A student went to his meditation teacher and spoke, "My meditation is horrible! I am so distracted, my legs ache, and I often fall asleep. It is horrible!" "It will pass," said the teacher.
Later, the student returned to his teacher. "My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It is going great!" "It will pass," said the teacher.
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Meditation is like the seasons, as life is. There is winter, spring, summer, and fall.
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Early in our meditation practice, we are more likely to seek some ideal state. In time, after struggling with the futility of trying to gain and keep this state consistently, we relax.
After relaxing, meditation becomes more like breathing. Naturally, effortlessly, the lungs expand and contract.
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After many years - for most of us - of meditation, we discover what is beyond ideal and not-ideal meditation. This state - if we may call it that - had been present all along, what some have called meditation beyond meditation or non-meditation. Christians call it contemplation or contemplative prayer.
Before, we had engaged meditation as an act separate from life. Likely, we started meditating wishing to change something, like how we feel or to find union with God. All goals for meditation create a separation where there is no separation. So, we recreate the struggle to release ourselves from the stress through our effort to escape. This is a prelude to the relaxed posture of no longer striving for an escape.
We grow into this relaxed openness, where there is no select state, only what is happening. All states of feeling, body, and mind are one flow. This does not mean we do nothing, only that whatever we do is experienced as a unity, rather than an act on what is happening - the latter always has a note of aggression.
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The late Alan Watts, in What is Zen?, proposes -
It would be a bit of relief for us if we could see the world as an extension of ourselves, and ourselves as an extension of the world.
The world is both what we perceive inside us and outside us. Inner and outer are not two worlds, only two perceptions of the same world. So, if you go within, you go without. For there is not an inside or an outside separate from each other, even as there is no you and another self separate from each other.
So, yes, much of our suffering, or living in stress, is from our perception and felt-sense of division, rather than unity. Then, this plays itself out in societies. The result of relaxing this separative thinking is relief, for the tension melts back into the natural harmony.
Watts continues, clarifying how this unity happens -
When Buddhism first came to China it was most natural for the Chinese to speak about it in terms of Taoist philosophy, because they both share a view of life as a flowing process in which the mind and consciousness of man is inextricably involved. It is not as if there is a fixed screen of consciousness over which our experience flows and leaves a record [i.e., memory only occurs in present tense]. It is that the field of consciousness itself is part of the flowing process, and therefore the mind of man is not a separate entity observing the process from outside, but is integrally involved with it.
Watts is correct - what we call the mind is the consciousness, which is flowing, reflecting on the flowing in an observer status. The problem is the mind tricks itself into thinking it is a subject outside the flow. Instead, when I see a tree, the tree and the observing are a single movement of life, only the perception of observation conveys the sense that the mind is here and what it sees is there; hence, the tree is there, and I am here. This means the tree and I are separate, but that conclusion is only from the relative observer status, which itself is part of consciousness.
There is no problem with the sense of separation in itself. Only that this becomes the ultimate reality for us. We think this separation is the sole reality. We even become divided from ourselves, the mind thinking it is the thinker within us, when we are a whole, working in amazing harmony. The mind is the whole of who you are working in a particular way.
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We tend to see the mind as observing the environment within and without, rather than experiencing the mind as not a thing but an activity of consciousness. When we see the different states of emotional, physical, and mental as not separate from the environment, but as the environment, we are more likely to relax with this unity-as-movement and feel the harmony in the relative procession of states, these being not states absolutely, but the flow itself.
This is like the story of the student who approached his teacher. The student spoke, "I've a lot of anger." The teacher asked, "Where's your anger? Show it to me, now." "I can't," came the reply. "Why?" asked the teacher. The student said, "I'm not angry right now?" "Then," the teacher said, "you don't have anger, or you would be able to show me anger. Since anger comes and goes, how can you have it?"
In meditation, many states may arise - jealousy, lust, rage, peace, joy, ... If there is one, the ideal state is equanimity, wherein these states are seen as movements in consciousness, happiness and sadness, for example, being of the same seamless flow.
Then, our times in silence influence life outside it. We grow more accepting and patient with varied, even conflicting, relative states of thought, emotion, and body. Even when we seem pulled out of calm altogether, that can be experienced as within the flow. Simply put, nothing can happen outside the flow, for all relative changes are within the ever-changing movement life becomes in the human experience. We cannot escape the harmony, only try to - We are it.
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher FirstBooks. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.