Meditation can be overtly quiet and calm. Just noticing or witnessing the breath or body sensation or just softly watching a candle flame or listening to meditation music. It can also be noisy, funny and painful. Alternately boring, demolishing then joyful then filled with grief stricken tears then laughter and then more boring. However it is, all the time developing an inner witness that is just noticing this mind stuff with loving kindness.
The teaching stories of Rumi are filled with so much 'delicious laughter'. Sometimes I wonder how our usually quiet groups deal with the fidgeting, the weeping, with those who have chronic pain or terminal illness, with problems of addiction, or trauma or those with painful emotional wounds weaving between dissociation and healing on the meditator's journey? Is our outer expression of an ordinary reality of the 'full catastrophe', somehow disavowed in this culture?
On a ten day Vipassana 'silent' retreat some years back I (Ziji) found some of the answer to this. There was a guy in the back of the room who, within minutes of each sitting, would begin sobbing and continue throughout the session. I found myself reaching out to him energetically in support of his process and other times I found his tears would support my meditation process. Other times I didn't hear him even though he was there sobbing.
At the end of the course I heard that a number of others had been joined by this and that we had formed an invisible, silent support group, which he experienced and drew on in his grief.
On the same occasion, there was a couple sitting in front of me, separated by the walkway between the men and women's group. They broke all the rules, whispering and hugging outside the hall, furtively holding hands as they walked to their place and throwing glances across the room during a session. That was more difficult for me to deal with even with my eyes closed, but it led me into a deep process about my own relationships and addictions.
I have been led to accept that meditation is for and about the whole of life. It can be expressive or not and can occur at a busy railway station, in the midst of a street fight or a prison riot, whilst cooking dinner or making love. And yet, the deeper work still requires a set time and place and an inner witness.
Skills preparatory to meditation can be easily taught and learnt. However, to progress into and beside meditation you have to keep growing an unconditional friendship, a kalyan mitra with yourself. This enables you to stand in your own shoes and never give up on your self in all its manifestations and for all time. Some days, we just don't want to know ourselves that well. The distractions then are many even in a quiet meditator's paradise.
This friendship is the stuff of Satsang, of the talks and discourses after the class. It's the content of the books and tapes by meditation masters, which sometimes become another inspiring and relieving distraction from the seeming hard work of making friends with your self. It is a lifelong learning process as new facets of our self emerge and other aspects recede or mix up the old and new in unexpected ways.
It can be challenging to practise this friendship when there are whole areas of ourselves so unwanted that whenever they begin to come up we distract ourselves, beat ourselves up, run away or go for some retail therapy.
It is a challenge to just stay with our selves at this time unconditionally, to notice this no matter what. Sometimes we will promise to stay with ourselves on the condition that something else is fulfilled, postponing the time when we will sit in our shit till another day. For example, only if we are not isolated, or not sick, not stupid, not dirty, not vulnerable, are living or are dying, are angry, are envious, in love and not in love, not weak, not strong et cetera.
You know these unwanted areas in yourself sometimes by naming those conditions or accessing the core negative beliefs ['I'm a living mistake']. You know it when you can't feel at ease or deeply at rest in yourself. You know it when you run or hide from your monsters. You know it when you bitch about the very thing in other people that you find repugnant in yourself the pot calling the kettle black.
Mostly, these 'others' are your family, friends and students, they're in your work place and other community groups. They're a lot easier to avoid if they are only on the news or in somebody else's class, but no one is so lucky. I found myself in that ten-day meditation retreat confronted by the exact two experiences I went there to avoid - grief and romance addiction.
Developing this breadth and depth of unconditional friendship with yourself will empower you to stand in those 'other' shoes and never give up on them. This can be a big ask when dealing with violence, terror and cruelty. Some of us never want to breathe in those inhuman shoes, not even for a minute in meditation.
Sometimes we don't want that alien otherness to ever breathe again. We might wish it would just die. But if we could stand there with an open heart and practise mindfulness, we would never give up on the world. This would be an indestructible force for good. It is the challenge of applied compassion in the practice of called Tonglen - tong means sending out or letting go, len means receiving or accepting.
If we make a space that big then inevitably we're going to explore the fear of intimacy [in-to-me-see] as well. Intimacy can't progress without vulnerability, without acknowledgement and inclusion of the disavowed. Intimacy can't grow to be the best that it can in relationship without this quality of self-knowledge and self-love.
We all say we want intimacy in our lives and perhaps half the world thinks it's the other half that has the problem. In truth, we all have a problem making contact with the deepest and widest sense of ourselves. We marginalise some aspect of ourselves and thus of the world, subconsciously.
On that soft spot, meditation can be confronting and awakening. It asks us to embrace 'the poignant enormity of our life experience'.
We're interested in how the flow of unconditional love to the self is blocked and how you interrupt the process of staying with yourself no matter what comes up. If you've been injured in life at any age [and we don't know anyone who hasn't] and remain constricted around that hurt, you can use yoga and meditation to strengthen your defences.
Consider how a person who meditates and does their asana's everyday, can sometimes be screwed up, unknowing and hurtful of themselves and of others. That can include some of our teachers and our Gurus. Meditation and yoga can be very effective for avoiding contact, maintaining dissociation and defending against vulnerability and intimacy. And we don't want that, right?
That's the problem. If we want our relationships with students, friends, colleagues and family to be graced with truth, we have to do the work with ourselves - to sit in our own sweat. When we do that and make contact with pain or hurt, the natural tendency is to tense up, leave the site or fight.
Instead we might choose to soften and become open hearted, to include or enter the pain mindfully. In the mainstream culture we tend to kill pain and bury trouble rather than love them. We deny the injured and shoot the messengers.
By inviting the constriction or injury to speak or move or express itself in some way in meditation, you may confront cultural, political and personal taboos against knowing who you are. This can occur in a moment of profound quiet, stillness and spaciousness.
With awareness of breath try unfolding whatever comes from a willingness to listen to yourself, no matter where that leads and what you discover. And then, gently sit with that.
Inevitably this process builds community as we include more of the unwanted parts of ourselves and of others. And like the silent support group I found myself in on that retreat, can grow in silence as well as noise.
I believe the biggest interruptions to community arise from individuals' inability or unwillingness to confront the truth of who they are. It can be mind stopping and heart opening to discover that you are the enemy and that truth - is not out there but within you all the time.
Sometimes this will be like therapy and of course it is. Meditation is medicine for the mind. 'All great men achieved greatness because of the quality of their mind. To develop a higher quality of mind you will have to analyse yourself and your aims.' Swami Niranjananda in Dharana Darshan page 7.
He goes on to tell a story about a king who is very attached to his riches, who seeing the worthlessness of his wealth approached a yogi for instruction. Try as he might his mind continually returned to his gold bracelet. So he returned to the yogi who showed him how to turn the weakness into a source of strength. "Since your mind is so attached to the bracelet" he said, "start your practice from there." [Page 8]
The healer of mind is one's own true self and your greatest enemy is also your truest teacher.
© 2005 Ziji & Swami Avinashananda Saraswati All Right Reserved www.saraswatiyoga.com
Consider a regular practice of loving-kindness, such as the one below, quoted from Chapter 16 of 'being zen bringing meditation to life' by Ezra Bayda. Shambhala 2002. The author is a student of Joko Beck and of Pema Chodron - those links will take you to some of their readings.
Ezra Bayda's instructions for this practice include: "on the in breath bring awareness, via the breath, into the heart region as you exhale silently say (the first line below) to yourself. Repeat this a couple of times with the breath before moving onto the next line. Direct your awareness to the area indicated in each line first to the centre of your heart, second to what clouds it, third to everything around you and within you, fourth extending whatever loving kindness arises to other beings, including any specific people who may come into your awareness. In the second paragraph, breathe in the image of a person close to you for whom you have positive feelings, and to whom you wish to extend loving kindness, breathe her presence into the heart space and on the out breath extend loving kindness to them while repeating the four lines. In the third paragraph bring into awareness all beings however you may conceive this. Breathe them into the heart space and on the out breath extend loving kindness as you repeat each sentence." P 123- 126.
"May I dwell in the open heart.
May I attend to whatever clouds the heart.
May I be awake in this moment, just as it is.
May the awakened heart be extended to all beings.
May you dwell in the open heart.
May your suffering be healed.
May you be awake in this moment, just as it is.
May the awakened heart be extended to al beings.
May the hearts of all beings be awakened.
May the suffering of beings be healed.
May all beings be awake in this moment, just as it is.
May all being awaken their hearts to one another"