What is meditation?

Meditating is akin to being laid down on the bottom of a small boat on a peaceful lake, staring up at the sky while all the time one’s hyperactive mind is shouting out from the shore for you to come in now. Listening to the voice while continuing to ignore it is the act of mindfulness.   

The habitually frantic movements of the mind can be observed passively as if they were changes in weather of a planet far below. Through extended spells of watching we discover the transience of even – or especially – the most intense feelings.

Complete alertness combined with passivity is required. Imagine watching a bowl of water clear itself from a layer of silt that’s just been stirred up. Would you “try” and clear the water faster? In the same way our initial efforts of mindfulness can be clumsy and self-defeating.

The process is akin to sitting down to watch a parade go by. The parade may be noisy and demanding but it’s enough just to observe, to be a witness, as both outer and inner events march by our consciousness. This moment by moment containment is serenity, apparently both method and the end itself.

We watch the machine of the mind – and it is a machine, if a fantastically complex one, a machine within another machine – and learn its movements, mechanisms and structure. Are these transient and volatile patterns that appear and disappear without a trace the real being or just airy intimations of a false self, phantoms from a phantom?

Mindful meditation is not an imposition motivated by reward but a play with the here and now, taking moment to moment awareness as its only reality, a passive but alert observation that doesn’t seek change even if change comes with it. It uncovers an unknown but inexhaustible reservoir of well-being and quiet resolve.  

The only true measure of meditation is the here and nowness of it, all else is hypnotism.

Think of mindfulness as erasing the blackboard so as to make any subsequent  calculations or writing clearer.

All emotional pain and tumult are disorders of present moment awareness; once this is restored the emotional disturbance vanishes as if it was never there.

Awareness is the act of chipping away as from a block of stone all that is not awareness. It blurs into both action and what is acted upon, the means and end itself and like something beautiful but slippery evades our firm grasp.

There’s no easy and obvious path to the profound; to strive for it and not to strive are equally far from it. Moments of peace and insight cannot be planned but arrive unexpectedly like a sudden breeze through an open window. They are like the surprise sightings of a rare wild animal that leave us with a sense of wonder.

But meditation does not always bring happiness, at least not immediately, and perhaps not ever in the conventional sense. To the riddle of whether it’s better to be an unhappy human or a happy but less intellectually sophisticated animal, anyone who meditates well has the answer: choose to be fully present every moment even if it’s bundled with some grief. The purpose of being alive is to be alive. This might sound obvious but we’ve only to look around us in society to see it can’t be. Reaching our full potential as conscious beings is something above mere contentment and perhaps this realization  – that has so many applications – is the final reward of the practice of awareness.



Understanding as art and science