In modern society, the word “Meditation” means usually one of two things; you either place yourself in loose clothing and a comfortable room and listen to some app you bought, telling you things like “Everything is okay” and “You’re okay”, or simply doing the aforementioned, but without the associated app.
This is what I would personally dub as “Modern Meditation”. And some people find it helpful. I won’t deny it’s a good de-stressing technique, in fact, it’s probably something you should do for ten minutes every other day, even I do this on occasion.
However, this isn’t what meditation traditionally is. As you may be aware, meditation is – at least historically – very Buddhist in nature and may be the origins of meditation itself.
So, why do you suck at it? Here’s why.
Traditional meditation isn’t about telling yourself everything and you are okay. Traditional meditation is more about self-observation. Being able to look into yourself, your past and things you’ve done, whether it be a traumatic childhood experience or simply that you eat too much ice cream too often.
It’s as simple as letting those thoughts flow in, unimpeded and acknowledging it to some extent, perhaps even developing an inner-monologue, and then simply letting it flow away as a new thought comes forth in an odd but cyclical manner. That is until you decide to stop meditating.
“Isn’t that potentially quite self-destructive?” I’m sure some of you may be thinking, but it isn’t. Let me provide an example of something I recall from a more traditional meditation session.
The thought of my previous relationship and how cowardly I felt for the way I left it and how it hurt me. I simply, in my inner-monologue stated to myself “This is a thing that happened. It hurt, and through the trials and tribulations of that relationship I experienced, It has made me stronger, able to identify good and bad traits in people, and able to read people and if they’re genuinely a good person, worth trusting and developing a relationship with”. And by that point, I drifted to the next thing. And yes, it was that I ate too much ice cream too often. That wasn’t just a hypothetical example.
Being able to acknowledge that pain and experience makes you stronger, like a pugilist might find the first left-hook painful and ache for days, but as he gets more experienced, those left hooks become less painful as each bout goes on. You’re able to train yourself to become virtually invincible once you are able to acknowledge the pain, but choose to not suffer, that’s the important point. And now, for a more extreme example.
A well respected Buddhist monk by the name of Quang Duc was going to be protesting peacefully in an intersection in South Vietnam during the Vietnam war. The press in Saigon had been informed that something was going to happen at that intersection the following day, though only a few journalists turned up.
In protest of how the South Vietnamese government treated Buddhists, (which is to say, very very badly) Quang Duc, walked into the middle of the intersection in Saigon, sat atop a pillow placed for him moments earlier and then assumed the Lotus position atop it, whilst a fellow monk poured 5-gallons of gasoline atop him. Some people watched in amazement and confusion.
Quang Duc produced a box of matches from beneath his robes, and without any hesitation, he struck a match on the floor by him and caught alight, dropping the match and resuming the lotus position, not flinching, not crying out in pain as his body began to burn and shrivel. He didn’t move a single muscle, no flinching; a stark contrast to the shocked expressions and wailing onlookers, and throughout all this, he remained in that position until there was nothing left to burn. He passed away in that position
What one can acknowledge from this is that whilst pain is a universal constant; breaking a bone is painful and long-lasting. we can choose whether or not to suffer or express that suffering. Being torched alight was Quang Duc’s own demonstration of his ability to choose not to suffer. Although this was a politically-oriented movement does not matter.
It’s impossible to think of what Quang Duc was thinking as he burned, but I can imagine that he, in his minds eye, refused to let his body move and respond to the pain, to blot out the wailing of those onlooking, to keep in mind the teachings he’d learnt his entire life and that he was ultimately going to aid his cause.
Let me state the obvious. Don’t set yourself on fire. But remember that the pain you experience is a universal, unavoidable constant. However, you and only you can choose whether to suffer because of that pain. I know someone on a daily basis who manages to defy their pain, to feel it, but chooses not to suffer despite it.
To be clear, meditation, at least traditionally is itself painful, but mentally so. You’re having to potentially confront things you’ve done or things that have happened in your lifetime. Being “good” isn’t truly possible in meditation. You can try in spite of that, but I won’t be able to truly feel what that thing in your past-life made you feel. I can recount it, but not have any emotion if I wasn’t involved, in which case, I’d have a different perception and ultimately how I felt about it.
So, we all suck at meditation, so instead of protesting that this isn’t the case, or getting emotionally hurt by me saying so, let us instead embrace that we suck at meditation.