It’s beginning to feel as if I’m writing a book. For a number of years I worried that if I ever figured life out I’d be required to write a book—and what an awful lot of work that would be. As to figuring things out…well let’s just say that I’m writing the book and leave it at that.
So far, I’ve come up with only three clues. I’ve spoken of the Pure Gold which each of us has within us, I’ve tried to explain what happens if you discover Gold and I’ve introduced the one thing that we must have before setting foot on the path. So I guess we are still in the Introduction, and at this point I ought to be giving my readers fair warnings of where I intend to take us. I guess you wouldn’t take too kindly to my suggesting that we’re headed for the Caribbean and then discover that we’ve ended up in Siberia.
When I think about where all of this is going, I always come back to one thing: Meditation. While I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, I cannot imagine giving any piece of advice beyond the purely mundane (like how to tune a piano) without beginning with meditation. Oh damn! I just remembered—you can’t tune a piano without understanding meditation. So I should offer a few warnings. First, get some good instruction. Fortunately, there is a lot of help out there these days. One can usually find classes nearby and even if you can’t there are tons of books on the subject. The internet is an increasingly rich source of information, but watch out for the bull****. Oh, sorry. I know that much of the mis-information is well intentioned, but I steer clear of anything that seems too easy (You too can become enlightened in three weeks with this set of 12 CDs) or too esoteric—though in fairness, there is a lot of very enlightened advice out there for advanced practitioners. My rule is not to follow instructions I don’t understand, kind of like don’t try driving a NASCAR race a week after you’ve gotten your first drivers license.
A few warnings from my own experience: 1) Meditation can be really really boring. Being accustomed to a fast paced life style and instant gratification at every turn, doing absolutely nothing for an extended period of time can seem pretty pointless, especially when the rewards are subtle and usually not noticed until long after you’ve been asking “Why the hell am I doing this?” 2) Meditation can be painful. Sitting in one position without moving can produce a lot of aches and pains. It took me a long time to learn how to sit cross-legged, but I now find it the best position for me to remain erect, reasonably comfortable and alert. I’ve learned that when I just observe a discomfort instead of fighting, it gradually subsides, or if not I move a bit. Still, at the end of a session I must do a little stretching before I dare to stand up. On the plus side, I always feel more limber a while after sitting. 3) Meditation can be scary. If we set about to watch what our mind is really doing—which is the whole point—we can uncover some scary stuff. The other night during a sitting I suddenly saw a face with bulging eyes that really shocked me. But understanding that these are just fabrications of my mind allows me to be OK with it. Some years ago I was doing a guided meditation, with headphones on, listening to a recording. After one long period of silence the instructor quietly said “And if you find that your attention has wandered away from the breathe, don’t beat yourself up about it, but just bring your attention back to….” at which point I burst into uncontrollable sobbing. Do you suppose that says something about my sense of self esteem at the time?!? Though this was saddening in the moment, the sense of release after that session was tremendous! This was my first encounter with serious meditation practice while doing a program of yoga and meditation created by Jon Kabat-Zinn and outlined in the book Full Catastrophe Living. It was through this that I first learned to relax, and although the aim of meditation practice is to know intimately the workings of our mind, to free us from conditioning and ultimately to attain enlightenment, if we get no further than this first stage of relaxation, the benefits to our health and well-being are enormous. Learning to relax is a prerequisite for everything else.
Well, that wasn’t much fun was it. But I have a story about trees and crows that’s a lot of fun and that will be Clue #5. Oh, but wait, I promised a confession. Long before we’ve gotten this far into a book we would have read a list of the qualifications of the author: degrees earned, celebrated teachers and mentors, accolades and awards, esteemed positions held. My qualifications are:
and I count that as my most valuable qualification. In our culture we are obsessed with “Experts”. We think that there is someone somewhere who can give us the answers we seek. While I’ve gained tremendous insight from many knowledgeable people, any “Expert” I’ve ever known really well has at one time or another said or done something really stupid, and I expect that I will do the same. This is no indictment but a recognition that we are all human. The other side of that coin is that I have never met a single person who didn’t have something valuable to teach me. In this age of chronic neurosis, we must lean on each other more than ever, and share the wisdom that is available to anyone who has the courage to step back and watch it emerge.
________Go with God
____________Lean on Me
________________and I shall Lean on You
Next Clue: Of Trees and Crows