Relaxation and calmness is a by-product of good work. Obviously if you try hard to relax the effort to do so will only create more tension. Give meditation all you’ve got but don’t try too hard. Meditation is good work and leads to a kind of rest that is not passive and dopey but clear, alert and dynamic. It is called peace.
Work is the exchange of energy between different forms. When we start any meditation we are absorbed in the swirling forms of daily thoughts and feelings, in all their past and future manifestations. They represent the work of our daily lives – necessary and useful. However the moment we begin the work of meditation – to be in the present – these forms become distractions and they must be let go of, all of them.
Instinctively the mind tries to compromise – to say the mantra and at the same time keep planning or probing the painful thoughts or indulging the pleasant ones. Then, especially if you are stressed and feel you don’t have enough time, it all seems a waste of time, non-productive work. Embracing this apparent wastefulness however transforms it into the most powerful state of poverty of spirit which is the high road to home.
It is like checking in for a crowded flight in a middle seat in the back row of economy next to the toilet and being told you have been upgraded to business. You can’t believe your luck. This sounds a bit selfish; what makes it unselfish is that you also realise that everyone else can enjoy the same life-upgrade and you try to let them know.
Distractions come in different packaging – trivial thoughts from your surface life, deeper personal issues and (the really dangerous viruses) spiritual ambitions and self-evaluation. Every time we start where we are. Most of us start with a plethora of images. Turning from these, returning faithfully to the mantra, gets us re-started. In time we see that the source of all distraction is self-consciousness, the tendency to form an image of ourselves.
Letting go of that is the toughest work of the desert. But it leads into the oasis of self-knowledge and eventually into the promised land itself.
Laurence Freeman OSB