Goenka continuously emphasizes the importance of sitting – sitting 2 hours a day, sitting a 10-day course a year, and sitting whenever you have free time. His message can be interpreted to mean that sitting will solve all of life’s problems, and everything else is superficial. I’ve never met Goenka, so I have no idea what he truly believes, but I’ve found that when I hold onto my meditation too tightly, the rest of my life falls apart. Two components of my life that meditation alone cannot develop include relationships and intellectual understanding. I will look at each item separately.
My meditation practice has helped my relationships tremendously, particularly when navigating deep and complicated emotions. The saying goes that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Meditation helps me regularly check in with, understand, and work through my negative and toxic feelings, which would otherwise remain bottled up inside, so I can come to every relationship and interaction with an open heart and open mind. But at some point, to grow relationships, I need to engage in challenging conversations. The idea of a monk sitting in a cave eradicating sankharas as a symbol of service to the world doesn’t make sense to me. Instead I think of meditation as a tool to sharpen my axe (or mind) before chopping down a tree. In order to develop relationships or contribute to the world, my mind must be strong, calm, and clear, but that’s not my final goal. I want to help lead people in a positive direction, and this requires strong communications skills and diverse and robust relationships.
It’s easier to make connections and find answers to intellectual problems with a clear mind. As someone who used to continuously roll in thought in hopes of finding a solution, I know that overthinking can be problematic, but so can ignoring simple logical disconnects. Thinking is a very powerful tool to resolve problems, and ignoring this ability feels shortsighted. What I’ve found is that meditation allows me to think more humbly and compassionately. Instead of solving problems dissociated from my feelings and emotions, I’m able to integrate a more global understanding into my thinking process. Meditating alone or thinking alone will create incomplete answers, but if we learn to skillfully combine these skills, we may discover solutions that can truly help our world grow in a positive direction.
As Goenka’s tradition continues to grow after his death, I hope we continue to bravely explore and discover truth at every level within ourselves, through our own experiences, and within our communities. The teachings and guidelines Goenka left with us are powerful beacons to guide us on our journey, but questioning these guidelines is part of developing a deeper understanding of truth. Let us keep on exploring together the many nuances of truth together. Time to meditate.