I have said before that I often think of my life in terms of before and after a 10 day silent meditation retreat I spent in western Massachusetts. Hyperbole aside, I still find ways to maintain a focused practice and I recently found this interview between Tara Brach and Tim Ferriss to be a great refresher on why I meditate.
There's a strong quote in the interview that resonated with me: "Often times, the people that need meditation the most are the people who might also be most likely to quit because they like doing everything successfully." I am not shy to name my addiction to overachievement and this quote from Tara acknowledges the truth that meditation is not something to conquer, but instead a way of understanding how to categorize and employ a framework of living.
I discovered four categories of insight from the interview:
(1) The Trance of Unworthiness:
When Tara first started getting involved in meditation (she actually lived in an ashram for ten years after college), she went through a lot of the same things I myself go through and the things I hear my friends go through in our present day Western culture which is the question: 'What else can I do to relieve myself of anxiety and stress?' The short answer? Relax more. Tara describes this relentless desire for self-improvement as the trance of unworthiness. And it comes from a mindset that lives in a world of scarcity and not one of abundance and self-love.
In my conversations with peers, another problem that is posed is this: What is the balance between acceptance and pushing the boundaries to increase progress? This refers to either self-progress and self-optimization in the personal life, or progress within a specific job function or company. I've thought long and hard about Steve Jobs' accomplishments and what he had to sacrifice to fulfill those, for example. Here, I enjoy Tara's pull from Carl Rogers: "It wasn't until I accepted myself just as I was that I was free to change."
(3) What does successful meditation look like?
Okay, a bit of a paradoxical question, but my point is that for those of us who want to live a life not removed from civilization (i.e. I don't see myself moving to the mountains of Nepal anytime soon), what is the end goal? To this, I enjoyed Tara's point: The goal isn't to live life without any pleasures or desires (materialism, satisfactions, etc), but the goal is to be aware of when there is tight gripping and control of those objects, rather than the other way around. There is a difference between thinking of Buddhism and mindfulness as an ideal state of being without any desire, and thinking of Buddhism and mindfulness as a state of awareness of what those desires are.
As an aside: I found some really great pointers in the interview geared towards giving a better way to meditate for the first time. Around the 1:30 mark.
(4) Having tea with Mara
In Buddhist mythology, there is a popular story that describes the Buddha going out to have tea with Mara. In the Buddhist mythology of Buddha's awakening, one night Buddha sits under a bodhi tree (later known as the tree of awakening). Through the night, the god mara (Mara represents all the forces that create misery. Think jealousy, greed, desire, etc) attacked him. Instead of reacting with emotion, Buddha employed a practice of presence mind thinking so that every arrow, so to speak, was turned into a flower petal. Over the course of Buddha's life, Mara kept showing up. And the Buddha’s reaction to Mara was always to employ an attitude of calm and chill, despite more explosive cries from the guards and the caretakers who would sound the alarms with Mara's presence. In those moments, Buddha would go up to Mara and say, “Hi Mara. Good to see you. Why don’t we go have some tea?"
Okay, so...my two takeaways from the story: 1) Awareness: Buddha sees what is happening in this moment. He has a capacity to acknowledge what is here. Instead of fighting what is here in the moment, there’s an ability to create space for it and find a way to live with it. It’s a way of being with ourselves that is intimate and full, not part in part.
Both of these together are radical acceptance. And with this, when we respond to the world, we get to respond to the world with our full selves and with our full potential. We aren’t in a reactive mode.
“Between stimulus and response, there is space. And in that space is your power and freedom.” - Viktor Frankl
(5) Dealing with FOMO (fear of missing out)
I will keep this one short. There's a way to feel fear without being driven by it. There's a way to say that you're going to take a step back and take a sabbatical. This is the exact kind of relationship we can have with FOMO if we want to feel more liberated.
"The hero and the coward feel the same t hing. It's what the hero does that makes him different." - Mike Tyson
Tara ends the interview: "Ask yourself: What am I unwilling to fear? To become fearless, you first have to feel the fear."