What’s the Point of This Activity?
A reflection on practice by Winnie Nazarko
For one just starting the practice of meditation, there is often hope for a cure.
Sometimes what one wants to be cured of is quite specific. States of mind like anxiety, or grief, or stress can be powerful motivators to practice. Or there may be mental or physical health issues which one wishes to heal.
In other cases, spiritual search might be powered by something less tangible, like a general hope there might something to learn or develop which could create meaning which is currently lacking.
Thus it is generally true that some kind of discontent is present at the beginning of practice. There is an itch to scratch – emotional, physical, or existential. In some cases, all three! Thus it has been since the time of the Buddha. He himself says that suffering/distress ripens into either despair or search. People who go on meditation retreats are taking the route of search, having set aside despair, at least for now.
Of course, its a healthy and wise thing to seek healing from suffering. There are many ways humans attempt to do this. Some of these methods might be helpful. Some strategies might not be useful at all, causing addition suffering and deepening of despair. Particular methods for finding relief might seek elimination of symptoms, or to create an entirely new replacement experience.
The Buddha’s own way of addressing suffering is generic. The teachings directly target the way the human heart/mind causes and intensifies its own distress via resistance to experience. The training seeks less to control how things are in the immediate sense than to find wise relationship to any situation which is present. Like a whole system tonic, mindfulness and other trainings of the heart/mind strengthen us in all dimensions of our being.
Ajahn Brahm, a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition, clarifies that skillful motivation for meditation is not to focus upon directly curing anything in particular. Instead, the training is to develop a being (ourselves) that cares, that is compassionate and wise with whatever is present. The process of developing this stability of heart/mind is the training of vipassana meditation.
Paradoxically, it is from this place of grounded, balanced acceptance of experience that literal healing sometimes arises. By addressing the main conceptual problem which is within our power to heal – deluded craving – we shift our entire system in the direction of health and balance. Whether our conditions change or not, we are better able to find equanimity and happiness in the actual unfolding of our lives.
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