In a discussion at the end of his book A Practical Guide to Buddhist Meditation, Paramananda writes about maintaining your practice that “…meditation is a challenge to the way we see ourselves. In particular, it challenges us to take fuller responsibility for our lives. It challenges us to acknowledge that we are responsible for how we feel, and for the way in which we lead our life.”
It is a point that strikes me very profoundly right now. I notice that along with the joys I feel from my practice, I also have some real anxiety around it. I sense that I am letting go of something safe, albeit dull, and having to reach forward to something entirely new and clear, but “out there” and unknown. I rationally want this new mindfulness and clarity but know that there’s comfort in the old. He goes on:
“We are very attached to our version of the world, and it might well be difficult for us to give up the views and prejudices we have. Our sense of who we are is closely bound up in the way we see things, and it would be unrealistic to think that we can effortlessly give up views that have been conditioning us – essentially creating us – over many years. While we might like the idea of breaking out of the limiting ways we look at our lives, in reality it is frightening to give them up.”
I came across all of this smack dab in the middle of those anxieties and it was quite heartening. I was concerned that I didn’t get it or was doing something wrong. We have this misconception that meditation is all bliss and happiness when in fact it is often very much the opposite.
We are encouraged to meditate upon our own suffering and the suffering of others to better understand the world and ourselves. But looking deeply into ourselves is far from easy and especially in the culture in which we live. What you see is never perfect and often ugly – and if that is not what you see, you are not looking closely enough, or you’re already a Buddha or a Saint. We are flawed creatures, yes, but with great ability to correct those flaws.
And once you look and really see, and if you continue the practice, you’ll never return to your former self. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes in the first few pages of The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, “Once the door of awareness has been opened, you cannot close it.”
That, to me, is profound, beautiful, and not a little freaky.