I’ve repeatedly heard about a particular obstacle from several people after their first meditation course and I want to express my perspective on the subject. The concern is a fear that meditation will drive them away from something they love, like dancing, cheeseburgers, music, or sex, because of this understanding that serious meditators don’t pursue these sensual pleasures.
Over the last few years I’ve grappled with this issue of what it means to be a serious meditator. Early on in my practice I renounced these things because I thought that was the right thing to do. It seemed logical that if the goal was to become liberated I should force myself to live as much like a monk as I could tolerate. I now take myself much less seriously. If I enjoy something, and want it, like a cheeseburger, I go and eat it. I don’t over think it. My desire to eat cheeseburgers is much less frequent, and I don’t eat many of them anymore, but I no longer confront this battle of overcoming my desire for meat.
Vipassana acts on my life in a much subtler way. The major shifts are with my attitude and my ability to accept myself and the world in the present. It doesn’t really change who I am but actually makes me act more like myself. Maybe some of these sensual desires will disappear eventually, but it would be a shame for anyone to miss out on all the benefits of meditation because of the fear of losing something that might never go away in this lifetime. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but that’s my take. These days, I’m excited to just be me. Time to meditate.
6 thoughts on “Just Being Me”
I like this and I think it’s something we all deal with in the beginning. To essentially say the exact same thing in a different way: The fear is that you’ll lose something that makes you happy – we have a limited number of things in this life that allow us to be happy, and how we cling to them! Understandably so. It may be reassuring for potential meditators if they can try to understand that lesser happiness is only replaced by greater happiness. If you eventually stop enjoying something you like by following this path, you aren’t like the depressed person, who’s left with a gaping void that can no longer be filled. It’s because a void that you used to temporarily fill with a sensual pleasure has become filled with dhamma, and the sensuality is no longer necessary. Before, there was a craving for craving, because the only happiness we knew was through the fulfillment of craving. If one has never shed a craving (not just to replace it with another), one cannot imagine the greater happiness that is gained at the same time. Literally at the same moment. The more this happens, the more we stop craving craving. The leap of faith that is required most strongly at the outset is to believe that reality is not worse than – or at least, is more worthwhile than – imagination. Whatever comes of seeing reality as it is, so be it! (There’s an episode of Batman, the animated series that also deals with this theme. What a great show.)
Although speaking of the Batman episode, there is this recurring idea in Western culture that its honorable to face “harsh” reality. That there’s something noble in suffering the truth. But do we ever go far enough in our stories to see how this is for our own benefit? Do the stories focus on the harshness too much, and not the deeper peace that comes with right understanding? I think so. I probably got into meditation because I felt it was noble to face reality more than because I expected to be liberated from craving. This may help to explain why many in the West are repelled by the idea of liberation from things they enjoy – the culture doesn’t tell them about the benefit.
Adding to the Appalachian Trail metaphor, I find it interesting that many people hike the trail strictly as a physical challenge and go on to hike some of the trails our west through the gorgeous national parks but can never get past to obstacle course idea and really enjoy the natural beauty of the trail. There’s a divide between people who hike for the challenge and those who are drawn to the beauty. I was reminded of this when you mentioned the nobility of suffering truth without understanding and experiencing the peace on the other side of the suffering.
I like this perspective. This is a difficult issue, and sorry to say, it never really goes away. The thing is that most Buddhist practice began in the monastery environment and most of the people – at least outside of the US – who practice it are monastics. So the teachings and the practice itself are heavily weighted in the direction of rather severe asceticism. One of the wonderful things in the Vipassana tradition is how U Ba Khin realized that lay people could greatly benefit from it and made all these intense efforts to bring it out of the monastery and into the world. The book “The Clock of Vipassana Has Struck” gets into some of that, and I often find myself feeling great gratitude for what he did. Probably without his efforts, folks like us would never have even heard of Vipassana.
What’s interesting to me is it seems like I can’t force it. Even if I wanted to be a monk today I couldn’t because if I did I would crave all of these things I’m still attached too and be worse off than when I started. It feels like I must naturally progress along the path from where I am and just enjoy the ride knowing I’m not perfect. Maybe I’m wrong on this but it’s been my experience so far.
Yes, I think you’re right there. I think there’s some natural flow toward less attachment, but it doesn’t even work to force it, just creates ‘binge-ing’ and guilt feelings, etc. I have a strong inclination toward the cave, but I know it would be wrong for me… and then too, it’s the obstacles in this life that give me the chance to practice, to learn about impermanence, and progress along the path.