The contemplative life benefits from periodic intensive self-reflection
We meditate for many different reasons. Often, our original motivations morph as we move forward on this path. It’s juicy, sometimes, to reflect on why we keep this up; and to be really honest with ourselves.
Dorothy Figen answers this way:
Why meditate? There are many reasons. But those that stand out most strongly are learning to think clearly, and to dispel ignorance, illusion, greed, hatred and craving.”
I guess I am thinking more clearly. I’m not too sure about the others.
The contemplative life benefits from periodic intensive self-reflection. Meditation allows you to take a clean step back to see how you are comporting yourself, what you obsess over, and what trips you up.
While training as a young monastic in South Asia, we would gather on full moon nights to recite the rules of the order, to openly declare our transgressions and, frankly, bear testament to each other’s humanity.
To re-align ourselves with the sacred intention to “dispel ignorance, illusion, greed and craving.”
Not just for that one night of the full moon, but always, in each moment.
I was initially terrified to participate in these full moon recitations. But slowly I came to see what I was doing not as a struggle to attain some perfect monastic ideal, but as a way to affirm this deep human wish to dispel our collective ignorance.
And to aim glimmers of awareness into those dark places of wounding, of pain, of confusion.
I saw great power in those full moon night ceremonies. This “forced” self-observation began to make some sense.
We can do this ourselves, but it may be hard without a community for support.
We can ask ourselves, this week:
Have I been kind?
Have I been generous?
Have I been even-tempered?
Monastics since the time of the Buddha have been keenly aware of the human proclivity to be less than entirely upfront with ourselves.
The contemporary German scholar-monk Bhikkhu Analayo observes:
The habit of employing self-deception to maintain one’s self esteem has often become so ingrained that the first step to developing accurate self-awareness is honest acknowledgment of the existence of hidden emotions, motives and tendencies in the mind without immediately suppressing them.”
That’s why it is so important to let mindfulness into those dark places.
a moveable monastery takes shape
We can start by bringing awareness to those ordinary moments when we resist being mindful—when we feel tired, and in the midst of everyday grumpiness.
Our ordinary instabilities and irritabilities.
Our ordinary struggles are the practice.
Noelle Oxenhandler observes:
What is mindfulness, if not the practice of bringing the mind to those places where it goes missing? Again and again, we wake ourselves up at the point where drowsiness, distractions, and daydreams arise.”
Wherever the mind takes us, we simply come back to the present. We pull out of the morass of mental images and settle into a very simple and bare experience of the here-and-now.
Our everyday struggles form the transparent walls of our movable monastery.
Jack Kornfield, of course:
When we take the one seat on our meditation cushion we become our own monastery. We create the compassionate space that allows for the arising of all things: sorrows, loneliness, shame, desire, regret, frustration, happiness.”
After years of practice, while our lives may not change all that much on the outside, they have changed fundamentally on the inside.
Sylvia Boorstein said it well:
Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is. It teaches the heart to be more accommodating, not by beating it into submission, but by making it clear that accommodation is a gratifying choice.”
Our monastery, Ajahn Sumedo says, teaches you to open to the way things are. I think he means your own movable monastery, too, your own everyday struggles.
Like a stern coach, he calls us on our exit strategies:
“Of course we can always imagine more perfect conditions, how it should be ideally, how everyone else should behave. But it’s not our task to create an ideal. It’s our task to see how it is, and to learn from the world as it is. For the awakening of the heart, conditions are always good enough.”
I leave you this week with the words of one of my dearest teachers, Sharon Salzberg:
It is never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn’t depend on how long it has been running; a shift in perspective doesn’t depend on how long you’ve held on to the old view. When you flip the switch in that attic, it doesn’t matter whether it’s been dark for ten minutes, ten years or ten decades. The light still illuminates the room and banishes the murkiness, letting you see the things you couldn’t see before. It’s never too late to take a moment to look.”
Let’s be patient with ourselves and each other as we walk the path that dispels all sorrows and affirms our deepest joys and connections.
Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Me page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.