Image: Picnic Lunch for 800, Plum Village Meditation Retreat, France
I am not the world’s greatest sitting meditator. Despite attending 2 to 3 meditation retreats a year for the past 4 years, and many of the weekly meditation sessions per month at our local meditation group, I’ve always found it almost impossible to sit down and meditate every day at home.
When I am on a retreat, and in the weekly group meetings, sitting with other people makes it much easier, and I have occasionally touched moments of a peace that can best be described as delicious. It’s the delicious, quiet warmth of stopping and finding I actually possess some inner peace.
When I’m on my own, the greatest meditation practices have always involved being outside – walking in nature, listening to the wind in the trees, feeling the sun, or the cold, on my face – when I’m brought back to my senses, and they bring me out of my busy mind and into the fresh, beautiful reality that surrounds us.
But it is from the weekly meditation session with others, and from the retreats with real zen/meditation teachers, that I’ve really been shown this extraordinary truth – that beneath all my running, and exhausting thinking and deciding and planning, there is a profoundly quiet place deep inside me. A stillness that’s made of the same stuff as the feeling of sun or cold on my face, or the sound of the wind in the trees (which is, I suppose, why I Iike them so much).
My sister told me on the phone yesterday that her husband’s cousin was becoming a nun. “She even had to give her watch back to her parents. I envy her really,” she said, “living a quiet life without all the stuff we have to worry about.” I’ve often thought that way about the monks I’ve met, and wondered how to take the best of their quiet, peaceful lives and apply it to our busy lives in the outside world.
And the best answer I can come up with is to find that quiet place inside us and, while it’s a big job to live there all the time, to connect with it as often as we can, to keep it with us through everyday life.
So the first thing is to keep in touch with it, which is where the occasonal retreat and weekly meditation group meetings help me a lot. And walks in nature. But the truth is that I can’t even get near it when I’ve got 5 projects on the go, and endless everyday decisions to make, and a chitter chatter mind that has hardly paused for breath since the day it had its first thought.
Once again then, it’s time to prune back the projects, and simplify simplify simplify. To reduce the noise and the clutter and the rush, so that I can get closer to the peace that makes life so much easier, so much more enjoyable.
That quiet place deep inside me knows that there’s no need to run, that it’s OK to step out of the mad materialistic rush of our wonderful western world. That what I felt on a train back from Cordoba still holds true: That the purpose of life isn’t to amass huge wealth or fame, or to do more than everyone else is doing to make me feel like a worthwhile human being, but just to practice time-honoured, simple ways to live happily in the present, and enjoy it. Then help others enjoy it all too.
Things that have helped me:
– Good books and audio on this list
– Meditation retreats and local meditation groups (sanghas) in the easy-going, common-sense tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh – His ideas and tradition have worked wonders for me, but there are many other equally worthy paths to follow.