bar, and it served a serious purpose in my life.
I have no doubts that the life I now enjoy is a direct result of my efforts in meditation. But meditation is much like a raft, meant to cross a river from one shore to the other. When we reach the opposite end, we do not throw the raft on our back and lug it through the jungle, we leave it behind.
I believe, if we live the life we are capable of, the same should hold true for meditation. I sat down to meditate a few weeks ago, and was shocked to find that I was already “meditating”. The mindfulness, and cessation of the endless stringing together of mental chatter, were already in my present experience, and the sitting down to practice these things would have not only been unnecessary, but perhaps detrimental.
We must also address a common source of the desire to meditate in the first place.
We must seriously ask ourselves if the reason for our meditation is simply because we will feel better about ourselves as someone who is spiritual, someone who is awakening or awakened. Spiritual pride is the worst of sins, specifically for the subjective experience of the sinner. I can speak first hand to its effect.
The ego finds the subtlest ways to survive, and often binds itself to the very practice with which we attempt to rid ourselves of it.
We start to meditate, we read all the good books, and even make positive changes in our lives, but all the while the ego is in the most subtle of ways anchoring itself in spiritual pride. We start feeling good about our evolution. We are proud for how long we meditated, or our ability to understand some great text.
This is a trap each and every one of us on this path will encounter.
I hope that I have moved past this in my own experience, but I am aware that there is really no way of knowing in the present moment. It will only come down the road, when I look back at where I am now, and from a clearer perspective I will be able to view the true motives behind my actions. As I am unclear whether or not this is true for myself, I have no way of knowing whether it is true for you. I merely suggest you pay close attention to this possibility as this seems to be one of the final obstacles to whatever lies on the other side.
I close with one final thought.
As far as I can tell, all Eastern philosophies describe awakening as a long, arduous process which may take a lifetime or even lifetimes. Zen Buddhism, however, teaches that this awakening can happy instantaneously, at any moment, to any true seeker on the path. A common teaching is that we needn’t be spiritually advanced, or in some sacred place to experience the divine. We feel that great understanding can only come to the chosen few under very specific conditions foreign to most of the population. This is, in itself, a form of spiritual pride.
Zen Buddhism teaches that EVERY moment, EVERY action is an opportunity to commune with the highest reality. EVERY action we take is in itself a meditation.
“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” – Alan Watts
If we can manage the strength to focus solely on the potato, you will find whatever it is you sought in meditation.
I enjoyed writing this letter immensely, and hope it serves you well. Should you have any more questions or ideas that you want to discuss, please send them my way!