A little background on meditation, and what not to believe

by measuringcoastlines
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Curtains. It's curtains for ya.

The month at the Krishnamurti Educational Centre is almost over. It’s back to Vancouver soon for two weeks, probably hectic weeks of trying to get everything done before traveling (including, quite possibly, rearranging most of my travel bookings thus far). I have no idea what this is going to be like for my brain, after a month of relative isolation and the vastness of the sky and sea and moments of intense inner turmoil along with intense inner stillness. I feel like this place is a refuge, in its own special timezone, and I’m so grateful to the people who care for this place and make it available to the world.

I’ve been intending to write some sort of introduction to what meditation is for me, and maybe a little about what my inner world has been like over the past month. It’s hard, though, because just giving you words to describe will be sadly inadequate, almost by definition. This is something Krishnamurti brings up often – “the word is not the thing”. There simply isn’t a way to convey my experience to you accurately. I can ramble about “spaciousness” and “fear” and “presence” and these will only ever be symbols, symbols which may point to something very different in your brain than they do in mine.

Also, I don’t have some great new technique that I’m going to try to sell you on, nor am I going to try to convince you that I know something you don’t. This is simply more background for those of you reading this blog, and maybe something I can revisit in six months and laugh with myself about what I thought I knew back then.

I started meditating sometime in late 2011. I’d been very frustrated with some situations going on in my life that weren’t what I wanted them to be (aka “the human condition”). I’d previously stumbled across some Eckhardt Tolle and Ram Dass that were intriguing enough to make me think “oh, I should probably try meditation”, but it wasn’t until someone in my Facebook feed posted a 30-day meditation challenge that I decided to give it some earnest effort. I used the Insight Timer app, which gives you little stars for consecutive days meditating, and apparently the simple behaviourist reward approach was all I needed to start taking it seriously. That, and by the end of the 30 days, I’d had some sudden and impressive insights into that life frustration that seemed to hit me out of the blue. I thought okay okay, there may be something to this.

I went ahead and did a lot of reading, and a few different types of courses and retreats. Some of it was useful, some not; some ideas served me well for a time and then I found it was time to drop them, like training wheels, or discarded rocket boosters off a space shuttle. I don’t have one single strict strategy that I follow any more. I feel more like I’ve got a toolbox of possibilities, and depending on what my mind happens to be doing and what feels called for, I’ll use a different approach and feel out what the effect is. Most days I’m focused mostly on self-inquiry, on feeling for the sense of “I” within; who is the one having these emotions? Whose thoughts are these? Mine? Who is this me? Other days I’m back to the standard mindfulness approach of watching the breath, or taking note of my sensory experience. Whatever leads to a sense of expansiveness – or, if expansiveness just ain’t happenin’ today, of acceptance of the frustration of feeling stuck.

Both Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi are clear, in their own unique ways, that just asking the question “who am I” repetitively isn’t enough, or looking for a verbal answer that can be neatly explained by the mind. It’s an active process of inquiry, digging within, feeling out the source of the “I”-thought. It’s more visceral than intellectual. What you’re ultimately looking for is not something that the mind itself can comprehend, and that is something the mind doesn’t want to hear. All those tools in the toolbox are more to get the mind to quit interfering with the inquiry and trying to derail it, and to become keenly focused on it instead.

The view from the Krishnamurti Educational Centre of Canada

Some of the tools I use are more from the psychology department than spirituality. Because Matthew is finding his own way back from childhood trauma, we both do a fair bit of reading on trauma and psychology, and explore ideas like attachment disorders, internal family systems, traumatic blocks, non-violent communication, and more. It’s actually very helpful to integrate this with self-inquiry, because both the psychology and the spirituality approaches remind you that whatever is going on in your mind isn’t personal. It’s a process, a spinning wheel with momentum that you didn’t start and you can’t control; all you can do is turn the light of your attention on to it and see it clearly for what it is. And that attention is what changes you, not the effort to make yourself different in some way or make some emotional upset go away. Just looking at it without trying to change it.

The mind is a slippery fish, and it’s easy to let it fool you into believing you’ve got The Answer™, while it’s somehow managed to repackage your thoughts back to you as Absolute Truth. It’s a very uncomfortable time when you start to recognize that your very own and most intimate thoughts, which you’ve always considered your bedrock of stability and unquestionable measure of reality, are not all to be believed. But once you’ve opened that particular Pandora’s Box, you can start to take yourself less seriously, and stop clinging so ferociously to your fixed ideas about who and what you are and what your ideals and beliefs are. And that, it would appear, is where freedom begins.

But that may just be another idea…

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