I started my meditation practice because of a problem that needed to be solved. I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and wanted to avoid medication. A therapist suggested a couple of simple practices and that was the beginning of my 18 year (and counting) odyssey! Maybe you’re drawn to meditation for similar reasons. You’re interested in practice because you have an issue and you see meditation as a possible solution. Your issue might be insomnia, a need to recharge your “batteries,” a desire for increased focus or productivity, pain management, health concerns, addiction recovery. In recent years there have been some incredible scientific studies proving the benefits of meditation in all these areas and more. So, you like what you hear and you turn to meditation as a way to fix or improve something about yourself.
But when you get into practicing, something wholly unexpected may happen. In the early days of my practice, I found that meditation didn’t do what I thought it would do, the way I thought it would do it. Meditation didn’t match my ideas about what it would look like to improve myself. But I also discovered, to my surprise, that I still liked what meditating did. There was a new dimension to my experience that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. And eventually I saw profound, even miraculous results. Miraculous because, before practicing, I literally could not have imagined the degree to which my life experience could be enhanced.
And I’ve gotten all the benefits meditation promises. Although, to this day, practice continues to defy my expectations. Because, the rewards occur in unexpected ways at unexpected times. And all these wonderful gifts, like peacefulness, stability, richness and revelations, gratitude and compassion, clarity, fulfillment, bliss, synchronicity, renewal and creative emergence: These are simply by-products of meditation’s one true gift. Beautiful by-products. And the one true gift meditation offers is something I hadn’t even realized I wanted or needed. Because your mind can’t make the leap. Firstly, to fully valuing and recognizing meditation’s one true gift and secondly, connecting this singular gift to all those delicious outcomes meditating can yield.
So is it really necessary to make that leap? If you’re getting what you need from meditation, does it matter whether you understand the fundamentals of how that happens? In my opinion, it’s absolutely essential. This is the very meaning of “awakening.” Have you ever had the experience of talking about a difficult issue with a friend? You don’t even know if you’re making sense or whether it’s worth talking about. Then, your friend reflects back to you what you’ve said with a level of clarity and precision that speaks right to the heart of the matter. Your friend has heard beneath your confused words, seen to the core of your struggle and revealed it to you in a way that brings profound relief.
When you recognize the one true gift of meditation, it’s undeniable. Through direct experience, you know the truth of your being, which has been obscured by alienating habits of mind. Yes, the “you” limited to your specific body and mind exists and yes, you are also not separate, never separate from anyone or anything, any time, anywhere. You discover how it is possible to live this paradox. Through your own experience, you get to the core of humanity’s struggle and you are freed. And each time you consciously transition from the limited identity into the absence of a limited identity, the “no-self” or “nothingness,” you are learning to free the limited “self”.
As you practice, whether you know it or not, you are briefly re-discovering this ultimate freedom over and over, until it begins taking root, re-defining your identity. You come to know your true self as the ever occurring activity of liberation. Consciously participating in this core liberating experience yields all the many gifts of practice. And all of humanity’s tragic complexities become simple. They are a reflection of an unconscious pattern, the habit of not knowing the true self. You are empowered to shift this habit, through practice. Ok, maybe a lot of practice. But, it can be done. And as your practice evolves, this specific wisdom manifests in ways unique to you. And as a friend with this wisdom, you help ease the burden of your fellow travelers. Meditation is designed to point towards “no separation,” so each of us can know the common truth of our being. That is it’s gift. And just by making any effort to practice, you are graciously receiving this gift.