In the normal waking state we do things. We get stuff done. We try to be efficient and productive. That’s good. When we are organized and motivated we make our world a little better. We make the whole world a little better. Those are great goals. It's a great way to approach life.
Meditation is not that. Meditation is not against that. Meditation is a respite from that.
As you prepare to meditate and you take a comfortable posture in your seat, there is no goal other than to be comfortable. When you choose your word to help you focus your awareness on your breath, it is solely to assist you. You can’t do that wrong. If your awareness drifts and you find yourself thinking, just bring your awareness back to your breath.
If you strive, if you try to reach a certain level, to find stillness, to not move a micro amount as you sit, then you are pushing. That will take you right out of a still state.
You have to let go, and then let go of letting go. You are focusing on sitting and breathing. Period.
(Click on the picture below for a free download of guided meditations.)
Now, yes, your entire inner life might will change if you meditate regularly. Probably your health will improve. Your mind will be sharper. You’ll be slower to anger. You will probably be able to feel more deeply because it will no longer frighten you. Your sleep will improve. Your awareness will sharpen and you will become more effortlessly mindful. There is ample research that verifies many beneficial outcomes of meditating.
All of that can happen…unless those things are your goal, then none of it will happen because you won’t be sitting still and focusing on your breath.
It’s actually hard to write about it because it is beyond words. What comes in meditation practice is pure awareness. Pure awareness is literally indescribable. If you are looking for it, well, that’s not pure awareness. That is looking.
I do have goal being able to sit and tap into something greater than myself. I often study with people who help me open my heart just by sitting with them, listening to them, talking to them.
One time I was chanting with Krishna Das at Inner Harmony in the mountains of Utah and he, I paraphrase, said that his goal was to have his heart open all the way, all the time. I often ponder that. I ran that by him again last year and he reminded me that it is a goal. (And that open heart does not always feel good by the way. The heart contains everything.)
Anyway, having goals related to becoming a better person is just fine. But while you sit in meditation: no goal. No striving. No judging. No trying to draw close to anything. No looking. Not even any peeking.
It isn’t that it is wrong to have a goal as you sit. It is counterproductive. That striving pulls you away from pure focus and awareness. Striving to not strive does the same thing.
Just sit and breathe.
When I was 18, I spent the summer in Mackinac City earning money for college. I was a chambermaid in the morning and waitressed a lunch shift. I got my breakfast and a late lunch for free.
I often went to the beach that faced Mackinac Island in the evenings to read, write poetry, and just chill.
One early evening a group of adorable kids were playing by me. We started to chat. They were all sharing what they had had for dinner. When they asked me what I had, I said I didn’t eat dinner. They were aghast. It took much convincing that I had eaten enough, that I was just fine. Eventually they accepted it, and play continued.
They wanted to walk down the beach and asked me to join in. It was fun. There was one little tow headed girl that a lot to say to me. We chatted and walked.
We came up to a row of binoculars on the beach that were pointed to the island. Some of the kids put their dimes in to see the island up close.
My little blond friend had a decision to make. If she used her dime for that, she would have to give up Dairy Queen for the night. She chose Dairy Queen. She was about 4 or 5, so it was pronounced Daiwy Kween. And, yes, a small cone cost ten cents then.
We sauntered back to our point of origin, picking up shells and driftwood along the way.
Soon the parents of all the kids were calling them. It was time to go to Daiwy Kween. We said our good-byes, and they ran off.
But my little blond friend stopped, turned on her heel, and ran back to me.
In earnest, she held out her dime to me and said, “You didn’t have dinner. You need Daiwy Kween”. I assured her I was fine, thanked her, told her how sweet she was, but she insisted. Again and again she insisted. Every time I refused she became more distressed. She was almost in tears.
I got it. She was offering me something from her heart and I was refusing her gift.
I looked down the beach to her parents. They were waiting. And they were watching their daughter giving her dime to a bell-bottomed, frizzy headed, 18 year old hippy. I can only imagine what their opinion of all this would be.
But when I looked back at the child I knew I could not refuse her generosity, her offering.
I took the dime. Her face lit up and she skipped back to her family. I went to Dairy Queen for a small chocolate cone.
I wonder where that woman is now. She must be about 50. She can’t know that she has had such a profound impact on me. That day she taught me the power of receiving a gift graciously. She taught me to respectfully receive an offering of the heart.
I wish I could thank her.
Since I was 4 years old I’ve been dancing. First ballet and tap. I remember my first tap routine, at least the first part. The music was “Pretty Baby”, a Ragtime song written by Tony Jackson in 1912. It wasn’t until this very moment that I realized that Mrs. Uber probably had us dance to that because we were basically babies. I bet we were cute as hell.
I eventually went to NYC to study, then to The Hartford Ballet. I didn’t get very far. It’s a rarified world, professional dance.
But I took a shot. I knew my chances were slim since I had come from a small country town and Mrs. Uber was not a professional. I had no real training, just a passion. When I moved to the City I worked as hard as I could. I got farther than anyone thought I would.
Then I had to stop because I needed to earn money to live.
Some would say I failed. I did dance on stage a bit. I got to perform and feel that oneness when you get lost in the dance. That is priceless. But I never got in a company, never made a career.
But my attempt, the fact that I went for it, changed me forever. I don’t regret trying. I don’t have the regret of not trying, of not knowing how I would have done. That’s not nothing.
And I still love to dance. I still choreograph in my living room. When I’m listening to live music, or playing, it is impossible for me to be still. I hate filming live music because I can’t move when I do. Movement is so basic. Movement to music, with music, in the music, is like breathing to me. I went for it.
Jackson Browne wrote:
“Just do the steps that you’ve been shown,
by everyone you’ve ever know,
until the dance becomes your very own,
no matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown,
in the end there is one dance you’ll do alone. (For a Dancer, 1974)
I think the dance is always our own, even when others have shown us the steps. Mrs. Uber probably did her best to get us to do those steps, but I know I just did my own dance. “Everybody loves a baby that’s why I’m in love with you, (Shuffle one, shuffle two, shuffle three, step step) Pretty baby, Pretty baby.
Don’t ever pass up a chance to go for a dream. The chance may never come again. “In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone.” Make sure it is yours.