Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Buddhist meditation has been described as stopping, calming and looking deep. You can not practice deep looking until you stop- stop running, turn around and go back home.
Our home is in the here and now. As we train ourselves to live in the present moment, we begin to see things more clearly. At first, we may notice that coming into the moment is painful. We are making a commitment to sit alone and in silence and be with whatever feeling, memory, pattern and physical ailment arises. It’s easy to understand why many of us would prefer to not go there. Instead we find a route of escape- perhaps it’s the internet, a not so good book, alcohol, over socializing… some distraction that keeps us from looking at what’s really going on.
When we come to meditate, of course suffering and pain are there. But peace, stability and freedom are also there. The practice of meditation is to bring these positive qualities to the surface so that we can experience true, unconditional happiness regardless of our suffering. Happiness would not be possible without peace in our hearts. When we enter mediation with mindfulness, we commit to opening our hearts to all aspects of ourselves.
There are layers upon layers of feelings within us- a layer of sadness, a layer of joy, a layer of worry, a layer of love, a layer of anger, a layer of remorse and so on. The yoga philosophy speaks of the 5 koshas or sheaths that make up our being. The physical layer, the energetic/emotional layer, the mind layer, the wisdom/higher thinking layer and the bliss layer (that unites us with the Divine). These sheathes are all interconnected. For example, a physical sensation in the body ignites an emotion that in turn sparks a memory that in turn creates another memory that in turn triggers another feeling and another physical sensation etc. Like a dog chasing its tail, the cycle of interconnectedness goes on and on- from the gross outer layer to the more subtle inner layer and back. There is an internal war occurring in our home, so why would we want to seek refuge there?
The home I am referring to is one that can only be accessed through our higher consciousness. But how do we navigate our way to this abode without getting pulled into the uncomfortable realities of our inherent suffering? In my experience as a meditator, the breath is the compass that guides me both into the chaos of the moment and into the peace of the moment. Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says it quite simply and eloquently. He says that in order to restore harmony, we must not be afraid to enter this territory. With the energy of mindfulness, we cultivate the capacity to practice “being there” no matter what is going on. Mindful breathing is the key. He instructs- breathing in say, “I know that I am there”. Breathing out say, “I smile to myself’. When we do this, suddenly the body and mind come together and we become fully present. We offer ourselves our true presence. We have not been there for ourselves for a long time…We can only embrace our pain and sorrow when we are present. This is how we heal- mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful speaking and listening are all offerings that we can give to ourselves. They are acts of self love.
At this point, Rumi’s poem, “The Guest House” comes to mind. The poem expresses many things but its core message is of mindfulness meditation - to be with whatever life brings to us. Whether it comes in the form of a joy or a great difficulty, Rumi encourages us to open the door to whatever life brings us and to greet it without fear or resistance. Perhaps this open door policy will help us cultivate a deep acceptance towards all the comes our way.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice- meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi