What Is Meditative Work?
This may seem like a basic question but it comes up again and again as we talk together, hearing what each of us believes meditative work is and reexamining those beliefs freshly and honestly together.
I’ve spoken with many people over the years and heard many views of what a person feels meditative work to be. People who feel most comfortable exerting their will power to train themselves in skills believe that mediation is about exerting one’s will power to train oneself in positive qualities. People who long for peacefulness and harmony believe that meditation increases peacefulness. People who are socially oriented may believe that meditation increases the connection between us. People whose lives have become dry or unhappy believe that meditation might help them feel more alive.
Meditation itself isn’t really any of these things. To me the word simply refers to becoming sensitively in touch with what is happening inside as well as outside. This sensitivity allows for the possibility that something new will happen.
What is something new? There seems to be the implication that much of our life – no matter how successful (or not) – is not new. It is based on old learned patterns of responding to life. One pattern is exerting self-will. Another pattern is feeling that peace and struggle are somehow in conflict, at odds with each other. Another deep pattern for most humans is feeling separate and unconnected with other people and with life as a whole. Patterns are often dominated by old trauma, which deadens and narrows our experience, leaving us feeling dry or unhappy.
If something new is to happen, isn’t it important to come in touch with our deepest patterns of “oldness”? Our most ingrained patterns of relating to the world?
For the person who believes it’s all about exerting one’s will to practice important qualities, it may be possible to come in touch with the compulsiveness of this and to examine the fear of losing control and not knowing what to do.
For the person who wishes life was more peaceful, it may be possible to look at the assumption that peace and struggle/conflict are two different realms. Are they really? Looking closely, such a person might see that their life is strongly devoted to moving toward what they consider to be peace and moving away from what they consider to be conflict. What if there is no choosing? What if one allows whatever is happening – peaceful or stressful – to arise and one finds if it is possible to meet it in a new way – not moving toward, not moving away.
For the person whose life is based on wanting a strong social connection, they may also find themselves moving away from certain things and toward other things. What if, when loneliness and a sense of isolation arises, I don’t move away from it? What if I don’t try to apply “meditation” to make myself feel more connected? What if there is just an allowing of the experience in a way that maybe has never happened before?
For the person whose life is dry or unhappy, whose life may be dominated by a sense of helplessness, what is helplessness, what is dryness, if I don’t resist it at all? If I stay with it and wonder about it and devote time and energy to sitting with whatever it is in a bold new way, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to change and yet not giving up?
Our beliefs about meditation are really our beliefs about what we think we need in the world. They represent the old. And usually most of us cling to that old for a sense of safety. We reinforce each others’ beliefs, citing wise teachers who we think have encouraged us to do what we have already decided we need. It’s good to notice that and not believe what we believe meditation is. Rather it’s a clue into what we think we need. Noticing that, maybe it is possible to examine our belief freshly.
Meditation, to me, has nothing to do with becoming something in the future. Yet most of our beliefs have everything to do with the future. We want to become more present and we hope to do that in the future.
A meditative moment is much simpler. Forgetting the future, vulnerable to the past, there is nothing to control in this moment. There is no direction I need to move. The controller, the chooser of experiences, is not necessary in this moment. The knower of what it all means and where it’s going and what I should do is not necessary in this meditative moment. (I’m not talking about driving heavy equipment or planning an event.) In a simple moment of all of this effort dropping away, what is left? What are we in this moment without our meditation goals and spiritual beliefs? We may discover that they have been a great obstacle to discovering what we really are and always have been.