This is a wonderful question. One in which that has just as equally wonderful answers. I was inspired to write about this from a story I just heard about an acquaintance of mine who was on the train from Portland while someone was having a heart attack. While most people were stunned, scared, and uncertain… Ryan was calm and collected, and proceeded to administer CPR until the next stop on the train. What does this have to do with meditation? To be honest, I don’t even know if he meditates or not, but there was very obviously a presence of mind that then translated into ‘right action’. To me, this is the greatest goal or benefit to having a regular meditation practice. Sure, there is a lot of research now correlating meditation with relieving stress, high blood pressure, anxiety, etc. But when a great zen teacher was asked, “Through all your wisdom, knowledge, and experience of being a great zen master, what is the essential teaching you have learned?”. His reply was simply, “An appropriate response.”
What does this mean? It means, that in every moment of every day, you perceive and respond with the utmost of clarity. What is ACTUALLY happening right here, right now? A perception and response that is free from old patterns and behaviors or projections onto the future. A perception and response which is free from duality, attachments, expectations, and suffering.
The practice of meditation at its most superficial level is the practice of doing Nothing. Nothing, but observing, which in our Western culture is very rare and sometimes even looked at negatively. Observing your breath, thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, and what is just in front of you in the moment. In Zen, we meditate with our eyes open. We do this, so not to block off any part of our sensorial experience. It also helps to minimize day-dreaming and/or falling asleep! Some have the misconception that we are trying to suppress all thoughts, feelings, and emotions… a sort of apathy. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, these things are all part of being human after all. What we are trying to create is a still mind. What is the difference?
Think back to when someone said they were going to call you back and they never did or at least not when they said they would. What the vast majority of us do is think to ourselves something like, “Hmmm… I haven’t heard back from so and so, I wonder why?” and this one thought turns into an entire melodrama into how and why they completely blew us off! The next day you find out your friend simply fell asleep watching TV. These storylines of our mind come from the patterns of our hurt, our traumas, our social and familial programming, etc. Having a still mind results in simply observing your sadness, anger, frustration, fear, worry, etc. around your friend not calling you back but then not feeding it with a storyline that has no roots in reality.
When we are simply sitting on a cushion and observing the world around us, there is a conditioning of the mind that is going on. You condition your body at the gym, in sports, martial arts, or yoga… this is a direct conditioning of the mind, our greatest and (sometimes) most troublesome muscle!
I’ll be discussing meditation a bit more on this blog as the weeks go on. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via posting a comment on this blog or sending me an email. Until then, a small thanks to Ryan and all those who have had the stillness and presence of mind to apply an ‘appropriate response’ when called upon.