Clinging creates tension because it flies in the face of change.
When we cling, we presuppose its possible for things to always stay the same. We want things to stay the same – our possessions, our lovers, perfect moments, our job or good fortune. So we close up around it. We try to suspend time and life to keep what we like in place.
Counter to this, we cling to the hope that bad things won’t happen – that time and the natural entropy of life won’t take away the things we’re attached to. But the natural loss that life exacts is relentless. The healthy become sick, and the sick become healthy. Money comes, then it goes. Houses that are built to last eventually crumble and are demolished. Luck comes and then it goes. Moods change. Empires rise and fall. Life itself, as precious as it is, is eventually lost.
So then, to cling to anything is to create suffering. It’s a fact of life. And most of us learn to live with it – or through it.
But the odd thing is, as much as we accept it as a fact of life, many of us don’t accept it when it comes to meditation. We meditate in the hope that good things will happen – that we’ll have the blissful feeling we had yesterday. That we’ll feel the incredible sense of expansion that happened.
Or, alternately, we meditate in the hope that it will free us from pain and angst – that it will heal us and make us whole.
Whatever it is, it’s all the same thing – it’s clinging. And clinging is a fearful state, however subtle. Either fear of not getting what we want, or fear of getting what we don’t want.
And any kind of fear creates tension in our mind and in our body, and removes any potential for stillness to arise.
Our problem is, we’ve been born into a culture that encourages clinging of all kinds. We’re conditioned to win what we desire, then defend and cling to what we’ve won, and keep on winning. We’re conditioned to cling to pleasure and avoid discomfort, and we’re used to getting instant results. Take a pill and pain goes away. Flick a switch and light goes on. Turn a tap and water appears.
We accept this conditioning as normal, because everybody else is doing the same thing. So we’re used to the anxiety it creates in us – simply because we don’t know any better. After all, it’s the life we’ve been born into.
And this is why many of us find meditation quite difficult when we begin. We suffer in meditation, because with these kinds of expectations of instant satisfaction, and fear of not getting what we want, right away we’re behind the eight ball, because all of it absolutely reeks of tension and clinging. And as I said, stillness will never respond to a clinging mentality, because we’re trying to meditate with an anxious and needy state of mind.
As I’ve said before, our primary purpose in meditation is learn how to let go.
Let go of what?
Let go of everything … pain, pleasure, happiness, bliss, anger, sadness, brilliance, the past, the future, worries, dreams, aspirations. For the time you’re meditating, let go of everything. That’s the practice.
A thought arises?
As soon as your attention connects with it, let go. Return your attention to the breath,
Your attention goes to an itch, a twinge, an ache or a flush of pleasure?
Let go. Return to the breath. The breath is the only thing we cling to – for the moment.
So why do we let go of everything? Why can’t we just let go of the bad stuff, while clinging to the good stuff?
Because whether good or bad, the deeper mind doesn’t discriminate. Clinging is a habit – and habits don’t recognize ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They simply register that a certain action is taken. So if we’re clinging to something, whether good or bad, the mind naturally reinforces the habit.
So in meditation practice we let go of everything – even, eventually, the breath and the conscious act of letting go itself. And stillness comes.
Until it goes.
And we start all over again, letting go of everything, and returning to the breath.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)