I might not be the best candidate for motivating others to get on the cushion. Even as a dedicated meditator with years of practice, I hid behind sarcasm and humor until it tainted my whole life, mangled my authenticity, and twisted me into a smirking, disingenuous asshole whom I romantically (and incorrectly) thought of as a Buddhist antihero.
But I’ve been working with a teacher for about seven months now, studying diligently and sitting almost daily. While I don’t seem to be fully enlightened and radiating badass beatitude, there have definitely been some major changes and positive results that encourage me to keep going.
Once I decided to trust meditation and let it do its thing, the protective walls I put up started crumbling, and more importantly, the barrier between me and myself started to fade. This didn’t happen all at once, and the process isn’t complete, but I can now feel daylight on my face and in my heart. No kind-yet-fierce master pressed a spiritual gun to my head and yelled “Stop being a dick!” (Although that might’ve helped.) I chose to look deeper and accept what I found, no matter how much I hated it or how hard it was to let go, so I could experience the world and myself honestly.
Practice has allowed me to see habits, impulses, and reactions more clearly. My inner vision used to be weak and unfocused. All I could see when I looked at myself was a churning collection of ill-defined whims and vague impulses. Consistent meditation has cranked up my concentration power and sensory clarity. It’s like my inner vision has glasses now.
The precision is startling. Instead of gloomy smudges, I’m picking apart thoughts and emotions that were previously wound together, and studying them individually. Rather than a nebulous sensation of baffling tension cramping my chest, I can often separate all the components—fear, anger, jealousy—unknot them, and watch them drift away.
I remember the first time some sort of real insight popped up. I’m used to sweating on the cushion and feeling uneasy as painful thoughts arise. Previously, I’d just power through until the bell rang. But a couple months ago, I was sitting with something difficult, some kind of animosity crackling in one of my mental dungeons, and it just came apart. Instead of a solid chunk of enmity sitting there, I saw that it was actually hostility and confusion twisted together. Even deeper, there was a thread trailing off like a kite string, and when I followed that thread back, I found it attached to a greasy lump of fear. Just finding the source destroyed a little bit of that pain. And there was a sudden joy at the comprehension that seeing clearly led to release.
It’s not just on the cushion, either. Since my inner vision has become a bespectacled nerd, this lucidity is apparent in my daily life as well. Unless I’m being particularly obtuse, I can usually untangle simple body sensations, mental talk, and images for inspection. The ability to accurately break down experience into its components is invaluable, and deepens my understanding that none of this is personal. It’s never my anger; it’s just anger. It isn’t my irritation; it’s simply irritation. I’m overwhelmed with love but it isn’t mine; it’s only love.
Devoted meditation practice has also led to a certain rawness that makes me feel everything more acutely and intensely. I think this is pretty normal; the world is a harsh place. To some degree, all of us attenuate our feelings, whether with drugs, distance, or the hardened humor that I used. It’s instinctive to strap on some sort of emotional bulletproof vest to shield ourselves from life’s brutality. But we tend to keep those vests on, and they grow thicker and thicker until we lose touch with our full range of sensitivity. Only the overwhelming sensations get through, while all the subtle nuances are lost.
Tenderness and openness have their advantages. Being able to experience happiness at full strength makes me even happier. A loving look from my wife, the first sip of a well-made Old Fashioned, seeing my name in Tricycle; these things suffuse me with a new breed of delight that is more conspicuous than the old one I’m used to.
Obviously, feeling everything more distinctly is a double-edged sword. The sadness and anger I felt at the prospect of my suddenly deteriorating grandma being placed in assisted living were staggering. Without any barriers between me and the sentiment, it’s overwhelming. As it should be.
But when something arises, I don’t turn my back on it or shove it down with a joke anymore. Instead, I let all the concentration, clarity, and equanimity I’ve cultivated in meditation come to bear. I have a complete relationship with whatever’s there, and I explore its texture and shape until it goes away. Despite how comprehensively these feelings affect me, I’m not being pushed around by them. I’m allowing them their natural lifespan, which means a richer, more moving experience for me, with less attachment and aversion. Life is affecting me more intimately since meditation has softened me; emotions are deeper and more poignant, but I’m more skilled at accepting them.
After failing at a daily meditation practice for years, I’ve realized that one grandiose commitment isn’t the answer. I didn’t shake the heavens with my mighty cry “From now on, I vow to sit at least once per day!” Instead, I recommit to practice whenever I need to. Sometimes it’s once a week. Usually, it’s every day. Often, it’s several times a day. Shit, occasionally it’s 10 times during one 45-minute session.
The hard work is worth it. Now that I’ve seen the results, I’m happy I’m here.
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