How can I gain some perspective from the inner-working of my own mind?
Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring the big questions that arise in people’s minds when they embark upon a meditation practice. These are the same questions that you might find yourself asking when considering any other sort of endeavor as well. Who? What? Where? When? How? And Why?
For this edition of the newsletter, I will focus on the question “Why?” Why should I meditate? Or, perhaps another way to ask a similar question is: “Why is meditation important?”
In the context of all that is happening in our world today, with a pandemic, climate change, and civil unrest all shaking us to our core, I would argue that perspective is vitally important to each of our own well-being. For example, when I am feeling outraged and drawn to act, how do I know what action to take? How do I know when to act? And how do I know where to ally myself when I do take action?
Of course, I could leap into action from a reactive perspective, jumping into the first or the nearest situation that calls my attention. That might be one way, but it is also possible to imagine taking a more considered approach by weighing the various benefits and costs of a given course of action. Perspective can provide me with the intermediary step between cause and effect, and thus allow for more agency in the decision-making process. In the famous words of Viktor Frankl:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Aside from the fact that perspective is all-too-important in these tumultuous times, why else would perspective be important? Why would I want to us a practice like meditation to gain perspective?
Here we have another “Why” question. One way that perspective is important is that it gives us resilience. On one level, I can obtain some resilience because I am choosing when and where to direct my energies. There is also a more subtle way in which perspective provides support. After spending some time with a meditation practice, I have observed that the myriad circumstances that I am engaged with are constantly changing. This is called impermanence in the Buddhist tradition. Everything that I experience is ephemeral, and yet there is a witnessing presence who is aware of this dynamism and observes the changes. This witnessing presence, on a very deep level, is not one and the same with those changes. The awareness itself is not blown about by all of the changing circumstances, the ephemera of life.
So the perspective I have gained in my meditation practice helps me to see that I am not all those things that are constantly changing. I am not the causes and conditions. I am the awareness who witnesses these things, and from that vantage point the course of action may be very different than if I were identified with the ten thousand things that are forever in a state of flux. Drawing from the Vedic concept of Buddhi, I aspire to act from a place of deep wisdom, which is able to discern truth from falsehood even when the circumstances are difficult or confusing.
Every day I am making numerous choices, each of which has both broad and narrow implications for myself and those around me. I vote with my dollars. I inspire or degrade with my language. I uplift or oppress with each action of my body. As I begin to understand more deeply just how interconnected we are, the more I value the faculty of discernment. I aim to live in a way that is non-coercive, not in competition with all of the other beings around me. I also strive to have a non-coercive relationship with my own body, mind, and breath. So how do I know when I am in or out of alignment? What is the source of truth which guides my movement?
If I am able to get very quiet, and put aside the endless prattle of my mental chatter for just a moment, I might be able to hear something subtle within myself. I try to spend some time listening to that voice, the one that is interconnected with all beings, and has only the best of intentions for all of us.