BY: JOHNATHAN MOSS
The real secret to life is in the art of swimming. We are all drifting in a deep ocean current. The waves roar and split above us. Those that are too conscious of their arms will find that each stroke is clumsier than the last. As they struggle to grab hold of water, it will merely slip through their fingers. Drowning happens only as fast as energy is exerted. Water is fluid and so, in the same way, you too must become shapeless. To relax is to float.
Allen Watts once wrote “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.” Eventually all cruel seas will settle. Meditation teaches us to comfortably keep our head above water before we attempt to swim to the shoreline.
Most of us think compulsively and constantly. We are swept up by the outside world and use our restless minds to grab any idea that may give us comfort, as if clinging to driftwood. We tell ourselves that the future is bright and that the present is a stepping-stone, we separate ourselves from our thoughts, and we judge others so that we don’t judge ourselves. Think of a time where your mind was completely silent—where you were not tangled in a memory or emotional response, where you were not watching a screen or listening to your favorite song.
The truth is, many people do not press pause to just breathe. Constant thought is like constant speech, and, when talking, you cannot truly listen.
Humans often confuse reality with how they perceive reality—like looking up to the sky, pointing to different cloud formations floating by, and calling that reality.
“How do you not see it? That cloud looks exactly like a pouncing tiger,” someone says.
“No, it looks more like a hummingbird!” another responds.
Yet does it ever cross their minds that the only true reality is the sound of the rolling wind?
“A mind filled with thought only identifies with its perceptions and is bound to the world of forms. A mind free of thought merges within itself,” the Chinese philosopher LaoTzu once said.
This is why meditation is so important; it is submitting to the idea that perception fashions reality. Your eyes process light to see objects. Your ears process frequency to hear music. Meditation allows you to transcend your own thought process by clearing your mind.
By doing this, the cloud that you once thought resembled death could transform into salvation at any given moment.
Meditation has nothing to do with self-reflection, and has everything to do with self-resolution. Through schooling and upbringing, you might have been taught prejudices that are not your own. The very language you speak crafts how you receive and communicate ideas. Intellectuals focus on filling their heads with as many ideas as possible; Buddhist monks instead focus on releasing these ideas. They do this under the simple premise that a glass of stale water must be emptied before it can be filled. Once empty of prejudice, negative memories, and bottled-up-emotion, we begin to settle into our truer self.
It may sound contradictory, but, by going out of your mind, you become truly sane. You begin to realize that you are not some stranger stuck on an earth you never made or appointed to a body you never asked for. In school, most Westerners were taught that humanity is somehow separate from the universe—like the universe is a movie theatre and we are all just patrons in the room. Yet we are also taught that the universe and all life originated from the Big Bang. Your body is still composed of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus. It makes no logical sense to separate humanity from its origin. The difference between you and that is a flawed idea. There is no logic in separating ourselves from the environment we depend on.
Dōgen Zenji, a Zen teacher, once wrote:
“Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.”
This is about the transactional relationship between perception and experience, and can be summed up by the statement: We are a modest reflection of the universe, and the universe is an extraordinary reflection of us.
In this way, suffering is not an obstacle to attaining a meditative (empty) state of mind. You do not have to sit cross-legged to reach your higher self. Every-day actions, events, and reactions have the potential to be meditative; all you must do is witness without judgment. A crying baby on the subway is merely a sound. Your nagging reaction to this is just a passing feeling. Do not roll your eyes. The inside and outside world are happening all at once, and all you must do is listen without judgment. The point is to immerse yourself in the immediate moment. The once-dreaded shrieking of a baby is now just a soundtrack to this present moment. You cannot blame the baby for trapping you into the prison of angry thoughts—the door is always left open. There is nothing more foolish than blaming another for your lack of concentration.
Instead, take two deep, conscious breaths. Close both eyes and feel your third eye open. Let your breath fall into your lungs and cascade out of your lips. Begin to sink deeper and deeper into the dark well of your mind. Down here in this darkness, you cannot see your own hand in front of your face. Down here, you cannot see any the separation between your physical body and the universe. This is the secret to floating.
The point of meditation is to live in the present moment, to recognize that the past is an abstract memory and the future a philosophical idea. Humans can only touch the moments that lay within arm’s reach.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished,” wrote LaoTzu.
Just remember: time is like water.