When we talk about meditation here on the SanghaSeva website we are using one word to cover at least two meanings. For us meditation is both the practice, and the "goal" of that practice; in other words while sometimes it makes sense to say we are doing meditation, there may be times when we feel that meditation is just happening; we are being meditation.
Either way meditation, to some degree, is a way of shifting from a life as a human doing to living as a human being. Many times that is aided by a calming of the complexity of our lives; being simple - simply being. To use this moment as an example: As you read these words, a lot is happening; there are the sounds around you, there are your ideas about what to do next, there is your emotional life. All having an impact on how you experience reading these words. Much of this we don't notice. Through techniques of meditation we become aware of much more of what is happening in the background of our lives. This is important as some of this is what is affecting our moods, emotions and thoughts.
At times we can see much more by cultivating a non-judging awareness, and resting back in a perspective of "just knowing". We could refer to this as living with a wide angle focus. At other times it can be helpful to recognise the whole spectrum of our life experience by focussing our attention as fully as possible on that which we are actively doing. Here we are zooming in to the details of life. Both these ways can have a significant impact on the way we view life, and we may find that each one has specific practical uses. Simply finding the appropriate way of looking can bring a significant degree of freedom for us.
When we take a moment to relax and enjoy the present moment fully we may attain the incredible insight "I am a being on the run." I am chasing after the future; my mind is formulating ways in which I can achieve a pleasant, successful, wealthy, relaxing, life. Or I'm chewing over the past; with a mind that is searching for justification for the way I acted, or justice for the way others treated me. All the while the present moment is passing me by. To put it dramatically we are rejecting our present life, for a less real past or future.
We can be present with what is happening now. And then when the next event happens we can be present for that. As Thich Nhat Han suggested; "If you are looking forward to your cup of tea as you wash the dishes. You will not be fully with the dishes. And by not being fully with what is now. You will not have much capacity to be fully with your cup of tea." Being here and now, no matter how boring or uncomfortable, is a great investment in your future.
Most of our problems live in the future. As someone humorously said; some of the worst things in my life, never actually happened. All the while worry can be dictating our life. "Worry is using your imagination to create a future you don't want." Anon
Almost all the rest of our problems live in the past. And we can spend a lot of time going over this again and again. What are we gaining from digging a furrow in the field of our memories?
For this too there is an appropriate response, this was beautifully phrased by Jack Kornfield: "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past."
Although this could sound very passive and fatalistic what we actually discover is a deeper intimacy and connection with life which empowers us towards fuller engagement.
As we mentioned above, meditation can bring us to the "wide-angle" state of just knowing. No matter what is happening you are aware of it. This is a simple truth, and much like the still point of a spinning object, it is an essential element in experiencing life. Awareness is the part of human consciousness which reveals what is happening right now, and it does it with very deep neutrality. That is to say, when we experience a strong emotion like fear, our awareness expresses that 100%. We get to experience a full unhindered experience of fear, great! When a little later we experience the contrary emotional state of feeling safe and at ease, our awareness expresses that 100%. We get to experience a full unhindered experience of safety and ease, great! There is no residue of fear on the awareness, and next there will be no residue of ease either. Awareness reveals so fully because it is not held back by memory, comparison making, or preference. It is not caught up in the story, it makes no judgement about right or wrong, it holds no bias.
Earlier we mentioned cultivating a non-judgemental awareness. A phenomenal possibility offered by a steady mind is to actually rest as this knowing quality. When we live from there we can take life more neutrally and less personally. This is a great freedom.
There are many stories of times of great crisis when time seemed to slow down; and all the myriad possibilities of action were crystal clear. Or great strength was displayed; and a mother was able to lift a car off her baby. Or the intuitive element of consciousness led the being; and the rational emotional mind still can't figure out how it all happened. The crisis situation shifted the human being into a different state of consciousness. There is more happening within us than we are typically aware of, many things that seem fixed; time, strength, knowing, are somehow flexible and even maleable.
We can have a more fluid relationship to perspective and this helps us to move from self-centred, to community-focussed and even to universally inclined. There are more perspectives we can see from than we normally tend to. Even now as you read, you can be aware of the words as they enter your mind, you can be aware of the object that is displaying the words, you can be aware of the room you are in, the building, the larger environment through sounds, and you can feel your location on this planet, in space, even this is palpable. And even with a deeper or wider perspective we can still read the words on the page. This becomes very interesting when we try to live from these different perspectives. If we rest into a more universal perspective we might ask; what would I do if I felt like I was acting for all beings?
We have huge brains, and biologically speaking this is about as huge as a brain can be and still be walked around with comfortably. Some people have huge phones, a second, much less effective, brain in their bulging pocket, and so can't walk around comfortably anyway. But for the rest of us we are at a comfortable balance of processing power and neck strain. But this wonderful brain isn't strong enough to absorb, nor figure out all the wonder of what this life is.
We are constantly taking in the world around us, through 5 vibrant sense doors ( seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling - the 6th sense is our mind ), and monitoring the stream of information coming from our brains's interpretation of this world. A shadow moves under the bridge at night as we walk home alone, and what our eyes reveal is processed by our mind. This all happens very fast, and we move quickly to an 'appropriate' internal response "under-threat" or "it's just a cat".
This is the system "working effectively", but to get to here so much has been filtered out. There has been a credential, based on a survival mechanism, monitoring the incoming traffic of life through our senses. That which is not relevant or interesting is removed. That which can be predicted will be. That is why we can fall for an illusion in a magic trick. And some would say that our belief in our individual existence is like a magic trick we are playing on ourselves. But the truth of this is something we can explore for ourselves.
A blind spot happens when we drive a car and are using mirrors to see what is going on behind us. The mirror attached to the windscreen shows us a large section behind us, and the mirror on the side of the drivers door shows us another large area. Suddenly we may notice that another vehicle passes us, yet when we looked it wasn't there.
When we have a blind spot we need to be shown it. The Buddha shows us a huge one in his teaching of not-self.
Dropping the name you have been given in this life, and the family relationships you fulfil, who are you?
This body-mind happening. We are relatively well identified with this sack of skin, and all the thoughts and emotions and physical sensations produces within it. Yet is this who you are?
The body changes all it's cells within 7 years, yet something constant seems to remain to keep your face looking like your face. What is that?
The mind has a mind of it's own. We can't only think happy thoughts. We can't decide "no more selfishness" anymore than we can make a bus quickly arrive at a rainy bus stop.
When we look for our sense of self in all the places we expect it to be, it disappears into the shadows. We have a sense of it, but there is no findable essence to it.
It is empty of inherent existence.
At night you can move a light around and it will leave a trace behind. If you spin it fast enough it will make a circle of light. But there is no circle, just a point of light on the move; it's an illusion. So is our sense of a truly independent self-existing self.
This is a deep teaching, which has stood as true for over 2 millennia, read up on it as it can change your life. Right now we are 1 in 7,000,000,000 (and that's just the humans), we are way out of sync with our sense of self-importance. In truth we are trading a life of great expansiveness and love for one of self protection; and as wise men and women say "there is no self there, in the way we imagine it, to protect".
By practising mediation we may find we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but are actually spiritual beings having a human experience.
But let's start at the beginning. Let's be fully with this moment as it is, and open to the possibilities that this moment offers us. Can we release our resistance to what is, and allow ourselves to be neither pulled to a future idea or past event. Be here and now, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It may even be helpful to drop any idea of trying to improve ourselves in anyway.
"Simply plunging directly into meditation,
in the moment now,
with our whole being,
free from hesitation,
boredom or excitement,
- Dilgo Khyentse Rinposhe