Just show up…and watch

pemaSince I write about it so often, you’ve probably already guessed that for me, meditation is a huge part of what my Buddhist path is about.  After all, it’s how the Buddha reached enlightenment; it’s how the Dalai Lama maintains his huge well of compassion; and it’s how we ordinary folks can train our minds, just the way they did and do.

However, seen from the outside, meditation must appear to be one of the most useless activities in the universe.  I mean after all, what is the meditator doing?   Sitting.  Simply sitting there, eyes closed or looking at the floor.

That’s it.

Minute after minute after long, endless minute, sitting, breathing, “doing” absolutely nothing.

To someone looking at a meditator for some clue as to what it’s all about, the scene would be like trying to watch grass grow:   Boring.

Stultifyingly boring. 


However, the inside of that picture is another story entirely.  What we’re actually doing (invisible as it may be to the outside world) is watching the antics and scurrying around and convolutions of our monkey mind…..and that’s a whole other ball game.

News Flash:  There’s tons of stuff happening in there, folks.

To offer a few examples, a meditator can experience any one of thousands of things at any given time, such as:

  • Discomfort; pain; itches that scream to be scratched
  • Plan-making, covering every eventuality for the next decade or so
  • Every emotion known to man
  • Feeling of timelessness
  • Fantasies that would knock your socks off (believe me, the movie world has nothing on the mind’s ability to create)
  • Incredible bliss and feeling of oneness
  • Intense list-making (absolutely must get this list in my mind before I forget)
  • Memories that can comfort, or memories that scorch and burn
  • Out-of-body awareness
  • Oh, and yes, boredom (mind-wrenching boredom being another of the mind’s ways of trying to get around being examined)

To cut this list short, let’s just say that if the mind can come up with it, you can be sure that it’s happened to every meditator at one point or another.  Our minds are endlessly inventive, and all they do is think this weird stuff up.  After all, that’s what minds do, right?  They think.

So the object of the entire exercise is to watch the mind as it hustles around doing all that thinking and creating.

And if we watch long enough, we begin to realize that – lo and behold! – we are not our mind; that what we are, in fact, is what I call the “watcher,” watching our crazy mind whirl about like a dog chasing its tail.  Trust me when I tell you that it can be quite entertaining, and sometimes pretty ego-busting, to watch our minds.  At the very least, it can tell us a lot about ourselves.

And somehow, by some kind of osmosis, all that watching makes us better able to handle our minds when push comes to shove.  And life is just full of those “push-comes-to-shove moments,” don’t you find?   The Greeks had it right with their formula for wisdom:  Know Thyself.

And for our part, all we have to do is show up, and watch.

Here’s Pema Chödrön, who writes about the path of meditation in her book “Awakening Loving-Kindness”:

The Path is Curiosity

The path of meditation and the path of our lives altogether has to do with curiosity, inquisitiveness.    The ground is ourselves; we’re here to study ourselves and to get to know ourselves now, not later.

People often say to me, “I wanted to come and have an interview with you, I wanted to write you a letter, I wanted to call you on the phone, but I wanted to wait until I was more together.”  And I think, “Well, if you’re anything like me, you could wait forever!”

So come as you are.   The magic is being willing to open to that, being willing to be fully awake to that.   One of the main discoveries of meditation is seeing how we continually run away from the present moment, how we avoid being here just as we are.

That’s not considered to be a problem; the point is to see it.

[From Awakening Loving-Kindness, P. 4-5]  

So the next time you wonder whether or not meditation might be worth trying, keep in mind that it’s pretty simple, really.  Just show up and watch.


P.S.  Remember, meditation is for anyone and everyone who would like to try it, for every religion and no religion.  Knowledge of ourselves is a universally beneficial quality, without or without a religion attached!    S.