Having taught meditation for decades, I want to reassure people that meditation is a natural human behaviour. All you need is an instinct to be quiet and calm. So why are there all these competing meditation traditions and schools? Here are three short stories that illustrate how meditation might have been invented.
The Householder Who Invented Meditation A woman lived in a village in a house full of children and relatives. One day she felt an instinct to get away from the noise and activity. She walked until she found a quiet spot under a tree by a stream. She closed her eyes. She felt the tree against her back and the soft grass and earth beneath her. The breeze touched her cheeks. The sound of the stream was soothing.
After a few minutes she felt some anxiety and accompanying thoughts about her family and neighbours. She felt impatient and an urge to go home. But she stayed sitting quietly. She sighed, noticed tension in her chest and began to breathe more softly. She stayed sitting quietly, just patiently waiting, letting her body and feelings become more at ease. This felt good.
She returned the next day. And the next. And the next. She was meditating. Her mind and her feelings were calm. Her psyche was able to contemplate, enquire and explore.
The Worker Who Invented Meditation A man worked in the city and was stressed and anxious. His doctor prescribed a sedative, which he took for several weeks but he disliked its side effects. Following an instinct he stopped taking the medication and on his way to and from work he began to stop regularly to calm himself – sometimes on a park bench, sometimes in a church or library. Pausing and sitting quietly soothed him. This pausing to self-soothe became a daily behaviour.
After a few months something else began to happen when he sat quietly. A part of his mind started to enquire: Who is this inside me who is choosing to calm myself? What is this part of me watching and guiding all this? Wow! Here is another part of my consciousness. It feels good and interesting. I want to sit longer and explore all this. He was meditating.
The Warrior Who Invented Meditation There is a soldier who was weary of fighting. One day, while off duty, she felt a rising anger within her and recognised that she needed to calm down. She followed her instincts and found a space where she could not be observed. She then practised some of her martial arts moves – strikes, punches and kicks – at the same time vigorously expelling air from her lungs with grunting breaths.
After thirty minutes of this extreme activity and catharsis, she could still feel some of her internal fury. Her next instinct was to sit still. Disciplined and self-managing, she sat quietly for a while. Her mind scanned the circumstances of her life, contemplating her ethics and her behaviour.
Her anger subsided. She was in a space of watchful good-humoured equanimity.She began to repeat the behaviour daily. She had become a meditator.
A Meditation Contest Imagine if the Householder, the Worker and the Warrior each attracted followers who
copied their meditation behaviour. We now have three different meditation schools and there is the possibility of conflict.
- My teachers says you must meditate in nature.
- No only in a sacred space!
- No! Do these movements and chant!
- Breathe like this.
- Don’t do anything. Just be!
Today in our global village we can see so many meditation schools, such as yoga, chanting, Vipassana, mantra, prayer, mindfulness, guided journeys, healing and more. Newbies and teachers often think that their way is the only or the best way instead of honouring and exploring the different traditions.
Universal State Wonderfully, although there are all these different approaches there is also, I assert, a universal state, which all meditators experience. This state is profound:
- We are at ease.
- We are conscious, awake and watchful.
- We patiently witness and experience everything with care and compassion.
- We feel connected to the beautiful mystery of all existence.
No wonder there is a natural human instinct to meditate. It is good for us and all those around us.
This article was featured in the Summer 2019 Cygnus Review.