by Wayne Coger
Questions come up from time to time about whether meditation and inquiry are enough, or if what we call “this work” even works. Will meditation bring about the changes I desire and is it sufficient to alleviate psychological/emotional distress? Perhaps there is initial interest in meditation, in inquiry and retreating, but there is, at some point and for some, frustration with what is perceived as a lack of results. Or maybe it’s just all too boring, the redundant talk of being here, looking into oneself and seeing! And what about the suffering of the world, the persistence of racism, war, hunger and environmental degradation? What possible use is it to sit quietly, doing nothing?
Could we start by looking at what we mean by this work or meditative inquiry? Is sitting together in quiet stillness an avoidance tactic, a way to hide from my problems and the problems of society? One sits by oneself or with others and there are thoughts and the thoughts may beget emotions—remembering a critical remark that was made, made to me, and feeling the hurt and frustration at the injustice of the remark. Or perhaps I myself was angry and I blew up at my friend, my partner and now there is guilt and also fear that I may lose my friend. Seeing these movements is not about the word ‘seeing’—it is a whole being with-ness. Not turning away from and yet not wallowing in the thought/emotional morass. The observation, being-with, inquiry—whatever we may call it—is complete, in and of itself. In the inquiry there is space and lightness, simply seeing how easily we are triggered and how strongly we react.
This inquiry does not have to be limited to quiet sitting. Is it possible to be in any moment, just as we are, seeing the arising and falling of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations? Walking, working, eating—by oneself or with others. And not feeling that one has to be attentive all the time; awareness is not the product of force or effort, but arises when there is some curiosity about what is present. It is amazing to see how quickly fear or anger might spring up, how harsh words may come out. And perhaps at the same time or sometime later, we may find it possible to behold these eruptions without judgment, to let the comings and goings of thought and emotion come into awareness, without judging oneself as a bad person for feeling what one feels.
The thoughts and emotions are not something to despise and yet do not need to be clung to. Thoughts come and go; skies darken and clear—what beholds all of this? And is there a stillness that isn’t disturbed by the comings and goings? When letting all this be, there can be a natural and simple falling away of self-concern. Sitting quietly, doing nothing and yet aware, at least for moments at a time. Who knows what might reveal itself? A world, a person and persons, breathing and being, open to whatever presents itself.
Typing these works, there is the soft chatter of the keys on the keyboard. Outside the window there is, in mid- April, a cloudy sky, blowing snow and budding trees. There is beauty and the energy of aliveness on this windy, cold spring day. This beauty can be seen without effort and without much ado. Or there may be comparison, memories of past springs, or yearnings for brighter, warmer days. Or I may be so caught up with my thoughts, my busyness and my concerns that I don’t see either the trees or the snow. And yet, in the spaciousness of quiet being, there might be a dawning of awareness, awareness of a vast space where there is plenty of room to observe the entirety, without embellishment.
In this sense, in simple sitting and being, is there a need to achieve something, to become a better someone or something? To this person, the work is not about becoming, but about being with what is here. Simply being without knowing what is next, without worrying about how I am doing or what I might achieve. And there is really no use in taking on what any so-called teacher, master or expert says. That is just mimicry. But we might, if we are curious, pursue questions about how we live, relate and exist in our world-—question with passion. Isn’t passion and interest a natural response to a world rife with conflict, division and destruction? Does this fire one’s interest, seeing the conflict around us and within us? And yet, it’s quite possible to face conflict and separation with kindness and with sensitivity. Not because it is something that we should do, but because we are alive, with an incredible opportunity to explore this life and this world. In being-silence there might be a discovery, that the world and what I call myself, are not separate, that division might be a myth and a fallacy.
Seeing that we are this world, that there is no other, where can conflict arise? That said, if one feels the need for help, for meeting with a professional therapist or a non-professional group, does that need to be made into a problem? Is there any conflict with therapy and meditative work, or could these modes be mutually supportive? And likewise if one feels a calling to participate more actively in society, in helping others, helping animals or the environment, can this simply happen, express itself? And at the same time may we leave space for others, for all of us others, to find our own way, to, as the Buddha is reported to have said, be a lamp unto ourselves.
Life provides a rare opportunity to discover, in a moment of interest, what is helpful and what is right for us and our well-being. The seeing we mentioned at the beginning of this writing is not an empty cliché and is itself kindness. Is it possible to tread very lightly, with attention and sensitivity, as we move through our daily activities? Is this what is meant by meditation, by this work? Not a method or a means to an end and not a mechanical practice, but an opening in any given moment to the reality of awareness and presence.