Meditation: The Process of Undoing

I fall into an odd contradiction as someone who writes regularly about meditation. There’s plenty to think about, and the same sorts of ideas can be reiterated over and over ad infinitum, but fundamentally there just isn’t that much to say. And that’s ok; one could go so far as to say that’s the whole point. What there is to say is worth repeating, since the knowledge we must have about our practice is essential. For example, Dogen’s dharma talks add up to many hundreds of pages, but they are extremely repetitive with these essential points.

We sit everyday. Sometimes we experience moments of profound insight, sometimes we get stressed out or interrupted. Sometimes nothing ‘happens’ at all. That’s all that’s ‘happening’ whenever we do meditate: nothing. I wrote last week that meditation isn’t a process of doing, but of undoing. It’s an act of simplification, a conscious way of letting the dust settle. That’s it.

To overthink it puts us at a disadvantage. First off, if you fill your head with too many thoughts about meditation, those thoughts are bound to rudely interrupt your practice. Too many thoughts about anything in life spoil it. Similarly, the more ideas you have about something, the more rigidly you try to fit the experience into those expectations. And meditation is not a place for expectations or rigidity. The only rigidity should be in practicing everyday.

You don’t wake up each day with grand aspirations about breathing or pooping, so why would you do this with meditation? If you practice long enough it becomes just another vital function, deeply important but not requiring too much thought. So keep it simple.

This is the biggest problem with the way modern spiritual traditions approach meditation. If you view it as a productivity aid, a creative boost, a career benefit or a mental health problem fixer, it won’t come through for you. When you approach meditation as X or Y, you’re still doing. And, again, the whole point is un-doing. So stop doing!

Make peace with this counterbalance. We need the un-doing. We need the negative empty space around all of the color and activity and chaos in our lives. We need the silent notes. That’s what meditation is. It serves a similar purpose as a walk through the forest or a quiet morning with a coffee and a good book. Sure, it has a higher ‘spiritual purpose’, but you’re just sitting. You’re letting the silence, the calm, live through you. When we say we “let thoughts come and go but don’t serve them tea” what effort does that require? It just requires the ‘letting’. Leave the proverbial door a crack open. Just let what comes come and what goes go. That’s it.


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