In this morning’s meditation class, our teacher was sharing about having reconnected with a long-estranged older sister, and about how now she talks with him for two and a half hours at a time, during which he speaks maybe 99 seconds. It’s a matter of listening, to all that pours out of her, including admonitions of what he should and should not be doing in his life.
Fortunately, as we made note in class, the more we meditate, the less there is of us. The more we are simply able to be present with what is, and not feel that we have to or want to or can change everything. It turns out everything is not all about us, or our ego, or our experience. Our meditation practice helps us take everything much less personally. We become the gentle witness, listening, awake, aware. We note things happening, moment to moment — oh, hello sorrow… frustration… joy! We listen, offer compassion, love, open-heartedness. We aren’t responsible for fixing everything or changing anything. It’s a relief, actually. We breathe. We let go. It feels amazing.
What this adds up to is a glorious sense of freedom, well worth any amount of time spent meditating.
A book I recommend if you’d like to learn more about this topic is Anam Thubten’s No Self, No Problem. Anam Thubten is a Tibetan-born Buddhist master, and his writing is simple, elegant, funny, and sweet. Each chapter is an exquisite exploration of a self-contained theme, so that each is of value. I love to set aside time on Sundays to read a whole chapter in one sitting, slowly digesting his teachings.
For example, in Chapter Three, “inner contentment: giving up nothing but attachment,” he says,
“When we meditate, when we sit and simply pay attention to our breath, we begin to see that there is an ‘I,’ a self, who is searching for enlightenment and liberation from suffering. But if we keep paying attention to our breath and body sensations, then eventually all of those ideas, concepts, and illusions begin to dissipate one after another and truth reveals itself. It’s like watching a mountain that is covered by clouds. In the beginning we don’t see the mountain because it is covered by heavy clouds. But if we keep watching, then, as the clouds dissolve, the mountain begins to emerge, and eventually, when all of the clouds are gone, the mountain that was always there appears.”
“In the same way, when we pay attention to our breath, body sensations, and to the awareness that arises, then all the illusions, suffering, confusion, sorrow, and personal issues, all of this begins to dissipate. We see that all of these experiences are born of delusion. This is the sense of ‘I.’ … Then when we continue meditating, the sense of self also goes away. When we just keep meditating, when we just remain in that present awareness and observe, then the self dissolves too. When the self dissolves there is just pure awareness. When the self completely collapses, there is this inexpressible, simple yet profound and ecstatic, compassionate awareness. Nobody is there. ‘I’ is completely nonexistent in that place. There is no separation between samsara, bad circumstances, and nirvana, good circumstances, and there is nobody pursuing the path or chasing after enlightenment. In that moment we realize the essence of the Buddha’s teachings.” (p. 41).
Sorry! I couldn’t stop. I meant to! But the next sentence was so good, and the one after that.
One last thing I want to share: you don’t have to be good at meditating. In fact, there is no good or bad. Like athletic practice, you just have to do it — in this case to achieve inexpressible, ecstatic effects that are truly beyond words, but not beyond measure. The effects of all that sitting on the cushion are boldly, blissfully manifest in our lives.