Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finding Rest in a Restless World

If I were to pick one common theme in the reasons that people seek out meditative or contemplative practices, it would be the desire to find a place of rest in what is becoming an increasingly speedy and overwhelming world. The desire can almost be best described in the phrase, "wanting the world to stop for just a little bit so I can catch my breath."

It is often not that we do not know what to do when faced with life's challenges; but that they come so fast we don't have the time to look in our bag of tools to find the right one to use. Left with speed choices, it is no wonder we often pick things that leave us more rushed than before. For relaxation, we watch highly emotional television shows and movies that make us tenser than we realize. To gain health and wellness, we embark on programmes that emphasize the "wrongness" of just about everything we have been doing that increases feelings of guilt and shame. We join gyms and dojos not thinking through the extent of the monetary and time commitment they really demand in order to be considered "worth it." We turn to medicine in hopes that there is simply something wrong with us that we can manage away with a well-timed pill, not considering how powerless a medicine regimen can make you feel or the complication side effects can be.

So people turn to meditation and contemplation because they have heard rumor of a place where you can go and be in quiet. Where you can rest in an atmosphere of acceptance and regain your footing. So why doesn't meditation work for most people?

Meditation won't work if it is done as a solution rather than a supporting process. If you come to meditation thinking that by learning how to quiet your mind you will find rest, you will inevitably become restless. To be restless is best defined as wanting an immediate change or solution; or better yet, to be restless is to want something to be different NOW.

The key word is "want." When we "want" an outcome, there is much greater chance that we will experience disappointment because we close the door on being present to experience the process. And, if we are not present, we then miss the opportunities that will organically present themselves to us. When we have a "want," we are also more likely to make choices that are emotionally and reactive, rather than an organized response to opportunity.

The world now, West or East, is a restless world. We have come to communally believe in the illusion of immediate solutions -- that if a law is passed, people's thinking and behavior will change, that if a study finds a reason for a health problem, avoiding the cause will always prevent the problem, that pursuing a spiritual practice guarantees a spiritual depth. The food we eat must be fast and good. The entertainment we see must in some way excite our emotions. Our spiritual practices must all come with goals we can sum up, achievements we can realize and tchotchkes we can display.

To find rest in this restless world, one may not need to seek out esoteric and demanding meditative practices, one must learn to rest. Master Sheng Yen surprised an interviewer when asked about the correct posture to meditate in by devoting much time to correcting the wrong posture. He pointed out that many people who sit to meditate are not engaged in cultivation of concentration and wisdom, but are resting. "To rest properly, he demonstrated, "one must sit back and let the chair take all of your weight." You must give yourself up to rest. Count your breaths, concentrate on your breathing and let your mind empty itself of thought - that is true rest and something that all of us need to learn.

Learning to recognize what you need is the first step to creating balance within your life. When you feel that you have not done enough, been enough, are enough -- recognize it as a restlessness and want. When restless -- rest; for that is the meaning of the word -- to be restless is to be one without rest. Once you have rested, then look toward what practices would best support you in pursuing the cultivation of your life.



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