Thursday, February 12, 2015

What it means to practice - Contemplation

“If you think you’ve reached enlightenment, go spend a week with your family.” 
Ram Das

'Thoughts as Thoughts'
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For the last fourteen months I’ve been attending regular meditation retreats at the London Shambala Centre. When I come into work on a Monday after being on retreat my co-workers are often curious and we’ll generally have a conversation about meditation and what I learned on the weekend. 

Once I was met with the statement, “I couldn’t meditate because I couldn’t not think.” 

I laughed and said it wasn’t about not thinking. 

“Then what’s it about?” 

“It’s about being present.” 

It was one of those moments that as I said it I realised it. I was already understanding that this was the whole point of meditation, but I hadn’t quite been able to form words around how it was transforming me. 

So what does it mean to practice? Not just to meditate: coming back to the breath and labeling the thoughts as thoughts and letting them go (Which is not the same as not thinking). That’s a technique. That’s just a way to guide us and point as to the true practice. 

One cannot meditate regularly and not begin to notice the gradual awareness of mind that comes with that. I have, in the last fourteen months, begun to notice the workings of my mind with so much more detail. I don’t just see the thoughts but I see the conditioning behind them, the habitual reactions to them, the hormonal release that accompanies them - adrenalin for an anxious thought, for example. 

'Unfixated Mind'
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I’ve had this level of awareness for more than fourteen months, to be honest, but have always felt a lot of aggression towards myself when I notice the neurotic and habitual things I do. “You’re frustrated because you’re not enlightened yet,” my psychologist likes to say. 

And I was often frustrated. I was getting better and better at seeing all these ridiculous things I did and yet I kept on doing them. I kept on responding to anxiety with resistance or shutting down around confrontation. I knew these things weren’t helping because I could see it so clearly and yet I couldn’t stop myself. 

Until I began to understand practice very differently. I began to understand that practice is something we do on the spot. Meditation teaches us how to stay on the spot, to relax into or accept the current situation. 

Practice is how we experiment in this place of being present. Practice is seeing what we do clearly because we cannot work with that which we do not see. 

Practice is a willingness to let our family members be themselves - to not expect them to behave any differently - and see what happens. 

'Embrace Circumstances'
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Practice is feeling anxiety well up because someone disagrees with our opinion and just feeling that anxiety and not trying to make someone like us by retracting what we said. 
Practice is having your train cancelled and noticing how entitled we feel and not pretending any different. 

To practice doesn’t mean these uncomfortable things go away. It means we notice them and work with our mind in a way we never did before. We accept our human-ness and meet ourselves right where we are, with what’s going on in the moment. Because ultimately the only thing we can work with is our mind and the mind exists in the present.  

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