Often when I meditate I’m involved in some kind of subtle (or really obvious) form of manipulation. I want to be more settled, more focused on the object of meditation — less distracted and discursive. I want to be more contented and peaceful, more compassionate, more blissful. I want to have more profound insights into emptiness, a deeper experience of the nature of mind.
Those are all nice things to aspire to, and most of us on the spiritual path (at least the Buddhist one) share those goals. The only problem is that when you’re sitting there wishing you were experiencing something other than you are right now, you’re not really meditating.
Some Buddhist teacher or other once said that “Hope is poison.” By definition, hope involves projecting into the future, wishing for something to be different. When we bring hope into our meditation practice, it can turn meditation into a self-defeating cycle. We sit down with the intention to remain anchored in the present moment, but we end up spending a lot of our time subtly thinking about what we hope to become in the future.
A famous Tibetan Buddhist proverb says: “Abandon all hope of fruition.” That might sound like bleak advice, but it’s actually very practical. Abandon your hope of becoming something better than you are right now (and your fear of becoming something worse), because that hope (and that fear) keeps you trapped in fantasies about the future.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who is quite the Twitter aficionado, recently tweeted: “Don’t think about NEXT, think about NOW!”
That is a profound meditation instruction, and proof that Twitter isn’t all bad. How often, when we meditate, are we thinking about NEXT — whether it’s the next breath, the next hour, the next few years, the next stage on our path, the next item on our spiritual agenda? How often are we really staying with NOW? What makes us think we’re going to find enlightenment up ahead somewhere, always lurking in the NEXT moment, the NEXT one, the NEXT one? Isn’t it always right here, right now?
“This moment is the perfect teacher,” said Pema Chodron. Surprisingly, though, its perfection has nothing to do with whether we like it or not, whether it’s pleasant or not, whether we’re happy or not, whether we’ve accomplished the things we think we need to accomplish or become what we think we need to become. Whatever is happening now, in this very moment, is just what it is. When we can open to that and stay present with it, without glomming onto it or trying to manipulate it to become something else, we are seeing its perfection. Whatever arises in this moment is fresh, the essence of realization.
One way of getting into this space, and one of my favorite meditation instructions of all time, is this: Don’t meditate.
Seriously, try it. Sit down on your cushion or your chair and take your meditation posture. Give it your best shot. Do a few minutes of meditating on the breath if it makes you feel better. And then just drop it. Break the cycle. Don’t meditate. Don’t do anything that looks or feels like meditation. Don’t try to hold your mind to an object, don’t try to shew away thoughts if they come. Just look at whatever you’re experiencing in this moment, with no agenda and no attachment or aversion. Don’t think about NEXT. Think about NOW. And don’t meditate.
Where else are you hoping to find enlightenment, if not right here, right now? And how much of your so-called meditation practice is actually keeping you from being here now?
In the Mahamudra tradition they say that the highest form of meditation is non-meditation: when you’ve completely gone beyond the idea that there’s a difference between meditating and not meditating. In the state of non-meditation, you’re just completely here, completely now. It requires no particular effort, and there’s no longer any need to crank it up through some contrived idea of “meditation.” At that point, there is something artificial about the whole notion of meditating, because it’s a subtle way of trying to manipulate the present moment.
The supreme state of non-meditation. Sounds like something to aspire to. Oh, wait — there I go again! Drop it. Abandon all hope of fruition. Don’t think about NEXT, think about NOW.