Being and Meditation

It is difficult for human beings to just be. We are driven to meet the expectations of others, to pursue the goals of organisations and to meet, what appear to be, essential imperatives. Consequently we are soon lost in our strivings to achieve and our desires to be something we are not, to meet the expectations of others and satisfy our own unreasonable desires.

When we reflect on the passage of time we understand that a human life is in temporal terms quite insignificant. In a universe that, according to our scientist has existed for something like fifteen billion years, the most we can hope for in terms of longevity is no more than perhaps a hundred years. This is but a blink in the course of time.

Yet, because of the unrealistic desire of our ego, we fervently want to have a significant impact well beyond that. And in trying to prove that our presence has some special significance we strive to ensure we have made some significant achievements, contributed to worthy outcomes and to have essentially “made our mark”. Even when our impacts on the world are rather modest we are inclined to exaggerate them and console ourselves that from our strivings we have made a difference.

And of course, seduced by such imaginations we misjudge what our real impacts on the world have been. We are led to believe that our success is determined by how much money we have made, how much material wealth we have acquired, how desirable our partner is, or how much political influence we have had in our society.

An antidote to this condition is meditation. Meditation teaches us just how to be, without doing anything, without holding on to anything, without trying to impose ourselves on the world.

Normally we do anything we can to avoid just being. I get up in the morning to go jogging. There are already people down on the walking track when I get there at 5:15am. Curiously, many of them are talking on their mobile phones. It is as though they can’t bear to be in their own company. (I can’t begin to know who they might be talking to at that hour of the morning – maybe their stockbrokers in New York or London?)

I see many examples of this. I am on a short flight and once we land the hostess says that people may now access their mobile phones. So many turn them on as though there must have been something of huge significance occur in the forty minutes of our flight that they must know about immediately. It seems as though we are always looking at distractions to avoid confronting ourselves.

One might think that this phenomenon, a tendency to constant activity and discourse with others is due to modern technology. However the seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pacal commented, “All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room.”

Is there not some value in resting in our self-awareness, becoming more familiar with who we are and reconciling with our sense of self? What are the underlying fears that pervade us when we seek continuously to be distracted and avoid having to confront our essential being? This seems to me to be an indication of a dysfunctional pathology in many contemporaries.

In meditation practice we work directly with our confused mind states. We allow our thoughts to arise but not identify with them. In our mind space we treat everything that arises as just as it is without judgment. We don’t fixate on these passing thoughts but try to let them go and recline into our pure presence. There is no compulsion to prove we are good, successful or worthy. We just are. As a result we come to accept ourselves just as we are. (See last week’s blog.) Without judgment we come to understand there is a basic goodness in our simple being.

Somewhere else (I can’t for the life of me remember where) I used the analogy of muddied water. The cattle come down to drink and they wade a little way into the water. Their hooves stir up the mud on the bottom and as a result the water becomes brown and discoloured. The cattle are like our thoughts that come and go and confuse us and impinge on our sense of being. If we have not cultivated a sense of awareness we invite more and more to enter the stream and as a result the water is perpetually discoloured.

But if we can stop them entering the stream (still our thoughts) then soon the water is clear again. Most times we go to the aid of the cattle. We become emotionally involved in our thoughts. We are sad because we have not lived up to our expectations. We are angry because we have taken offence. We want to clarify the water so we put our hands in it. We struggle and we try to change those things that we can’t accept. We put our hands down and we stir around – and guess what? We now have stirred more mud from the bottom and the water is dirtier than it was before.

Let it go! If we only could come to grips with the universe as it is, unmediated by thought, expectation and judgment we would realise that despite our frenetic perceptions that lead us to believe otherwise – ALL IS WELL.

7 Replies to “Being and Meditation”

  1. If we sit still and do nothing for long enough, not even thinking, do we still exist? More interesting still, will we realise we never did? What I found is, it is some how very liberating to be in that pseudo state of non-existence. It is not scary at all but gives a great feeling of freedom in the realisation that I don’t have to exist for everything to be OK. It also results in greater levels of concentration and a calmness and clearness of thought for some time afterwards. Overall life becomes a lot easier.

    Another quote from De Mello that is loosely relevant (think you may have already used it in a previous Blog Ted).

    The visiting historian was disposed to be argumentative.
    “Do not our efforts change the course of human history?” he demanded.
    “Oh yes, they do,” said the Master.
    “And have not our human labours changed the earth?”
    “They certainly have,” said the Master.
    “Then why do you teach that human effort is of little consequence?”
    Said the Master, “Because when the wind subsides, the leaves still fall.”
    © Anthony de Mello, SJ

  2. Thoreau, after two years of voluntary solitude in the middle of nowhere, wrote the following:

    “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

    THAT is what meditation can do!

  3. So just who “gets up in the morning to go jogging. There are already people down on the walking track when I get there at 5:15am.”

    I have a very strong preference at that time to curl up alongside the Blonde Buddhist.

    Particularly in winter.

    But to each his or her own.

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