On Self-Reliance and Meditation

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On Self-Reliance and Meditation

When it comes to meditation, there is the untrue perception that the aim is to empty the mind.  There is also the unattainable hope that a clear mind will be an antidote to anxiety or distress.  Peacefulness through meditation is not achieved by turning off the mind, but by revealing the true sound of the Self – a sound that lies beneath the immensity of noise created by modern life.

In his timeless essay, Self-Reliance (1841), Ralph Waldo Emerson urged a young American society to “learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.”  He underscored the virtue of capturing the sound of one’s unadulterated voice – of [detecting]… that gleam of light”- and acting on it with confidence.  Today’s “bards and sages” are an overwhelming distraction.  We are not subjected to the “luster” of a singular culture, community, or society – but rather the protracted shimmer of the entire world at our fingertips.  It is very difficult to access the sound of one’s Self.

Self-Reliance is more than a philosophical ideal; it is about possessing an authentic confidence in one’s being.   This confidence is a certainty in the Self - it is uncontrived, uninfluenced, unembellished.  It is honest.  But to be self-reliant, we must quiet the noise of the external environment.  We must detach from the expectations and influence of our surroundings.  We must be present in the world, while operating from an internal standpoint.  We must be mindful. 

When we are mindful we pay attention to our life as it unfolds in the present.   With presence, regrets of the past and concerns for the future are quieted.  Mindfulness allows us to cultivate a moment-to-moment awareness of life. When we are mindful we access the sound of our Self.  And when we hear the sound of our own voice, the voices of anxiety, fear, and insecurity are more difficult to discern.  When the scourge of emotional distress is tempered, we realize the profundity of Emerson’s words: “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of [our] own mind.”

A mindful state of being is accessed through the simple and effective practice of meditation.  Meditation takes discipline; it can be difficult to seek stillness counter to the dynamism of modern life.  The effects of mindfulness meditation require one to commit to a consistent practice.  Even Emerson conceded, “the voices we hear in solitude…grow faint and inaudible as we enter the world.”  So, we return to meditation again and again, growing assurance in our Self.  With self-reliance we steady ourselves with an honest confidence.  And with confidence in our Self, we navigate our lives with increased grace and ease.

Click below to join me in meditation.

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Commentary:  Why Mindfulness Meditation, Part 2

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Commentary: Why Mindfulness Meditation, Part 2

Meditation is a practice in which the individual detaches from external stimuli and enters an internal space.  It is in this space where meditators seek refuge from anxiety, worry, depression, stress and other serious ailments of modern life.  And it works.  When meditation is practiced regularly with sincerity and discipline, emotional health improves; wellbeing is enhanced. Yet, accessing this internal space offers much more.  In my second commentary on why we should practice meditation, I offer a discourse on how this practice may influence our perception of personal identity.  My comments are based on my own experiences and are offered with an open mind and heart. 

Take a listen…

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Scratching The Surface

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Scratching The Surface

My initial inquiry into mindfulness meditation was a last ditch effort to find relief from insomnia.  The notion that being present could end my suffering seemed a philosophy for those who have the luxury of spending copious amounts of time on introspection, long walks and poetry – a reality for someone granted an excess of resources and good health.  I had to live within the confines of reality,  stressful situations, responsibilities, and obligations.  I had to remember the past to keep from repeating mistakes.  I had to consider the future to ensure prosperity.  The anguish of fatigue caused me to act against my better judgment and I found myself giving meditation a try.  For that I am grateful.  

My practice has changed.  What began as a outcome driven task has transitioned into something more nuanced and layered.  I now seek to experience the daily upheaval of life with dignity and confidence rather than disbelief and defiance.  There is subtlety as well as definition.  What follows are a few thoughts on some of the transformative aspects of my practice.  I hope you find them helpful.

Uncertainty without Insecurity

I’ve never been comfortable with the unknown.  I like answers.  When they aren’t available, I like finding them.  I like to rationalize, and I don’t understand blind faith.  At times these qualities have worked in my favor.  I was a great student, leaving no stone unturned in my studies.   I am extremely reliable, never wanting anyone to be uncertain about my sincerity.  I am trusted.  Yet, the ever-present desire to be sure of things can lead to feelings of insecurity, lack of confidence, and in my case worry – a lot of worry .  By practicing mindfulness meditation, I’ve learned to acknowledge uncertainty, without having to address it.  I observe thoughts of worry, but don’t latch onto them.  Instead, I allow thoughts to fade and bring myself to the present, to the constancy of breath.  And in life, off the meditation seat, worry has lost its appeal. 

Hope without expectation.  

There is a thin line between hope and expectation.  To be hopeful is to be lifted by the knowledge that people are inherently good, that bad times are temporary, and that change will happen. Expectation can be a desire for things to be different than they are; the belief that we deserve more than what is present at any moment.  The line is easily blurred and we can lose hope while expecting better things to happen.  When I connect to the breath over and over in meditation I experience an accepting awareness.  I understand and accept the present while knowing it will change many times over as time passes.  By recognizing change as inevitable, I have gained hope without attachment to outcome. To have hope without expectation has become a immense gift – it is a new form of freedom. 

Failure without regret

I’ve never begun any endeavor with the surety of success.  From a young age I’ve understood that failure is simply part of the journey toward accomplishment, discovery and success. I consider myself a considerably tenacious individual, willing to move through multiple iterations of a plan before changing course or giving up.  Failure has never been a difficult pill to swallow, it is the aftertaste of regret that has been lasting.   I have made many choices out of obligation or a misguided sense of duty.   These are the ghosts that haunt me most today.   I now know that missed opportunity is the result of living out of step with the present.  During meditation, I practice returning to the present again and again.  Each time I return to the present, I return to truth, the only reality there is in the moment.   And in moments of presence and truth it is simple to drop the shades of judgment, perception, and belief that cloud vision.  When vision is clear, opportunities aren’t missed, and the potential for regret is absent.  

I know I have only scratched the surface of what may be revealed through meditation.  But I have gained much.  

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Meditation: getting started

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Meditation: getting started

Meditation is challenging.  It can feel like a terribly solitary endeavor.  Being alone with the activity of our minds, watching our thoughts, intentionally letting go and practicing being present is unsettling.  For many of us, the individual and unique patterns of our thought processes are like a well-worn security blanket offering the illusion of comfort and safety.  When we practice meditation we are gently detaching from our thought stream.  We are witnessing our thoughts from afar.  Stepping away from the activity of our minds can leave us feeling uneasy and vulnerable. 

Meditation is like any new activity we try - it takes a bit of time to get comfortable.  Although it may seem contradictory, feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and even fear can be heightened by the very practice that’s meant to reduce them.  In truth, this type of initial response is actually very natural.  However, with time, learning mindfulness through meditation will take the edge off vulnerabilities and allow us to grow more confident from within.

Here are a few tips to help begin the practice with ease:

1.     Take a walk. 

There are days when stillness feels unavailable.  One solution is to take your meditation for a walk.   As you walk, move with awareness.  Be aware of the sensations in your body.  Feel your muscles working with each step.  Note how the temperature feels.  Notice any discomfort.  Bring awareness to your thinking.  What thoughts enter your mind as you encounter new or familiar sights, sounds and smells?  Are you forming judgments or opinions about your experience?  Just notice and keep walking. Notice the nature of your thoughts.  Are you planning, worrying, hoping, dreaming?  Again, just notice.  Ask yourself if you are present or if your mind has wandered away. If so, gently bring your thoughts back to walking – the movement of each step.

2.     Community meditation. 

Another great way to ease into your meditation practice is to find a community.  Surrounding yourself with likeminded individuals can be motivating and encourage consistency.  Moreover, sharing your own experiences will expand your own practice.   As the concept mindfulness was once esoteric; it is now mainstream.  There are entire organizations committed to educating and building community through meditation.  Research what’s available in your area and share what you learn.

3.     Public meditation.

Traditionally meditation is practiced while sitting in a comfortable quiet space.  However, at times a private space can feel more confining than reassuring. Rather than meditate alone, try doing so in public.  Find a place you feel at peace - where you can be alone but around others at the same time.  Perhaps it’s a park bench, a museum, or even a particular train or bus ride.  Wherever you choose, be there in awareness of your surroundings.  Connect with the breath and practice being present from one moment to the next.

These suggestions are just a few of the many possibilities you might choose to try when sitting in stillness feels inaccessible.  I encourage you to experiment with various approaches knowing that with time, you will become more comfortable with the concept of allowing yourself to simply be in awareness of the present.  And when you feel ready, please do try meditation in quiet stillness.  You may be surprised by the comfort and confidence revealed.

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