There are words, terminology and jargon used to describe spirituality that have an impact and meaning for us worldwide. Lately, yoga, mindfulness and meditation are examples of terms which bring many of us to reverence and acceptance and can even broaden our outlook in how we identify with the meanings of these practices. So the question is why don’t we incorporate these practices into our daily lives,of if we have heard about the benefits of practice, and in speaking of mindfulness practice, then why is it important to meditate?
To address such a question, we must ask ourselves what is meditation, or more importantly what ISN’T meditation? There are many books, lectures, presentations, programs of where to learn about meditation and different disciplines, techniques and explanations about incorporation of meditation into daily life practice. Many describe different approaches to the practice, origins and theories and despite their being many different instructions and philosophies, they all point to one general conclusion, and that is meditation should NOT be considered escaping our lives.
Much like Yoga is not just another physical exercise, meditation is not just a practice of escaping or forcing oneself into a kind of peaceful state of mind. The 8th Century Indian Saint Padmasambhava, considered the “Second Buddha” who lived in the 8th Century BCE was a renowned master known for being provocative in his ability to “wake up” his students with the palpable directness of his teachings…
When the degenerate age of this aeon arrives, people are their own deceivers, their own bad counsel, the makers of their own stupidity, lying to and fooling themselves. How sad that these people have human forms but possess no more sense than an ox! – Padmasambhava
It is interesting that an 8th Century Saint would know so clearly that the degenerate age of the aeon would arrive and of course this is very much akin to what we are experiencing in the world today. In reality we have strayed very far from our own inherent wisdom and we can either further spiral downward or uplift ourselves to rise above such despair, such is beauty and preciousness of being a human being to which Padmasambhava made a point of this fundamental teaching –
Don’t investigate the root of things, Investigate the root of mind! Once the mind’s root has been found, You’ll know one thing, yet all is thereby freed. But if the root of mind you fail to find, You will know everything but nothing understand. – Padmasambhava
How can we then investigate the root of the mind? It is done formally through meditation practice, and this requires a greater understanding of what meditation practice truly is. In Tibetan Buddhism, many lamas, teachers, tulkus and gurus of the different lineages* and disciplines have been teaching about the fundamentals of meditation practice from a purely ordinary perspective. The Tibetan word for meditation is “GOM” which translated from Tibetan Sanskrit literally means “familiarity”. Meditation can be said according to Tibetan tradition of resting and becoming familiar with the mind. In other words meditation practice is developing familiarity with mind.
In taking this approach, we can say that we are no longer approaching meditation from a lofty spiritual goal or seeking to gain something we don’t have. So much of our lives, careers and pursuits in daily life are focused on achievement, striving, earning and obtaining and yet with all of this ambitious activity, how do we learn to relax with ourselves, especially our mind?
The idea of becoming familiar with our mind when we take our seat on a cushion or a chair and we sit properly to engage ourselves into meditation can seem a bit counter-intuitive like we are getting prepared to do nothing. In some ways that is precisely what we are doing. By sitting down and taking time to just rest, and feel our breath through 6 points of meditation posture, is a way to help the mind relax, connecting body and mind through breathing.
We know of ways to relax the body, from massage, to ayurveda and even simply taking a nap to rest the whole body, but how can we relax the mind which seems to be constantly thinking?
Another way this can be understood is that meditation is developing a relationship with boredom. We all know what the feeling of boredom is, when we experience it, often it feels like restlessness, inactivity. In this state our mind is seeking entertainment, activity or business and without, boredom arises.
As Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a meditation master, author and artist who was credited with bringing Tibetan Buddhism from the East to North America explains in the 1970s explains –
Boredom is important in meditation practice. It increases the psychological sophistication of the practitioners. They begin to appreciate boredom and they develop their sophistication until the boredom begins to become cool boredom, like a mountain river. It flows and flows and flows, methodically and repetitiously, but it is very cooling, very refreshing. – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Boredom can even be seen as a gateway to familiarity as well, it is all about our view, intention and effort as Rinpoche points out. The good news is that we aspire to cultivate understanding and are just seeking the nudge into this direction.
This transition of going from confusion of thoughts circulating within the mind to investigation or “insight” into the mind is the process of resting and relaxing with mind, gently without adding more ideas, concepts or spiritual jargon to the process. To just take that first step and sit down on a meditation cushion or chair and asking the simple question, “what is going on right now in this moment?” is a wonderful step, and a gateway to access the present situation and just relax with whatever arises.
There is no mystery in the present moment, it is always accessible to us, and it also contains spaciousness, a term that we may never have associated with meditation before.
Just having this basic understanding of present moment to cut through our constant stream of seemingly endless thoughts, goals, planning and fantasies even if its momentary pause, can start to help us to relax and be.
Being is a very important part of meditation, which is the idea that you can sit, be present and just be with yourself without having to create a storyline, or action plan or any other device or scheme to justify our existence.
In this way, catching a glimpse of the present moment and accessing the space of the present moment is our first step in becoming familiar with ourselves and our mind and just being with the experience.