Meditation is perhaps one of the few things that can be equally agonizing and enriching. Sitting still for ten (or more) minutes as an observer of your thoughts, inhaling and exhaling, forces you to go through an experience — not to reject it, deny it, suppress it, or put it off. This experience is one of the most difficult of all, because we are called on to stay with whatever comes rather than implement our usual tactic of running away.
The practice of mindfulness meditation is a porthole into our subconscious. Everything ugly and daunting and painful has a way of arising in this still space, and our challenge is to allow those things to exist, yet without granting them power.
The Voice of Stillness: Meditation and the Journey to the Self
Leave your front door and your back door open. Allow your thoughts to come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.
– Shunryu Suzuki
For me, the above quote is about allowing an experience without indulging it any more than need be. It’s about recognizing a feeling, a fear, an infatuation, but giving yourself the respect and right to let it pass. It suggests a rejection of the instinct to cling to any thought, thing, or one.
It makes me think of having a conversation with my experience; a stern debate, a heart to heart, a welcoming hello, but not a “Since it’s late, why don’t you stay over?” invite. And I believe sometimes it is necessary to spend a fair amount of time in the beginning simply purging through the junk we’ve allowed to clog up inside us before we can access our stillest, most soothing, soulful inner voice.
Focus on what you fear
Recently I re-experimented with a meditative exercise I haven’t done for months because it requires a great deal of emotional energy to endure. The exercise is simple: lie down on the floor with your knees raised and go through a list, out loud, of the things you fear. It’s usually easier to start with irrational phobias like fears of insects and gradually move into deeper fears like abandonment, failure or the death of a loved one.
I can guarantee that if you attempt this exercise tears will flow, and it will feel like ripping open old wounds. But this is good. It means you are purging old energy and making way for the new. My biggest belief about meditation is that one can’t meditate properly and presently until they’ve gone through a process of eliminating the biggest obstacle standing in the way: a half-hearted, absent commitment, bred of a fear of big change.
The journey of meditation
There are tons of people out there who believe they “can’t” meditate because they feel stillness does nothing for them. And in all honesty, that would be the case for anyone if they were just sitting still mindlessly, thinking about what they were going to eat for dinner.
Meditation is an act of concentration anchored by the breath; an observation of every invasive ego-thought attempting to steer us away from our higher path. It necessitates a mature awareness and acceptance that some days will be easier than others.
For almost a year I’ve committed to at least ten minutes of meditating a day, and I still struggle and get agitated on countless occasions. There are people who’ve been doing it for ten, twenty, thirty years who still say the same.
Like comets in the sky
This is where the value lies: not in the unquantifiable end-result, but rather in the going through. This is the itchy, unbearable, (sometimes) joyous, quiet place where we learn resilience and cultivate inner strength. As the famous quote asserts, “The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts, it’s to stop letting them control you.”
Be honest with yourself here: how long have you let recurring thoughts rule your life? How many final decisions have you made that at the very last moment were infested with fear? How often in a day do you allow a moment to really take a deep, full, all-the-way-down-to-the-tips-of-your-toes, breath?
What would happen if you changed that reality, allowing your thoughts rite of passage by taking time to meditate every day? A quick guess would be that you’d become a much more efficient, wholesome person and much less of an anxious dweller.
You’d spend more time focused on the tasks at hand in the present moment – the only one that is guaranteed – than on the mythical future life-changing ones that may or may not arrive.
You’d begin to sense, as Oprah words it, “the still, small space inside me that is the same as the stillness in you.”
If you peel back the layers of your life — the frenzy, the noise — stillness is waiting.
So, the next time you have a thought, negative or positive, rather than suppress it, diminish it, subdue it, or savor it — sit with it in stillness. Experience it with your whole heart, then, in the same way trees, storms, stars and planets do, watch it pass.