“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” –Steve Jobs
This week I am going a little of script. In previous posts I have talked about different kinds of balance. Being non-judgmental. Allowing fluidity to what you consider your baseline or normal. Pondering a ‘fluid normal’ is a fun mental exercise but at some point it feels a little like the “dancing about architecture” thing. Getting your mind to that place is quite a different story. Here are my practical observations.
Let me preface this with the notion that I have always had a severe allergic reaction to dogma. Dogma is merely a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. As the quote above states this is living someone else’s truth or life. We often think of dogma in the context of religion but it can definitely be applied to secular things too. Anything that has a prevailing paradigm has dogma. It is not necessarily insidious. This definition encompasses many of the things we come into contact with. Rather than get on a soapbox I wanted to just preface my experiences with meditation with the idea that anything can have dogma.
So what is meditation? We often think of mediation as some kind of mystical experience that involves sitting on the floor, twisting up like a pretzel, closing your eyes, and listening to tapes of waves crashing while incense and candle burn. We buy stuff, maybe a special pillow or special meditation clothes. We buy books and tapes. We even go places to take classes in how to do it. I have been practicing meditation on and off for 20 years and while that stuff can help none of it is meditation. I find it actually a little antithetical to what we want from a meditation practice. I’ll elaborate later but this is where the idea of dogma comes in for me. Americans are very good at thinking that there are steps and technique in “doing it right”. If we don’t follow those steps we are “doing it wrong” and “failing”. That is the beauty of what meditation is for me. There is no right or wrong. That creates a severe case of cognitive dissonance in a culture that has been taught from the time we were children that there is right and wrong and that’s it.
Unfortunately that gets us no closer to understanding what it is. I think, at the core, meditation is just being alone with your thoughts. I think one of the common misconceptions about meditation is that it is about learning to control your mind. In my experience it is quite the contrary. It is about learning to get out of your own way. What the heck does that mean? That is where this dogma idea comes in for me. If the idea of meditating is to get out of our own way, dogma is actually putting steps IN the way. Technique. Levels. Steps. Gear. Stuff.
The number one thing I hear from people considering mediation is that they “don’t know how to do it”. So they take a class. They buy a book or a tape. They seek out a guru (who you jivin’). They grade themselves based on how long they can stay sitting. I remember distinctly being in a conversation where everyone was standing around comparing how long they meditate for. I don’t think people were intending to brag but they were measuring and comparing. We’re good at that. So we do things to “push” ourselves to sit longer. Longer is better, right? I’ll be more relaxed and centered, right? Stress melts away, right? I’m get one up on this life thing, right?
All I can relate here is my own experience. By saying this line of thinking is right or wrong would contradict my central theme. All these thoughts are valid and important. Any ‘steps’ are valid and important. But to me that is what meditation is. It is whatever comes up. Noticing. For me it can be a sitting meditation but I also feel like I get the same benefit out of going for a bike ride or walk, listening to music, taking a shower, gardening, cooking, even mowing the lawn or doing chores. I find when I get out of my own way my mind comes up with some pretty wild stuff, like the ‘bacon’ movie or this post.
So what is meditation? Whatever works for you.
In my own meditation, when I notice I’m trying not to try, I start laughing.