Saturday, July 3, 2010

What Is Wrong? vs. What Is This?

A few years ago, a three-panel Jules Feiffer cartoon was published in Wes Nisker's "Inquiring Mind" magazine that seems to sum up what we are up against in the practice of vipassana meditation. As best as I can remember it (and you can never do a Jules Feiffer justice by describing it), the first panel shows a man's face with a look of horror, mouth open as if screaming, and holding his head in his hands. The caption of this panel was something like, "My life was out of control. The stresses of every day living were too much for me to handle." In the second panel, we see the same man's face, only it is now calm and tranquil, with eyes closed. Under this panel it reads, "So I decided to try the ancient art of meditation. Maybe by looking within, I could calm my mind and ease my body." Then in the third drawing, we see a repeat of the expression of horror from the first panel.

Last week, in the sixth session of an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy class, one of the participants asked, quite seriously, "Do you ever have any pleasant experiences in this kind of practice? Because I haven't had one yet." Good question. However, as one of my teachers once said, this kind of practice is not "feel good" meditation. Nor is it always "feel bad" meditation." It is always a practice of knowing what is happening while it is happening, and then, as best we can, just allowing it all to happen in a state of mindful awareness. 

Labels like "good" and "bad" are geat places for inquiry, since these labels are merely objects of mind. If a loud car drives past your window while you are meditating, the mind might consider it a "bad sound," unless you are a NASCAR enthusiast, in which case it may be music to your ears. 

So instead of asking "what is wrong?" perhaps the better question would be "what is this?" Be curious about any experience you have and investigate all of the effects the event has on the body and mind. In this way, we can deepen into things that we consider "bad" or "good," and see that they are just preferences produced by a mind that is attached to some things and aversive toward other things. By dwelling mindfully in all of our experiences with equanimity, we take a big step toward eventually liberating ourselves from the habitual tendencies of the mind, and thus toward reducing our suffering.


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