The Way Of Meditation As A Way Of Life
The way of doing anything is a word used to describe your style or approach to life. There are many ways of doing things and everybody has their own unique way. A master once said there are as many spiritual paths as there are people on the planet. Even though many before us may have travelled the same road it is still up to us to walk the path. The Way of Meditation is a compass to help guide you along your own individual path.
Meditation is as old as humanity, it’s an ancient spiritual practice probably dating back to humans sitting silently around a camp fire and contemplating their existence. It has been formalised and structured by Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, it has been adopted as a spiritual practice by Christians and Muslims and now in the modern world mindfulness and meditation are being practised everywhere from schools to businesses and even in the military.
The Way of Meditation is so much more than just sitting cross legged on the floor, it permeates your whole life, gives you direction and informs your decision making. It is not a religion or belief system, it is a direct experience. I genuinely hope people can use meditation as a tool for freedom, happiness, healing, understanding and genuine enquiry rather than an oppressive dogma, dry ritual or set of rules. Meditation is done sitting still and this is a vital component to remembering our core and finding stillness, but the real challenge is integrating meditation into every moment of our lives; it is then that it becomes a way of being. Also it’s good to remember what Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki says:
“Don’t fall into the trap of getting ready to drop everything and spend the rest of your life meditating on a mountain. A much better – and more challenging – path is to remain rooted in a normal life, faithfully practicing a daily hour of meditation.”
Joyful Peace Comes From Within
The first principle of the Way of Meditation is a re-orientation of where happiness comes from, a new place to look for fulfilment and satisfaction. Modern society is somewhat hedonistic pursuing goals of material wealth and sensual pleasures but coming from the mouths of those who have achieved modern standards of success it does not make you happy or satisfied. We’ve been conned by the economic pressures of business to want more, consume more and to acquire more, but so many people are now waking up to the fact that material success without spiritual connection is shallow and incomplete. Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki once questioned:
“What if society’s priorities are all wrong, and the goal of achieving a certain social status, job title or income bracket is misguided? What if you could bring your focus back to the activities that make up your day and find peace and contentment from them, with no motive beyond that?”
The Way of Meditation points towards a spiritual happiness regardless of circumstances however this can become an extreme. Being in abject poverty without proper food or shelter is certainly not an ideal. I have gone through the journey of giving it all away, having nothing and sitting still meditating for ridiculous amounts of time during the day, but just like Buddha I soon realised that was an extreme and a balance must be struck. Maslow’s heirachy of needs places self actualisation at the top of the pyramid after material and emotional needs have been taken care of, so even though ultimately an inner connection to spirit is necessary for happiness and freedom a certain level of material needs must be met first. This balance is up to each of us to find.
The Way of Meditation is to at least balance our efforts between material comfort and discovering and familiarising ourselves with our inner resource of natural peace. Natural peace is actually the nature of our minds. When we can come to rest by not getting captured by thinking, planning and material desires our minds settle into a natural state of contentment and even bliss. You could call it spirit, Buddhist just call it mind or awareness, but whatever you call it it is fundamental to our being but all too often it’s forgotten and ignored in the pursuit of other quests. Meditation is a way of remembering and coming home to our natural state of being and finding a sense of joy there.
The Way of Detachment From Thoughts
Eckhart Tolle says it’s not the situation that makes you unhappy it’s your thoughts about it, and mindfulness guru Sharon Salzberg says all suffering comes from believing our thoughts, so what is it that is so dangerous about the thinking mind? Put simply it’s that thoughts are always fiction. There is no such thing as a true story, it’s just a story. But our minds have a weird mechanism where they cannot tell the differences between thoughts and reality and get the two mixed up.
We live our lives in our own story, and whether yours is a drama, an adventure, comedy or even a tragedy these stories or explanations for our lives stir up the natural clarity of our awareness and our natural state of peace and happiness is temporarily lost.
It is temporary because as soon as you drop the story and rest in a fundamental open awareness the peace returns and equilibrium is restored. However, even though it is temporary, it can last a lifetime, from the moment you learn to talk and create stories of right and wrong, worthy and unworthy you can end up living your whole life trapped in this mind fiction losing sight of your natural ability to be happy.
Therefore a major component of the Way of Meditation is detaching from thoughts, not believing them or at least taking them with humour and lightness. This in itself relieves the stress thoughts and believing in them creates. Having a belief is inherently disturbing. To live without beliefs is to be spontaneous, fluid and lets face it mysterious.
The Way Of Not Knowing
I once had a huge debate on a Facebook thread, before I realised how useless that was, with a Christian who insisted you must believe in something. People often use their beliefs like their favourite sports team. Who do you go for? is a similar question as what do you believe in? I have learnt that in some Asian cultures they hedge their bets, fearing to get it wrong, so they believe in it all and have a rather crowded altar with all the major religious figures represented.
A respected Buddhist teacher of mine, Lama Yeshe, once pointed to a thing in front of him during a teaching and asked the audience “what is that?” the replies forthcoming where “it’s a table” “ah ha!” Lama Yeshe said “you do believe in something.” The psychology of labelling something is that we think we know the object because we have a name for it, but that’s the same trickery as before. If we are satisfied with the label we are confined within the story that label implies. Separating the label from the raw experience of viewing something is an important aspect to the way of meditation.
So where does that leave us? not believing in anything and not naming anything, it would seem a bit prehistoric, maybe we should go back to grunting and pointing. The answer is the same as before using the skill of detachment to not get captured by labels and names and see things openly, freshly and with curiosity rather than with the certainty that labels bring. True knowing does not come from the conceptual content of our minds it comes from the clarity of the mind itself.
Certainty is actually a clinging to knowledge that gives us a false sense of security, it limits our perceptions and makes us rigid and inflexible. Being certain even limits our natural intelligence as a Zen Master once said
“In the beginners mind there are many options in the experts there are few.”
The Way of Meditation is to be open, curious and non judgemental. Trusting the skill and balance of present centred awareness, comfortable and secure enough to be able to say I don’t know. There’s a type of violence in imposing your views and certainty on others and also there is an innocence and gentleness in the open flexible stance of using what Alan Watts calls the wisdom of insecurity.
The Way Of Intuition
By detaching from thoughts, beliefs and certainty we can rest in a natural and open presence. It is empty of believing in thoughts and beliefs and is also empty of being anything material so is often called spiritual, but it is not empty of wisdom. The Way of Meditation uses this clear awareness to navigate life and it is rich in knowing and understanding. By dropping all judgements and thoughts and truly being present with something and somebody you have access to all the information of the moment and not just your story line. This is the start of intuition and also real love.
It is love because without the limitations of judgements and beliefs you literally merge with people and the moment. The Dalai Lama has said that love is the absence of judgement. Uniting directly with what your focusing on is called Samadhi in ancient Indian terminology. It is a natural intelligence not born from language but instead arises due to this mysterious uniting. It is love because you become one with what or who you are with which fosters a deep sense of understanding and empathy.
This all boils down to trusting yourself and being yourself. The Way of Meditation is natural and ego-less (without a story). There is no middle man to your redemption or happiness because everything you need is waiting for you within. Not distracted by thoughts you can discover your own natural peace and wisdom. This is not a belief it is the experience of millions before you and does not rely on a church or organisation, just the self empowerment of learning to meditate .
The Way of Meditation can be brought into every moment of your life changing your perspective and responses to the world. The way is easy for those who are comforatble using mindfulness and a spontaneous presence in their daily life but start to rely on your beliefs and judgements and the way is lost. The way opens up the creativity of infinite possibilities, maintains the wonder of living and helps to connect deeply with a natural sense of joy and stillness.