The Key to Knowing Ourselves Is Meditation
Meditation practice awakens our trust that the wisdom and compassion that we need are already within us. It helps us to know ourselves: our rough parts and our smooth parts, our passion, aggression, ignorance and wisdom.
awakens our trust that the wisdom and compassion that we need are already
within us. It helps us to know ourselves: our rough parts and our smooth parts,
our passion, aggression, ignorance and wisdom. The reason that people harm
other people, the reason that the planet is polluted and people and animals are
not doing so well, these days is that individuals don’t know or trust or love
themselves enough. The technique of sitting meditation called
shamatha-vipashyana (“tranquillity-insight”) is like a golden key that helps us
to know ourselves.
shamatha-vipashyana meditation, we sit upright with legs crossed and eyes open,
hands resting on our thighs. Then we simply become aware of our breath as it
goes out. It requires precision to be right there with that breath. On the
other hand, it’s extremely relaxed and soft. Saying, “Be right there with the
breath as it goes out,” is the same thing as saying, “Be fully present.” Be
right here with whatever is going on. Being aware of the breath as it goes out,
we may also be aware of other things going on—sounds on the street, the light
on the walls. These things capture our attention slightly, but they don’t need
to draw us off. We can continue to sit right here, aware of the breath going
with the breath is only part of the technique. These thoughts that run through
our minds continually are the other part. We sit here talking to ourselves. The
instruction is that when you realize you’ve been thinking you label it
“thinking.” When your mind wanders off, you say to yourself, “Thinking.”
Whether your thoughts are violent or passionate or full of ignorance and
denial; whether your thoughts are worried or fearful; whether your thoughts are
spiritual thoughts, pleasing thoughts of how well you’re doing, comforting
thoughts, uplifting thoughts, whatever they are—without judgment or harshness
simply label it all “thinking,” and do that with honesty and gentleness.
on the breath is light: only about 25 percent of the awareness is on the
breath. You’re not grasping and fixating on it. You’re opening, letting the
breath mix with the space of the room, letting your breath just go out into
space. Then there’s something like a pause, a gap until the next breath goes
out again. While you’re breathing in, there could be some sense of just opening
and waiting. It is like pushing the doorbell and waiting for someone to answer.
Then you push the doorbell again and wait for someone to answer. Then probably
your mind wanders off and you realize you’re thinking again—at this point use
the labeling technique.
important to be faithful to the technique. If you find that your labeling has a
harsh, negative tone to it, as if you were saying, “Dammit!,” that you’re
giving yourself a hard time, say it again and lighten up. It’s not like trying
to shoot down the thoughts as if they were clay pigeons. Instead, be gentle.
Use the labeling part of the technique as an opportunity to develop softness
and compassion for yourself. Anything that comes up is okay in the arena of
meditation. The point is, you can see it honestly and make friends with it.
Although it is
embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself. It
is healing to know all the ways that you’re sneaky, all the ways that you hide
out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticize people, all
your weird little ways. You can know all of that with some sense of humor and
kindness. By knowing yourself, you’re coming to know humanness altogether. We
are all up against these things. So when you realize that you’re talking to
yourself, label it “thinking” and notice your tone of voice. Let it be
compassionate and gentle and humorous. Then you’ll be changing old stuck
patterns that are shared by the whole human race. Compassion for others begins
with kindness to ourselves.
From Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living,
by Pema Chödrön. With permission of Shambhala Publications.
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