M is for Meditation
I’ve been at Shambhala Mountain Center all weekend, at the “Fearless Creativity” writing and meditation retreat with Susan Piver, so it was pretty clear what I should write about for the letter M. I’ll write a post later about how utterly amazing the retreat was, about how much I adore Susan Piver, and the impact this weekend has had on my writing practice, but for now let’s talk about the other practice I did this weekend, that I do daily: meditation.
Many of us are slaves to our minds. Our own mind is our worst enemy. We try to focus, and our mind wanders off. We try to keep stress at bay, but anxiety keeps us awake at night. We try to be good to the people we love, but then we forget them and put ourselves first. And when we want to change our life, we dive into spiritual practice and expect quick results, only to lose focus after the honeymoon has worn off. We return to our state of bewilderment. We’re left feeling helpless and discouraged. It seems we all agree that training the body through exercise, diet, and relaxation is a good idea, but why don’t we think about training our minds? ~Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
“The process of undoing bewilderment is based on stabilizing and strengthening our mind,” says Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. “Shamatha meditation is how we do that.”
I started a regular meditation practice five years ago. Sometimes it seems like only five minutes, and other times it feels like 500 years. The style of meditation I practice is shamatha, which means “calm awareness” or “peaceful abiding.” The focus is on the breath and the eyes remain open, inviting reality and the environment in to the experience, engaging with it but not grasping or attaching, and accepting reality as it is, not rejecting, trying to change it, and not hoping that conditions were different. Peaceful abiding, calm awareness. Being with what is, as it is. Opening your heart to the vast space, the stillness and the silence, even when your internal or external environment might be otherwise.
It’s through this training of the mind that we can regain a connection to our innate sanity, our compassion, confidence, wisdom, and strength, on and off the cushion. The practice trains our mind away from a discursive, fearful, aggressive relationship with reality, away from a confused perception of the way things are.
In some traditions of meditation, the goal is to reach a state of removal from reality, transcendence, a bliss state even, the goal being to check out, to remove yourself from the experience of reality. I won’t lie, this sounds appealing, but what happens when you come back, off the cushion in your post mediation life? How will this have helped you cope with the real deal, the shit and stink of life, what’s really going on? I prefer shamatha, the instruction to relax and be gentle with yourself, but also to open your heart and connect with reality, your current state, your life and everything in it, to experience things as they are in this moment, bravely and with confidence.
This for me is such good news, that there is a method, a way, a practice for training your mind to be with what is, come what may, to be confident and peaceful. I don’t have to fight reality, deny it, abandon it, transcend it, reject or renounce it—I can be in my life, bravely and confidently. Yes, it is messy and unkind, brutal at times, and I am at times confused, suffering, dirty and stinky, but I am also brilliant and precious. And I am grateful to have a practice of meditation that makes it all workable.
Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest. ~Pema Chödrön