Want to Love Meditation? Don’t Try to Love Meditation.
By WITHIN teacher Adam Moskowitz
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood
~ Rabindranath Tagore
What’s love, got to do, got to do with it?
~ Tina Turner
Sometimes, meditation feels like watching one paradox unfold after another—the effort that we apply in the service of effortlessness, the peace that is possible when we connect to that which feels totally not peaceful, the way things can be “done” more easily when we cultivate a state of non-doing, and the basic instruction to “anchor your attention,” to something that’s changing, which is everything.
Getting to know our minds begins to feel, at times, like learning to play an unfamiliar game, riddled with strange rules.
My sense is that if mindfulness practice were personified, this person would have a wonderful sense of humor, while repeatedly nudging us to accept the koan-esque laws of the universe, which live in our hearts. To accept the odd truth that all we have to do, over and over, is return to the here and now. Which is, of course, where we are.
Becoming aware is a pilgrimage back to simplicity. Sometimes, it’s a total surprise. We step out at ten pm to get something we forgot in the car, but the cool evening air finds the skin around our eyes and leaves us no choice—we’re fully drawn back into our bodies, immersed in the felt sense, surrendering to the waves of sensory data coming and going, the thrumming aliveness of everything, spontaneously subsumed by the timeless stream of the present moment.
A great teacher once said, Enlightenment happens by accident. Meditation makes us more accident-prone. When we meditate, we repeatedly choose awareness, and come back to this, even though this may feel nothing like that one time we went to get something from our car.
We’re not waiting, striving, expecting, or hoping for the next moment of insight, connection, or “accident.” We trust the invitation to fully turn towards the raw essence of the present moment, whether it feels weighty, and achy, or blissful and free.
We gather ourselves, assemble some posture, and agree to at least try to not have a wrestling match with the constant winds and weather systems of the present moment. And if we do, we try to observe what it feels like to have this wrestling match. When it’s over, we remind ourselves that the present moment is not.
If you’re ever wondering whether now is a good time to be present, the answer is yes. You certainly don’t have to be practicing meditation. You could be reading from a screen, or peeling a carrot.
What’s revealed when we fully drop attention into the sound of the slice, the sensorial event of the body’s effort conjoined with the contact of this sturdy root substance? Maybe nothing the first time. Maybe something the next time, or the hundredth time. Maybe on the thousandth time, a fleeting moment of awakening. Maybe peeling a carrot will break your heart.
Maybe, at the kitchen counter, there is some deep realization of interdependence, an ocean of truth penetrating through the brittle layers of gripping and long-held beliefs.
The grief, as we instantly know ourselves more clearly, the rare recognition of the futility of all of our exertions, our striving, our plans, our habits, our impulses, everything we do to possess happiness. Simplicity, as it turns out, may be our deepest journey—and, attention, and our capacity to attend to simple. Maybe, at the kitchen counter, you’re the one peeling the carrot, and the carrot is the one being peeled. But, for a moment, this whole narrative evaporates.
I wonder what’s responsible for this alchemy. I like to think it’s love. I like to think that love’s the thing that did it. And, I like to think that love’s the thing that’s leftover, like millions of microscopic drops of water, and their rainbow, lingering in their wake. In a moment, you’re back to being you, the peeler, with the zip code and the brown eyes. But, never quite the same.
We’re such strange creatures! We know what it feels like to let go. We know we love it. We pretty much just want to let go all the time, and live one moment of letting go after another. And, it’s the hardest thing in the world. We’re so longing for love, and we’ll defend our lives in the face of it.
In some ways, meditation is the willingness to be with our defenses, to hold dearly the immense, intricate, stubborn beams and latticework we’ve created in the service of not letting go, of not feeling love. By letting things be as they are—including our defenses—we create the conditions for a shift.
Choosing to sit, is choosing to sit with ourselves. To muster our willingness to be with the sensations of our cement-like architecture, again and again, until, as Mary Oliver writes, The stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own…
Letting go, like love, is wordless, the mechanism, and the experience, and I imagine it happens in its own time, like a season dissolving for the next one. I imagine that our capacity and dedication to pay attention to the ripples and waves of life as it unfolds may support our connection to love. A teacher of mine once said, I don’t know what attention is, but I think it has something to do with love.
When we actually pay attention to the present moment, we are letting go, letting go of our need to rearrange anything about the past, future, or right now, loosening our grip on our long-term, rocky relationship with opinions, preferences, and judgments. We’re calling in love, even if we don’t feel it, knocking on the door of our wordless, wise, loving selves.
It’s a pretty humble thing to do. We’ve finally softened enough to admit we can’t apply the usual, dedicated soldiers of mind to change life. We may as well try to solve an engine problem by hitting the gas. It turns out life is pretty related to our relationship to it. What would it be like to fall in love with the present moment, as it is, without needing anything from it? Oh, wait. We know what that’s like. Perhaps this knowing can bring us back to sit, again, and again.
Adam teaches our morning and midday classes on Tuesdays. After years of helping kids and teachers learn mindfulness at their schools, he's bringing his practical perspective to students at WITHIN. Join him for a class this week!