I woke this morning and thought of meditation. My body was rigid with tension that had accumulated through the past several weeks, the last few months. I could feel worry grip beneath my shoulder blades, between my ribs, in the webbing of my fingers and toes. ‘Can’t wait to practice,’ I thought with anticipation, ‘and let all this dissolve.’
Which reveals a mistaken understanding.
It is true the practice of meditation tends to loosen any tension we might be experiencing. Whether this tension manifests in tight psychological patterns and/or as areas of physical contraction, the practice of meditation – the simple and oh so complex act of allowing attention to rest in the body – does tend to loosen these.
This is not, however, the immediate task of practice. Put another way, this is not the immediate promise of the work we do. This promise is expressed, is contained within the Tibetan word for meditation: ‘gom’. As I’ve noted before, ‘gom’ translates as ‘to become familiar with’. This really seems the core of our meditation engagement: gom.
This core evidences what one might describe as a relatively contemplative orientation to life. This orientation is characterized by a sense of valuing, of trusting, of appreciating direct experience for what it is. Tension is tension. Joy is joy. Weariness is weariness. From a contemplative perspective, each of these – anything that might arise in our lives – is valued just like this, just as it is.
Sometimes I feel I bring a more transactional orientation to this work. Under the influence of this perspective, I inject an expectation of ‘getting something’ into the mix of everyday practice. More specifically, I import and impose the expectation I will – in exchange for my effort – get something I want. Relaxation. Insight. Peace. This is understandable, I suppose. I am, after all, a citizen of a transaction-based, consumer-oriented society.
It is also a mistaken understanding of meditation.
Through developing our capacity to stabilize attention in the body, we become familiar with what’s going on for us right now, whatever this ‘right now’ might be. Certainly some other things might occur, are sometimes revealed as a consequence of simple presence. These ‘other things’ are not our immediate concern, however. Simple presence is our immediate concern. This.
To simply be present with worry. To simply be present with gripping between toes. This is the ground of our work and this is its promise. Both are sometimes given the label ‘shamatha’. Both are sometimes labeled ‘stability’. More and more commonly these days, they are identified as ‘mindfulness’. Whatever the name, simple presence – this is the immediate ground and promise of our work.
From the contemplative perspective I suspect this meditative tradition arises from, this is immediacy is enough. From this contemplative orientation, our direct experience of this life – when allowed to be itself – is in fact, everything.