Return to site

What is Meditation?

Meditation and its Paradoxical Nature

Power is out!

I am currently relaxing in bed, it’s about 2pm. It is not at all uncommon to have power outages during the hottest part of the day in Mysore (India). There are a few setbacks such as, I could not order the banana lassi that I wanted today because it requires a blender and I sometimes worry about food in the fridge spoiling. Also, I don’t have the relief of a fan circulating air about my warm room. Thankfully, this lack of infrastructure does not annoy me very much and I appreciate the circumstance as an invitation to power myself down in a sense. With no fan, internet, or machines running, the world becomes quieter. I am presented with an opportunity to slow down, do little and feel less anxiety nagging me to act. I am seeing this as a gift of guilt free downtime. For someone like me, who naturally gravitates towards being busy rather than unplanned, I am really digging this window of time which feels like a release from my often exhausting urges to over stimulate myself.

I am half way through a book titled Silence written by the spiritual teacher Osho where he defines meditation as the simple phenomenon of doing absolutely nothing. He explains, “you have to leave yourself for a while in a state of non-doing. Absolutely nothing is to be done. You have to let go of yourself for a while. Here there is such a marvelous opportunity”. Whereas according to the yoga sutras composed by the great sage Patanjali, meditation {dhyana} is translated to sustained concentration done to quiet or steady the mind. Why are these two definitions very different, and opposite in a sense?

“You have to leave yourself for a while in a state of non-doing. Absolutely nothing is to be done. You have to let go of yourself for a while. Here there is such a marvelous opportunity.”~ Osho

Depending on which teacher you follow or which school of spiritual practices you observe, meditation may be described in different ways with various techniques such as scanning the body, visualizations, mantras, breath observation, and many more. So which is "true" meditation? Is there such a thing? Patanjali's definition urges us to concentrate, which requires a great amount of effort and doing. If you are meditating on the rhythm of your breath for example, when your mind wanders away from observing your breath you bring it back time and time again; this requires patience, focus, discipline and hard work! So where does Osho’s definition fit in? "Non-doing" seems like the complete opposite of the meditation practice that I just described. If paradoxes make you uncomfortable then meditation can be a confusing topic to navigate. Is it possible that meditation can be both? Surrendering, non-doing, yet constantly redirecting the mind to an object of focus? If the mind seems to naturally dwell in the past or future, should you effortlessly let the mind wander or actively work to bring it back to concentrate on its object of mediation? How can we do nothing when the act of meditation is doing something in itself?!

I understand meditation as connecting with the silent space or consciousness behind the mind, and whether that takes a bit of effort or release may be up to the individual person at that particular moment in time. Meditation is in fact a paradox, and it takes getting used to being ok with its prardoxial nature. If it helps, meditation is like treading water in order to float (thanks Kate!!!), in that the technique takes effort but the actual state of meditation is effortless. So if you consider the technique as doing work to get to an effortless state, then this contradiction becomes easier to digest. Meditation is not avoiding or running from anything. It is not tuning out of painful emotions or thoughts but it is not unnecessarily dwelling on thoughts either. The aspect I see common among most meditation techniques is that they require you to reside in the present moment. Whether you're observing bodily sensations and breath, focusing on an object or broadning the space between thoughts, it is required that the practitioner's consciousness be present.

As someone with a disposition to feel anxiety around non doing, my meditation practice involves sitting with my discomforts and doing nothing about them, which takes effort and non-effort simultaneously. My practice involves trying hard to do nothing about my current state. I have to work to be ok with the discomfort, knowing it wont kill me, and not avoiding it but letting go of the need to continually change and run away from discomforts. If you happen to be similar to me in this way, next time you feel the nagging anxiety to do, sit with it and observe what happens. It is common to notice this phenomenon when you are at dinner with company and there is a lull in the conversation. Do you reach for you phone to avoid the uncomfortable moment? I am beginning to challenge myself more and more to sit through these awkward moments of anxiety and tension instead of reaching for a distraction. It may not be pleasant, but so what, it's a growth process. Wouldn't it be just lovely to not be a slave to our impulses and not always need to distract ourselves from the moment? I hope to slowly be ok with non-doing, and feel the freedom that this brings to feel whatever emotions pop up instead of trying to pick and choose to experience only the "good" and distract myself from the "bad".

The power is back on!