Friday, January 28, 2011

Day 74: "What is Meditation?"

Before reading this article, take a few seconds for yourself. Separate yourself from your thoughts, the past, the future. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe. Counting in your head – breathe in for three seconds. Pause for three seconds. Breathe out for three seconds. Pause for three seconds. Ah, the present.

This dude meditated for too long.
I do not remember when my fascination with meditation began. About a year ago I saw an poster for free meditation classes in New York City offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. I only attended one out of the three classes but it fueled my interest in meditation and changed my life. In the following months, my meditations fluctuated; during some periods I would meditate daily, others I wouldn't meditate for weeks. Recently, the constant motion of traveling ignited a compulsion to meditate. Having found a home inside of myself, I've been meditating almost every day for the past four months. During this time, my interest in meditation has grown, now I'm beginning to seek people who can help me further my meditations.

CouchSurfing has an advanced search feature that allows users to find others with similar interests. Staying with Zoƫ in Montpellier made me realize how living with a likeminded individual can improve specific aspects of my life. When I sent couch requests looking for a host in Toulouse, I searched for 'meditation' and one dude popped up. In total I sent out ten requests. Nine to others and one to the meditation dude, Aras. Sure enough, Aras was the only one that accepted.

Staying with Aras has been a blessing. He has shown me an open heartedness, the likes of which I've never experienced before. He always knows what I need. From feeding me when I arrived, to nourishing me daily with his universal wisdom. His words come to me like rain to the desert, filling me with a substance that I have not experienced before. He has been meditating for a long time but during the past five years he has made meditation a fundamental force in his life. It is clear from his presence, words, and actions that he has achieved a great source of clarity. Through our long conversations over meals, I have realized much. I would like to share some of what I am absorbing.

A flower I found in the Japanese Garden of Toulouse.

Before I serve you a ladle full of my brain stew, I'd like to take a moment and explain something to you and myself. Many aspects of life are impossible to convey with language. I am just beginning to consciously accept this (and it's rather liberating). It is possible for me to talk to you about what Aras has told me because I have received this information in the form of language. It is important to realize that these concepts are the seeds of the plant and no one can describe how the plant grows.

Next to his couch (my bed) Aras keeps a small stack of pink papers. Every one has the same question scribbled on the front "Tell me << what is meditation? >>" My initial mental struggle over this question made me nervous when Aras asked me to take one of these papers before our first meditation. 

The big question...

On the back of each slip are three seemingly random nouns "dog... sea... coffee," next to each there is a box to write in. The top of the paper says "Describe these things in one word." I had no idea what to write. Was this some sort of trick? A puzzle? I jotted down the first words that came to mind and handed him the paper. He took it, put it in his lap, looked at it, and sat in silence. I wanted desperately to be right – for him to accept me. This was a stressful silence.

After what seemed like an hour, he opened his eyes, looked at me, and said "Please read the front of the paper." The question I had dreaded. After meditating for four months I felt distressed that I couldn't answer "What is meditation?" I read those words to him with a knot in my throat. He sat silently. Waiting. Scrambling for an answer, I replied "Meditation is clearing the mind in order to listen to the heart." Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. "That is not meditation."

We meditated together. I released my anxiety into the void. I felt calm. But... "what is meditation?!"

What is meditation? We repeated this exercise two more times. After I handed him the paper I had written on the second time, I knew the answer. The following day, the third paper I handed him had no writing. I will never forget that night. "Meditation is."

"You must sit like you're waiting for nothing, like an idiot." -Aras

Many people think there are two types of knowledge; the known and unknown. In reality, there are three; the known, the unknown, and the unknowable. Meditation is the latter. Accepting this will take me a long time but I feel like I am helplessly being pulled by a fishing line that is hooked deep inside of my body. I cannot resist. The definition of meditation and its benefits are separate yet bound together. Meditation is unknowable but its benefits are visible.

Over breakfast one morning, I asked Aras "How do conscious efforts to better oneself fit into meditation?" Self improvement is something that I've had an increasing conscious interest in over the past two years. The techniques in books that I have read are based in values and discipline; I am mainly referring to Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People." I was curious how to meld the openness of meditation and the rigidity of self improvement. Many times I have focused on building my self discipline with limited success.

Aras' house is beautifully decorated and is a great meditation environment.

"We have many different personalities in side of us," began Aras. "They are formed from the expectations of society and from the expectations of others. Their voices pull us in many directions. When we choose to listen to one, we have the others' telling us to do something else. Therefore every action that we make is not of free will. To make a conscious effort towards a goal is strenuous because we must resist the other voices. We have lost ourselves in the sea of society. When we choose to do something our being isn't in complete agreement because of this fragmentation." Suddenly the voice that says "It's ok, sleep in." At 7AM every morning made sense. Meditation allows us to bypass these voices by bypassing the brain hotel they live in. In the quietness of meditation one is enveloped in only their self and can find who they truly are. This process of self discovery and acceptance enriches our lives in a multitude of ways. One way is the ability to improve yourself without strenuous resistance. Another is the ability to live in the moment.

Living in the moment is forgetting about the past and the future, devoting all of your attention to right now. Now. Becoming completely immersed in a situation – living every second like there is no tomorrow. Planning is pointless for the future is unknowable. For me this is the most difficult state of mind to be in but also the most rewarding. My whole life I have been programmed to plan for the future and remember the past. School taught me exactly that; invest your time for the future and remember what you learned. Through traveling, I am learning a new mindset – the mindset of now.

I utilize this crystal's energy for meditation and Tarot reading.

By emptying myself I attempt to focus on the present. If I'm eating I chew slowly, focusing on every bite. If I am writing a blog entry, I write completely. For me this is so difficult because I'm constantly thinking of other things. The little voices inside of me say "go to the bathroom, eat a sandwich, go on Facebook, explore outside." I become constantly distracted and I have to force myself to focus on my breath, focus on what I'm doing. Come back to now.

Yesterday I was sitting on a bench in the Place du Capitole in Toulouse, reading The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. I had planned a meeting with someone but I hardly cared whether she showed up or not. I was completely fascinated with what I was reading, loving the sun shining on me, and watching people mill around the plaza. Living in the moment. Suddenly I saw the plaza as a metaphor for living life without expectations. The capitole plaza in Toulouse is a huge open space. Normally it is empty of any sort of organized event. Its openness allows it to be free to be whatever people wish to use it for at the moment. Whether it becomes a meeting spot for friends, a place for street performance, or a flea market. An empty field has limitless possibilities. Toulouse's plaza lives in the present. 

This incense is Shanthimalai nag champa from Gardens of the Ancients.

After living with Aras for a week I feel like my brain has exploded – he has literally 'blown my mind'. These concepts that I've described to you here are the seeds of the life that I want to live. Although they are new concepts to me, I feel as though I have not learned them, as much as they've been awakened inside of me. They are simple and natural. I find the more that I align myself with these fundamentals the more good comes my way. Living in the moment makes life stress free. There only is what is. I am struggling. I am determined to internalize these concepts and become more than a continually distracted, mentally fragmented sack of meat.

Au revoir!

PS: If you are interested in learning to meditate, the Chopra Center in California is holding a 21 day meditation challenge, over the internet, that's perfect for anyone who is interested in learning how to meditate. Aras and I are participating!

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