by Ed and Deb Shapiro: Honestly speaking we cannot imagine how our lives would be without meditation. As soon as we become still and quiet we enter a calm spaciousness within which questions are answered, while difference and dramas dissolve. Such stillness always comes as a great relief from the madness each day can contain.
Some years ago we were attending a silent meditation retreat. Each day we were asked if we were feeling happier than we were the day before. The inquiring monk had a contagious smile, knowing that we were each confronting numerous obstacles to our happiness, primarily the ones in our own heads.
Yet despite his humor, the monk’s question was sincere. If we were not beginning to feel happier from practicing meditation, then what was the point of doing it?
We were asked the same question each day. To begin with this emphasized how preoccupied we were with inner confusion, doubts, conflicts, and discomfort, even how difficulties could actually feel more familiar than joy. Yet, why be there if we were struggling so much that we weren’t enjoying it?
Our smiley monk was teaching us that it is vital to make friends with meditation, that it is not your adversary. Rather, meditation is a companion to have throughout life, like a best friend we turn to when things get hard to deal with and we are in need of inspiration, clarity, and even inner happiness.
Admittedly, meditation can sometimes appear insurmountable, but it is our own mind that contains the obstacles, not the practice of sitting quietly, as the chattering mind can create endless dramas. Practicing meditation means slowly and gently training the mind to do something it may not have done before: be quiet and still.
One way to overcome resistance and make meditation your friend is to start by just sitting for a few minutes at a time, instead of feeling you have to meditate, and then feeling guilty if you miss the allotted time or only do ten minutes when you had said you would do thirty. It’s far more important to practice for just a few minutes and to enjoy what you are doing, than to sit there, teeth gritted, because you have been told that only thirty minutes will have any affect.
If your purpose is to try to achieve a quiet mind then the trying itself will create tension and failure. Instead, you are just with whatever is happening in the moment, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. No judgment, no right or wrong. Watching whatever arises and letting it go is all that is required. It is more of an undoing than a doing.
During meditation we gently let go of distractions so we can genuinely be present. Like a child watching an ant walking down the sidewalk carrying a crumb, that is all that exists in their world at that moment. They are not thinking about what they had for breakfast, or what they will do with their best friend at their next play date. They are only watching the ant.
Meditation enables us to stop trying, to let go of the story, the dramas, our stressed mind, and to discover an inner easefulness. Some people describe this as a sense of coming home, as if they had been away or out of touch with themselves without even realizing it; others experience it as a huge relief as there is a release of anxiety and self-centeredness and they enter into a more peaceful state of being. And many feel as if they are simply hanging out with a good old friend, always there when needed.