The Main Game
A while back, while sitting in a café having a coffee, I overheard a group of people arguing about meditation. It seemed as if they’d been to some kind of meditation retreat, and now they were comparing notes.
As I listened, they began to argue about the method they’d been taught, and the right way to practice it. Then the argument intensified, and they began quoting various teachers at each other. Then a war of quotes from the Buddha himself began, in a peculiar game of one-upmanship that, to me, seemed utterly pointless.
As I continued to listen, the argument became quite heated – then one of them walked out in a huff and the rest lapsed into sullen silence, which was when I paid my bill and left.
As I walked away, I got to thinking about how meditation and mindfulness practice, in becoming popular, has become much too institutionalized and technical, such that the practice itself has become almost like a competitive game, in which we try to ‘get good’ at meditating. In which we try hard to ‘do it better’. It misses the point of why we’re playing this game. And though work and sport may well need a competitive attitude, meditation and mindfulness do not respond to it at all.
So here’s the thing.
Meditation and mindfulness practice are not the main game we’re playing here. They’re just the tools we use.
The main game is stillness.
If you can be still, and be perfectly comfortable being still – that is, physically still and unconditionally aware, without wondering, imagining, worrying or daydreaming – then there’s no need for you to practice meditation.
You’re already there.
And if, throughout your daily life, you’re momentarily aware of every action and movement you make, and aware of what you intend before you take action – then you have no need to practice mindfulness.
You’re already mindful.
The practice of meditation and mindfulness is merely the way we train our mind and body to nurture and adapt itself to this kind of aware stillness of being, and make it a life habit.
So why am I pointing this out?
Well, I think it’s a good thing to keep in mind – to not get attached to one or other method or teacher. I think it’s a good thing to keep reminding yourself that meditation and mindfulness are simply means to an end – but neither of them are ends themselves.
To become too focused on the technicalities of meditation practice is ultimately a destructive distraction, in which the game of meditation and mindfulness begins to be played for its own sake, rather than the purpose it’s meant for – that is, to access and nurture the ability to be still, and make it a life habit.
So don’t bother wondering if you’re doing it right. And don’t bother getting attached any one teacher, book or method. Become a magpie, plucking what you need from wherever you find it.
And just sit still. Contemplate the breath. Notice what happens. And when something takes your attention away from the breath, find a way to let it go, and return to the breath. All meditation methods are simply different variations on that theme.
And if you suffer, let the suffering pass through you.
And if you experience bliss, let that pass through you.
Meditate with compassion for the flawed organism you are.
And keep returning to the breath. And remain still.
However it comes, stillness is the main game.
‘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.)