“In [meditation] leave your front door and back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.”
— Shunryu Suzuki
When we first begin our meditation practice, we often want to meditate to attain a goal. That goal may be happiness, inner-peace, well-being, security, health, or whatever else our minds can conjure up. Then we may practice for a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months, consistently and inconsistently, until our practice drops off.
Many people expect to gain immediate results, chasing ideas of enlightenment or permanent happiness. They may even have experienced a sense of peace in the past, now clinging to the idea of peace in every session. When they don’t get what they want, or get what they don’t want, they don’t practice as much as before. Some people quit entirely.
Overtime, meditating only for our own happiness feels a little self-centered. As our practice deepens, however, we soon begin to realize that our happiness will not last. Our security will not last either. Our grasping after ideas will only make us suffer more. Only when we can let go of these ideas can we be open to our joy and sorrow.
Our peace cannot be peace if it is only for ourselves.
There is no genuine happiness in our lives unless we work for the happiness of others.
What underlies all Buddhist teachings is the wish for all beings to be free of suffering.
This is because we aren’t separate from our environment. From other living creatures.
It is one thing to know this intellectually, but quite another thing to experience it directly.
Through our meditation practice, we can learn to see what is. Over and over again.
Even if we forget ourselves — lost in our daydreams and distractions — we can return to where we are.
Whenever we experience a thought, a feeling, or sensation, we can let it come and go. There is no need to follow it. We don’t have to get caught up in our stories, our dramas, our complex thought-patterns.
We can treat our inner-processes like guests. They can come inside, walk round in our house, and then leave. While we’re not inviting them to stay forever, we don’t need to kick them out the backdoor, or lock them in the basement.
It is important to allow space into our practice. Our space can embrace our anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear — without letting these states take over. We can lovingly be aware of when we are feeling tight in our chest, cramping, on the verge of crying, breathing shallowly, and so on. There is no shame in how we think and feel and sense. We don’t have to shut ourselves down, repressing who we are, and we don’t have to identify with every emotion that arises.
As Tsoknyi Rinpoche wrote in How Mindfulness Works, “We also gradually cut through the habit of identifying with each emotional wave that passes through our awareness. We can be angry, jealous, or scared without having to act on those emotions or let them take over our lives. We can experience joy or love without becoming attached to the object that we think is the cause of our joy. All too often, the emotions we experience, along with the thoughts and behaviors that accompany them, become part of our internal and social story lines. Anger, anxiety, jealousy, fear, and other emotions become part of who we believe we are, creating what I would call a ‘greasy’ residue, like the oily stuff left on a plate after eating greasy food. If that residue is left on the plate, eventually everything served on that plate starts to taste alike; bits of food start to accumulate too, stuck to layers and layers of greasy residue. All in all, a very unhealthy situation!”
Through our meditation, we can see ourselves as we are: human. When we create space in our lives, in that space, there is freedom. Our aliveness comes from being intimately connected to each moment, not judging, not condemning, but being open to the mystery. What comes is not expected to stay forever. That includes our heartbreaks, our friends, our professions, our physical capabilities, our memories.
We don’t own our life as if we owned a bank account.
We are life itself.
An energetic process, transforming. We are passing through “whatever this is” as visitors.
We cannot take our time with us.
We cannot stop ourselves from growing old, sick, and dying.
Every moment is so precious. Only we forget.
Meditation helps us to realize that we are interconnected with everything in this universe. In all our infinite relationships, there is no true division. We create division in our discriminating minds, in our judgements and opinions, in our intellectualization.
Our daily practice lets us be more aware. We start to feel a sense of responsibility, because we see another person’s joy and sorrow within ourselves. As we suffer, they suffer. As we wish for peace, they wish for peace. When we harm the world, we harm ourselves, when we harm ourselves, we harm the world. Meditation is a way for us to return to who we are, and where we are, in the miracle of each moment.