Soul Desires and Human Desires
I don't believe that there is a smooth road for any of us. Challenges abound, risks are everywhere, loses and failures are the little deaths that build our character. For a long time, I thought that if I meditated twice daily, treated everyone with reverence and respect and washed the daily dishes then I could avoid life's pitfalls. It wasn't until later in my life that I realized that Life's adversities were nothing other than initiations. Whenever I was faced with a large adversity instead of feeling that I was being cursed or punished by the higher powers, I understood that my Soul was giving me a new and at times rather fierce assignment for my curriculum at Earth School. I became aware that there are Soul desires and human desires. As humans we choose pleasure over pain, success over failure, but as eternal Souls we will create that experience which serves the highest good for our evolution. This could be a broken heart, a cancer or suffering a business failure. When painful things occur they are unique to our individual growth and they prod us to dig deeper and discover strength, patience, and resilience that we never thought we had. This process that moves us between the extremes of the bliss of love and the pain of heartbreak, between the darkness of failure and exaltation of success, creates an on-going deepening of what it means to be both human and divine.
Deepening Your Meditation Experience
Here are some suggestions to follow while you are meditating. This list comes from forty years of trial and error. I’m sure it will be helpful no matter what type of practice you do with one exception. I was sitting in the San Francisco Zendo one day and while I was meditating, a Zen class came in. They welcomed me to stay and continue my meditation, which I was extremely happy about. While I was meditating, I heard a loud clap that resounded around the room. I quickly opened my eyes to see an Abbot walking around the hall with a long stick that had two protruding ends to it. If he saw someone leaning over or falling asleep, he would whack them on the shoulder to bring them back to attention. During this particular meditation, I set a rigorous goal not to be wacked, which meant, not to fall asleep and not to drift with the dire potential of falling forward. So, these pointers will work well, unless if you’re sitting in a Zen temple with a relentless Abbot!!
In India, they say we accomplish more by doing less. This applies perfectly to meditation.
While you meditate do your best not to have goals, agendas or self-judgment, but if you find yourself judging try not to judge yourself for judging. All attempts at trying, pushing, forcing and controlling actually create more mental activity and our goal, even though we don’t have one, is to create less mental/emotional activity. Meditation opens a space where there is nothing to prove. We are simply there to know ourselves, to become intimate with our inner life and to accept and love ourselves unconditionally. As thoughts diminish and quietness increases, the mental fog lifts and we can experience the essential spaciousness of inner freedom, radiance, abiding peace and divine presence. This is a natural process. This is the process of becoming a good friend to yourself and allowing the divine consciousness that you are to take over your life.
When you have thoughts during meditation, try to remain neutral, don’t push them away or feel sorry about them, when you are aware that you are off your mantra or your breathing or your mindfulness practice, just gently come back to it and begin again.
If your thoughts and feelings are excessive or extremely dramatic, remain neutral, watch without judgment and keep a light heart about them. If the thoughts or feelings are commanding your attention for a long stretch, you can do some Tibetan straw breathing. Imagine that you are blowing down a long straw that goes from your mouth to the bottom of your feet. Try this practice 4-5 times and it usually breaks up the traffic jam in your mind.
How will you know when you are meditating correctly?
Aside from following the suggestions above, please remember that as you become more comfortable with your practice, you will experience greater ease, comfort and stillness. This stillness has numerous names. From the Sanskrit, it’s called Sunyata, which means formlessness, emptiness, pure consciousness or openness. Because this experience is silent and formless, it will be difficult to assess if you are practicing properly. Here are the clues: you might feel some relaxation, your thoughts will quiet down, you could lose the boundaries of your body, you might
feel like you are going down an elevator, you might feel greater clarity of mind or a deep inner stillness. When we sit to practice all manner of things can happen. The internal weather shifts dramatically from thoughts to waking dreams, to feelings, to fear, to a momentary joy, to the past, to an imaginary future, and back to abiding stillness again. This is the cycle; some days are more thoughtful and other days more restless. But staying with whatever comes and being gentle with yourself yields the greatest results.
Here is a poem by Rumi, which speaks to the relentlessness of the thought process but he ends the poem by saying, “Be grateful for whatever comes for each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Non-Attachment & Non-Aversion
For many years I believed that Buddhists were detached or indifferent to life. I thought, erroneously, that they didn’t feel and that through their practices, they separated themselves from life and transcended human suffering. Through my own practice, I realized that I was confusing the idea of dissociation with non-attachment. In actuality, these two states of mind could not be more dissimilar.
Dissociation is a psychological term that defines a particular defense mechanism. It occurs when we remove ourselves from our bodies, our emotional process or challenging life experiences because of fear. Dissociation helps us create a safe, protective distance from pain and allows us to view our lives in a detached manner. Because we have narrowed our ability to feel in order to protect ourselves from pain, dissociation also limits our ability to experience joy, happiness and love.
Non-attachment is not a defense against life; it is an openness toward it. Non-attachment asks us to live without judging our thoughts as good or bad, and to remain open-hearted toward our experiences. It is cultivated from facing our life honestly and without regret and represents a full participation in moment to moment existence.
Non-aversion reminds us not to deny what is right in front of us. When difficult events occur or painful feelings arise our first reaction is usually to protect ourselves, to hide, to flee, to blame or to deny. When we apply the concept of non-aversion to our lives, we meet life head on. We feel the full range of our feelings. We experience our fears and we don’t turn our backs on what is difficult, ugly, painful or overwhelming.
Practicing non-attachment and non-aversion allows us to maintain a powerful equanimity in our lives. We work toward receiving the present moment with all of its complexity in a compassionate manner. This does not mean that we are no longer afraid or sorry or angry or jealous or envious. It does mean that we accept the full width and breathe of our emotional response including our tears, our laughter, and our sorrows without denying them. We acknowledge life’s power, its uncertainty and its grace and in doing so, we don’t avert our eyes and we don’t close our hearts.