Like most kids raised in the 80′s, I wanted to be a Jedi when I grew up. Actually, now that I think about it, I still do. Unfortunately, in the boring “real world” we inhabit, light-sabers and master Yoda don’t really exist. At a certain age I just kinda accepted it was impossible, and gave up. I figured I could always be a Ninja Turtle instead.
However, the more I study Buddhism and other Eastern history and philosophy, the more I realize what a hack George Lucas really is. The entire “Jedi” thing is really just a shameless ripoff of the Samurai culture, complete with the cool sword fights and Zen Buddhism. In Mindfulness in Plain English: 20th Anniversary Edition (free PDF download) by Bhante Gunaratana, you will not find very much information regarding light-saber duels, however, you will find a plethora of information regarding how to be more mindful. And as all aspiring Jedi Masters know- we must always remain mindful, above all else.
I can’t promise you that meditation and mindfulness will result in magic powers, but I can promise you that by the end of this article you’ll be pretty tired of these “Star Wars” references.
Here we go:
1. Your mind is a glass of muddy water
Like Master Yoda, Bhante Gunaratana is a bald dude who belongs in another galaxy. Unlike Master Yoda, Bhante Gunaratana is not secretly a puppet controlled by Frank Oz. As a master of the vipassana system of meditation, Bhante Gunaratana teaches us that the mind is a glass of muddy water. All of our fears, frustrations and other negative emotions manifest as debris in this water. After a typical day of stress and toil, we have stirred and shaken this glass of debris thoroughly. The result is simple: our mind is a clouded, filthy mess.
Meditation is the process by which we set the glass on the table, and let it sit there calmly for awhile. Slowly, with practice and patience, the debris will settle to the bottom of the glass. The debris doesn’t disappear, quite the contrary, it appears; as it settles to the bottom of the glass, we can clearly see the specific chunks of debris that had been a vague cloud only moments before.
Why would anyone want to stare at their own “chunks of debris”? Because here, in this place of clarity, we can truly face our “debris”- whatever that might be. Our challenges and choices can be evaluated and considered, only if we can first understand their true nature. If we remain unaware of a problem or issue, we cannot yet begin to address it.
Simply stated, meditation is the process by which we take the contaminated sludge from our mixed-up minds, and let it settle into something less disgusting.
2. Meditation is an activity, not lack of activity
When asked to imagine what meditation looks like, most of us picture something like this:
At first glance, those monks aren’t doing anything at all. They are just sitting there. So, in a crude attempt to mimic this meditation ourselves, we might sit with our legs crossed, and close our eyes. We take a few deep breaths, and begin to relax. Suddenly, your nose twitches, and it begins to itch. You ignore it for a moment, but it begins itching more and more. You are tempted to reach up and scratch, but to do so is to break your meditation. And then it dawns on you- this entire time you’ve been thinking about your itchy nose- you haven’t really been meditating at all!
To be clear, there is no wrong way to meditate. As a master of the vipassana system of meditation, Bhante Gunaratana teaches us that we must acknowledge our itchy nose. Embrace the fact that, yes, the nose is itchy. Don’t deny this fact, and don’t scratch either. And with practice, a strange thing happens. The nose is no longer itchy. This subtle form of self-control, this tiny little mastery over our own mind, feels like an enormous victory- and it is.
Meditation is not simply the act of sitting quietly, but an active process by which we balance our mindfulness and our concentration. It is our mindfulness that reminds us to concentrate, to pay attention right now, and focus on this moment. Concentration is the process by which we focus our mind, like a lens focusing the sun into a light hot enough to burn.
With practice, mindfulness yields deeper concentration; deeper concentration encourages more mindfulness. Its a vicious cycle.
3. Meditation comes in handy when you want to lose your cool
I have something of a temper. I have been known to occasionally “lose my cool”. Once in awhile “mistakes are made”, or more aptly, “charges are filed”, but I’m not on trial here. Speaking personally, meditation has done wonders for helping me keep my cool. Where once I would scream and yell, I now allow myself a moment’s pause. This, of course, brings us back to the critical topic of “Star Wars”.
For those of you not up-to-date on your “Star Wars”, the story revolves around Luke Skywalker, who must decide whether or not to follow in the footsteps of his father, the infamous Darth Vader. In the final climax, Darth Vader is attempting to taunt Luke Skywalker into a fight, hoping his anger will get the better of him. If Luke Sykwalker “turns to the dark side” he will join his father in service to the evil emperor.
In the real world, very few of us end up in epic light-saber duels with our fathers (unfortunately) however, we are put under considerable stress. Some people in this world just like to push our buttons. They excel at getting under our skin, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and just generally rubbing us the wrong way. Sometimes this person is a boss or co-worker, or even a bratty kid. Whatever the source of stress, the inner-conflict is the same- will you give in to the anger, and “join the dark side”? Or will you stay calm, in-control, and totally Jedi?
We all face challenges. Meditation helps me to face my challenges with more control and confidence. Bhante Gunaratana has taught me to get more out of my meditation.
And in a way, so has Yoda.
Want to read the book? Want to support your friends at 3 Things I Learned? You can do both at once when you order “Mindfulness in Plain English” via Amazon.com. Got no money for books? Get it at your local library instead.
Looking for more books on the human mind? Check out “Snakes in Suits” by Babiak & Hare or “Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. This article included references to Bhante Gunaratana, meditation, self-mastery and hopefully that will impress the nice folks at Google.
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