About Meditation

In the final analysis, meditation is about changing my physical perspective in the real world. It is not about changing anything between my ears.

For the longest time I believed meditation was about causing some sort of magic to occur in the mind. It was about achieving some sort of transcendence or about perceiving some special voodoo that I’ve been missing. It was supposed to be about making the mind still, focusing on breathing a certain way, or a whole raft of mental processes – focusing on nothing, focusing on something, clearing the mind of thoughts, or occupying the mind with specific thoughts. The concept of mindfulness (filling the mind with awareness) has zoomed to the forefront of pulp self-help literature about meditation, but there have been thousands of books and “teachings” about how to meditate, and what meditation will do for me.

“Self-help” and “do for me” are the operative terms. Nearly all the things we learn (or want to learn) about meditation are, in some way or another, focused on self. I’m going to learn a practice that’s healthy, calming, or restful for ME. In the religious sense, I learn to listen for God’s guidance for ME.

But really, meditation is about doing the complete opposite: it’s about removing ME from the scene entirely. It’s about achieving a state in which self is set aside and the universe, free of my self, can be what it is.

Isn’t the point of all spiritual practice the annihilation of self through steady persistent action ‘in the world’ and in the interest of others? The operative terms really are “help for others” and “do for others”. In this most physical real-world sense, our practices of meditation frequently run contrary to spiritual purpose.

What I have come to understand is that it doesn’t matter whether I think of something or try to think of nothing (virtually impossible for humans). It doesn’t matter whether I breathe a certain way, or focus on anything in particular. What matters, simply, is that I sit still and be quiet. To this end, the buddhist meditation “to cause no harm” is close to the objective. That doesn’t require that I think, or not think, anything at all. It simply requires that I sit still and be quiet. Even more than “causing no harm”, though, I like to think of it as casting a stone (self) into a still pond (the world) with no ensuing waves or ripples. An annihilation of the stone which occurs at the point where the stone sinks into the pond and is gone without a trace.

It doesn’t really matter what happens or doesn’t happen within my mind when I meditate. My thoughts might run completely wild! My mind might run through things that are entirely selfish, through things that are (to me) entirely not selfish, or through any of a jillion other things. After all, it’s a human brain! The important fact, though, is that self cannot remove self. No operation that is solely within the mind, or that solely seeks alteration of the mind, has any practical significance whatsoever. The only thing that matters (and it matters a great deal) is that I sit still and be quiet.

How many times have you wished the people around you would just sit still and be quiet? You might frequently admonish noisy children with those very words! Well. You’re not unique. We all experience times when we want or need others to quietly be still. Perhaps we’re being selfish. Perhaps we’re just sick, tired, worried, or “at wit’s end”. Justifying or understanding the need is pointless. The real point is we must learn to be one, in the lives of others, who quietly sits still. To borrow from Gandhi, we must BE the stillness and quiet we wish to see in the world. We must BE that stillness and quiet that someone else so desperately needs.

Try it! Think about whatever you want! Just be still and be quiet. Those are really the only valid or helpful instructions for meditation. Easy, no? If you’ve ever wished for quiet and stillness in the world around you, then BE that quiet and stillness FOR the world around you. It works! It really works!