How to Meditate, Interview – April 16, 2010
HTM: What does meditation mean to you?
Chris Lance: To me, meditation practice is about becoming aware and accepting of whatever experiences arise within my mind and body.
HTM: So, does it matter what you are doing at the time? Is meditation the awareness alone-- the willingness to witness and accept? You call it a practice. Is there a specific form you use in terms of posture, movement, or approach?
Chris Lance: I would say that formal sitting meditation (such as sitting quietly, still and upright) is a way of cultivating an awareness and acceptance that can then be experienced in any given moment both on and off the cushion. As the habit of paying attention is developed, it takes on a life of its own (so to speak) and an individual discovers that s/he is increasingly available and aware in a natural, unforced way. So it doesn't matter what one is doing at the time when they are engaged in being awake. Eventually one realizes that the end and the means are the same.
HTM: Thank you for your answer. I find it compelling and very clear. I especially like the bit about paying attention become a habit, and taking on a life of its own. I am interested in hearing more about how you first became interested in meditation, but first I want to ask you something that your response has brought up for me. I am particularly curious about the nature of the initial willingness one has to pay attention or witness oneself more clearly, deeply, etc. Do you have any ideas about where this impulse or willingness comes from, or how it arises?
Chris Lance: I don't have a definitive answer as to what inclines an individual to pay deeper attention to her or his life. My sense is that one can approach such a question from a position of playful inquiry and perhaps discover the answer for themselves. I think it's accurate to say that a traditional Buddhist explanation would be that a person's mind and heart may lean in such a direction as a result of their karmic conditioning. That doesn't answer the question as to what the initial cause is however and I'm not sure it's something that can be answered through means of speculation.
With regard to my curiosity about meditation: I first became interested 15 years ago as a result of stumbling across a book entitled "A Path With Heart" by Jack Kornfield. The hook was that it offered a clear approach to spiritual practice (meditation) which I could immediately employ. This was a first for me. As someone who'd been loosely associated with the Judeo-Christian tradition, I had never come across any material that instructed one on how to pray, for example. In contrast, here was a book that offered a specific, time-tested means for cultivating a peaceful presence.
HTM: You say that this book triggered your first experiences with meditation. I wonder if you could share a few of those experience starting meditation or beginning to meditate for the first time. The purpose being to share pitfalls or stumbling blocks you may have had to face while first starting out. Unless of course it all went terribly smoothly, then by all means I would like to hear about that. Perhaps you could include the form and practice (i.e. sitting, walking, breath).
Chris Lance: I'd say my first few years of my practice were pretty easy. It didn't take much to motivate myself to sit even though I was practicing solo. I think this was mainly because I was under the delusion that meditation was a panacea that would somehow resolve ALL my problems.
After two or three years, unresolved issues that I was bypassing via spiritual practice began to surface. These were difficult to face at times - most of the time I'd say - and, in fact, I didn't really face them until I started dropping the ideas I had about what meditation could do for me. This is a process that continues and is, most likely, indefinite. That's actually something I'm grateful for since it means the possibility of experiencing greater and greater freedom as I keep practicing.
A concrete example of what I'm describing is how I've dealt with depression. Throughout my adult life it's fair to say that I've been mildly to moderately depressed most of the time, with intermittent periods of severe depression sprinkled in there. On some level, I believed that if I practiced hard enough I would be able to overcome this malaise (which could be quite debilitating at times). My inability to do so only fueled the self-defeating thoughts I had about my capabilities as a person. For years, I continued to believe that depression was a character default of mine and compounded the problem by thinking I wasn't a good enough meditator to conquer it.
Even though friends encouraged me at times to consider anti-depressants, I never did. Then last fall I had a period of depression as bad as any I've experienced. Therapy didn't help and eventually I decided to explore medicine as an option. It's probably more accurate to say that the therapist I was working with, and others, STRONGLY encouraged me to go this route. I did it and was skeptical frankly but much to my astonishment I began feeling better fairly quickly.
I realized that over the years I had built up a lot of shame around my experience of depression and tried to hide it from others. After starting the medicine, however, I began talking to my friends openly and "coming out" as a practitioner who's dealt with depression for many years and used spirituality as a way to try to avoid some major issues in my life which depression was masking.
I hope you don't mind me sharing all of this with you. It's seems to be a long way of making a point, which is this: don't have expectations about what practice will do for you. The path to inner peace is unmarked terrain for all, one that each of us had to navigate on our own accord in relation to our particular life situation. Any sense that we as humans "shouldn't" be having the experience we are having (whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) is bound to create greater suffering for us. If we can remain curious and spacious with whatever comes our way, we will come to know liberation in more ways than we can imagine.
HTM: Thank you. Thank you for participating.