why we meditate
We meditate for lots of reasons: stress relief, maybe lower our blood pressure, feel less anxious, or just to feel better, physically and maybe existentially.
But I think under all these is a deeper one, which the Buddha made the central message of his teaching: to be free from suffering in all its presentations.
the mindfulness hypothesis
Mindfulness allows us to test the Buddha’s core hypothesis – that suffering in all its presentations arises from grasping, from holding on, as well as to pushing away, any experience.
Especially grasping at and holding on to “me” and “mine.”
A certain novice world leader was noted to have remarked shortly after the 9/11 tragedy “Now my building is the tallest in the city.”
“Me” and “mine” big time.
letting go of “me” and “mine”
One teacher suggested I go through the activities of my day and see all the things which promote grasping and holding and on to “me” and “mine” and which lessen it.
And make whatever lessens it part of my practice.
It’s not just about meditation.
One very powerful and simple meditation instruction I received was just one line.
Let things be just as they are.
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To let things be just as they are in meditation is to we see where and how we may cringe and cave around this very simple instruction.
Just allowing ourselves to experience things as they are, not how we want them to be.
practice: noticing how we grasp
As we actually practice we see how this is the hardest thing to do; we are often trying to manipulate or control our experiences, usually in the service of feeling better.
Mindfulness, unfortunately, can be used as a mechanism of control and manipulation — usually based on some notion of what meditation should be or do for us. For example, trying to quiet or mind involves some element of control or manipulation.
It’s not that quieting our mind is wrong or un-Buddhist or whatever, it’s just the way we go about it.
Or trying to get to a place where we won’t feel anxious, or ashamed or angry at ourselves anymore.
This has been called “spiritual by-passing” — trying to do an end run on what’s actually in front of us.
It just doesn’t work.
This is just about allowing whatever comes up in the mind to be there.
And then watch our mind’s efforts at control and manipulation creep in.
practice: letting go of control
I think a lot of this resistance to let things be just as they are stems from some fear that if we actually do this, our meditation will devolve and our minds will be experienced as an untamable beast.
A Zen teacher I studied with back in L.A. in the 1980’s would tell his students
“You have so little trust in your basic nature!”
Yes, so little trust.
Trying to control our minds may feel like trying to heard feisty cats, yes … But if you give cats a big enough space to play in they will each settle down in their own little niche and learn how to live together.
If we trust ourselves.
If we stop the efforts at control — it may seem kind of crazy at first –but it will settle down, just like the cats.
Sometimes we may feel that our “normal” sense of our self is slipping away when we do this —and yes! – That’s because our normal sense of ourselves is often based on control.
Just trust this simple process.
By and by, you will experience depth and beauty far beyond anything the mind has ever experienced before.
Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.