While I was thinking of blogging about this, Susan Piver, one of the best meditation voices in mainstream media, did just that on “still free of charge” HuffPo right here. Susan describes the kind of meditation that is portrayed in the Times article as “smooth” and dispassionate competence.
She responds with:
“My experience of meditation practice has nothing to do with smoothness, and everything to do with becoming basically raw. It has less to do with competence than genuineness. And when it comes to bliss, well, I am more uncertain than ever about what this word even means.
Instead, meditation opens my heart. In doing so, I discover the real reason for my practice, which is the cultivation of compassion in all its forms. I meditate first for myself to create some kind of balance and discipline, and then, in a most important evolution, to be of benefit to others -- to open my heart to this world in order to be genuinely helpful. Meditation wakes you up to your own and others' truths, and in this wakefulness you find both compassion and joy.”
The Times article, staying true to the American journalistic principal of nearly every issue having exactly two opposing points of view, quotes a doctor who is concerned about trauma victims who may have a breakdown and fall apart in the middle of an intense emotion while meditating.
Susan, in her blog post, ends with the kind of potent observation that any self respecting Shambhala meditator would be quite rightly expected to make: that having intense emotional experiences “are the good part” of meditation.
I was thrilled with Susan’s counter-point, being much more interested in genuineness, being compassionate and aware than in making good business decisions. In fact, meditation may have contributed to a really bad business decision. Some years ago I left a terrific, yet amazingly stressful career as a software executive to become a full time meditator, instructor, course designer, sometimes writer and a generally—at least according to my wife—much happier and compassionate person. Bad business decision, but fantastic human being decision. But I digress. What caused cheering accolades to burst forth from my lips was that Susan was pointing out how much richer meditation is when it is suffused with a selfless desire to help others.
But after reflecting a bit more, it became harder to discern the difference between these two points of view (omg am I now doing the 2 POV thing?). Being able to make clearer, more intuitive decisions, being able to better tap the creative juice machine we all naturally possess, and experiencing states of bliss while meditating are all signs of progress in meditation practice. And perhaps even better signs are that one is more empathic, loving, kind and helpful to others. Although the tree is not the fruit, you do need the tree to produce the fruit. In other words, competence and compassion both arise from the wisdom discovered through meditation.
For me, meditation is about getting used to remaining in natural awareness rather than chasing after our thoughts and emotions. What this means is that even when a meditation practitioner is experiencing a breakdown, an intensely negative emotion or a blissful state, they remain present in the knowing of it rather than in the experience. So even while having a breakdown we can discover the part of ourselves that is fundamentally and always ok and the experience itself doesn’t have the power to distract us from remaining in the present moment.
Real bliss is not an experience dependant on our meditation state, but is the result of becoming free of attachment to experience. And that is what makes meditation practice so much fun. We don’t need to block off experiences or cultivate anything; we just need to do the practice. We can fully engage in the glory of life without being knocked off center by it.