Monday, March 10, 2014

Daily silence

Today exactly one year ago I finished my first Vipassana course – a 10 day silent retreat with 100 hours of meditation. Check out the article I wrote about my experience, here.

During the last 12 months I’ve managed to keep up the daily practice. With very few exceptions, every morning I’ve sat down, shut up and observed what’s happening inside. More recently I’ve also become interested in Zazen, the meditation practice of Zen Buddhism. Although there are many differences between Vipassana and Zazen, at the core I feel they’re pretty much the same: It’s all about learning to see the way things really are, rather than living in a delusional fairy-tale world, tormented by broken dreams, unfulfilled desires and lies.

Now, when talking about meditation, any kind of expectation shouldn’t really be present at all. However, since I’m just a pretty normal, unenlightened guy, some expectations have slipped in. So if you had asked me one year ago what effect one year of meditation would have, I would have come up with all sorts of different ‘ideas’. Here are some reflections regarding these ideas: After one year of meditation…

I can sit in the full lotus position for hours without any discomfort
Sadly, this is not the case. I can’t even do the half lotus; my legs still fall asleep and after some time my back still starts craving a comfortable bed. Yes, I’m able to sit now for an hour without agony, but no pain? Nope. We are not monkeys, and I’m no fucking Yogi!

I've become a really peaceful person
I wish! Actually, more the opposite has occurred: I’ve been more angry than I was before. While this is not always fun, on the whole I regard this to be a good thing though. What’s the point in trying to be peaceful, when inside you’re feeling like you could set the world on fire? Regular meditation is helping me to accept the emotions that are present, be it anger, fear, grief or ecstasy. Like everything else, emotions come and go – so the trick is to not hold on to them; let them be, observe and then move on. As long as I don’t act out what I’m feeling, ie getting up and punching the first person I see, it’s fine because there’s always something to be learnt about myself.

I'm getting better at meditating
Again, wishful thinking. I used to assume that Zen masters are able to dip into deep and blissful trance states whenever they want, instantly! But actually this is not true. Even the Buddha himself had shit days when his restless mind drove him nuts (at least that’s what I’d like to think). What I’m learning more and more is that meditation is not about having goals – it’s quite a difficult lesson since we’re living in such a goal-orientated society. But really there is no goal, because a goal lies always in the future. The moment, the here and now, couldn’t care less about whether you’re getting better at meditating or not. As Brad Warner says, “Just sit down and shut up!”

My Ego and all desires have disappeared
Haha, that’s a funny one. Where would the Ego go? To heaven? Hell? A black hole? All the new age crap of ego destruction is just so unhealthy and especially UNREAL! What’s the problem with having an Ego? I think it makes much more sense to try your best at becoming friends with your Ego. Acknowledging its existence, because otherwise it will rear its ugly head even more and will play power games with you. Regarding the desires: I think there’s nothing wrong with having desires either; the problem starts when you allow them to control your life. When you become a slave to your desires, that’s when the real suffering starts. It’s that greedy voice in your head that drives you to the shopping mall when you could just go for a walk and watch a beautiful sunset. Meditation has helped me to question my desires and to see them for what they really are: random thoughts that promise happiness. Yet if I’m not happy today, what am I supposed to do with promises? Put them in a frame and pray to them?

Everything is just wonderful
Hm, let me see… No, it’s not. On many days life sucks, no matter how long I sit in silence. I think Hollywood and the advertisement industry are very guilty of causing these kinds of wrong expectations. If only I met the right partner, if only I found the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect answer to all my questions, then everything would be superdupa and I’d be living happily ever after. Bollocks to that! Life is cruel, painful and eternal happiness doesn’t exist. But you know what? That’s fine. Life is still beautiful. It’s an entertaining ride through ups and downs and we should be grateful for having been given the chance to experience it all. One thing daily meditation is doing for me is that it keeps me from overreacting and indulging in all the extremes. When I have a bad day, I might still be a moody German giving my house mates lots of frowns, but I know it will pass; likewise, when I sign a publishing contract for a new book, it certainly puts a joyous smile on my face but I’m not jumping around like a maniac any more. Because even the best day of my life will pass, and then what? The higher I jump, the lower I will fall. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t get excited, but just don’t expect the great moment to last. Cause it won’t.

In summary: 30-40 minutes of daily silence might not turn me into an enlightened saint any time soon (whatever that is, englightenment), but the regular practice really helps me to be more honest with myself – and this honesty makes everything more real and more fun too! Furthermore, rather than ‘understanding’ life only intellectually, I’m getting first hand experience of what it actually is: 

A colourful collection of fleeting moments!