hello friends and meditators ~
here is a blog post from my teacher, Susan Piver. I adore her. She keeps it real and I so appreciate it. I think many people see someone like the Dalai Lama, or Thich Nhat Hanh or Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and they see someone who exudes equanimity – they relate that somehow to being numb or not affected. But as Susan taught us in class and as I have found in my own practice these past 9 years, this is the opposite – they feel everything more fully due to the practice. However, also due to the practice, they are able to “be” with what they feel and choose how to act in relationship to it, rather than react out of it. this is equanimity, this is awareness, this is an open heart.
not a quick fix, not a wave of a magic wand.
it is a journey, and a settled rump on a cushion.
bows of gratitude always please read Susan’s blog post below.
This morning, a friend forwarded a link to a recent NPR radio show about meditation. It was called “The Meaning of our New Mindfulness.” The focus was on how “mindfulness” has given rise to a host of apps and programs and is being used at companies like Aetna and BlackRock (?!) to…what? Increase emotional intelligence? Improve complex thinking? Reduce health-related absences? (Whatevs. The bottom line is always to increase the bottom line.) It was also mentioned that companies like Google and Aetna have installed meditation rooms and that this is simply one more sign that mindfulness is becoming Americanized.
Why was I not on this show, my friend wondered? I don’t know, but if I was, I would have been a total wet blanket, an awful guest, a meditation grump.
Meditation is not meant as a path to “Get Balanced, Get Blissed,” nor is it a way to make more money, a brain-exercise to improve memory, a system to reduce stress, or what have you. Yes, maybe one or all of these things will happen as the result of a steady meditation practice, but they are still not the point. (We might hope to achieve “bliss” but do we even know what that means? When asked what bliss felt like, Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, “to you, it would probably feel like pain.” Go figure.)
I guarantee that the meditation rooms at big corporations are empty, or will be soon. Why? Because this is what I have observed when I give talks at companies with such rooms. Without a way to understand the path that begins to unfold as a practice develops, it will become just another item on the to-do list. It will lose flavor.
Flavor is important because, at some point, meditation will become boring and difficult. I’m sorry, but that is just the way it is. Anyone who tells you otherwise is doing you a disservice.
There is a lot of mystery about how the practice really works, a gazillion neuroscience studies notwithstanding. Some days it is pleasant and on others it is excruciating. There may be days of insight or breakthrough, but these are the exception. The results evolve slowly and they may or may not be what you expect. In any case, they do not materialize during practice, they arise in your life. It takes insight to attune to and understand it all. It is the spiritual teachings that give the practice context. Without context, it becomes confusing and even frightening.
Meditation is a spiritual practice.
Though it will help your workaday self, self-help is not its primary purpose. It goes way beyond that. Meditation reveals your true self. It dissolves conventional thought. It connects you to the unique power of your life. And it doesn’t just make you more mindful, it makes you more aware — and this, awareness, is the secret sauce when it comes to, well, everything we like: love, creativity, insight, innovation, communication, and so on.
To work with awareness is to make a connection to the spiritual realm, yet we insist on stripping the spiritual bits out. This makes me very sad because it renders the practice lifeless. To practice meditation as a self-improvement technique is like standing next to Brad Pitt at Madame Tussaud’s and pretending it’s a date. It’s that crazy.
Meditation is a path to love.
It is not about safeguarding against emotional pain or getting everything you want. It is actually about opening your heart, first to yourself, then to others, and to the world. A meditation practice lowers your guard so that the world can touch you. Sometimes this is awesome and other times, not so much. But this particular drawbridge only has two settings: up or down.
Meditation gives you the feels.
Have you ever wondered why Buddhism is so famously associated with compassion, kindness, and love? Why His Holiness the Dalai Lama begins his day with three hours of such practices? It’s not because meditation reduces the stress hormone cortisol or minimizes corporate healthcare costs. It’s because the practice removes everything that stands between you and the ability to feel. These practices stabilize one in this state of openness.
More feels may or may not be your cup of tea. That’s cool.
Most people begin a meditation practice to feel less. Less stress. Less heartache. Less anger. Less, less, less. The truth is actually more, more, more. More love. More sorrow. More confusion. More brilliance. More awkwardness. More insight. More longing. More genuine.
That last one is a piece of the great disconnect between how meditation is portrayed by the media and how it actually works. We may think we want to be more authentic but we turn towards what we really feel (and feelings, not ideas, are the root of authenticity), we don’t know what we will encounter. We may find it terrifying. We may find it insanely empowering. There’s just no telling and we really, really want to be certain of the destination before we begin the journey. I’m sorry, but meditation will not help with this. We find that what we feel is raw. Unfiltered. Awkward, yet full of grace. (The aforementioned Chogyam Trungpa also said “the greatest elegance is vulnerability.” Go figure.)
This is not your normal “sell” when it comes to self-help techniques. I mean, when considering a practice that promises more discomfort and uncertainty, most of us tend to look for something a bit sexier. Short-term sexier, that is.
It’s up to you.
OK, I get it. I understand why one would choose the latter option. That’s cool. I choose it off and on every single day. If you want to feel safe, accomplish conventional goals, and impress others, I really do NOT suggest meditation.
However, if you want to love yourself, others, and your life with your whole heart, be singularly brilliant and creative, suffer defeats and celebrate joys fully, discover who you really are and have the confidence to show that true self to others, I highly recommend it. All of these things — love, creativity, emotion, authenticity — exist one step beyond conventional thought. That’s just how it is. So please prepare to feel very, very dorky for a long time. Please also get ready to fall in love with everything.