To Sit By The River
“It is true that many people find learning to meditate a challenge, most often because they have yet to learn the discipline of using their mind in that way. Meditating is not thinking, nor is it going blank. It is not specially meant to make you calm, relaxed or feel good although these are common side effects. Meditation is the mental discipline of concentration and awareness. Nothing more or less. The benefits of meditation arise from the chosen focus, what you choose to concentrate on and remain aware of.
Meditation is training your mind to remain clear and attentive to a specific focus. The myriad of focuses is why you have a myriad of meditation practises and styles, however fundamentally the core activity you are undertaking is concentration and awareness. This point is important particularly for those who use meditation for relaxation. If you drift off and go blank you are not meditating any more, you are resting. That may not be a bad thing, in fact many of us need that kind of rest. Just don’t confuse it with meditating. When you are meditating correctly you remain aware and concentration is the “stickiness” of your attention that allows you to remain aware.
Distraction and “going blank” are very common challenges faced while practising meditation. They are symptomatic of a state of mind struggling with aversion. In meditation practise, aversion is simply the mind making every effort to avoid the task at hand. The hardest aspect of meditation is that it acts like a focused lens. Concentration and awareness in themselves have no bias, but we do. We judge every aspect of our experience and we perceive pain and joy and everything in-between. Aversion arises in the mind when we are trying to block out and return to a repressed state something our meditation has brought into focus. It’s a protective function of the psyche, a kind of traumatic amnesia which allows us to function on a daily basis when we can’t heal an aspect of our experience. It is unpleasant to witness an aspect of ourselves which we prefer to deny, so our mind obliges us and we end up distracted or “completely blank”.
The challenge is to remain non-judgemental. The practise is to be unconditionally loving towards all aspects of ourselves. The task is not to try to change it, “to mould it into something it is not”, for that is actively inviting delusional thinking. The task is to simply witness peacefully. When we stop reacting to what we see in our minds, our minds stop trying to protect us from it and then the real healing can take place.
I have taught meditation for many many years now and I wish to share two key stories regarding the nature of how meditation affects the mind and heals it, and the key to powerful meditation.
I attended a ten day meditation retreat to practise Vipassana, a Buddhist meditation technique that trains concentration and mindfulness that leads to insight practise. While attending this retreat with about fifty other people, the rule of Noble Silence granted a way to remain attentive to my own experience. During this retreat I was gifted a powerful vision about the nature of meditation practise. My vision was this:
“In a pure white light space, I became aware of a large pile of old brown dried leaves. As I focused on the details of the leaves at the outer most layer I became aware that my focus was generating a gentle but steady breeze. I noticed that when my concentration faltered in being attentive to the details of the leaves, the breeze would weaken and falter also. As I applied more effort to remain concentrated on the details of the leaves, the breeze stabilised and warmed up. I then witnessed that the breeze now had enough power to begin lifting the leaves. One by one, the breeze began making the leaves fly away simply by focussing my attention on them as passively and unconditionally as I could to keep my concentration from faltering. The pile of leaves grew smaller and smaller, but also more composted and sticky. I continued with that same method of concentration, and the breeze dried the sticky leaves and little bits began to fly away. I was still clearing the pile of leaves, but more slowly now. Eventually I cleared the whole pile of leaves and simply focused on the breeze itself.”
Coming out of the vision I realised that meditation is more about persistence than complicated techniques. The pile of leaves were all the aspects of my mind, memory and experience that I was holding on to that no longer served me, that which encumbered my mind. I felt a sense of relief realising that no matter how large or composted [old and sticky] my pile of metaphorical leaves were, the processes to clear them remained the same. It was important to appreciate that they were just like leaves, of many varieties but just leaves, no biggie, no need to be reactive to them.
This non-reactiveness is detachment. Detachment does not mean ‘ignoring’ as that is another guise of aversion. Detachment is non-judgemental awareness or simply passive witnessing.
I often share this following analogy when I teach meditation to help students get a feel for how passive witnessing works in practise. I describe the journey of meditation practise like this:
“When you first start to really witness your mind in meditation it is chaotic.
It is like struggling to swim in a polluted river. You’re freaking out at all the massive bits of junk and crap in the water, you’re scared you’ll catch something nasty from the disgusting coloured water and then you spot this thing swimming in the water with you. Totally freaking out, you do your best to pull yourself together and muster enough energy to reach the river bank. You struggle against snags trying to pull you back into the current of the dirty river. Eventually you reach the river bank and are out of the water. Exhausted but feeling accomplished you sit and take a break, with your back to the river because who wants to see all that crap, and your mind goes blank and sleeps. Without realising you roll back into the river because you rolled over in your blank sleep.
Round two begins as you struggle to climb back on the river bank to safety. On the bank again you figure it is better to move further from the edge this time and you return to having a break. The river still full of junk batters against the river bank and erodes the distance you made. Unaware, you roll over in your blank sleep and fall into the river again.
Round three begins as you climb back onto the river bank. You come to the understanding that the river has its own force and it’s not wise to turn your back on it. So this time you sit by the river facing it and moving back a bit each time a piece of river junk batters the edge eroding away the river bank. You feel now you have got the hang of things and then you notice the whole river, up stream, down stream, and right to the other bank is still disgusting. You find yourself recoiling from what floats by, shuddering at the glimpse of the thing swimming in the murky water. You find yourself complaining at the state of the river.
Being proactive you decide to start cleaning the river, you start pulling the junk out of the river and piling it around you on the river bank. Pretty soon, you realise that doesn’t work either. Dejected you push the junk right back in the river and sit slumped on the river bank. You give up trying to do anything and find yourself just watching the river.
There you sit, day after day, hour after hour, just watching the river. As you watch you notice something happening you didn’t witness before. The current of the river is washing the junk away and in fact the water begins to run clearer. That thing swimming in the river was meant to be there, it’s native to the river. You continue your passive vigil, sitting watching the river and you find the flow of the river is peaceful and calming. Your attitude towards the river shifts and you start to see it like you haven’t seen it before. The pollution is clearing by the power of the flow of the river. Day by day you watch the river return to its natural beautiful state. The river now runs clear and you realise all you needed to do was stop fighting with the junk, stay on the river bank and watch.”
The key to powerful meditation should be obvious to you now. Persistently practise remaining unconditionally present so you can remain witness to the ever flowing nature of your mind-stream. Learn to sit by the river, be at peace with it and the river will eventually run clear.
In Love and Light, Jennifer”
© Copyright to Jennifer Valente, but this article may be reproduced and distributed provided the author is acknowledged.
Jennifer, founder of ‘Light Dynamics’, a system of Healing and Spiritual Awakening, is one of Mystical Dragon’s trusted and gifted Psychic Development teachers. She is also a highly intuitive Spiritual Healer and Clairvoyant who provides clearing of negative energies, protection, healing, and reading services to clients.