Confession: when it comes to meditating, I’m like the shoemaker with the absolute worst shoes ever. Ever. That being said my actual shoes are really nice (just saying), but this is not about shoes at all. It’s about mental and spiritual well-being which nice shoes can assist with, but, only in the short term. The very, very, short term. Fleeting-blink-and-you-missed-it short term.
Meditation though is the exact opposite of fleeting. It, as long as we keep the space open for it, allows us to access eternity. It gives us a glimpse into the divine, the everlasting and the more we meditate the longer we get to hang out in that all knowing (capital “K” knowing) space that exists within our big “M” minds.
What makes me a meditator with those really bad (metaphorically, of course) shoes: I’m a certified meditation teacher who meditates.....inconsistently at best. I know. I’m ashamed of me too. Meditator heal thyself. Fortunately, I don’t actually teach anyone how to meditate. I could in theory, but I don’t because until I walk the walk consistently I really shouldn’t.
I really want to walk this particular walk.
Whenever I do meditate it takes me incredible places and shows me the most amazing things. It heals and restores me and, yet, as soon it does so regularly, I quit it. It is both absolutely maddening and befuddling. I’m like someone on cardiac or psychotropic meds: as soon as the meds start to do their work, and as soon as the person taking them starts to feel better, they quit them. That is me with meditation.
I thought if I learned to teach meditation the learning (which I love to do) would lead to the teaching would lead to the regular meditation doing. Unfortunately, it hasn’t. Yet. But I have hope. Meditation is not going anywhere. It’s like a faithful boyfriend. I walk away. I cheat. I ignore it and, yet it loves me unconditionally. It is always there. It is me and my faith, my steadfastness and my commitment that all need work.
I run to meditation when I need it and it graciously welcomes me with open arms. It never fails to open the gateway into my own Knowing which is my ultimate Being. It’ll always open that door. I just have to keep knocking on it and keep showing up. And that is what gives this fair weather meditator hope. Hope that she can reform, do better and keep showing up for herself again and again and return to the place that scares her the most but that she should fear the least: herself.
Meditation is like a promised land: amazing once you get there but the journey getting there is hell. My friend Dana told me a story about her and her family travelling to Hana Maui in Hawaii. The journey was filled with twists and hairpin turns, single lane roads, precipitous drops to the left and to the right, nattering wild- life, monkeys in particular, and maps that might as well not have been there of so little value they were. Death seemed imminent and, given the inordinate squabbling in the car, at some moments, preferable. Yet, against all seeming odds, they made it to Hana. One of the most extraordinarily lovely places she believes she will ever see in this world.
Meditation is like the road to Hana. Especially the nattering monkey’s part. Our minds are absolutely filled with those guys. Filling us with fear about what we’re about to see and experience, terror at whether or not we’ll be able to handle whatever we find coupled with the should-haves of yesterday and the to-do’s of tomorrow.
But if we stay in that space long enough, if we stay in the quiet and not lose heart, we get off of the road to Hana and we arrive at Hana itself. On earth as it is in heaven. We see everything: beauty, majesty, wholeness and wonder. It is like our minds and our hearts and our spirits get to swim in the calmest, clearest and most healing waters. It’s amazing. The space of now, the present moment, whatever you wish to call it is a sight to behold. The truest sight actually because we can only ever really see when we are in that space. Eventually though, duty calls and we have to leave Hana and get back on the road leading us ‘back to reality’ with all of its bumps and curves and unknowable twists and turns. Heaven to hell in an opening of the eyes.
Overlooking the Hana’s in our hearts, with our eyes closed and our souls full to brimming it’s all peace and stunning beauty. It is sight beyond sight. Eyes slowly open though and the earth once again appears scorched. Pandemics. Protests. Trump. I just read a story about a guy who emerged from a seventy five day meditation and asked: Did I miss anything? Now, the story doesn’t say this, but it feels like a safe bet that once he got his answer, he immediately signed up for another seventy five day stint.
Reverend Wintley Phipps says we have life backwards. We see life as a series of activities punctuated by prayer, or meditation, when really, we should see life as an ongoing prayer, or meditation, interrupted occasionally by activity.
Fair Reverend, very fair, but how do we do it? You name it and it seems to be happening right now and we can’t stay in Hana for- ever. We might like to, but life and duty eventually call, and we have to descend from the mountaintop that was never meant to be our home. We’re meant to visit and then leave as most of us don’t have the luxury of living a monastic mountaintop life. We have our people and our lives and our things that, trouble us, yes, but also, more often than not, colour, and make life interesting. Sometimes they make it too colourful and interesting hence our retreat to the mountaintop, but, what about when we can’t retreat to the mountaintop? If we can’t get to the mountaintop can we bring the mountaintop to us? Can we experience ongoing meditation punctuated by occasional activity? On earth as it is in heaven.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I have recently, again, started meditating daily. I was feeling anxious. The world was feeling a little too real and a lot too much. I was shaky. Unable to still, to settle or to slow and so I turned to the one place that can help me to do all of those things at a moment’s notice; I turned to meditation. It’s a practice for sure but, nearly immediately, the world that had felt all too real suddenly felt like nothing more than an illusion and, in some ways, that is exactly what it is. It melted away as I once again met myself out in the field beyond ideas of wrongdoing. I walk away from meditation all too frequently, but, every time I go back to it, I fall back into its arms more quickly than the last time it held me in its embrace.
The Eagles sang about a horror show, “Hotel California,” a place where you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave. Meditation is not a horror show, just the opposite, but I am learning that while I can check out anytime I like, I can never truly leave. And, the truth is, I wouldn’t want to. Once the hatch door to your capital “S” self opens up, you can check out of it every once in a while, but you can never truly leave. And, because your Self is not the “Hotel California”, that is a really good thing.
This all became so incredibly clear to me the other morning. It was a beautiful day filled with blue sky and sunshine; not yet too hot. I was out on the patio with flowers bursting to life in all of their full bloom glory; my notebook and Charlie the dog were there. I could smell lavender and I closed my eyes all ready to meditate. But my eyes didn’t want to close. Now, we’re quoting Aerosmith, but I didn’t want to miss a thing. I was in my meditative Mind, but I didn’t have to close my eyes or disengage from the world to get there. I could stay awake, be truly present and see and notice everything going on around me with quiet and clarity and calm, without judgment. In other words, I could engage with the world without being overcome by it.
The mountaintop came to me, and, I realized in that moment, it didn’t have very far to go, because I am the mountain. We are all mountains, and we also all have to exist in the world. All we have to decide is if we will live from the bottom of the mountain where we have to summit to peace every day, or, if we will, through meditation, live in the space of the mountaintop; observing all that is going on around us with peace, equanimity and foresight.
We can’t physically live at a summit somewhere, but we can always access the summit. Through the muck, through the noise, through the haste, through anything, we can get to and, live from, the space of the mountaintop and the more we meditate the easier it gets. We can check out, but we can never, ever truly leave and we just have to remember that, as much and as often as we can. Hey, I just taught my first meditation lesson to the student who needed it most: me.