meditators before us have laid out the path, but how can we be sure
we’re following it genuinely? There are no guarantees, but CAROLYN ROSE GIMIAN has some tips for keeping it real.
When the Shambhala Sun asked
me to write an article about how to make meditation practice genuine
and real, I wasn’t sure whether to be proud or insulted. Maybe they were
asking me because they could see what a fraud I am on the meditation
cushion, and they needed someone to write honestly about failure.
guilty as charged. Failure to be peaceful, failure to be mindful,
failure to be aware, failure to be kind, failure to think big, failure
to be generous (or insert your favorite virtue/ accomplishment I’ve
failed at). On the other hand, sitting on the cushion for a lot of years
(if I tell you how many, it will be really embarrassing) has yielded some results.
I have witnessed a whole circus of bizarre fantasies, emotions, and
extreme mental states, starring anger, lust, hatred, delusion,
arrogance, pride, depression, anxiety, and a host of other amazing
performers. I’ve made friends with Speedy, Distracted, and Lazy, three
of the seven dwarfs of meditation for small-minded people. However, I do
have one genuine accomplishment: I have gotten completely and totally
is my great achievement. Isn’t that what you aspire to in your
meditation practice? To be totally, fully bored with yourself, your
practice, your life, your fantasies, etc., etc., etc.? No?
topic, the actual topic I was asked to write about, is genuineness.
Genuine is a term that is bandied about quite a lot these days, and it
can mean many things, depending on the context. Through my search
engine, I found that a lot of advertising companies use the word genuine
in the title of their companies and websites. Suspicious. I also
noticed that popular searches with genuine as the first word were mainly
for car parts. If you’re going to drive an automobile, you would like
it to have genuine parts, I’m sure. But this was not what I associate
with genuineness in spiritual practice.
the other hand, my word processor tells me that synonyms for genuine
include real, authentic, indisputable, true, unadulterated, actual,
legitimate, and valid. As far as the practice of meditation is
concerned, these sound pretty good. I would definitely like my
meditation to be real, authentic, indisputable, true, unadulterated,
actual, legitimate, and valid.
so how are we going to achieve that? And what are the pitfalls? Simple.
To be genuine, you have to be honest with yourself first, and then with
others. Don’t make anything up. Just do it. Just be it. It’s pretty
straightforward. But being honest with yourself is not so easy. There’s a
little thing called self-deception that gets in the way.
that we’ve introduced that scary word, self-deception, we have our work
cut out for us. In the realm of overcoming self-deception, it’s probably
better to have no goal in your practice, but that’s a very difficult
thing. Since meditation actually works, it’s hard not to have a goal. It
actually does make you kinder, more aware, less speedy, happier, more
mindful, more efficient, more peaceful, more in the moment, and so on.
I’m not belittling these. They are important and valid outcomes of
meditation. There are many studies and self-reports that support this.
I’m a fan, a true believer. But this doesn’t specifically address
fact, when it comes to being genuine, it may be better to have one of
those definite but perhaps limited purposes and let genuineness, which
is all-pervasive, take care of itself. Indeed, unwittingly, you do
manifest genuineness through the practice of meditation. You become more
transparent and available to yourself, your thoughts are less fixed,
you discover both natural strength and natural gentleness, and you’re
able to see through preconceptions.
presume you’re all waiting for the but, the pitfall. Here it comes, and
it’s a big one. Largely, it’s attachment to credentials.
experience comes blessedly, with no connection to credentials. If out
of nowhere you have an experience of openness, joy, compassion, or
awareness, an experience that doesn’t seem causally connected to
anything particular in your life, then it is largely free from
credentials. It’s a gift. It’s just what it is. Enjoy it for what it is,
while it lasts.
as soon as you become a “meditator,” whether you have been meditating
for one hour, one week, one retreat, or twenty years, you may begin to
feel the need to label your meditation experiences and to communicate
them to others. That’s the beginning of gaining your spiritual
credentials. You’ve just done your first meditation retreat. You go home
and tell your family and friends about it: “Oh, it was fantastic. I had
a really hard time for a few days, and my body hurt and I couldn’t
control my thoughts, but then I had the most amazing (or insert other
adjective) experience.” Whatever it was. Well, what else are you going
to say? “Nothing happened. It was a complete waste of time, but I want
to keep doing this.” Huh? We have positive experiences, and we want to
share them with others. That’s an ordinary and acceptable thing to do.
little less benign is that, internally, we are looking for
confirmation, signs that something is happening in our practice. We are
looking for results, progress on the path. That also may be natural but
it’s a little more dangerous because after a while we may tend to
manufacture results or jump on things in our practice. If we have a
“good” (that is, peaceful) meditation session, we are pleased and we try
to repeat that. Another time we are frustrated when our mind is a
roaring freight train of thoughts and emotions. Or we are experiencing
huge upheavals in our life, yet nothing is coming up when we’re on the
cushion. Shouldn’t they manifest in our meditation? We may try to
manufacture emotionality and crisis in our practice. There are many
other examples of how our expectations manifest in our meditation
All these concerns about our practice and our various meditation experiences are genuine signs of—wait for it—confusion.
Actually, the recognition of confusion is quite helpful. Seeing our
confusion is an important and, dare we say, genuine discovery. If we
look into our experience, we see that we are very, very confused in some
fundamental way. That may be the most authentic realization that comes
up over and over in our meditation practice. If we are willing to
acknowledge confusion, at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end,
then the path and the teachings are real, even if we may not seem to be
Give up any hope of fruition. This slogan from the lojong (mind-training)
tradition is another way of putting it. This is the idea of our
practice being anti-credential, or free from credentials—through and
through, start to finish. That is why boredom, our starting point, is so
helpful. It’s really not a very good credential. If someone asks what
you have achieved after three days, or three years, or three decades of
meditating, it’s not that impressive to say, “I’m thoroughly bored.” To
prepare for writing this article, I looked at ads for spiritual paths
and retreats, and not one of them said, “Come sit with us. We’ll make
you completely bored.”
boredom is actually a great sign, if it is genuine, complete boredom
that includes being bored with your confusion, your anger, your
arrogance, your everything, your you. I’m probably letting the cat out
of the bag a bit, but if you commit yourself fully to your practice and
discipline, you eventually wear out a lot of things—they begin to seem
quite unnecessary and quite boring.
is genuinely helpful in ventilating our minds. The point of meditation
is obviously not to encourage or enshrine our confusion, so getting
really bored with our storylines, positive and negative, helps us
clarify our confusion immensely. Of course, the path of meditation is
not designed to deter us from commitment, confidence, and positive
achievements in life. Meditation is not a nihilistic enterprise. But the
approach of collecting credentials rather than wearing them out is
problematic. It is very dangerous to try to con buddha mind, hoping to
find a shortcut. It’s not dangerous to buddha mind itself, but it may
lead to self-deception, the opposite of being genuine.
is often a problem the longer you have been practicing, especially if
you become an instructor or a spiritual model of some kind for others.
Then you really feel
that you have to demonstrate some accomplishment, and you may begin to
panic if you don’t find anything in yourself that qualifies. People are
looking to you for advice. They may be watching your every move, or so
you think. They may ask you, “What was it like when you were just a
beginner like me?” “How did you become so wise, kind, open, generous,
blah blah blah?” And you start to think, “Well, I must have accomplished
something. Yes, I am wiser, kinder, more open, more generous, more blah
blah blah.” You may try to fulfill people’s expectations because you
actually want to help them. But you also want to avoid embarrassment.
interesting thing is that people actually see right through one
another, so really we could relax about the whole thing. It’s an open
secret. Or as Leonard Cohen wrote, “Everybody knows.” Everybody really
does know their own and others’ little secrets. We know, that is, if we
admit to ourselves what we see, what we really know. That perception
sees what is truly genuine.
it’s not so easy to relax with that in ourselves. We have a lot of
resistance to simply being ourselves, without pretense or adornment,
with all our warts and wrinkles. It is quite uncomfortable. So often we
put on a little show for ourselves and others, thinking that’s what is
required. We try to give the people what they want. We try to give
ourselves what we think we want. It’s actually very sad, and in the long
run it doesn’t help ourselves or others. But in the short run, it’s a
pretty good con.
while everybody may know, that’s not a license for telling other people
what’s wrong with them or what’s good for them. To do that, you’d have
to really know.
You’d have to be able to see others not just as schmucks or charlatans,
devils or angels, but also as the immaculately genuine human beings
they are. That has to start in one’s own practice. Sitting with
ourselves without expectation, viewing practice as practice,
as life’s work rather than a race to the finish line. In that way, we
leave space so that buddha mind, genuine mind, can shine through at the
most unexpected moments.
Genuineness is actually that simple. But I have to confess that I fall short most of the time, failure that I am.
A little voice pops up: Give it up. Abandon any hope of fruition.
I yield to the little voice.
Carolyn Rose Gimian is a senior editor of the works of the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, including The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa and Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery. She is currently working on a book of mindfulness teachings by Chögyam Trungpa.