Writing

The Central Question

by | Apr 7, 2022 | 7 comments

I have, over the years, been asked all kinds of questions about meditation. There have been big questions and small. Difficult questions and easy. Questions I’m able to respond to immediately and others that have required time – in some instances, a span of years – to consider.

I actually love this part of my work. Because the inquiries raised come from a perspective other than my own, I am frequently challenged to bring fresh eyes to a practice I’ve engaged and spoken about so many times. I am challenged, in other words, to perceive meditation in new ways.

Still, I have to admit I was stopped in my tracks by something recently. “What is the central question of meditation?” This was the inquiry put to me and I could not recall having ever heard anything like it. Perhaps even more poignantly, in the initial moments after it was voiced, I really had no idea what this “central question” might be.

It took a fair amount of rumination to remedy this fact. More than a few afternoon walks and evening lingerings at the nearby beach were drawn into the task. Eventually, however, a possible reply did arise. Having given the matter some measure of due, I now suspect the central question of meditation goes something like this: Where is my attention right now?

This response aligns well with my experience that the core meditative dynamic involves placing and replacing our attention in an intentional way. We place our attention on the big toe, for instance. When we notice this attention wandering elsewhere, we respond by deliberately returning to that toe – returning to what the tradition calls the object of meditation – again and again and again.

‘Where is my attention right now?’ is also well aligned with one of my central concerns when it comes to meditation. This, of course, is how the practice resonates with and is relevant to the stuff of our everyday lives. Our grocery stores and soccer games, weekend hikes and birthday celebrations.

Whether we are practitioners or not, this seems an utterly fantastic question to ask ourselves throughout our days. When I’m tackling an important work task: where is my attention right now? When I’m listening to music: where is my attention right now? When I’m engaged in a difficult conversation: where is my attention right now?

How often do I not raise this for myself in these and other situations? How often am I not even aware that attentiveness has a tendency to wander? Heck, how often am I not even aware of this thing I am calling ‘attention’? This simple and, perhaps, this main question seems to hold within in it the capacity to undo – or at the very least lessen – these various manifestations of ignorance in my life. Ignorance not in the sense of being foolish or anything like that; ignorance in the sense of being unknowing and unaware.

In so doing – in undoing or lessening – ‘Where is my attention right now?’ also orients me toward what is one of the main points of meditation practice as I understand and experience it: to be in conscious relationship with our lives.

I raise that central question, ‘Where is my attention right now?’ Perhaps through this asking I discover my attention is on the task I’m trying to complete. Or perhaps not. Maybe my attention is drifting out a nearby window, taking in the beautiful blue sky and the old tree that’s presently blossoming with green. Whatever the case, I now find myself in conscious relationship with this. For at least the next few moments, I am present to and immersed in the stuff of my life. I am here.

– Neil

7 Comments

  1. I’ve been experimenting with offering the Soma a question, and allowing whatever follows, and when that arises, I ask againn

    Reply
    • An interesting possibility, Michael. Perhaps the central question is the one we most need to ask in this moment?!? Whatever the case, yours sounds like a richly interesting experiment.

      Reply
  2. You know when I really think about it, who knows!?!

    Reply
    • I think that’s where the fun and discovery comes in, Michael. As you note, who knows?!? So let’s contemplate and speculate and see what arises!

      Reply
  3. https://youtu.be/uizQVriWp8M

    For anybody who’s interested, here’s a pretty song that speaks so eloquently the beauty of love.

    Reply
    • Yes, Michael, I’m interested. 😊 That song and the one before it are both very beautiful and meaningful—thanks for posting. “A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere…” 🎵

      Reply

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