Why Now?

by | Jul 12, 2022 | 0 comments

One could – quite justifiably, I believe – look at this world of which we are part and feel concern. Polarization and conflict, political, economic, and environmental instability, aggression, uncertainty, and fear are all prominent aspects of our present landscape, never mind some of the more specific difficulties that might be pointed to.

In this context, it’s appropriate to raise the question, ‘Why meditate?’ Well aware of the critiques levelled against the practice as one of withdrawal and disengagement, I raise this inquiry myself with some frequency. In this fraught and testing moment, the question seems especially relevant. Why meditate? More particularly, why meditate now?

For many years, I have described the practice of meditation as consisting of two phases. There is the shamatha phase, in which we settle into embodied experience. And there is the vipashyana phase, in which we see and feel this experience in a more clear and sensitive manner. By way of example, this morning I settled into a bit of agitation during my practice session. After a while, I realized this edginess was calling my attention toward a passage I encountered while reading last night.

In a very simple manner, the above reflects the two-phase shamatha-vipashyana understanding I have long articulated. It also reflects an understanding of meditation I no longer believe is wholly accurate. For a variety of reasons, I now believe meditation more properly consists of three phases: shamatha in which we settle, vipashyana in which we see/feel clearly, and a third phase – let’s call it ‘bringing meditation to life’ – in which we let the clarity that comes out of our settling guide us through our lives.

Within this understanding, meditation is not the necessarily removed activity it is sometimes accused of being. Meditation is, instead, a practice of slowing down and settling in. It is a practice of receiving and welcoming. And it is a practice of stepping into our lives with these as our ground. Not stepping away from our lives or standing somehow separate from our lives, but stepping into one the basis of what a relatively clear and sensitive relationship with life has revealed.

What’s the value of this right now?

Curiously enough, I suspect an answer to this question is offered by holding my own morning practice experience within this three phase understanding. In the shamatha phase this morning, I settled into agitation. In the vipashyana phase, I realized a passage encountered yesterday wanted more attention. In the bringing meditation to life phase – the third phase of this triptych – I got up when my session was complete and opened the book from last night.

‘Acedia & Me’ is written by Kathleen Norris. Of all her work, this is perhaps her most difficult read, but the rewards of sticking with it have been considerable. Case in point might be the passage I was drawn back to a few moments ago: “If we are made in God’s image, perhaps we are also words of God in this sense, and our life’s pilgrimage is to determine what our particular word is and how we are to bring it to fruition. Within this frame of reference, we can envision the whole of our life as a journey home.”

I feel truth coursing through Norris’ words. I also feel that meditation – a three-phase understanding and engagement of meditation – can play a role in the life-long pilgrimage she notes. And today, with so many challenges and difficulties facing us, it seems that the determination of our own particular word and the ways this might manifest in the world are as necessary ever.

So why meditate? More specifically, why meditate now?

Today, this stands as my reply.

– Neil


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