Journal for October 12, 2010
I don’t meditate. Not really. I learned how, of course. I took the Shambhala Levels up through number five, which are the basics of samatha. I’ve never done vipassana. I’ve sat in some guided meditations in various workshops and learned a smidgen of tonglen and loving-kindness meditation. I’ve read numerous instructions for meditation, both basic and specific, and listened to plenty of podcasts. Everyone agrees on its importance. Even I agree on its importance, at an intellectual level. I’ve even recommended it to others from time to time. I just don’t do it.
For four and a half years I’ve tried to set up a daily meditation practice. Morning, midday, afternoon, or evening, none seemed to stick. Going to a weekly group practice didn’t last long either. I lived at Shambhala Mountain Center for a summer and thought surely here of all places, surrounded by a sangha that practices three times a day, I’ll be able to build good habits. But, nope.
I ask people about it and they all tell me the same things over and over. “Just sit. You just have to sit. You’ll see. You can’t get there if you don’t sit.” It all just bounces off and nothing really convinces me to change my slacker ways. No one’s ever managed to slap me down hard enough.
It’s not that I don’t believe them or think I’m somehow special so I don’t need to sit. Quite the contrary. When I do sit, my experiences are very typical. I usually have very little to report to my meditation teachers. When the subject of motivation comes up, we just go back to the same admonishments and instructions I’ve heard before.
However, I have found that while my experiences during meditation are typical of what teachers describe as occurring on the cushion, many of my experiences outside of formal meditation are also typical of what teachers describe as occurring on the cushion. A lot of bells rang for me while reading chapters five through nine in Jack Kornfield’s book, yet at the same time I got a little bit tired of his constant references to meditation. It just didn’t reflect my experience. (There’s no reason why it should, of course.) All of Kornfield’s anecdotes center around realizations that have occurred as part of a person’s ongoing practice of meditation.
So the question comes up: if I’ve had similar experience that weren’t part of meditation practice, where they genuine or am I just deluding myself? Teachers don’t deal with this question because, in their experience, these realizations and experiences always happen within the context of an ongoing formal meditation practice.
When I reflect on my past, I see a number of practices that are sorta, kinda, maybe like meditation. These go way back, to my earliest memories when I was very small. When I describe these practices though, I am always told, “That’s not real meditation. That’s just daydreaming or spacing out or sleeping or judgment or self indulgence or identity building. You need to do real meditation.” Then they go on to tout the benefits of “real” meditation and I think, well, I already have a system for doing that. This is how I keep myself calm and balanced, how I deal with anger, how I identify hidden problems and analyze their causes, how I allow insight to arise in difficult situations. I know they work because I remember the destructive and unhappy person I was years ago.
I’m still cognizant of a lot of stumbling blocks. I’m stubborn and contentious, but now that manifests in much more constructive ways than when I was, say, thirteen or even twenty-three. When I was eighteen, I was so frustrated and impatient I couldn’t survive five weeks at the university. By the time I was twenty-two I returned with a new mindset and made it all the way through. I did it by changing myself because sure as anything, the university didn’t change.
I’m still deluded. The question is just how deluded and about what? Am I deluded about meditation? Probably. Am I deluded about what I can attain without it? Highly likely. But am I deluded about the experiences and realizations I’ve had in my life sans cushion?
I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before.