Your Life IS Meditation

Meditation 101

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We don’t sit in meditation to become good meditators. We sit in meditation so that we’ll be more awake in our lives.


IN ORDER TO understand how your life is meditation, I think it would be wise to present the actual meaning of meditation, at least the way I understand it. What is meditation? What are we trying to do when we practice? And why is it important to do it? Is it simply for relaxation and de-stressing? Or is this only the tip of the iceberg? Let’s explore some basic concepts.

My standing definition of meditation is practicing being present, or, put another way, making peace with life as it actually is. Notice how I didn’t say, practicing having no thoughts, or getting rid of things about ourselves we don’t like. Nor did I 2say trying to feel good all the time. If we stick to the definition of meditation as a way to practice being with our lives just the way they are, then there will be no confusion. In my years of sharing this practice, I’ve seen most people give up on meditating because they “couldn’t stop their minds from thinking.” Well, here’s the good news! You don’t need to stop your mind. Your mind is an organ that was made to produce thoughts. This is not a problem — even during meditation. On the contrary, it’s quite natural. We don’t need to annihilate thoughts; we only need to change our relationship to them. Meditation offers us the chance to relate to them rather than live from them.

It’s also important to understand from the beginning that we are not trying to feel good all the time and we’re not trying get rid of the more difficult parts of ourselves. Meditation is never about feeling a certain way, but rather learning to feel and be with whatever arises. I can’t tell you how many of my students give up their home practice because they don’t feel the way they do when I guide them in one of my classes. Clearly, they are holding on to an idea that a good meditation is one that feels a certain way, and when they sit with themselves at home and 3meet an agitated mind, boredom, or any of the other uncomfortable experiences possible while sitting quietly without distraction, they think they’ve failed, or that they aren’t doing it right. It’s not that meditation isn’t working, or that something is wrong, but rather there are ideas and expectations blocking the practitioner from relaxing into the moment as it truly is.

Many of us also hope that meditation will cure us of our anxiety or depression, or that it will somehow resolve all of life’s problems. I fell hard for this one! It’s true that meditation has a transformative effect, but it may not be the way we think or hope for. As it is with life, there are no guarantees! Sometimes, after a few months of meditating, people who still struggle with their difficulties feel the practice is not helping. Of course this is not true, but since they have some idea of curing their vulnerable human condition, they suffer when they’re staring it straight in the eye. Clearly, any of these ideas associated with these two misconceptions will keep us from relaxing into our lives as they are. We will not always feel good — and that’s just the way it is for us humans. We don’t need to neurotically try so hard to gain and maintain only happy, pleasant 4feelings or situations, nor do we need to push the unpleasant away. Is there a different way to experience our lives? Yes! And this is what meditation offers us, and if we understand meditation as practicing being present with our actual experience, these misperceptions won’t arise.

I’d like to rewind a little bit. Meditation is the practice of being present. But why the present moment? What’s the big fuss about our experience right now? The truth is, this is it. Our lives are experienced now. There literally is no other time. The past is gone and only exists in the mind as memories. The future is uncertain, always, and no amount of thinking can predict how our lives will unfold, or what tomorrow will bring. Our thoughts about life are never life itself, and this is one of the main reasons we feel so disconnected from it. The storylines we tell ourselves, the memories and anticipations, the judgments and expectations, are all like waking dreams, which pull us away from the immediacy of our experience.

If we understand that this moment is all we have, we can reduce a lot of unnecessary suffering. We don’t need to waste time rehashing the past or regretting choices we made. There’s nothing 5we can do about them! What’s done is finished! And honestly, there’s no use in worrying about what will come, because who knows? It’s best to put our effort and energy into just this. Just this is enough for ease. Just this is enough for peace and joy. If you really contemplate this, you’ll see that if you’re not at ease now, the only place you can be, then when will you ever be at ease? This is it! It’s now or never. Please understand this point!

Although many of us may get this conceptually, we need to take it into the realm of experiential understanding. We may understand that this is it, but how often are we actually spending time here? Most of us are so busy thinking about our lives that our actual experience of it passes us by. Last time you walked to your car or the bus or the train, were you present for just walking, or were you lost in your own mind? Did you feel your footsteps? Did you notice the gentle breeze on your face? The blueness of the sky? The warmth of the sun on your skin? Where were you? A moment of your life is gone and you will never get it back. I don’t know about you, but knowing that I missed a great portion of my life because I was too busy thinking about it is quite disturbing to me. If we can practice being present, we can gain our lives 6back, and that is a great gift — and to quote that old meme, maybe that’s why they call it “the present!”

As we sit in meditation, practicing being present, what are we actually doing? What is the point of all this anyway? To explain this I break my definition of practicing being present into three aspects: cultivating mindfulness, making friends with what we find, and learning to live beyond small-mindedness.


Mindfulness is a popular word that’s always being thrown around. In fact, I recently saw a cardboard cutout for pistachios with a woman in meditation, hands in prayer over her head, that read “Mindful Nut.” With just about everyone using the word, it may be difficult to determine what it actually is.

Mindfulness is typically understood as simply paying attention to the present moment experience, but this is not all there is to it. Ajahn Brahm makes this quite clear with a story from his recent book Bear Awareness. He tells of a person who hires a security guard to mindfully watch their house while they go away on vacation. Upon returning the person realizes everything in his 7house was stolen. He calls the security guard and angrily questions him about his “mindful watching,” and about all the items stolen. The security guard replies by telling the homeowner that he did his job. He mindfully watched the house as the robber pulled up. He mindfully observed the robber break into the house and begin gathering all the valuables. Then he mindfully witnessed the robber drive off with all of his nice stuff. Of course mindfulness is intentionally paying attention, but it doesn’t end there . . . There must also be skillful action tied to this paying attention while we are in daily life. A hired guard must know who is allowed into the house, and who isn’t. So too our mindfulness must help us to observe what’s unskillful and unwholesome in our lives and figure out skillful means to not let those parts take over and become harmful words or actions. In formal seated meditation it’s quite all right to be like the security guard and simply observe the comings and goings of all experiences, but in daily life, when we are actualizing mindfulness, we must be on guard and only let the wholesome states through!

Besides observing the unfolding of your moment-by-moment experience, mindfulness 8includes loosening your grip on your judgments, expectations, and labels. Mindfulness invites you to experience life directly, to find out what it’s really like, and then live fully from there. There’s also a sense of warmth that comes with this nonjudgmental observing. We are bathing the moment with loving, spacious awareness. It’s as if we are holding ourselves and our lives with the same loving attention we would use as we hold a crying infant. Mindfulness includes curiosity as well. If we think we know how things are, we will never be free. Only by becoming curious will we be willing to go into our difficulties with an open heart and mind. Lastly, mindfulness must be understood as a willingness to be with our lives just as they are. Think about how much of our suffering comes from the thought “life shouldn’t be this way?” Perhaps all of our suffering comes down to this resistance. In meditation we take our seat and we sit upright no matter what arises. We choose to be where we are and are willing to be with what presents itself, even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable. Being fully where we are is the only way I know to train in making peace with life as it is.



Meditation also helps us make friends with what we experience. Normally in our lives when something unpleasant arises, we immediately believe it to be wrong or bad and do whatever we have to in order to get rid of it. Rather than welcoming and befriending the unpleasant experience, we quickly run away. Making friends with the moment teaches us to stay. By allowing things to be as they are we are creating a space of unconditional friendliness, which allows us to fully relax into our lives, while also connecting with an inner fearlessness and compassion.


The last aspect of seated meditation is learning to live beyond small-mindedness. According to the Buddha, our suffering comes from craving, which is rooted in a misperception of reality. This misperception is the belief in a separate, fixed self, which is created by the mind. Essentially, our practice is to learn to see beyond this sense of self and instead live spontaneously and freely. As our 10mindfulness starts to get stronger, it filters into daily life and we are able to see when we are “selfing,” so to speak. We see when we are closing off, or shrinking our world into the cocoon of “what’s in it for me,” and we learn to open the hands of thought and let it go. We allow ourselves to soften and respond to life from clarity rather than reacting to it from small-mindedness.

As you go through the rest of this book, and as you continue with your meditation practice, please keep referring back to and reminding yourself of these basic concepts. Your practice is always about being present in this moment, no matter what the content. Throw away your ideas and expectations and simply open up over and over again to what’s true — just this! Intentionally pay attention without judgment — and with a sense of warmth, curiosity, and the willingness to be exactly where you are. Make friends with whatever you find, and learn to let go of the limiting attachment to self-cherishing thoughts. Eventually, how you approach your meditation practice will slowly become how you approach every moment of your life, and remember, this doesn’t mean you don’t engage with your life, or 11choose not to stand up for injustice, but rather you do it from a place of complete presence, clarity, and ease.

If you continue practicing in this way your suffering will slowly melt like snowflakes on warm ground.

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