It is a common misconception that meditation should produce a state of bliss – and that is why people want to do it. Pain is not something they want, they avoid it as much as possible. This is the calculus of their logic: more happiness and less pain. Accepting pain to them seems ridiculous, avoiding it is the only thing to do – and they will do anything to avoid it.
They are dead wrong: pain is an normal part of life, it cannot be avoided, and this avoidance is a common component of mental illness. The ability to deal effectively with pain is, by contrast, an important part of mental health – and an important theme of the arts and religion.
The most serious of our human problems, and we certainly have many of them, is our addiction to thinking – adults have to be thinking all the time. The kind of meditation I do involves calming down this compulsive activity. Which is nearly impossible. But no matter, you do it anyway, the best you possibly can.
The immediate effects are not noticeable, but only become apparent later in the quality of your thinking – strangely enough. To think well, you have to stop thinking completely on a regular basis. This gives the mind a chance to rest, reset itself, start over on a fresh basis, and really get something done. Otherwise, it gets stale.
This process always involves some suffering – or maybe discomfort would be a better word. We are unaccustomed to making this distinction – and assume pain always leads to more pain. Usually, it doesn’t at all, we just feel some vague discomfort, and this makes us uneasy.
What we have to do is just sit with those feelings and get better acquainted with them – precisely what we ordinarily don’t want to do. When I say “get better acquainted with them” I mean with their physical sensations. Thinking about them is not what you want to do – because you will only get stuck in them more.
After reading The Master and his Emissary, I can understand better what is going on. Compulsive thinking is what the left hemisphere does. It has to give up and return control to the right hemisphere – for it to sort things out. Something it is very reluctant to do. And which, as a culture, we have become reluctant to do.
The ultimate left-hemisphere technology is the computer/software/internet. Which we have become completely enraptured of. This is natural enough, there is no clear dividing line between ourselves and our technologies. But the result has been a disaster. We have forgotten what it is like to be human – and the computer does not want us to. It only wants us to become more firmly addicted to it.
“But,” you may say, “You are using this technology now, in writing this blog.” True, and that is am important observation: technology can be used to break our addiction to technology.
It can happen, but it is unlikely – because too few people are aware of what is going on. And this is the objective of meditation – and Buddhism in general.
Buddhism, however, has been a failure.