Friday May 30, 2008
“Not many people actually do meditation techniques as they are taught. If anybody.”
For a long time, now, I have been aware that when I get out of bed in the morning, head to the back room where I have my cushions set up, throw open the window (I like a bit of fresh air in the morning, even when it is cold) and sit down to meditate, what I’m actually do whilst sat on my cushions is somewhat idiosyncratic. There is certainly nothing as systematic or as purposeful as a technique going on when I meditate. It is more ad hoc than this, a rather more shambolic affair, a bit of this and a bit of that, whilst my mind does whatever it is doing that particular morning: doing, that is to say, all the usual kind of stuff that the human mind does.
The idea that what we engage in on our cushions are meditation techniques is one that is very common; and yet I’m not sure it is really like this. So the quote from Australian monk Ajahn Sujato (the clip is here) certainly struck a chord. After all, when I ask myself when I last took one meditation technique and applied it systematically for one whole sitting, the answer I come up with is months, if not years.
Of course, there are lots of techniques out there, a veritable marketplace of techniques. Some demand rigid adherence, others demand that most puzzling of skills, the ability to just do nothing and be natural; some are brazen in the way that they promise the loftiest goals (eternal happiness, liberation from all suffering, a New You), others promise nothing at all, instead preferring to tease the consumer with tantalising paradoxes.
There was a time when I took a much keener interest in this marketplace than I do now. But these days, I have little interest in many of the goals promised by the purveyors of meditation, nor do I have much of a taste for the mysticism of endless paradox. So instead, I just continue to meditate in my own shambolic fashion, and sometimes I wonder why it is that I do it at all. I suspect that the answer is quite simple: that – whatever the possible benefits (or otherwise) of meditation – I simply like it. I’ve found a way to a kind of meditation that suits me. So I continue to meditate.
It has not always this straightforward. My first few years of meditating were, now I look back, a not particularly satisfying experience, the determined application of a too-rigid technique that felt hardly my style. But it’s important, in the end, to find one’s own way, because I suspect that when it comes down to it, meditation is too intimate a business to really be just a matter of technique. Sujato refers to a passage in the Visuddhimagga that I haven’t yet been able to check out (all of my books being currently in cardboard boxes), which says that if you want to learn to meditate there are two things that you can do. First of all, ask other people how they do it. And secondly, go to the scholars and see what is written in books.
All this is perhaps useful. But in the end perhaps meditation really gets going when you go beyond technique. Then you are on your own: with the mysterious and shifting contents of your mind; with the comings and goings of feeling and sensation in the body; and with the riddles with which, day by day, your own life presents you. And that is when the fun starts.
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