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TRUE MEDITATION: What Is It?


“Meditation is a dualistic practice that only reinforces the separate self,” or “I don’t have time to meditate,” or “I can’t meditate, my mind is too busy.”  I hear statements like these rather frequently, and I wonder, are any of these statements true?

First of all, what is meditation? The word is used to refer to many very different things, but in the deepest sense, as I use it, it simply points to being Here-Now, being just this moment, exactly as it is.

Here-Now, this awaring presence, is the ever-present common factor in every different experience, whether we are meditating, busy at work, taking care of loud and unruly children, shopping for groceries in a crowded market, driving on a busy freeway, having a heated conversation, or sitting quietly on a park bench watching the birds. Whether we are feeling calm or agitated, blissful or miserable, it all happens Here-Now. Meditation is actually the natural activity of awareness.

In the more formal sense of the word, meditation refers to putting aside our usual activities, remaining relatively still and quiet, and then doing (or not doing) various things. These various things in different schools of meditation may include following the breath, attending to sensations, labeling thoughts, saying a mantra, working on a koan, being aware of awareness, or not doing anything at all. There may be additional instructions given on correct posture, hand positions, keeping the eyes open or closed, and so on—and these will differ from one school of meditation to the next.

For me, meditation simply means being present to what is: just this! In other words, simply being awake to the sounds of traffic, the sensations in the body, the breathing, the visual dance of shapes and colors if the eyes are open, the spaciousness in which everything is arising, the listening stillness, the aliveness and vibrant present-ness of everything.

Meditation also means being aware of the thoughts that pop up and recognizing them as thoughts, without mistaking them for objective and credible reports on reality, and without getting sucked into the content or the storylines they are spinning—and if getting sucked in and hypnotized by thought does happen, as it probably will at times, meditation simply means being aware of that—seeing the allure of thought and how quickly and persuasively it creates an imaginary world that seems believable, and how it creates the apparent “me” at the center of that story.

Meditation is non-judgmental and not result-oriented. It isn’t going anywhere. And if judgments or seeking results should arise, as they may, meditation simply means noticing those movements of the mind without judging the judging or seeking the end of seeking. Nothing is resisted, nothing is sought. Everything is allowed to be as it is. Meditation as I mean it is not about getting into any special state or getting rid of anything that appears. It’s simply being present, being aware, being Here-Now, which we effortlessly always already are, but often we are focused on the content of our thoughts, our storylines and curative fantasies about getting somewhere else or figuring everything out.

There is no such thing as a “good meditation” or a “bad meditation.” You can’t fail at meditation, although many people believe they have failed because their thoughts are running wild and they feel agitated, restless or bored, so they must be a failure at this. People often have the idea that meditation is about being calm and thought-free, and if that’s not happening, it means it’s not working. But true meditation simply allows all of this to be as it is. Meditation is not about results, or getting somewhere, or having a special mystical experience, or fixing and improving the imaginary “me.” It’s simply about being awake Here-Now, allowing it all to be just as it is—and noticing that everything already IS allowed to be as it is—obviously, because it’s all here, just as it is, even our moments of resistance and seeking! It is the nature of awareness to allow everything to be as it is. Awareness includes everything and clings to nothing. We might call that unconditional love.

And ultimately, as any true meditation eventually reveals, there is no actual boundary between “meditation” and “the rest of my life.” But it is very helpful, especially in the beginning, to dedicate some actual, uninterrupted time and space to sitting quietly, doing nothing. This is something our society as a whole desperately needs, and something most of us are deeply hungry for, whether we recognize it or not. Far from “wasting time,” this is about discovering what is most essential and seeing the false for what it is. But it is best to approach meditation without any such lofty ideas, and to regard it as utterly useless and purposeless. That may sound dreadful, but only to the conditioned mind.

Although meditation is sometimes called sitting, being seated is not essential. You can meditate sitting, standing, lying down or walking. You can be in an armchair, a recliner, on a park bench or a meditation cushion. You can be at home, at the office, in prison, in a hospital bed, on an airplane or anywhere at all. A quiet location is helpful, but by no means essential. Nothing that shows up needs to be regarded as a distraction, an obstacle, an interruption or a problem. Your eyes can be open or closed. You don’t need to hold the body completely still, but simply allow a natural stillness to emerge by itself.

Everyone has at least a few minutes during any ordinary busy day that they could potentially devote to this kind of simple being. While riding on a bus, train or plane, or while sitting in a waiting room before an appointment, instead of reaching for a magazine or your phone, just BE here. This is radical in our society! For a moment between clients, between patients, between meetings, while on breaks, while the children are napping, or whenever there is a free moment in your daily schedule, simply stop and be. A few minutes, even a few seconds, throughout the day can be huge.

And maybe it’s possible to take some dedicated time, maybe just 5 or 10 minutes, at the beginning and/or end of the day to simply be here, doing nothing. Although formal meditation does take time relatively speaking, it is actually about opening to the timeless Now, which is without beginning or end, ever-present and yet ever-changing.

No one is without some amount of unscheduled, free time. But we tend to fill it up with noise and busyness: constant thinking and talking, video games, social media, cruising the internet, watching TV, reading, checking email, looking at our phones, or pretty much anything other than just being here. Our present society offers abundant possibilities for this kind of restless and increasingly addictive activity. It’s hard to find any public space anymore without TVs playing or background music or both going constantly. While none of these aforementioned activities are “bad” or inherently problematic in moderation, it’s a wonderful revelation to live without them for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days or weeks at a time.

When you first allow yourself to do this—to stop and be still, doing nothing at all—you may feel relief and joy, or you may feel an intense energy in the body that seems to demand that you do something like get on your phone or start thinking about something right away. If you do feel this powerful urge to do something, just feel this energy, this urgency, in the body as pure sensation. Explore it. Let it be. If there is what we call restlessness or boredom, just allow these things to be as they are and be curious about them—what are they, without the labels? See the thoughts, feel the sensations, tune into the bare energy of them. Letting go of all our busyness and hyper-stimulation can be like going through withdrawal from any other kind of addiction—there is often a period of discomfort. The challenge is to be with this discomfort without reaching for something to cure it. This is where you discover what you have been avoiding and what you have been missing.

Some people feel discipline and regularity is very important in meditation, others do not. Some regard meditation as a practice, others as simply a natural part of life. Some use a timer and follow a strict schedule, others simply meditate as often or as long as it invites them, perhaps without even thinking of it anymore as “meditation” or as anything special. I feel we can all trust that the best way for each of us will unfold naturally, and the best way may change over time. Even the apparent mistakes are all part of the Way. The Way is going nowhere; it’s always Now/Here. If we are trying to “be here now,” we are presuming a false separation. We are Here-Now. Always! Meditation is never about the future or trying to get somewhere.

Meditation involves seeing how the thinking mind creates suffering and confusion, waking up from stories and beliefs, developing a capacity to be with disturbing sensations or emotions without needing to escape in harmful ways, and shifting from a life primarily rooted in and run by thinking to a life rooted more and more in awareness and presence. On a practical level only, this can all bring us a much happier and less stressful life, and for many, especially with secular forms of meditation, this is as far as it goes, and that’s fine.

But at a deeper level, meditation involves seeing through the mirage of the separate self. Meditation reveals the seamlessness, wholeness and interdependence of everything. In true meditation, there is no meditator. There is no boundary between inside and outside, between subject and object.

Meditation is how we realize or actualize what might otherwise just be a collection of beautiful ideas or beliefs (e.g., that there is no self, that apparently separate and persisting things don’t actually exist, that birth and death are imaginary divisions in what is actually a seamless whole, that our True Nature is never lost even in moment of upset and confusion). Meditation allows us to explore questions such as free will or the nature of reality not by thinking about them, but by observing and knowing directly. Meditation is not theoretical or philosophical; it is nonconceptual and embodied. And paradoxically, when we are fully embodied, it is clear that we are no body at all!

That doesn't mean picking up some idea that "I am not my body." You are the body! But the body is not what you think it is. The living, breathing actuality is permeable, fluid, moving, inseparable from what is supposedly not the body. Your true body is the whole universe. Meditation is a fully-embodied activity of the whole body.

Who or what are you right now if you don’t refer to thought, memory, second-hand information or imagination? Do you as this undeniable awaring presence Here-Now have a gender, an age, a nationality? Do you have any boundaries, any place where you begin and end, any place where you are not? Is there any boundary between inside of you and outside of you? Feel into these questions. Feel the relief and freedom of being no-thing at all and everything.

For a moment, leave past and future behind. Leave behind all ideas and beliefs, all second-hand information and accumulated knowledge. Leave behind everything you think you know about yourself and the world. Leave behind all expectation and anticipation, all opinions and judgments. Simply be. Feel the spaciousness, the openness, the energy, the vibrant aliveness.

Go deeply with awareness into any sensation (somatic, auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, kinesthetic), and you will discover nothing solid. Everything opens to vastness.

Meditation is devotion to what is. Meditation is a moment-to-moment exploration and discovery with no finish-line, no end result, no final conclusion, because there really isn't one. The living reality is moving, changing, always fresh and new, and yet always Here-Now.

Meditation invites being liberated on the spot, not once-and-for-all, not someday, not once long ago, but right now.

And if you think you’re not liberated, meditation invites you to see if you can find the one who is not liberated!

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2018 --

You are welcome to link to this article or to quote brief passages as fair use, but if you wish to re-post whole articles or long excerpts from this web site on other sites or blogs, please give appropriate copyright credit to Joan and be sure to include a link to this website with your posting. Thank you!

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