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The 4 Most Important Lessons of Meditation (from "The Places that Scare You")

Today I wanted to share my experience with meditation, and one of the books that helped me understand it best. Meditation is said to be highly beneficial and vital to a healthy experience of this reality.

For many, meditation has proven to be the single most important factor in a healthy spiritual life, and is reported to have benefits such as alleviating depression, releasing emotional trauma and fear, and expanding the awareness of our multi-dimensional reality. But how could one practice offer so much hope? I’ll be honest. I attempted meditation for years without feeling any positive effects. What others claimed to be an experience of “Nirvana,” felt to me like a literal hell. Besides making me more aware of my misery, I didn’t feel meditation held any purpose. When I attempted to tune into my heart and “not think,” I thought harder, analyzing every aspect of every thought, and seemingly without control, approached areas of past trauma I felt ill-equip to deal with and too terrified to face. Quite frankly, meditation scared me, the way darkness scared me, the way my own emotional depth scared me. The entrance into my inner-world felt like a perilous journey into my ultimate fear: I am alone. Darkness is all that truly exists. Life is meaningless. Nothing can be done about it. My attempt for inner-peace turned into a magnified world of my own  shadows. The darkness felt overpowering, and I felt defeated. Nihilism got the better of me. But like all experiences, I learned a valuable lesson. What all that turmoil revealed was this: fear and judgment were at the basis of all my beliefs. I knew if I was ever going to find peace, the very foundation of my world-view needed to crumble. And crumble it did. I was undone. Despite the initial frustration, I continued in my meditation practice, daily attempting to quiet my mind and tame the monsters that seemed to have taken-up residence within my inner realms. I knew I had two choices: to run from the fear or to face it. Things continued to chug along painfully for while, until one day while  browsing aimlessly around a book store a title the-places-that-scare-youcaught my eye. It was called “The Places that Scared You: a Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times” by Pema Chödrön, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist nun. The book practically fell off the shelf to get my attention. The title seemed too fitting, and I knew the Universe was offering me a hand – so I took it. If I could sum up what I learned from this book in one sentence it would be this: Our truest nature is good, and beyond fear and judgment is a place within us of deep comfort, tenderness, compassion, joy, and overwhelming love. We are not alone. Meditation is the number one technique Pema teaches to help people access their innately “good” nature, but she takes a different approach than my reckless “try to stop thinking and face the darkness” method. Rather, she encourages thoughts, knowing they are an inevitable byproduct of living. She teaches us to allow our minds to simply be. Like leaves floating down the surface of a stream, we simply notice thoughts, and watch them drift by, without alteration or judgment. Obvious to many seasoned meditators, I know, but for me, this simple concept changed everything. It felt as if the Universe stepped into the chaos of my inner-world and gave me permission to be broken, imperfect, to hurt – and to think and feel and be. I finally began to accept my humanity, and by loving the aspects of myself that felt shameful or “bad” or weak, I learned to access my true nature – at the core of my inner-being was love: A deeply satisfying, unconditional, compassionate, joyful, endless, love. The beauty (and ultimate redemption for me) in meditation was not learning to cease thought, but rather, to cease judgment of my experience and learn to allow myself to feel all that I am. Throughout the years my meditation practice has taken many forms.  Sometimes it comes easier than others, but overall it has become a way to intimately know my heart. For me, meditation is a channel to hear the very voice of God – without prayer or supplication, but simply as an act of observing the majesty and perfection of All Things, even the darkness. Even me. Meditation (and its innumerable forms) has taught me many things, but these four basic truths helped me overcome my greatest fears and heal my relationship with my own imperfection:

  1. Compassion heals the wounds of darkness:Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” 
  2.  Fear contains a valuable message to help us change our perspective: “A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us.
  3. The “ordinary” is something to celebrate: “Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.” 
  4.   A broken heart is a gift:Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”
  Written by Amanda Flaker

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