What’s the point of meditation?
There are lots of different takes on this based on your religion, your mode of practice, your philosophy of life, etc. But for many of us, we meditate to feel better.
We want to bring some much needed peace and stability that’s missing, into our lives. To relieve stress. To fill our hearts, minds, and beings with some sense of silence, stillness, and deep peace.
But how do we support our own practice and our motivation? Because yes, of course, the most important thing is to show up every day and actually do our practice.
What if I were to tell you that there is a way for you to turbo charge your meditation practice? Metaphorically speaking, to drink a cup of meditation coffee. Because there are ways that you can do that.
And there is one way, in particular, that I want hone right now. And it’s not really a secret. In fact it’s something that most mystical traditions have integrated into their teachings.
But there’s more to the picture than just hitting that cushion each day. We’re making choices all the time that affect the clarity and the quality of our consciousness and that’s what I’m talking about.
And in the end, that’s one of the main purposes of meditation. To cleanse and clarify our awareness. And this point was reinforced for me recently in a dramatic way. Let me give you the short story.
I went on a weekend retreat recently with my men’s group. There was meditation and yoga and some other activities, but fundamentally it was a spiritual retreat and all the guys I went with are also serious meditators. So I decided to do a cleanse for two weeks leading up to the weekend retreat.
So for that time, I gave up alcohol, caffeine, dairy, bread, sex, masturbation, and basically resolved to keep my body as clean as possible.
And as many of you know, I lived in an ashram for 14 years, and we did this kind of purification on a pretty regular basis. But it’s been 4 years since I lived in the ashram and there isn’t the same external support system nor the culture of support.
So I just did this on my own steam.
And I was reminded of how powerful this experience is. Again, it wasn’t new for me, but by the time we were driving away from Boston to the retreat center in Friday afternoon, I already felt that the retreat was well under way. I felt deeply clean. I felt like I was already in a meditative state.
But what does that mean exactly? Because, I don’t think it was just the absence of those substances in my body that made me feel so good. I think the more significant aspect of that cleanse had to do with the choices I was making every day. The renunciation.
So, one of the central principles of spiritual practice, which is what meditation is, is renunciation. Another way of saying it is resisting your desires…mostly for pleasure and comfort. And that’s just not very popular in our culture.
But the truth is, doing this makes you strong. Here’s what I mean. So for these two weeks I gave up those things I mentioned. And slowly but surely, they stopped controlling me.
Which is to say that usually I spend a lot of time, often unconsciously, devoting energy, intention, and awareness to how I’m going to satisfy my desires. When am I going to get that next coffee? When can I have a glass of wine? When can we have pizza or pasta for dinner? Yum yum I can’t wait?
A staggering amount of our background processors are conditioned to think about these things. But when you give them up, all that energy and awareness gets liberated. It gets freed up and your normal carnal desires aren’t controlling you.
And there’s nothing inherently wrong with satisfying these desires. I want to make that clear. But everyone should have the experience of giving them up for a while and seeing what happens. Yes, you will go through a period of withdrawal but it doesn’t last. And when you persevere, it feels incredible.
I felt so strong and so clear after two weeks. And my awareness was light and easy and buoyant just like my moods. And so by the time I got to the retreat, I felt something significant had already occurred. Meditation was smoother, simpler, deeper, and more satisfying. There was less static in my field of awareness.
After I did this, I was raving to my wife about it. She grew up in a muslim household, and they used to fast from sunup to sundown during Ramadan for a whole month. No food. No water. And she just said, with a big smile, of course! Now we can fast for the month of Ramadan together.
But the point I wanted to emphasize is this…when we sit down on the meditation cushion, there are all sort of things coalescing into that one moment. It’s the momentum of all your choices. All your habits. All of it. It all matters.
And when you take on your core appetites for pleasure…whether that’s food or sex or alcohol or whatever. When you take a break from all that, you realize how much space it takes up. And how free you feel from it all. And meditation is all about space and it’s all about freedom.
So, why don’t you give it a shot? Do you want to supercharge your meditation practice? Trust me, doing some variation of this, you will feel it and you’ll know that there are deeper currents, often invisible to us, that govern our awareness, but they don’t need to.
So let me know what happens. I’m curious to hear if you try it.
So many veils and illusions separate us from the stark knowledge that we are dying. When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings. Sir Thomas More, I heard, wrote these words just before his beheading: “We are all in the same cart, going to execution; how can I hate anyone or wish anyone harm?” To feel the full force of your mortality, and to open your heart entirely to it, is to allow to grow in you that all-encompassing, fearless compassion that fuels the lives of all those who wish truly to be of help to others.