Or Meditating with a really stubborn mind
Although I’ve been practising meditation for about forty years now, I’ve not actually been practising meditation in the way it’s usually understood. Let me explain.
Meditation: have mantra, take mala (a string of 108 beads), sit comfortably, close the eyes, breath normally, or rhythmically. Repeat mantra mentally, in sync with breath, or not, as you wish. With each repetition of the mantra turn the mala one bead. Practice one mala (about 12 minutes) two malas, four malas, whatever.
I tried that once, for a while, but it didn’t work. Why? Lack of focus, impatience, wandering mind - what most people experience after the first taste of euphoria and enthusiasm has worn off. But looking back there was another reason which is why I’m writing this now.
More than this
Ever since I can remember, looking around I had always thought, there must be more than this; this can’t be it, and occasionally, this can’t be real. I was blessed with a rich inner life and cursed with an out of control imagination. What it amounted to was that I came to value the inner life above all else, because it seemed that’s where I wanted to be it, where it was really at, but had little control over it.
Everything around me seemed so normal, in the pejorative sense. Fortunately I was born at time when that normality was about to be turned upside down. It would be no surprise to discover that when marijuana came around I took to it enthusiastically. It offered a way to deepen the inner connection. In the course of time though I discovered that, while it might help open the door, and occasionally kick it in, the experience itself was also a kind of distraction. Once inside it’s better to look out for yourself unaltered so to speak.
Coincidentally, when leaving the marijuana habit I was initiated into meditation with a mantra. At first that was like having the door kicked in too, where you could also float around on cosmic clouds. But what I really wanted to know was what could you do for yourself when you got in there, where does it lead to, where does it all end? Because cosmic clouds are all well and good but it’s just fluff, another form of distraction really.
From there things moved on a bit. I knew I had access to the inner world, valued it and tried to look after it, in what seemed like a maddeningly insecure unhelpful world - there, all the values and priorities seemed to be out of alignment, which sort of seemed like it could be so easy to fix if only we’d… So I had to get away from all that.
Inner world preeminent
So now the story relates, if I can talk about it, to the inner world. Starting point: an erratically sensitive but very independent mind - I have to find this out for myself. What is ‘this’? Some kind of truth that never finds itself compromised by contradiction. Where is truth? The real truth, it’s only inside. So that’s where you have to make the effort.
Over the course of time it became clear to me that the source of all the contradictions are in the mind itself, no matter how much we might struggle with that. Real life is within, but it goes deeper than just the mind. How to come to that? By stubbornly trying every possible avenue that I came across trying to bend truth to my will. And I was calling that meditation.
So what was happening? Long story made short. Access to inner world was usually not difficult. Mantra helped, at first, but with some experience I found I could get in there pretty easily - just close your eyes and wait for something to happen, because there is always something happening. And here’s the interesting part, mantra is usually understood as a support, something to return to to know where you’re at. But when inside, the mantra seemed to be a distraction and I just wanted to go on on my own.
The long hard road, where all the mistakes are made, is getting to a vantage point of being able to watch the mind from some place that is itself not influenced by the mind. We call that awareness. Is that a part of the mind? At first it seems yes - where all the mistakes are made. But by way of making and then hopefully eliminating all those mistakes one day the way eventually becomes clear to see the mind like from the outside, and then you can just let it be.
If that can be done even if only briefly, temporarily, then the perspective on all those things that are observed there changes, sometimes quite radically. Which is the long path to self knowledge - long because there is so much we don’t know about ourselves, and it takes long time and continuous application.
Now here’s the thing. If the mind is accepted as being inconsistent. And if the awareness can be trusted as something special, separate from the mind, then you can enquire more deeply into those inconsistencies. It can be done through choice, or recognising inconsistencies as they arise, in meditation, or in daily interactions. It can be done formally or casually. It can be done anywhere, anytime. It can be done as often as the inconsistencies keep on coming.
So you could say that the practice of meditation is like a training ground to know how to make the inner connection and to allow the relationship to flourish unhindered, to be a good observer of oneself. Because then the same can be applied, perhaps with a little difficulty at first, in daily life and interactions.
Condition of wisdom
The more still and confident the sense of being an observer becomes the deeper the inner knowledge can go. But it’s not a gradual progression. Sometimes it all seems to be working according to plan, and then all hopes and expectations fly out the window. Because we have all our own untruths, half-truths, misconceptions and misdemeanours to meet with, acknowledge and address before we get a good look in to our inner wisdom.
And wisdom most assuredly is there, but access to it is conditional upon harmony in every sphere of experience, now known and not yet known, before that access is vouchsafed. This is so important for patience and persistence, because you can’t arrive without making the journey.
So meditation is not necessarily a matter of trying to stay at one point- if you can do it, then do it - then losing it and trying repeatedly to return to it, but better to let the mind go free and follow its behaviour very closely, but without interference or prejudice. Then one fine day the focus will come, spontaneously, effortlessly, and then there is a chance for those things beyond the mind’s jurisdiction to begin to manifest. That’s how awareness works in meditation.
So one interesting question: what is the constant? What puts up with all the bullshit, the intensity, the multiple sensations of realising how wrong you can be, and goes on being, it never seems to end…?
It’s simple: the desire above all else to know what is that truth, where to search for it, and how to go about it. If you have that you can’t help yourself. And for some, even if it puts you in a very small minority, that goal is the only thing worth working for, no matter what you have to do, what you have to put up with, or how long it takes. It’s like a friendship for life.