Meditation is not a big deal. All we’re doing is learning to sit still, and be still, mentally and physically, without it making us anxious. We’re teaching ourselves to be happy to be still. And in that stillness the mind and body slowly unwind and balance naturally occurs.
It’s inevitable. Be still long enough and the mind and body will naturally become tranquil. Trouble is, we rarely have the patience for this to happen.
The stillness I’m talking about is the most fundamental state we can be in – mind and body in a state of symbiotic unity so close the two become one.
And for every living thing on the planet except us, this stillness is an integral part of their lives. Everything in nature moves in and out of the alert stillness that lies at the core of the life experience. For them, it is one of the most necessary parts of their life – an endless source of wellbeing – everything they do arises from it, and when there’s nothing to do, they return to it.
Take your family cat, for instance, or your dog. When there’s nothing to do, they do nothing. They sit or lie still. And though their eyes might be closed, in many cases they are not asleep. They’re just resting until something happens, aware of everything that’s going on around them. And in that awareness they are not worrying, or fretting, or regretting, or planning, or needing. And if something happens they’re instantly awake and refreshed, ready and raring to go.
This is a skill we contemporary human beings have largely forgotten, though we unconsciously yearn for it.
And we suffer the consequences.
In the restless world we have built, with the kind of lives we’ve created, our attention is constantly engaged, like a motor always running in top gear – work, entertainment, life business, social media, radio, television, computers – we’re constantly being force-fed from a plethora of often meaningless and unnecessary information, in which our emotions, fears and desires are being tweaked or titillated in some way. This is the world we’re used to – the exciting, adrenalised race in which, while we have the stamina to keep pace, we thrive on.
And because we’re used to it we tend not to notice the fatigue it creates, because things are happening so fast and it’s all so exciting. We’re addicted to the adrenalin, so we don’t notice until the effects on our wellbeing have become so debilitating we cannot ignore it anymore. Trouble is, then we have drugs to keep the effects at bay – caffeine and anti-depressants being the most common. And though these keep the effect at bay, they are not solutions – they simply blind us to our dysfunction until it makes us sicker or kills us.
In nature it’s not normal to suffer the way we do with depression, anxiety, psychosis, cancer, high blood pressure and heart problems. Within their place in the flow of nature, other creatures on this planet live relatively successful, quiet, peaceful lives while all the while we humans are getting sick, going crazy, getting lonely and depressed and messing things up.
But as critical as we know things have become, we blame everything else for our problems – our workplace, food, our relationships, parents, childhoods, government, pollution, bacteria, virus’s, lack of money, lack of exercise, lack of everything we can think of – the list of reasons why we feel ruined is endless.
We point the finger at everything around us – but never at ourselves.
Twenty three years ago, when I began my training in Vipassana meditation at Sorn Thawee Meditation Centre in Thailand, my teacher said something that gave the shock I needed to take meditation seriously. He said: “Your self is like your own child, ignorant and often lost. For this reason you should treat your own self with the same love, kindness and patience as you would treat your own child. This is what we do when we meditate.”
In that moment, as I turned around and looked at what I had become, and how I had treated myself throughout my life, I realized how abusive I had been – and how mindessly cruel I had been in my treatment of my best friend – my Self.
I had taken my mind and body for granted and ruled my Self like a tyrant, always expecting and taking from my mind and body but never listening, or giving back. I had expected my body to feel good and look good and do what I wanted when I wanted it. And if it complained, I ignored it.
Same with my mind, which I expected to always be happy and confident and inspired – if it tired or complained, I whipped it along with drugs to keep it at work, to get the stuff I wanted. And I judged my Self more harshly than anyone else and was unable to be satisfied by its efforts, no matter what I achieved. And if my Self failed I cursed it, worried at it and hated it, while shutting out its complaints with entertainment, alcohol and drugs.
I was no friend of my Self – not at all. I was a slave driver, and in those days it showed. I was only 38, but my Self was exhausted and disillusioned and my body was falling part.
I realized then, this was not a mental crisis I found myself in, nor was it a physical crisis as I had always thought – it was a crisis of love.
We try so hard to give meaningful love to people around us – yet invariably we forget to form the same meaningful relationship with ourselves. We forget that, like any of our lovers, parents, children or friends, our own Self needs the same kindness, patience, tolerance and understanding that we try to give to them.
In this, we never stop to ask ourselves – what are all these aches and pains telling us? What is our body trying to say when it gets ill and when we feel terrible? We rarely listen – rather we try to escape, ignore or take drugs to make the sensations go away, then keep whipping ourselves forward.
The same with the mind – do we ever ask ourselves, what is this anxiousness or depression trying to tell me? What is my mind trying to tell me? Again, not at all – we simply amputate the feelings with anti-depressants and keep whipping ourselves forward.
In this we forget a simple truth of nature, which is this – there is nothing in existence that has no reason for being there.
Pain, anxiety, depression are all there for a reason – as such, they are not superfluous inconveniences to be pushed away and ignored. They are your body and mind telling you the truth about themselves – and usually, if they have gotten to the point of extreme pain or anxiety or depression, they are truths you have already been ignoring for too long.
The sensations in our body, and the feelings that arise from mind are the child of your Self asking you to pay attention.To pay attention with patience, tolerance, kindness and …. Love.
And in good meditation, that is what we do. We commune wit the Self, and give it the attention and love we usually reserve for everyone else. In fact this kind of self-love should be right at the core of meditation, because without it, meditation will just not work.
As a meditation trainer, I keep hearing the same complaints. ‘I feel pain and it’s distracting me,’ or ‘I can’t stop thinking, and its distracting me,’ or ‘My body is so restless I can’t sit still so I can’t meditate,’ and so on. And I keep telling people that all these things – the pain, the thinking, the restlessness – they are not distractions from meditation. At the point where they are happening, they are the meditation. But people keep forgetting this – they keep trying to meditate past these things – to make the signals the Self is sending go away – as if meditation is simply another anti depressant or analgesic.
And in this, they betray themselves terribly.
As you meditate, it is inevitable you will meet your Self and it won’t be the carefully constructed apparition you like to present to the world each day. No, the Self you will meet will be the truth. It will be your real self.
And you must be there to meet it. And you must be ready to pay attention to what it tells you – without judging, or reacting. Like any good parent with a child, you must be there to pay attention and be patient and kind and listen to its confusion and sadness and rage and pain. Because after all, no-one else ever will. No-one else can ever give you the attention your Self needs.
And you know what?
This paying attention is all the mind and body needs to heal.
What you will find as you meditate is, if you stop trying to use the meditation method to escape yourself and do the opposite – turn around and give your self loving attention, things will begin to evolve and change.For example, the thinking that ‘curses’ you – instead of trying to stop it, pay attention to it. Take an interest in what it is – not what it is saying, but what the phenomenon of thinking actually is – feel the activity in your head, watch the frenetic quality of it. Take a interest in it ‘as it is’, and you will find the thinking will calm down.
Same with pain, or anxiety. Instead of trying to stop it, or escape it – turn around and give it a gentle, loving attention. Let the discomfort be there and just pay attention. ‘Listen’ to it as a sensation. Let it change and evolve. Take an interest in it, because after all, it has very good reasons for being there.
And you will find it will change, and calm down.Your mind and body have been waiting for you to turn around and love them.
And you will find when you do, they will respond. Like an abused child, they will calm beneath your touch, and all kind of emotions long suppressed will arise – of grief, anger, or even happiness. And as the good parent, you allow these to unfold.
And as you continue meditation, using the methods to listen to you Self rather than escape, you will find more and more sensations in the body, and deeper levels to mind – because finally you are listening. All of the different parts of your Self will ‘speak’ – skin, muscles, stomach, lungs, kidneys, heart, emotions. They speak with sensations, feelings, memories and compulsions, some so strong they will be uncomfortable, some so subtle you barely notice them. And as each part of your Self is listened to, it also listens – and in the wordless dialogue that occurs, mind and body become unified, helping and healing one another, and balance appears naturally.
No need to imagine figures of light or ridiculous visualizations. Just pay attention and listen, without thinking or trying to do anything, and change will happen naturally.
And the longer this meeting of the spirit continues, and the more often it is done, the deeper the healing effect will become. You will lose mental and physical ‘mass’ in layers. First the surface layers of body tension. Then the layers below, of sensations and feelings more subtle than before – tingles, itches, deep aches, emotions and feelings.
And as each layer arises, the sensations and thoughts will become more and more subtle. And the deeper we get, the more subtle these layers will become until our mind and body are in balance. These are the layers of our physical and mental Self which, as each of them passes through our awareness, are re-assimilated with each other so that the community of our Self can work more efficiently, and feel more unified with itself. In the lessening of internal conflict, we feel more clear, more fluent, and our life opens up and breathes a sigh of relief.
But don’t wait for it. That would be like trying to watch a flower grow. And anyway, the end point is not the purpose. The purpose is to be in an on-going fully functional relationship with your mental and physical Self.
Change will come as it comes, in its own time – all you have to do is make friends with yourself … easy huh?
- ‘Practical Meditation Audio Course’ – a complete set of meditation lessons to be downloaded as a package of MP3′s