“That is my worst nightmare. Just me and my mind in silence? No way. I would go crazy!”
I had just told a friend that I had booked in for a 10 day silent meditation retreat, but he replied as if I was volunteering for solitary confinement in prison. How strange that the perception of the meditation experience for one person can be blissful, and for another hellish.
Why is this the case? How can it be so divisive when we are only talking about being still and silent.
On a very simple level I think we are afraid of what we don’t know and understand, and the practice of meditation has so much baggage and stereotype around it that many people just don’t understand why spending 10 days in silence could do anything positive for them. Well, it can. Meditation can create internal change that is profound and life changing. It can re-connect us with something we have lost.
Author and meditator Lawrence LeShan recalls how he was with a group of leading scientists who all meditated daily, and he asked them why: “Various answers were given by different members of the group and we all knew that they were unsatisfactory, that they did not really answer the questions. Finally one man said, “It’s like coming home.” There was silence after this, and one by one all nodded their heads in agreement. There was clearly no need to prolong the inquiry further.”
Can you recall that feeling of when you return home after a long period of travel? You open the door, notice the familiar smells, sights and sounds of your home. You put down your bags, take in your surroundings. You look with fresh eyes at what is familiar. You sink into your favourite chair and truly relax. You sigh with relief. You have been travelling a long time and seen many things. But now you are home. It feels rejuvenating and grounding, just as meditation feels.
People who meditate also consistently report feeling less stress and anxiety. We feel emotionally aware and balanced. We know that through the practice we live more in present moment reality, than in imagined and projected futures. We feel more capacity for love and compassion. We feel more connected to our fellow man, to all beings and all living things.
And as we continue on the path of meditation we see that all of these reasons are actually just the same. All these reasons to meditate point to the essential why: When we meditate we give up the illusion of separateness and we come home to wholeness.
We become what we have always been but our dualistic mind has fought to deny: we are inter-connected and part of the universal whole.
Meditation & Purpose
How do we find our purpose in life? This could be the most important question of them all.
It is not as complicated as you may think. Let’s return to the metaphor of meditation as coming home. I often feel the allure of travelling and the stagnation of being in once place for too long, so I might pack the bags, hit the road and fulfil my wanderlust. But there comes a time when I feel the inner need for stability, putting down roots and coming home. There is always a Yin and Yang to the travel experience, a constant balance between adventuring from one place to another, and wanting to feel settled, able to unpack the bags and just rest in one place for a while.
When we travel we experience and see many things, sometimes in a flurry of activity, sight-seeing and doing. It is often only when we return home, or stay in one place for a while that we integrate what we have learned and experienced into the fabric of our consciousness. It is all about balance.
Living without a practice that connects you to the whole (which includes everyone, everything, and the part within you that feels emotion and expresses itself with intuition, instinct and spontaneity), is to live in a state of chronic imbalance.
Purpose comes from within
Which means that your meaning in life is encoded within you and expresses itself through heartfelt emotion and feelings. If you live your life un-connected to your inner self and spend your entire life searching outside yourself for the answers you will never be able to access the truth within.
You may think you have purpose, but if this does not sprout from the soil of your heart, it will be artificial and unsustainable.
So the solution to finding ones authentic purpose is to stop looking out there, and be still and silent so you can allow to emerge what is within you. Meditation is extremely effective in this regard, as are many other forms of re-connecting to wholeness, such as immersing in nature, experiencing flow states, altered states of consciousness, and giving to others.
(N.B I use travel only as a metaphor. I believe the right kind of travel can do much to connect one to their purpose and who they really are)
Separation & Wholeness
Psychologist Max Wertheimer once defined an adult as “a deteriorated child”, referring to the state of curious, open awareness and connection that characterises children. In contrast, much of humanity exists in a state of separation and dis-connect that is not our natural state but is enforced and heightened by many facets of western culture.
Encouraged to compete for everything and to value vanity over inner development we become fearful and insecure, and we and cling on to pleasures and avoid pains. There is a sense of alone-ness. The ego self is brittle and fragile.
When we feed this identity with with the attention, validation, pleasures and comfort that it craves, we still feel hollow and unsatisfied: It is a hungry ghost.
On the other hand, achieving a sense of connectedness is to return to a natural state. We sense that we are part of the universe and we re-connect with life on a level of consciousness that was previously inaccessible When we feel that sense of connectedness with all of life, it stays with us.
Even a fleeting experience of one-ness can permeate our consciousness forever more: we change ourselves and regress in the most positive way toward our full potential. We move back toward our connected childhood.
We ask questions and receive answers from within us. If that sounds like crazy mumbo jumbo, we are just talking about accessing your intuition or gut feeling.
The goal of meditation is simply to achieve our full human potential, as beings that are connected to a deeper sense of “I”, to each other, and to the earth.
Despite the stereotypes of meditation as a blissful pursuit, it is a hard discipline and a requires great determination. The idea of a non-meditator signing up for a 10 day silent meditation retreat is similar to a non-runner signing up for a marathon. It is daunting, and even if it is possible to achieve, a progressive “training regime” would be beneficial.
Please check out our beginners guide to get the ball rolling on learning meditation. Also, consider there are many practices you can add to your daily life that will prepare you for meditation.
Take a “mindful shower”, where you focus purely on the sensations and sounds of the experience. Become aware of where your mind strays while you wash the dishes, and see if you can return it to the sensations and act of washing the dishes. When in conversation with someone, see if you can absorb every word, every nuance, every emotion that underlies the speech… and see if you can notice in your the urge to talk, rather than listen.
All of these activities, and a million more; everything we do, say and think are part of the spiritual path. And this is a path, that will lead you to understand your purpose in life.
Please comment below if you feel purpose and meditation have had some relation to each other in your life.