The rigor of meditation practice

There is a rigor involved in meditating regularly that calls me back to meditate well before dawn in spite of the passing desire to stop or the urges to make an exception today. The rigor of a meditation practice emerges only for the one who, like the Pyrrhonian skeptic, would not live according to dogma. Dogma sets down grooves and shows the way ahead; a life without dogma makes no concessions and accepts no metaphysical supports.

Thus I do not claim that the aim of meditation is to have no thoughts at all or that it is to reach the divine or that it is achieve peace of mind or that it is to bring about something else entirely. For me, meditation’s aim is an open question, not one to be decided or insisted upon and certainly not a question to be begged. Its aim may arise while meditating–or it may not. Moreover, the means by which one meditates, quite apart from the practical matter of whether one is seated or standing or walking, are not to be taken as givens; they are essays or experiments and typically exercises as much in learning something unfamiliar as in the exhibition of courage. Other risks may be noted in passing: all the mornings I simply go through the motions with the result that meditation has become a task or a ticked-off item on a list rather than an activity; all the moments of laziness or lack of vigilance evinced in certain tedious lines of thought.

One could argue that meditating slows one down, allowing one to pay attention, and this would be true. One could argue also that one is afforded the opportunity to confront the insignificance of many of one’s thoughts as well as the churning of common thoughts. True, no doubt, as well. But I think there is a ‘logic’ (or, let me wonder, an ‘ethical logic’) that carries even greater significance. One may be looking for something, only to face up to the possibility that this something does not exist, that this is the wrong thing to be looking for, that this is the wrong sort of thing to be looking for, or that something far greater–some surprise–has revealed itself instead. This, I would say, is a discipline of holding-open openness. By ‘holding-open,’ I mean a stretching or elongating of openness to its extreme limit, together with an attitude of equanimity concerning whatever comes to pass. ‘Holding-open’ does not play favorites.

Only imagine a discipline of holding-open openness in lieu of planning for the future, instead of trying to shoehorn the world into some preconceptions. Consider what could happen if one were to allow–in a Jane Austenian sense–first impressions to be set over and against second and third impressions of others with a view to perceiving their characters more lucidly. And what beauty would there be in not conceiving of a single ‘must’ as dictating the course of one’s life? In the Daodejing, we read that the Daoist Sage travels like the sparrow.

Meditating, folding back on itself, is of and about itself or it is nothing. It is nothing if it remains in the dark, but something if it accords with the day. The rhythms of meditating, provided they accord with the day, are those that go and shape one’s demeanor, becoming the rhythms of one’s steps, the cadences of one’s words, the natural beauties that get coaxed, quietly, into the ordinary world perceived, experienced, transfixed.

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