by Daniel Thorson
Why would you want to learn how to meditate? If you’ve stumbled into this corner of the internet, there’s likely something inside of you that is interested in the notion. One answer is that you should not argue with the natural movements of your curiosity. Here are other answers:
We can appeal to religious history. All major world religions have a mystical sub-culture that features some form of meditation as a path to awakening. In Buddhism we find techniques of meditation that have been refined and adjusted as they’ve passed through time and culture. In this process it has spawned numerous traditions and techniques that focus on particular approaches or facets of spiritual unfoldment. There are many reasons why these systems survived through time, but a significant one is that the teachings work as advertised. They deliver a solution to the problem the Buddha articulated, the problem of suffering, dis-ease and stress. Because the Buddha’s teachings offered a reliably helpful solution to this problem they have been rewarded with a thriving trajectory over the course of human history. It first spread virally throughout Asia and Southeast Asia and now it is the fastest growing ‘religion’ in Western societies. Clearly there is something of importance nested within the conceptual tent of Buddhism that has attracted many (particularly educated) individuals in the world. Memetically Buddhism and concepts like meditation and mindfulness are poised for huge growth in the modern world. If you could buy stock in ideas, now would be an excellent opportunity for investment.
We can also appeal to science. Science says that meditation is really really good for you; it’s good for your relationships, it’s good for your health and it’s good for your career. It can even improve your sex life. Hell, it probably makes your pet happier. It can literally makes every part of your life more rich and fulfilling and you can do it in about thirty minutes a day and experience benefits quite quickly.
So the two great investigations into the human condition, religion and science, both agree that it’s a sweet thing to do. Meditation is like this secret hack for making reality more awesome that humanity is collectively rediscovering.
How does meditation make reality more awesome? Deep practitioners have discovered something quite elegant, important and radical. They’ve discovered that reality actually reveals it’s inherent beauty, goodness and joy when you stop futzing around with it so much. When we don’t impede the natural flow of existence with craving, resistance, grasping and papancha the beauty of nature auto-magically reveals itself to us. On the flip side, we are deluded if we pursue happiness (only) by trying to make changes in our apparent circumstances. Relationships, careers, fame–these things will never actually satisfy. It is only when we come to understand our experience with wisdom that true satisfaction can arise. Coming to understand our experience with wisdom means coming into alignment with the way things really are.
With practice you also become more connected yourself. While you are deconstructing your notions of who you thought you were, you are also getting more deeply in touch with your true nature. Your true nature moves you in very different ways than your thinking mind. As you develop the capacity to act in integrity with the natural movements and rhythms of life you will find that your reality tunnel manages to unfold beautifully. Indeed it’s usually our tendency to muck around with the flow of reality that produces many of the unwanted situations of our lives. Reality becomes more akin to surfing. Wiping out is part of the experience, but the goal is generally to hang out on those waves for as long as possible.
Like surfing, it can be really really hard when you’re first getting started. You tend to overbalance on one side or the other. In many Buddhist scriptures there is a an analogy of balancing or tuning; microscopically adjusting over time based on feedback to approach an adequate dynamic tension that produces the desired results. Meditation practice can be a lot like that, except we aren’t physically balancing or adjusting a knob, instead we are observing the moment to moment experience of our sensate reality. Primed with the appropriate conceptual frameworks your mind will begin to recompose itself in response to what it finds when it looks inside, just as it is constantly shaped and reshaped by our every experience. Over time your mind becomes quieter and more peaceful. You’ll find many of the stressful tendencies that occupied your subjective experience will evaporate once the mind see’s how much suffering it’s actually causing itself.