Do you ever stop? I mean really and completely just stop everything you’re doing just to be still? What would happen if you did that right now? Can you imagine?
If you’re at all like me, daily life can be a little like strapping into a roller coaster with a double breasted seat belt harness as you start rattling up to the precipice of each new day.
It’s not like that high-speed Japanese bullet train that seems to glide above rails without touching as you swiftly bear down on your goal and destination. Life tends to be rougher than that and sometimes your stomach suddenly drops out.
But I’ve learned that you can step off that roller coaster. In fact, there is incredible value in doing that and just stopping everything. All the movement, all the noise, all the chasing after new experiences, new knowledge, and new things.
Meditation taught me how to do that. In the process I’ve learned learn a lot. But there is one lesson that stands above the rest, and I want to share that with you. It’s probably the most important thing you can learn from meditation.
Where Do You Find Meaning?
Where do you look for fulfillment and happiness? Naturally, many of us look to our culture for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. And that’s normal. Culture has served that purpose for as long as human beings have lived together.
But we live in distinctly secular and a-religious times. There is an absence of deeper purpose and meaning in our culture at large. There are many interesting reasons for that, but that’s a topic for another post.
My point is that our culture is superficial for the most part. It doesn’t provide you with many signposts for how to develop self-knowledge and navigate deeper questions of meaning or integrity. Mostly, it tells you and me that we’ll find our bliss in things.
Maybe it’s the perfect partner, the perfect job, or the perfect new iPhone (I’m guilty!). Whatever it is, our attention is usually focused on attaining things, and not an understanding of where and how we find meaning and fulfillment in life.
And we are seldom compelled to consider the short span of our time here on earth and how we are going to fill it. As my good Buddhist friend likes to remind me every day at the gym, “This is all going to be over in a flash. It’s like a dream. You better wake up!”
Discovering the Secret of Letting Everything Go
For me, I learned something about this on a meditation retreat. It changed me forever, and it showed me something I’ll never forget about the true source of happiness.
And when I use the word happiness, I really mean that in the deepest sense. Happiness as in fulfillment, peace, and meaning.
For about 15 years, I trained in a meditation practice called Free Awareness. It comes from the ancient Advaita Vedanta tradition. The practice is deceptively and painfully simple. You simply rest your attention on the unlimited dimensions of awareness itself. You don’t focus on anything in particular, you just let everything be exactly as it is. You let everything go.
During this particular retreat, we practiced free awareness for 10 consecutive days for 18 hours a day. Each day the practice got deeper and deeper. I let go of more and more. I let go of things I wanted. I let go of events in the past that haunted me. I let go of fantasies about the future. I let go of pleasurable experiences and more. I let go of things I didn’t know I could let go of, and I let go of things I didn’t know I was holding on to.
As I kept doing this practice, something amazing happened.
What It Really Means to Stop
I don’t know how else to say it, but I started to fall into myself. The more I let go, the more I found myself resting in a kind of mesmerizing stillness. Every time I let go it was like I was returning to an unadorned sense of self that was stripped of everything.
I found I no longer wanted or needed anything at all. I was simply whole as I was. I only wanted to let go. There was inexpressible peace, freedom, and meaning. In fact, it was the most meaningful thing I had ever experienced.
And ironically it came from letting go of the world, and everything in it. It was the opposite of what culture tends to tell you and me about where we will find fulfillment.
There, at the bottom of everything, I had truly stopped. I wasn’t running after anything anymore. I was undivided, wanting nothing, and utterly at peace. I came to understand that this is real happiness, and if it’s inside of me, it’s inside of everyone.
Letting Go Is A Choice
Now, do I exist in this place of perfect peace and happiness all the time? Of course not.
But after many retreats, I have learned that nothing outside of myself can truly make me happy. My happiness will always come from within. No thing, no person, no accomplishment, none of that will be the same as what comes from what I discovered in that depth of letting go.
Those things are super important, and they have their place. But they won’t ever give you the gift you’ll find when you truly stop.
And I have to tell you, that discovery makes life a lot simpler. Many of us are tormented by the feeling that there’s more to life. And that’s true. But it’s not where culture tells us it is. If you really pay attention, that feeling is pointing you to the reservoir of infinite being at the core of who you are.
When you really experience this incredible silence in your self, what many meditation masters refer to as “pure awareness”, it changes everything. And part of what makes this experience so transformative is that you can access this part of yourself through choice. You don’t need a drug, an award, a degree, or even the kiss of your beloved, as wonderful as those things are. It’s not another experience for you and me to consume.
It’s actually who you are at the center.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
The more you practice letting everything go, the more this knowledge becomes a living part of your awareness. You may not be in an enlightened state all the time. With all due respect, probably far from it. At least that’s the case for me.
But every time you practice, you get to reconnect with that limitless part of yourself. And that’s a true gift.
What I love about meditation is that you rediscover the joy of letting go every single day. It’s a constant reminder that you are whole as you are and life is incredible just as it is. You don’t need anything more to be happy.
And if you’re at all like me, that’s probably the most important thing you’ll ever learn from meditation.