Everyone Can Meditate.
Whether you are a Christian, Buddhist, atheist, right wing, left wing or if you’re in a punk rock band everyone can meditate.
Lots of celebrities meditate: Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Tina Turner, Richard Gere and Hugh Jackman, Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood says he’s been meditating for 40 years using the TM method.
Even people in Jail meditate and it has helped many prisoners find freedom on the inside. Do they all have the same religious or spiritual beliefs? I highly doubt it. You can be a hippie, business person or athlete – everyone can benefit from meditation, without having to believe in God, Allah, a messiah, crystals or any other set of beliefs.
Meditation is a psychological method not a belief system.
Steve Jobs meditated, in fact he said it was indispensable and became a big fan of Zen meditation here are some of Steve’s insights after meditating for many years:
“…over time the mind does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”
I used to be one of those people who proudly claimed I’m spiritual not religious. That seemed to separate me from the traditions of old whilst keeping some divine identity intact. But being spiritual came with it’s own dogma, it’s own set of beliefs and even its own ego. Sure I did some yoga, burnt incense and had my fair share of amethysts lying around the house, I even wore tie pants for a few years straight, went barefoot through most of university and went to see the Dalai Lama when he came to town, I also wore a beaded mala around my wrist (actually I still do). But what did it all mean? What makes a person spiritual? And what real need is there to call yourself spiritual?
Having pondered that question for a while I boiled it all down to being a kind and loving person. I still kind of think that. But is that really spiritual or is it just being a good human, being a respectful world citizen or even just having a healthy mind. Well who cares it’s all just labels right? Only the ego needs a good label. The ego is so tricky and incessant, even if I just call myself ‘an ordinary guy’ there is that pang of ego grasping onto that label with the pride of having found an acceptable identity that’s endearing and humble. So fuck all labels. I just am who I am in every moment, free to express myself without identity limitations.
Going Beyond Identities
I do meditate though. Can I say that without calling myself a meditator? I cringe at the thought of creating a new identity. I also go jogging. Does that me a runner? I eat, go to the toilet and spend too much time on Facebook, are they all identities too? anyway lets get past this identity issue, you get the point; meditation is a psychological method not an identity. It’s actually just being very simple and innocent which as a by-product brings a certain amount of peacefulness and natural intelligence, as a great Zen Masters once said:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
So I recommend not to label yourself a meditator, and also don’t give others the opportunity to define you either. I think there is a case to made to be a secret meditator. Don’t tell anyone, then there will be no expectations about your behaviour. Like ‘aren’t you meant to be calm’ or ‘your behaviour isn’t very enlightened maybe you should meditate more’. Other people’s expectations can be suffocating. It’s better to appear wild on the outside but to be serene on the inside than to pretend to be calm through outward appearance but actually have inner turmoil.
Meditation helps to go past all identities to a non-fixed identity. It helps to find a stillness that isn’t characterized by actions, sexual orientation, social roles or hobbies; it is a clear inner space of openness which is content-less but nonetheless fundamental to who I am. As Eckhart Tolle says:
“When your attention moves into the now, there is an alertness. Such clarity, such simplicity. No room for problem-making. Just this moment as it is.”
My identities can come and go, I was once a student, then a tennis player then a Buddhist monk but now I watch all that passing stuff with amusement as I ground myself within inner space and stillness. Meditation is not about changing and conditioning yourself or as Buddhist nun Pema Chodron suggests it’s about befriending yourself not perfecting yourself.
So meditation has the potential to transcend both religious beliefs and spiritual identity. Hopefully no-one will ever go to war over whose meditation technique is the best, there are many brilliant techniques that help to focus, clear the mind, transcend the ego and more. Meditation is like medicine and just like medicine different people need different types. Also, just like medicine if you don’t take it, it won’t work, believing in meditation is not enough. This is something my Tibetan Buddhist teacher Geshe Tashi Tsering would constantly drum into us, it’s a method it’s not a philosophy. It’s easy to talk about meditation but it’s difficult to practice it. But it’s in the practising that the benefits come.
Meditation Is Good For You And Others
Benefits? I thought I just said it’s not about changing yourself it’s about befriending or being yourself. The positive changes are a natural by-product of losing your neurosis. You don’t gain anything but lose things in meditation. You lose your ego identifications, you lose your frustration and anxiety and you lose your distractedness and when you lose all your mental chains you are free. No-one can make you do it, or do it for you, as Bob Marley rightly said.
“None but ourselves can free our minds.”
When you are free you are happy, and when you are happy you hurt others less. You no longer try to manipulate the world to find happiness you can discover peace and a natural way of being which you can then carry into the world everywhere you go. So meditation also has built in ethics, you harm other people less when you have disarmed your own weapons of anger, dissatisfaction and frustration. In Taoism they call it ‘De’ or a natural and harmonious type of virtue.
Meditation is a secular leaderless movement that millions are quietly joining in on, which transcends borders and unites people at the core of their being in the pursuit of happiness.
As the rolling stones famously sang ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ and it is actually the first truth taught by Buddha. In Buddhism it means there is no satisfaction in the constantly changing things of the world, Buddha went on to say that peace can only be found in letting go of finding satisfaction in the world and coming to rest in a natural peaceful contentment, and meditation was a method to discover this way of being. As a Tibetan Buddhist Master Lama Yeshe would always say ‘check up!’, see if what I’m saying is true or not for yourself. Meditation is not a belief it’s something directly experiential. The evidence is in the results not in the scriptures.
So meditation includes a natural virtue and also a certain amount of renunciation from worldly or material pursuits. Meditation is not something you do, it’s actually more a non-doing, a stopping, that’s exactly what the Buddhist word Nirvana means – an extinguishing of the flames of desire. A resting in your natural state however you find yourself without wanting more or less; just being. This non activity is hardly spiritual it’s just sitting still and doing nothing. This doing nothing is desperately needed in a modern world filled with hyper-activity, busy-ness and unease.
Recently my mother met a friend on the street. “How’s your son doing? the friend asked. “Is he still unemployed?” “Yes,” my mother replied, “but he’s meditating now, so at least it’s better than sitting around doing nothing!”
That was a joke, but it’s actually fairly close to the truth for me. But meditation is just that, sitting around doing nothing with contentment. Sounds easy? well it’s not, but it’s not some huge miracle either, it’s not being touched by divine angels or being welcomed into a secret society. It can be hard work to stop the compulsive doing of stuff and just sit. Sometimes meditation is the only time in your day you take the time to just do nothing and really relax.
Meditation is worth it, sanity is not something that is learnt, it is not a convention or a belief it’s the natural state of just being open minded and sensitive to the present moment. Therefore meditation is great for mental health and has many scientifically proven health benefits, it literally helps to drive you sane in an insane world. It has been called mental hygiene or as Zen Masters say – it is cleaning or dusting off the mirror of your mind so you can reflect or see things clearly.
Sanity is not something to be proud of or believe in, you are just being aware and natural. Does meditating make you spiritual? Maybe. But why complicate things with labels. Just sit and be yourself. As I started out by mentioning all the people who meditate there is not one type of person who meditates, people who meditate come in all shapes and sizes with all different beliefs and personalities. Even people like American shock jock Howard Stern meditates. He’s rude, confrontational and argumentative, not the picture of a serene Buddha you would expect from someone who meditates, but that’s just him being himself, so what?
When you give yourself freedom to just be yourself you find it easier to let others just be themselves too without being judgemental or offended.
So meditation is just being yourself with a certain amount of acceptance, mindfulness and knowledge that happiness comes from the inside not the outside. Practising meditation and mindfulness is as fundamental to mental health as brushing your teeth is fundamental to dental health. Meditating is a sane thing to do in this crazy uncertain world – it’s just the intelligent pursuit of happiness which is not contingent on what you do or stuff you have. I’m not religious or spiritual I just want to be happy and healthy; so I meditate regularly.