IMG_7791A lot of people have a mistaken view that when they meditate, in being still, everything should stop – thinking, sensations – everything. They have the impression that stillness is a state in which life seems to stop.

And indeed, perhaps that is their unconscious wish.

They misinterpret the words ‘emptiness’ and ‘void’, which they have heard used to describe the stillness that arises from effective meditation as meaning ‘nothing’. As if in some way, meditation is supposed to create some kind of nihilistic state of being in which all things disappear, including consciousness – a divine kind of suicide.

But this is very wrong.

And to use the meditation methods to try to create this ‘stopping of life’ will only end in failure.

So here’s the thing … In effective meditation it is only our attention that goes still. Everything else – awareness, thoughts, sensations, sounds – life itself, all keeps going. And it always will, until you eventually die. So to expect thinking, sensations and so on to stop when you meditate, is wrong. Very wrong.

For sure, your perception of the stuff of life might change – for example, in meditation the quality of thoughts might change, particularly if you’re meditating a lot, like in silent retreat. Thoughts lose their languaged form and become like characterless energy arising in the mind. Pain loses its hurt and becomes intense sensation, as does pleasure – in fact, they can even resemble each other.

But nothing ever stops.

Because I’ll say it again, in effective meditation, only the attention is trained to go still.

When the attention goes still, even though everything else continues, a sense of stillness appears.

Why?

Because it is our meddlesome, hyperactive, thinking, worrying attention that creates all the ‘un-stillness’ in our lives. The other qualities of life are simply what they are – awareness, pain, pleasure, thinking – they are all real time occurrences that come and go as they will. But it is our attention that holds them in place, ether as memory or reaction, and makes them into anxiety.

  • Awareness is not the problem – it just is. We’re either aware or we are not. But it is the attention that names what we are aware of, then judges it and reacts to it, prodding the body into hormonal responses of desire or aversion.
  • Sensations on their own are not the problem – it’s our attention which judges them as pain or pleasure then pushes us to react.
  • Our environment is not the problem – it is our attention that either likes our environment or dislikes it and makes us react.

And so on.  You get the idea.

So, in meditation all we are dealing with – the only part of mind we are training – is the attention.

We use the meditation methods to train it to let go.

Let go of what?

Let go of everything. Not stop, or escape, or hide, or suppress – just let go of whatever it notices – to accept it as it is and immediately disengage. To leave it be.

This is the skill you are teaching the mind when you use meditation methods.This is the ability you are creating in yourself – to be able to make your attention still in the storm on life.

Because life and all its parts have their own momentum, their own dynamic character. Life moves from one extreme to the other, from stormy to calm and back – from pleasure to pain, from happiness to despair. And our problems with these extremes and everything in between, has never been the things themselves – but always our reaction to it – the reaction our attention creates, when it gets stuck in some life state, and can’t stop worrying at it, hating it, or clinging to it.

It is our attention that creates suffering.

So, in using meditation methods to train the attention to be still, we create stillness within the storm. We allow the natural vicissitudes of life – of comfort and discomfort, pain and pleasure, happiness and despair, to pass through without our meddlesome attention making things worse by getting obsessed with hating what’s happening, or clinging to it.

Like an oak tree, our attention remains steady and calm, no matter how furious is the wind that whips at its leaves.

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