Idea #1: Meditation Bears Fruit in Active Life
At the beginning of a story or journey or course of instruction, we take a first step, and as we take that step, we set a direction that, as Robert Frost noted, makes all the difference. This first Idea is our first step. It could well be one you have already taken—perhaps long ago, but we'll make it again, now, together. We need especially to make it together in this course, because here we present meditation instruction outside the protective walls of religion and traditional culture. Out here it is easy to make the first step go off in the wrong direction.
Two roads diverge at the top of our journey. One is the way of sensation, the other, the way of growth. The "road less taken" in Western culture is the way of growth. When we note that meditation bears fruit in active life, we invite you to understand meditation in terms of your current life, as a support of it, rather than an escape from it or an alternative to it. It is easy to think of meditation as a sensation and as an unusual experience. Because it is. It does produce attractive sensations. It does feel good in body, mind, and heart. And that is an easy and attractive road to follow—for a while. The road less traveled is the road of growth, of long-range growth, within an "ordinary" life, within the life we are given.
Meditation is a humble, natural phenomenon. Once it has become a daily habit, it seems no more miraculous than digestion or sleep. But when you don't do it, and don't even know how to do it, its absence leaves a major hole. Filling that hole in, one sitting at a time, is the point of meditation. And that filling is very filling. In time it spreads over and through everything.
The image you have of a person sitting in meditation is probably one of silence, peacefulness and balanced stillness. This is a fine image and one that you will soon begin entering into with your own direct experience of the meditative state. But, do you have any image of a meditative person outside of the sitting—eating breakfast, driving to work, mowing the lawn, disciplining the dog, running after a bus? If you have been influenced by popular movies and television, you could believe that people who meditate move and speak more softly and thoughtfully and tend to avoid active, complex, social lifestyles. But that's a stereotype with only thin applications in real life. Meditation itself is quiet, restful, and introspective, but its influences are wide-ranging and dynamic. It doesn't create a "meditative" personality, nor does it always lead to a slower, more silent appearance on the surface. It doesn't even always slow a fast person down and can enhance natural energy in such a way that it actually speeds you up. Meditation that is natural—and this naturalness will be defined in subsequent Ideas—does not turn people into different personalities. Instead, it enhances and cleanses the personality, making it brighter and more expressed, not fundamentally different.
If you want an easier handle on this Idea, just think of meditation as being like a warm bath and a nap. It is pleasant to be in, but the reason you do it is to help yourself get back into action. You get back in there with renewed vigor, acting smarter, looking less foolish, feeling more loving, and smelling better. A humble-yet-miraculous thing.Chapter One — Next Idea