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What if you threw a meditation and nobody came?

July 2, 2012

It occurred to me to wonder this morning what might happen if that wished-for thing actually happened one day. You know, that state you always hope for and secretly wish for (while acting all Zen-like and impassive on your cushion there in the little space between the radiator and your enormous stuffed SpongeBob Squarepants doll). Come on, you know you long for it, you cling to the idea of it, you occasionally covet it like that creepy creature Smigel in the Lord of the Rings “My precioussssss!”.

“What?” you ask. “What would I be lusting after in this way?” Well of course you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that mythical meditation where nothing, NOTHING, ventures into your mind and your awareness is as broad and expansive and empty as the Mongolian plains (or SpongeBob’s head). Pure emptiness is all there is to behold and you bathe in the otherworldly Jacuzzi of bliss and equanimity. Who knows, you might even sense a subtle lifting as if you might just levitate for your pal Spongebob if this state continues a bit longer.

Well get over it.

Could you have moments like this while meditating? Of course you could and probably will. And it will be, as they say, awesome! But a whole meditation filled with … well, not filled with anything? Get real! That’s a human brain you’ve got lodged there in your pretty little skull, and it doesn’t sit well with nothingness. There’s only one state where your brain sits quietly and obediently like a pet rock, and believe me, you ain’t lookin’ for THAT state. You’re on the “wrong side of the grass” at that point, as my colleague Saul told me today.

So you’ve got a human brain with finely-tuned frontal lobes, a highly sensitive amygdala, an insula waiting to be bulked up by meditation practice (see the work of Sara Lazar for more on that) and the Full Monty of human neuroanatomy. That means that when you inadvertently stumble upon a few fleeting moments of expansive empty awareness in meditation, you are likely to, in short order, take note of the fact that your mind is clear and, guess what, your mind will no longer be clear because it will have the thought “My mind is clear!” in it. And then of course you will be quite pleased with yourself for the clarity and promptly consider whether you have “finally gotten it” and then doubt (“hmm, maybe this isn’t really it”) will blossom, along with a sprout of pride (“I may just be the best meditator EVER!”)  and soon you will be lost in the mental and emotional weeds of your own private cranial garden party.

Sound familiar? It does to me. I find myself partying in that garden fairly often. So what do I do about it? I notice it. I accept that “Ahh, there goes that rascally brain of mine again.” I try to stop fighting and let go of needing things to be any different than they are. I’m thrilled to have a human brain that does amazing things to allow me to experience incredible things and consider amazing and intricate scenarios, while simultaneously remembering where I left my car keys and how my wife likes her coffee. So it wanders off and becomes preoccupied with random stuff that isn’t important, or is, or hasn’t happened, or happened so long ago I can barely remember it. So what? I love my brain.

So I work with it the way I tolerate the other characters in my life. With the upturned corners of my mouth, a heavy dose of perspective and a lightness of touch akin to holding a dandelion seed pod. I let it come and go while I continue to sit and breathe and be mildly entertained by the comings and goings. “Don’t believe everything you think!” the bumper sticker says. Words to live by. And the good news is you don’t have to stop thinking in order to follow them. Just stop believing (in total contrast to that 70’s Journey song, but that’s for another time.)

“Be grateful for whoever comes” is the line from the  popular Rumi poem The Guest House, and I suppose one could be equally grateful when nothing at all comes along. Just be grateful . . . be aware . . . be!

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