One of the most valuable practices that I have encountered as a means of getting to know myself intimately, is the practice of meditation. At first it seemed a strange concept to me ... having to practice and apply effort to ‘not do’ anything?
Also, it wasn’t completely clear to me what the aim of meditation was. Was it to become peaceful and in a state of bliss, or perhaps even enlightened? Starting my meditation exploration by myself, I decided to simply sit and use my breath as the primary focus of attention. Which actually turned out to be a good place to start. Some years later I received proper instructions in the Shamatha/Vipashana meditation technique, and to this day I enjoy the benefits of having a regular practice.
When I first started meditating, it was so challenging not to ‘do’, not to ‘act’...not to move, not to think, not wanting to change or fix anything....but rather to just ‘be’. The activity of my brain was overwhelming. It seemed the meditation didn’t slow my thoughts down, quite the contrary! The chaos lifted once I realised that it was actually my capacity to notice, to be aware of what was going on in my mind, that was increasing.
I found it interesting to notice how strange, calm or chaotic my thought patterns and habitual tendencies were. During these short sessions of being with myself, a heightened state of awareness of my body, my feelings and emotions, began to develop.
Reading Pema Chodron’s quote (below) was an “Oh Wow” moment for me. The practice of meditation was not meant to turn me into a better person, or into the best meditator in the city! Instead, it showed me how to be more open and honest with myself, how to be my own best friend. It taught me to observe and hold myself and my experiences without judgement, but with gentleness and even with humor. I was becoming more authentic and more available to others.
Meditation offers the opportunity to fully experience and live our lives, to be aware of each moment unfolding into the next, without trying to impose anything extra on it. It offers the possibility of space, of a pause, of having a choice ... and it supports us in being fully available for ourselves, for others, and for our world in each moment, again and again.
“Meditation isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we already are.” – Pema Chodron –
In Shamatha/Vipashana meditation we engage in the practice of concentration and enquiry. When we know how to concentrate well, we are less likely to get distracted or agitated, and our mind and body become more relaxed and calm. Enquiry brings balance to this process, in that it gives energy and clarity. It asks us to look deeply into our own experience, to examine our thoughts, feelings and perceptions and to recognise our habitual patterns – without judgement.
Through meditation our awareness and insight can deepen. We develop gentleness with ourselves and others, and are able to open up and respond to life in a wiser, playful and compassionate way.