A Conversation About Why One Starts Meditating In Earnest

Step 1: Push & Pull
You find yourself drawn toward meditation. You ask me: “Why meditate?” Notice that I’ve never said that you should meditate. Nor that you should not.
Observe that you’ve wanted to know more about meditation. About what it is and about what it does.
Therefore, something about meditation is–forget about how it’s been taken up in the tech space–drawing you toward it, to it, toward yourself.

1.1. Being Pushed: Start by sharpening your powers of attention. Observe other people closely. Can you, as you sharpen and fine-tune your attention, see something of what the Buddha is saying about suffering?

  • Is your boss rather arrogant? Touchy? Demanding?
  • Are your co-workers prone to nervousness? To impatience and restlessness?
    Is this one a touch sad, and does that one have a penchant for slight exaggerations (or for great self-aggrandisements)?
  • Is this person taken to frustrations and that one to annoyances?
  • Is the person over here sitting with quiet fears, ones he or she dare not share?

Keep observing others. Then observe your own experience. See how there may be something just a little bit unsatisfactory about it. Was the workout somehow not good enough? Did you not quite connect with your girlfriend? Did you find yourself consoling her in the hopes that it might dissolve your own dis-ease (ill-at-easedness)? Were you worried about disappointing this person? Concerned with being a burden to that one And so on.

Keep observing.

The more you observe, the more you may discover that you are being pushed from behind. Toward what?

1.2. Being Pulled: Maybe you’ve had an experience that revealed to you an entirely different perspective on life. “Your mind was blown,” as it’s said. The first time I meditated turned out to be a mini-satori. Amazingly, the very first time there was This. And this non-ordinary experience, this heightened form of consciousness was, as it were, “pulling me” toward it.

Or perhaps you’ve not yet had even a little taste of a heightened way of being. Then perhaps you come upon someone you’ve never met and you find that he’s laughing a lot. And smiling. And pretty joyous. Who is this weirdo? Still, you cannot deny that being around this person introduces you to a new kind of energy. There’s something not to this person in particular but to this way of being.

Let’s cut to the quick and say: this person seems to be operating on a different wavelength. And this experience of being in the presence of such a one awakens something in you. You feel–somehow–pulled toward that which is not just “in” this fellow but may also be “in” you. Call that contentment or peace or ultimate fulfillment or abiding happiness. Or don’t call it anything. Just taste a bit of it.

Being so pulled, if only slightly at present, you start to feel something  stir within you. Awaken within you.

Step 2: Instrumental Reasons

Probably given your tech background, you think to yourself, “OK, it would be good to meditate in order, e.g., to feel calmer and to have greater powers of concentration (say, while at work).” OK, begin here: these, and others, are instrumental reasons you can take as your starting point.

True, they don’t quite speak to your growing sense that there is suffering (“pushed”) and that there is a kind of contentment (etc.) that is indeed much more than greater concentration (“pulled”).

Still, rest assured that such reasons are perhaps just post hoc justifications of an “impulse” or “desire” that’s growing within you. The latter is like a little yearning, a pianissimo yearning.

In any case, start with where you are, not with where you’re not.

Step 3: Concentration on a Single Object

Step 3.1–Scattered: See that almost all of your waking life can be regarded as a discontinuous series of fascinations with sundry objects. You’ve been absorbed in thoughts–be these startups or mathematical concepts; in feelings–be these anger, desire, or fear; in sensations–be the coldness or heat on your skin; or in perceptions–be these the sight of a beautiful looking person or the sound of someone sneezing. See how it’s seemed as if your life has been one drama after another, with unnoticed intervals between the last drama and this one. It has appeared to you that there is nothing but this, nothing more than this, nothing other than this.

Step 3.2–Concentrated on a Single Object: Let the mind be absorbed in a single object: a candle at which the eyes are softly gazing; a mantra recited time and again; a count to 10 of the kind recommended by Zen. Soon it becomes clear how wild the mind has become in terms of its haphazard involvement with sundry objects. After having assiduously developed focus on a single object, one sees that the mind has become less rowdy and, in turn, is able to gently focus its attention on this single object.

Step 4: Some Discoveries during and after Meditation

Begin with counting to 10, i.e., with the Zen meditation we spoke of. Do this at least once a day. If possible, start doing it for 20 minutes twice daily in a few months from now or when you feel ready.
And what shall be shown to you?
  1. Humility: It will be clear early on that you are not in control of your mind. It seems to go every which way in a willy nilly style. How humbling is this when before you may have thought, “Oh, I am indeed in control of my mind!”
  2. The Habit Patterns of the Mind: You will soon start to see the kind of “map” of your mind: which thoughts, which feelings, etc. tend to arise, in which order, etc. You will begin, in this particular sense, to know thyself. (<–I’ll amend what I mean here by “know thyself” once you’re farther along on the path.)
  3. Steadying Concentration: After enough of these meditations, you’ll see that the mind will start to settle down some. Settling down, it will be able to gently focus on counting, i.e., on a single object. It will be easier for you–in time! in time!–to hold your attention on this single object without all these wild animals (so to speak) pulling one way or another, yanking on your attention.
  4. Ethical Implications: In time, the steadying of the mind will make it possible for you to be with others in a more open and loving manner. This is because your patience (not forbearance but patience!) will increase.