There are all sorts of reason to meditate – to blank the mind, to zonk the thoughts, to achieve peace, to read another’s mind, to gain calmness, to reach one-pointedness, to gain concentration, to connect with God, to fly if possible, to see angels, to read the future, to remove sickness, to have better health, to improve memory, to love, to see past lives – the list goes on.
To many, meditation is religious and only for the holy and wise people. I remembered years ago when I mentioned to a new friend that I am going for a meditation retreat, he looked at me startled, and said seriously that meditation is only for the sissy. Seems like there are pretty many misconceptions about meditation. Then there is another who keep reminding me that meditation can lead to madness and spirits possession.
When I was assisting my teacher years ago in a retreat centre, I talked to a Singaporean who has just completed his long retreat and the first expression he has about meditation is that it is worst than national service! He said that even though there are times the training is strenuous, disciplined and bored, yet at least he has a chance to daydream – for no one can really tell what he is doing – whereas in retreat, he is been reminded to sit still and not allow the mind to run loose! Worst, when pain were to arise – he is told to stay with the discomfort without changing the posture. Oh, my God! He ended the retreat happily though – with a little more understanding of himself.
It is of no wonder many people just give up meditating after awhile – seeing the futility of the practise. I have been doing meditation for the last 30 years and throughout those years I have seen people coming and going in the practice. I am amazed how I stayed on so long, though upon hindsight, I don’t have proper understanding what meditation truly is in my early years, until lately. I thought I knew, but what I knew in the past is narrow and unwise – though the teaching supposedly leads one to wisdom. My previous motivation in meditation is about getting something, about not going to hell after death (if ever there is such a thing) , or many a times to feed my ego. Chogyam Truangpa calls it spiritual materialism.
I am not saying that all those years of practice are meaningless. It have brought deeper insights into my understanding of the mind. At least it have also allowed me to come to who I am now, progressively. But what is missing during those years are information – right information about why, what, which, how. In my early years I am told not to ask too much questions about meditation, neither am I encouraged to read books on any other form of meditation techniques. It was indeed fortunate that I have not gone astray with the scenario I was in.
So what is meditation? In a nutshell, meditation is about understanding the mind, developing good qualities of mind states and transcending the egoic pattern of the mind. Do you have a mind? If you have, then meditation is necessary. Meditation has nothing to do with religion though most of the techniques sprung from religion. Why is it so? It is important to note that great masters do not have a religion until people who came along the way make it one. Prior to their enlightenment or meeting with God (whatever it means), they are just like you and me, pondering on the purpose of life.
That leads them inward – understanding themselves. If you have a mind, meditation is key to unlocking the mystery of who you are. Is it necessary to know, you may asked. The mind, though so near and yet so far, is seldom understood. It has never left you or me, from the beginning till the end – wherever we are lead. Strangely, to many, their suffering is about something or someone out there making them so, not seeing that the mind is the problem rather than what is out in the world. If you do really see this then you can be sure you will be motivated to keep seeking inwards rather than approaching outwardly to get your peace, your love or even your happiness.
Is there any other way of improving the mind other than meditating? Yes and no. Depends how you define meditation. Meditation is not just about sitting still and doing nothing – it is about understanding the mind, irrelevant whether you are sitting, or, on the move. Thus meditation is about being aware of the workings of your mind, as much as you could in your life, moment after moment. Life is meditation. Without meditation, there is no life, as the mind is either drowned in the past or in the future. Life is about now, passing away moment after moment, irrelevant whether you are aware of it or not. So to savor life, give attention to the now, as much as you could, making life worth living for. So long as you are keeping awareness of the mind, you are already meditating. Yet, there is more to it.
I’m a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.
– Byron Katie