Recently I took a couple blows to the ego.
During a hike at my daughter's year end field trip, I slipped on a wet fallen tree trunk while crossing a giant puddle... and fell to my disgrace, butt first, in the swampy water, in front of a crowd of students, teachers, and parents. It wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't just declared something along the lines of "Okay everyone, let me show you how it's done". Turns out the "hiking expert" (me) should have paid more respect to Mother Nature's quirks. Splooooosh!
But the worst blow to the ego did not originate in the physical world. It came from the world of ideas. Three weeks ago, I started a new class, a guided meditation class to be exact. After the first session, feeling slightly enlightened, I walked up to the instructor to thank her, and added what I thought were some sagacious words of my own to the already full suitcase of wisdom she had delivered that night. (My intervention had to do with running and meditation, and since our instructor used to be a runner, I thought she would appreciate.) She listened to me attentively, nodded, smiled, asked me what my name was again. When we parted I was confident I had made quite an impression on her. And I was right... to some extent. The following week, as she was discussing various ways of meditating for the benefit of the group, she quoted me as follows:
"There was a lady here last week... I don't see her today [scans the room, looks at everyone including me]... no, she's not here today... anyway, that lady came talk to me after the session and said this about her meditation practice [insert my clever words]."
I held back an incredulous look. What do you mean "she's not here today"? I'm sitting right in the front row here, staring at you as you are quoting me, instructor!
I felt like raising my hand, pointing to myself, telling everyone I was the smart cookie who those groundbreaking remarks came from.
But I didn't. I sat there silently as I watched my intellectual property being ripped from my egotistical identity.
The instructor had remembered my words, but not my name nor my face. She had focused on what really mattered, sharing my little input with the class. Who that input initially came from made no difference at all.
My instructor is the wise one. I am the shallow, narcissistic one. Why do I feel that I need to be personally congratulated for my ideas? Why isn't it sufficient that those ideas are out there to - hopefully - touch one or two souls?
But I had to be sitting there uncomfortably to realize that it does not matter whose words those she quoted are. It does not matter at all! My ego has been playing tricks on me. I can - and I should - share, but I need not claim anything.
Although I have been practicing meditation (on an off) for years now, it is obvious that I still have a lot to learn. Hopefully I am on my way there. What have I learned in all those years?
- I have learned that slowing down, quieting your mind and finding your center can be extremely uncomfortable at first. This is because we are not used to it: "Society is organized in a way that even when we have leisure time, we don't know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time - we turn on the TV, or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not used to being with ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves". (Thich Nhat Hanh)
- I have learned that even with the best intentions in the world, we will encounter many obstacles while meditating; the incessant flow of thoughts that won't leave us is a common example. Our mind will play tricks on us as we try to let go. One woman in our group mentioned that she had tried visualizing floating about in the sea with beautiful fish, but that every time she starts feeling relaxed, a big, ferocious shark appears in her virtual ocean, threatening to devour everything and everyone in sight. So much for peacefulness! Other examples include an overwhelming desire to scratch yourself or to sneeze in the middle of chanting Om.
- I have learned that if you meditate often enough, however, clearing your mind will become less of a struggle. In fact, it might even happen spontaneously. More than once I have found myself suddenly empty of any ideas at all, my mind just drifting away blissfully - but still fully conscious - when a minute ago I was still mentally putting together my grocery list.
- I have learned that a meditative life need not be a motionless life. Yes, when you meditate, you are looking to achieve stillness. But that does not mean it cannot be achieved while walking, or running, even (hence my above mentioned discussion with the instructor).
- I have learned that without changing anything else to your life, meditation brings about its own butterfly effect. When one meditates regularly, problems that seemed to have no solution become less overwhelming. Questions that seemed to have no answer do not bother you quite as much. Nothing has changed yet everything has changed. You have been granted serenity in the face of life's inevitable uncertainty and adversity.
- I have learned that regular meditation will teach you to take better care of yourself in all possible ways. Which in turn makes you better at taking care of others.
- I have learned that when you meditate regularly, everything feels better and tastes better. Even the simplest things. You rediscover pure pleasure out of almost nothing. You stop looking for artificial ways to distract yourself or soothe yourself. Meditation suffices (as opposed to self-medication).
- I have learned that less is more. In meditation you empty yourself yet feel the fullest you've ever felt. There is no stimulation yet you are fulfilled.
- I have learned that "out of body experiences" have nothing esoteric or scary to them; they just happen, probably originating from the fact that our focus is completely shifted. When I meditate I often completely lose track of where my hands are and in what position. Unless I wiggle my fingers or open my eyes to look at them, I have no clue whatsoever. As far as I'm concerned I could not even own hands anymore! Feeling separate from one's whole body is only the next logical step.
- I have learned that even though meditation calls for centering yourself and - eventually - becoming enlightened, that does not take the path we are used to. In deep stages of meditation you don't know anything anymore - you are not even aware that you are a separate entity anymore - yet somehow you suddenly know everything there is to know. There is nothing yet all is there. I wonder if it's the way babies feel in their mother's womb.
- I have learned that you can yield all the benefits from meditation without the downsides of following some questionable teachings from some questionable religious or cult leader (or guru). In the spiritual world there is good and bad, genuine and abusive, some to take and some to leave. By all means surrender to your needs for spirituality, but never let go of your critical thinking and self-respect (and hard-earned money!)
- I have learned that meditation needs not be solemn; in fact meditation can (and should) be joyful. Many diligent meditators smile a lot. Even laughter is acceptable.
- And slowly, but surely, I am learning humility.
To finish beautifully, some laughter:
For more on meditation: http://happinessdishbestsavouredhot.blogspot.ca/2013/05/when-all-else-fails-meditate.html
And on humility: http://happinessdishbestsavouredhot.blogspot.ca/2012/03/how-to-make-fool-of-yourself-101.html