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Since I reconnected with my meditation practice, I started talking with my friends about it and realized that there is often misconception about why we meditate.
Misconceptions about Meditation
The top misconception I heard about mediation is that “it should relax me”. Relaxation is a mean to an end in meditation and is definitely an outcome sometimes but if you want to relax do some sophrology or something else like that because meditation can be very intense and relaxation is definitely not the most common outcome of a sitting session.
I also heard often “oh so you want to become enlightened!”. Well, first of all I don’t think many people practicing mindfulness ever get there and if it’s becoming a goal then it can easily become a new identification to a kind of “spiritual ego”. So nope, I don’t care much about becoming enlightened.
Then there is a long list of New Age inspired goals that are assumed to be my goals like “Meeting your Twin Flame”, “Conversing with your Angel”, “Asking the Universe to help you”, … well I never got any of this out of my practice so I will simply stay open and see what comes my way.
What Meditation does Achieve
So why do I meditate? Basically because I want to live the way of the Buddha and apply his means to move out of suffering into peace. How does meditation do that?
Training the Puppy to stay seated
This is an image stolen A Path with Heart from Jack Kornfield my favorite Buddhist author so far. He tells us that the mind is like a puppy. The mind is turbulent, undisciplined, easily running wild and jumping in all directions. Like with a puppy the relationship your practice needs to have with the running mind is a kind and caring but disciplined training to teach him to stay in place. What is the place the puppy mind needs to stay in? The Present Moment. The Present Moment is not some place filled with calm and peace but it’s The Now, it’s what happens now stripped from all forward and backward looking stories built on top of it. The reason why insight meditation asks the practitioner to focus and label his breath is because we breath continuously, it’s always an integral part of the moment that is passing now. Labeling our breath as “breath in”, “breath out” ensures that what we are experiencing is a part of the current reality. Labeling the sensations, feelings and thoughts that interrupt the awareness of our breath is a way to ensure that we are conscious of what happens in our brain which is also something of the present moment. Just now as I write this post, the interruptions are “remembering”, “formulating”, … because I’m writing and use my brain for it. I’m sitting on a terrace and it’s raining so “raindrop sound”, “bird singing” and so on is also part of my present moment.
Especially at the beginning of my practice but also when strong emotions arise during the labeling I get lost in the story for some time. I stop labeling my breath, stop labeling my thoughts and just get carried away by the internal movie unfolding. But practicing that discipline every day trains the mind to realize that something is off and that the labeling discipline stopped. That’s when we bring the puppy gently home. When we realize we were lost in thoughts we label what they were “day dreaming about my holidays” and then start labeling our breath again. The Puppy is then back home.
Understanding our inner Patterns
After some weeks or months of practice, the puppy is a bit more reasonable and we start seeing not only what we label but recurring patterns like “Back Pain” -> “Thoughts about Work” -> “Bowel Tension” -> “Fear” -> …
These patterns are very often automatic reactions we have learned in the past to handle situations. Since we rarely spend the time thinking about their validity, we believe them as being true. These automatic reactions and patterns start driving our day to day life on autopilot and we become slaves of our conditioning.
When these patterns are seen day after day after day in practice, they lose their controlling power on us. As Eckhart Tolle poetically says “they dissolve in the light of our presence”.
By working on all these patterns and gently and consciously exploring what they are we build a sense of self that becomes more realistic, less automatic and more healthy. Especially in the case of childhood traumas, see my article about Grown Up Wounded Children, the light we shine on ourselves frees us from our pain.
Dissolution of the Self
With our stronger and healthier sense of self we are ready to start facing the next step, the dissolution of the self. It still scares me when I feel it popping up and this is where I am with my practice. Under this cryptic image what is meant is that while watching how sounds create emotions that create thoughts that create reactions that create results or thinking about how we are constructed out of material that originated from the stars and that potentially each and every atom we are made off could very well become an integral part of our best friend or our worse enemy, we lose this strong identification to the “I”. Sometimes I feel that I’m just a wave of something that temporarily took shape on the amazing sea of life. This is when fear strikes in because this also means that I am nothing at all just a ripple on this sea and my sense of self is afraid of dissolving.
But this dissolution of the self is not something that prevents us from caring, being kind, having dreams or goals. This dissolution allows us to face the struggles of life with less attachment and more humour. Oh well it didn’t work out but I had fun. Let’s see what comes next! It allows to grieve and let go faster and suffer only the bare minimum we need to. This is for me the real teaching and spiritual dimension of Buddhism. We are just a ripple on the sea and this ripple will dissolve inevitably in the final recycling of our physical form. Since its impermanent and transitory it’s also not that damn serious. I work to become a surfer of life. I keep my goals in mind and strive to achieve them, I care for my loved ones and strive towards their happiness but I prepare myself to take the next wave that comes my way without resenting it or complaining that it’s a wave I didn’t plan. It’s life, let’s be Agile with it! In this trust that whatever comes our way will be ok – including death – because we lived with our heart open and doing our very best in every moment, lies true Happiness.
May you be filled with lovingkindness.
May you be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be at ease and happy.