Tuesday, December 4, 2007

This I Believe

I was talking with a dear friend yesterday about the healing power of meditation. And then, with the synchronicity that seems to occur so often these days, my Thomas reading this morning closed with the following admonition: "seek for yourselves a place for rest, or you might become a corpse and be eaten."

It's a bit dramatic, but I realized, thinking about it, that it vividly captures my feelings about meditation. The world, lovely though it may be, is a very demanding and stressful place: when I am sitting in meditation and I begin to be distracted by the concerns of my daily life, my first clue that I have left the meditative space is the way my body tenses, curls in upon itself, as if in defense -- even if I am doing something as simple as thinking about Christmas presents.

When I return to my inner core, I feel my head lift, my shoulders relax, my hips settle into place... So thinking about that, this morning, I realized that one reason meditation is so important for me is that, for some brief period in my day, I am relaxed and open, listening, absorbing; all of the body's defense systems are at rest.

So then I thought, of course meditation has healing properties. But why, and how does that work? This is what I believe: the world, our daily life, however beautiful it may be, is filled with stress and challenges, people and events, situations and responses that can be all-consuming. We can be eaten up with fear, or guilt, or jealousy; at the mercy of shoulds and to-do lists; taken over by our hunger for more, or better, or bigger.

But I also believe that at the core of each of us, however frenetic or disturbed our lives or personalities may be, there lies a still center, a wholeness, a rootedness, a connectedness that continues to exist despite all the layers above it. We can call it heart, or soul; God, or bodhichitta, or simply a place of rest. For me, it contains the stillness of the water in this picture; for my daughter I suspect it is the rich quiet of the forest; for you it may be something else altogether.

But it is always there, however buried it may be. And if we can return to that space, however briefly, it means an interrupt in all those other pressures that weigh us down and eat us up; the things that deaden us and suck the joy out of our lives.

So, yes, for me, meditation is healing. Every time I practice, I am acknowledging that that space exists within me. Every time I practice, I am clarifying that I am more than the pain, more than the stress and tension; that there is some richness in me that exists apart from all that.

Every time I practice, if that is God, then I am saying God, I want to hear your voice; I want to pay attention to you. Every time I practice, if I remember that this space within me is somehow the heart of life, and is mysteriously linked to a similar space in you, in my friends; in my family or my neighbor; in my co-worker or my boss or my enemy -- even in the tree outside my window, in my dog and my cats and the fish that swim in the sea -- every time I touch into that space I grow in respect and compassion for the world around me.

Every time I breathe, I can breathe in the distractions of my world, my pain, or my fear, or my stress. I can also choose to breathe that in with a conscious awareness that others are breathing in the same thing, whatever it might be. And then, if I can touch into that space of rest, I can breathe out the peace I find there, breathe it out into the world, to soften the tensions that bind and entangle, not just my own life, but also the lives around me.

So, yes. However difficult it may be to get past all the petty concerns that rise up as I sit (and, yes, some mornings I just give up and keep a pad of paper and a pen beside my chair to release some of those things), it's still important to take the time to sit. It's a statement, and a healing one: an affirmation that there is more to life than what I see or feel; more than the constant stream of messages my mind and nervous system send me. I choose to tap into that more, as best I can, and trust that with time I will become more attuned to the peace I find there.

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