Meditation: The (un)medication for the mind

In Lifestyle on September 7, 2012 at 11:12 am


I’ve been meditating now for almost two years. Two years does not make one a veteran Zen-master by any means. Neither does fifty years. It doesn’t work that way. In Soto-style Zen, enlightenment is achieved spontaneously and it can happen (or not happen) at any time. If enlightenment comes, okay. If enlightenment does not come, okay. In two years of non-seeking, I have learned to be aware for mere moments and that contents me.

Free your mind. Your ass will follow.

Living as a free man in an unfree world can be frustrating beyond measure. Striving to abandon the continually grasping, consumerism mentality is a challenge when you are incessantly bombarded with admonishments to buy something. Politics? If you make the mistake of taking American politics any more seriously than the three-ring circus it is, your mind will race.

At some point, you must acknowledge “it is what it is” and you can do so if you are willing to work desperately to create a liberated mind.

“Shikata ga nai”

Shakata ga nai, is a Japanese phrase meaning “it must be done” and it became a virtual motto for Japanese-Americans when they were forced into American concentration camps during WWII.

Expanded, the phrase can be taken to mean, “That which cannot be overcome, must be endured.” Enduring is surviving.

The alternative is death.

Each time we are faced with an event or individual who threatens our lives, our fortunes, or our sacred honor…we have a choice. We can endure and hope to overcome. Or, we can allow the event or individual to write the final chapter of our lives.

In meditation, one can be free in a prison and one can be healthy when terminally ill. Meditation helps us to endure.

(Editor’s note: The concept of being mentally free while imprisoned has motivated many of America’s gulag-masters to prohibit prison meditation groups. What they don’t know, is that meditation can be done without outward signs that one is meditating. It’s not all sitting in a semi-Lotus position!)

Meditation is not prayer

I pray, as a prayer session, at least three to four times daily. If you count my hastily added, spontaneous implorings to G-d, the daily number rises to the hundreds.

My prayer sessions follow the formulaic rules from my Siddur and include my conscious thoughts about the prayers and supplications as I recite them. I think about each word as I say them, whisperingly, to my G-d.

In meditation, there is no contemplation of words or thoughts. I simply strive to be.

No, meditation is not the emptying of my mind and an attempt to escape the world. Quite the opposite! My meditation makes me more aware, un-judging, and it makes me more part of my world.

Each fifteen-minute session is my chance to examine what passes through my mind without having to critique those passings. The thoughts simply come and go. I strive to let thoughts go by without considering whether or not they are good, bad, rational, irrational, or even if I should be thinking about thinking them. My thoughts simply are.

No, that’s not right. Thoughts cannot be. Thoughts are not real. A thought cannot harm (or help) you because “it is what it is”…a thought.

Embrace the noise

When I first began regular meditation, I sought out a quiet and comfortable surrounding. If the weather is pleasant, my back deck looks over a park-like back yard. Birds chirp and insects hum by my ear. And then, an ambulance or fire truck screamed by and my meditation got “interrupted” by the cacophony of city noises. I had not yet learned to “embrace the noise”.

Noise is part of our world. In meditation, we seek to become more aware of our presence on the world. To be disturbed by a screaming police siren during meditation is to have evaluated the sound to be unpleasant. Now, I strive to notice the siren and then let the sound pass without evaluating it or attaching a “good” or “bad” label to the sound. It is simply…sound. Unlike thoughts, sounds are. We should notice sounds. They are a real part of the world. The thoughts about the sound are never real. They are only thoughts.

Making peace

Much of our personal suffering arises only from our thoughts. We hash over, and re-hash, arguments or disturbing personal events. We long for a happy time in our memory. The thought of the happy time makes us smile. Then, when we realize the happy time is only a memory, we pine for the happy time.

Therefore, memories of good things and bad things disquiet the mind.

Let’s look at this logically.

Thoughts are not real. Things that are not real cannot harm us any more than an imaginary dagger. If things that are not real cannot harm us, why do we allow our thoughts to disquiet our minds? It is irrational to give form and substance to thoughts and it is equally irrational to allow thoughts to evoke the same physiological “fight or flight” response in our body.

There’s nothing ethereal about what I just wrote and it does not contain any “profound understanding”. It is merely logical…and rational.

Just think of the calm you can achieve for yourself when you stop allowing thoughts to disharmonize your inner peace.

Cheating death

Let’s look at a subject that’s supposed to be hard. Death.

Thoughts of our own death are one of the most disquieting of all thoughts. If one’s religious training taught you not to fear death because death ends in a “going to a better place” your death thoughts can still disquiet you. “It’s not ‘dead’ that bothers me so much as ‘the dying part’ of death.”

Over the past two years I’ve read accounts of men and women who, when faced with inevitable death by violence or illness, remained calmly serene and aware right to the moment of death. Their thinking goes something like this: “I’m not dead yet.”

Pretty simple, no?

Until we die, we are not dead. Until we are dead, why would we torment our minds with dread? Remember, that dread is only a thought and a thought cannot harm us.

“Yeah, but the knife in my murderer’s hand will.”

Yes. But if a death is entirely unavoidable and inevitable, it is futile to be disturbed by it. Of course, one should fight off a murderous assailant if at all possible. But recognize at least that avoiding all death is impossible.

“Ain’t none of us getting out of this alive”, an old Texas judge told me once.

It’s true.

If you can come to grips with the worst thing life has to offer, then you can certainly prevail over the more trivial events and adversaries.

Try a dose of the (un) medication

America is a psychotropic drug, pill-popping nation. “Mother’s little helper” now has hundreds more potent siblings. All of these drugs are marketed with a stated intent to help patients deal with their thoughts.

(Editor’s note: Isn’t there a horrid irony present within adverse effects warnings for anti-depressants that list ‘increased thoughts of suicide’ as a potential side-effect? Crap! Depressed people commit suicide and doctors are prescribing drugs that can increase or facilitate suicidal thoughts.)

Why not deal with thoughts naturally? Why don’t people just ignore thoughts for what they are, phantasms without form or substance?

(Editor’s note: I paid a private medical college a LOT of money to teach me that there are many unfortunate people whose mental illness results from chemical or structural defects in their brains. Medication or other intervention may be appropriate for these people. But most people could deal with anxiety, mild depression, and other problems quite safely using meditation rather than medication.)

No, I’m not advocating that people walk around entirely ‘blissed out’ or that they should not prepare for adverse events, save resources, or defend their person from attack. There is a Hebrew phrase for someone who simply exists and trusts “what will be will be” and who trusts everyone to do his/her best. The phrase is chasid shoteh, or “a pious fool”.

Preparation is vital. Worry, however, is not.

Why worry if you are unprepared financially, physically, or that you have not set aside resources for the coming hard times in America? You’ve done the best you can. Worrying will not create more financial resources or physical stamina. Worrying, in fact, is detrimental and often results in mental inertia.

Meditate! Be! Move!

It will make all of the difference.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: