When I first began meditating I had terrible difficulty with it, and almost gave up at one point, because I felt as if I just didn’t have what it took. It wasn’t until after a few years that I realized why meditation was so hard for me.
It was because I was meditating with the wrong attitude. I was meditating to be good at it. I was meditating to get the ‘goodies’ I’d read about – the bliss and the revelations and visions. I wanted the whole esoteric ‘trip’ that has been written about, or at least implied in so many books.
All well and good.
But these motivations are not enough to form a core to meditation practice. They are peripheral playthings – ego toys which, even if they are experienced or attained, complete the circle, and the endeavour of meditation dies.
The only thing that keeps meditation practice alive is love.
Because in the end, when all is said and done, the stillness I’ve talked about in so many previous posts, can only appear as a quality of unconditional love between you and your Self.
The odd thing about unconditional love is, though we try so hard to give it to the people who are important to us, we constantly forget to give it to ourselves. We forget that, like any of our spouses, lovers, children or friends, our own Self needs the same quality of heart – the same attention and patience – the same tolerance and understanding that we try to give to others.
My first teacher once said, ‘Your self is like a child, ignorant and often lost. For this reason, you must treat your self with the same kindness and patience as if you were father to that child.’
When I heard him say this, I had a moment of insight. I realized how abusive I’d been with my Self throughout my life. I’d ruled myself like a tyrant – always expecting and taking from my mind and body, but never listening, or giving anything back.
I expected my body to look good and feel good and do what I wanted when I wanted it. And if it complained, I ignored it. I expected my mind to have happy, confident thoughts – to do my work without question, and always be inspired. When it tired or complained, I whipped it along with stimulants, and if it failed I judged my Self mercilessly.
It was inevitable then, that as time passed, I was besieged by a slow attrition of mental and physical problems arising from this personal culture of not listening to, or caring for my Self, while exploiting it constantly.
By the age of thirty my mind was tangled itself up with thoughts, worries and increasingly erratic moods and my body was wracked with tension, tiredness and illness. Just living from day to day had become hard work. Albert Camus once said, “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
This was certainly true of me as I was back then.
So when I first began meditating, it was natural that I would carry the same set of self-abusive habits across. I treated meditation like an add-on skill – a challenge, a mountain to be conquered, a sport to get good at. And as I said, this led to a lot of suffering, because I did not understand that, before it was a method, or a skill, meditation was a simple act of love.
That’s what was missing. And when my teacher made the analogy between my Self and a child, he made me realize what had been missing. There was no love in my meditation.
The love I’m referring to is not the love of popular culture. It’s not sentimental – nor is it anything to do with passion or emotions. It’s not even dependent on a feeling, or need, or desire, as much as it is an active choice.
We don’t love because we fall into it.
We don’t get this love – we make it – we do it.
It sits in the background of everything we do as we meditation – every move we make, and every thing we notice and feel – we practice love. We create this love, regardless what negative reactions might be flying about – or pain or tension. We choose to love this errant Self we have become – because we understand we were made this way.
And, like a patient parent, we use meditation is an opportunity to sit with our Self, and listen to its complaints, and feel its pain. And we use the meditation methods to keep guiding our Self back to the stillness it craves – teaching it, calming it, loving it. No matter what. This kind of highly aware and active love has a very practical role in meditation. And as we practice it in meditation, so it appears more and more in our life.
In Buddhist thought, this unconditional love is called. Metta.
Basically, Metta means kindness and compassion toward all things, whether people, animals, plants, the planet itself or most importantly, our own Self. And, as I said, this kindness is not necessarily a felt thing, so much as it is a practiced thing – we give this kindness and compassion, whether we feel it or not. We give it because we know it creates harmony and balance.
Basically Metta, as well as being love and kindness, includes three other qualities as well.
Mudita – meaning sympathetic joy, or lack of envy. This is something that, though we might sometimes feel jealousy, or envy, nevertheless, we practice acting past it. Being gracious, no matter how we feel.
Karuna means compassion – where we recognize suffering and act appropriately to assist. Again, this is very much about appropriateness. We recognize that sometimes giving is not the right way. Sometimes we have to let go, or wait until it is appropriate to give.
Upekkha means equanimity – it refers to a mind that is evenly balanced and neutral of passion or desire or fear. This is difficult sometimes, especially for us Westerners, whose culture is based so much on passion. Nevertheless, we try for it. Whether faced with success or failure, or luck or adversity, or enemy or friend, we try never to be swept away by our passion.
Of course we are mindful that perhaps in some cases these qualities do not come easily to us. Nevertheless, as we meditate, we practice these qualities of heart. So one could say that meditation is probably the most basic and profound act of love we can make, in which we sit down and practice love with the most important and powerful person in our lives – our own Self.
Think about it.
We close our eyes and, as we restfully surrender to being alone with the most important person in our life – our Self – we take account and observe what we’ve got.
And as we observe, we notice conflict and disturbance in the body, and in our Self. And, like a good parent, we sit with it and, using the qualities of love – kindness, empathy, compassion and equanimity, we let go of the conflicts within. We sit still in the storm, and we keep bringing our attention back to stillness, until balance and harmony reappear – as they always will whenever love is present.
- ‘Practical Meditation Audio Course’ – a complete set of meditation lessons to be downloaded as a package of MP3′s