On Living To Forget
A short while back I received an email with this very curt question:
‘I read your book. Interesting. One question. Why do you talk so much about how hard meditation is?’
Aside from its abruptness, this is a very good question which, though I think I’ve responded to it in a previous post, nevertheless I will try again – largely because I’ve been thinking about it over recent days.
So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about. And I’m afraid I’ll have to take a bit of a long way around …
When I look back at my first thirty years of life, previous to beginning my journey with meditation, and distil what my purpose was throughout those years, I can sum it up in one word.
I lived to forget.
Well, I suppose I was trying to forget myself.
I suppose I should qualify that – I wasn’t trying to forget who I was – that was a story I was building – a fiction in my head.
No, I was trying to forget what I was. I was trying to forget my doubts; to forget my fears; to forget the existential discomfort of being in this body with all its aches, twinges and appetites; to forget the memories I didn’t want to have.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Everything I did was devoted to that end, of forgetting the reality of what I was.
To that end I was addicted to as much fun as I could find. I was going out most nights, trawling the town for parties and fun. I drank and took drugs to forget. I used food and sex and entertainment to forget. I pursued fame and money to forget. I tried to seduce every beautiful woman I met, in whose arms I could find forgetting. Even my creative work was a way to forget.
I spent the entirety of my first thirty years like this – until, at the age of thirty-one, exhausted and ill from my frantic hedonism, I decided to try meditating.
I sat down with myself, closed my eyes, and for the first time in my life I stopped …
… and suddenly I was face to face with the organism that I was, which I’d been ignoring and hiding from, with all its fears and anxieties, and all its body tensions and the effects of thirty years of accumulated abuse.
And it was hell.
The physical and mental space behind my closed eyes felt like a black torture chamber … yet it was simply the organism I had always lived within, which had been patiently waiting thirty years for me to stop and face it … and listen.
I could have turned away at that point, and gone back to forgetting, but I didn’t. I was determined to form a new relationship with this organism that I am – because I knew that if I didn’t, the rest of my life would be either a slow slide into illness and decrepitude, or an ignominious death.
So I began the new adventure with meditation and mindfulness
All I had to do was be aware – sit still and, without reacting, or avoiding, or judging, listen to everything I’d not wanted to think about, and feel everything I’d been numbing myself to.
It was a long and fascinating journey as slowly, over the following decades, me and this organism learnt to live with one another, and take care of one another. I came to understand its intuitive language of twinges and aches and tingles. I learnt to recognize the subtle signals of what it needed, and understand the way it processed its experience.
And those aches and pains and twinges and anxieties that I ran from – they’re still there – but they’re different now. Now they’re the signals and whispers of my best friend as we live a life together. So I’m not afraid of them anymore. And I don’t try to ignore them.
I’ve stopped forgetting.
Now, perhaps my case was more extreme than most, or less, I don’t know. But right now I’m sitting with my laptop in this café, and as I look around at all the people here, I see the same forgetting – people using all the stuff of their life to forget the existential discomfort within, which has accumulated over the years of their life adventure.
They eat and drink to forget. Chat to forget. Wander the streets of this tourist town gawking at things to forget. And when they go home, they might read a book or watch television to forget. Or they’ll go onto social media and flick through posts and videos, or message with friends, to forget.
Anything but just be with themselves, and only themselves.
Of course, their mind and body try to accommodate this forgetting – they efficiently tuck all the unresolved experience, anxieties, fears, slights, frustrations, rage and injuries into the unconscious and all throughout the body – waiting for the day when that person might stop – and be still – and begin facing all this stuff and forming a relationship with themselves.
And this is what we’re doing when we meditate.
Sitting still, we cannot avoid our self, and so we’re forced to face the truth of what we’ve become. And at first, depending on the kind of life we’ve led, and how long we’ve been in a state of forgetting, it can be quite confronting.
But the meditation methods are designed to help us through this initial storm – to help us listen and feel, unconditionally, silently, non-judgementally, what our mind and body have been trying to tell us for years, And slowly, as we persist with meditation, the layers of accumulated history are faced and known, and they evaporate – some fast, some slow. And we gradually lose the need to adorn our life with stuff that helps us forget, and we’re released from our need for all the little addictions we’ve been using to forget.
And we’re made just a little lighter.
So here’s the thing – the answer to the curt question I was asked.
As I wrote my latest book, ‘Being Still’, and chose what to include in it from previous books and posts, I was adamant that I would not ‘gild the lily’ about meditation and mindfulness – particularly meditation as it is experienced when we first begin.
From my point of view, there’s too many meditation teachers out there spinning dreams about meditation to make money – selling key words like ‘calm’ and ‘bliss’ and ‘tranquility’. For sure, these things are a part of the journey, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all of meditation. And I’ve seen how destructive are the false expectations of these selling-points, causing people to give up shortly after beginning, simply because they were never told the truth about how difficult it can be at the start of a meditation practice.
And the worst part of it is, we blithely accept that other skills, like gym work, for example, involves discomfort in the beginning. We accept the pain when we first begin gym work – in fact, we revel in it. ‘No pain no gain’ is the creed. We accept the pain because it’s out there – the truth about how hard gym work is, so people keep at it and eventually the pain recedes and we reap the rewards.
Well meditation is no different.
Meditation is gym for the mind – with the same journey of discomfort and challenges in the beginning as we build the skill of being still. But like any skill, as we practice, the mind and body assimilate the habits of stillness and mindfulness into themselves, and it becomes easier – and we don’t need to forget anymore.
We’ve fallen in love with our Self.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
‘BEING STILL’ is available on Amazon as a paperback ………….. AUD $26.40 (incl. GST)
‘BEING STILL’ is also available as a Kindle ebook ………………………………………..AUD $11.99
‘BEING STILL’ the audiobook (including all exercises) ………………………………. AUD $25.00
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)