One of the most potent teachings I ever received was presented in an unusual way.
I was meeting with a mentor for a reason I no longer recall. We sat face to face, knees a foot apart. I cannot remember whether our conversation had started or not. I do know, however, that at a certain point the person across from me leaned forward. He placed his mouth near one ear and whispered, “Don’t go broad, go deep.”
He sat back upright immediately. There was no lingering, There was no suggestive pause. A gentle smile lifted his face as he went on with whatever our dialogue was ‘supposed’ to be about. These words – “Don’t go broad, go deep.” – and their strange delivery were never acknowledged, never explained.
These last facts have left me a lot of room to consider this exchange over the years. Why did this happen? Was similar advice given to others? What might the meaning of this be? What was the purpose? While I long ago gave up ascribing anything definitive to such questions, they nonetheless percolate away – offering occasional insight and perspective.
This morning, for instance, some reflections upon the challenges of ‘going deep’ came up. We live in a consumer culture, after all. A culture in which societal well-being and personal worth is often defined in terms of the things – the cars and homes, the jobs and recreations, the books and workshops and holidays – the things we are able to access and accumulate.
Given this, is it any wonder so many of us find ourselves bouncing from this to that throughout our day? Ricocheting from thought to thought? Careening from one thing after another in pursuit of the ‘good life’ until – well, until we find ourselves moving so quickly and engaging in so many ways that life passes in a blur. We might enjoy a kind of breadth of life, but the depths – the richness, the mysteries, the subterranean undercurrents that pull us forward – pass for the most part unnoticed.
Meditation offers an alternative to this. When we sit down and place our attention in the body, when we stabilize in the soma, that culturally sanctioned impulse to consume – to devour things, people, thoughts, experiences – is brought to a relative standstill. As we develop our capacity to rest in this way, we gradually come into contact with what had previously passed unnoticed. Life’s depths become evident.
Because of this, I often encourage students to view any meditation practice as a very good thing. Five minutes at one’s desk. Fifteen over lunch. A short Ten Points while awaiting sleep. All are to be acknowledged and celebrated for what they offer, what they bring into our lives.
“And yet,” Robertson Davies used to say. And yet…
It is equally important to acknowledge that – like everything else in our lives – meditation can be co-opted by the broad-based busy-ness noted above. It can become just one more thing we jam into our schedule, cram into its place between a morning run and the day’s first business meeting.
On a day-to-day basis this is fine, one could even say necessary. This approach allows us to bring the practice into our lives in an ongoing way. From time to time, however, it is extremely helpful to free meditation from the constraints of our daily schedule. To liberate this work from the limits of busy-ness as usual. To give our practice a little room to breathe, a little time to be.
Allowing an hour when we usually allocate twenty minutes, taking a morning when time presents itself, sitting twice some days all are ways we can do this. As is taking part in a workshop or program, which leads to this:
Both Saturday October 28 and Sunday October 29 offer day-long events at Royal Roads. Structured so people can attend one or both, these are intended to give all of us a chance to ‘stretch out’ our work with somatic meditation, to ‘stretch out’ our relationship with life itself. Put another way, they echo the words I received in one ear during that long ago meeting. They give us an opportunity to go deep.
I hope to see you there.