Feeling - Story = Meditation

05/27/2013 08:00 am ET | Updated Jul 27, 2013

The most important thing you can learn from the Buddha is that reality is non-negotiable. Everything that you have and everything you will have, you're going to lose. You'll never be rich enough, and you'll never be famous enough. You can't have enough family, and you can't have enough friends. You can't stuff yourself enough that you won't someday empty out.

You might understand this very well and look for a spiritual solution. Those won't work either. You will never be spiritual enough. Actual spiritual work is a simple matter of paying attention to the gritty, uncomfortable details of life and feeling them without argument. You won't feel the sandpaper raw emotion that is the essence of spiritual practice, and you'll think you can skip over all that by adding a layer of spiritual insulation, and that will only make you smug.

You've got a choice. You can do the usual thing and cook up a story about what's wrong with life, how it should be different and you can, by God, go to war with it. That is a pretty common approach to this life. Or, you can drop the story and just feel life as it is right here and right now. When you do that, the pain just passes through like a storm and then it is gone, leaving the sky an even brighter shade of blue.

I'm speaking as a teacher in the Moore, Okla. schools. I was in one of the district's elementary schools on May 20 when the massive tornado hit the district. In my building, the lights went out and we were stuck in the halls in the dark with the kids. I felt mainly tedium and mild anxiety mixed with a disquieting collective dread as we all began to appreciate the magnitude of the disaster.

I worried for my wife, who was working in the district's administrative service center. I heard from her, and then I relaxed. She told me what a mess it was but by then, our main concern was getting home. We were both apparently in such a state of shock and denial that we didn't really realize that her building, which was a considerably sturdier structure than the schools, had taken a direct hit. We had entered survival mode to block out the impact so we could get through the day. We really realized she'd been hit only when we saw a map of the tornado's path. When we finally got back to check on her car, we were astonished at the scale of the destruction. The neighborhood to the south of the building was gone.

A lot of what happens in life is like that. The storm is an extreme example of a common reaction. We all armor ourselves to blunt the impact of life's irritations. We minimize them in our minds to a manageable scale. The irritations build and build and we become more and more uncomfortable and then we search for distractions to sooth the discomfort. The challenge of the meditative life is to stop the distracting and allow the feeling. It is very simple, but it isn't easy. Any feeling that gets a label as bad or good blossoms into a painful story about right and wrong. In feeling, there is no right and no wrong. There is only what is right here, right now and the right here, right now is absolute.

Reality can't be negotiated, but when you allow yourself to feel it, you learn that it doesn't need to be negotiated. Whatever story is churning through the mind, no matter how painful, is just a ripple in a vast ocean of consciousness. Sitting quietly, listening gently, letting the story and the feeling run its course, the story sinks below the wave and into that vast and silent ocean of consciousness where you could say you find healing. It is more accurate to say you discover a space of unconditioned wholeness where healing isn't needed.

The narrative running through your head is entirely two dimensional, and it keeps out all the rich complexity of life. Mediation is not about gritting your teeth and enduring. It is about engaging life with an open vulnerability without going to war with yourself and with other people. What happens isn't wrong just because it it hurts. Life often hurts. You don't have to stay in painful situations, but you don't have to fight with them. You begin working with life as it is without trying to bend it to your will. When you do that you become a benefit to yourself and to everyone you know. Meditation is not just for great spiritual masters or monks in a monastery. It is for normal people. It is for you.

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