This time last year my aunt died. Two years ago my nan died. It feels strange to write, but these were the first deaths I grieved in a way that feels… healthy.
When teaching meditation, the right metaphors make all the difference between great instruction and a lack of clarity. I often compare meditation to exercise when teaching. Physical exercise is commonly understood, while many struggle to grasp the technique of strengthening the mind.
This point of reference supports learning. We know exercise is beneficial for our physical health, just as meditation is beneficial for mental health. Developing your practice is like training your mind at the gym, building strength, improving form, developing muscle memory to alter the structure of the brain.
But there is a significant difference between physical exercise meditation. When allowing this metaphor to dictate your approach to meditation practice, it could do more harm than good.
Spiritual growth is an unlearning process. Awakening into the true nature of reality requires constant unlearning of false beliefs and a re-discovery of the direct experience of the present moment. Conceptual reality is a house of mirrors, a myriad of illusion. Of all illusions, psychological time is the trickiest to detect.
Seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years… The passage of time is seemingly objective and compatible with experience. Events appear to unfold sequentially, superimposed onto the clock. But the past is a memory. The future is imagination. Life is eternally present, an infinite succession of Nows.
As Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” So much of our attention and energy is spent on holding on to days-gone-by or worrying about things that may never materialise. How does life change, once liberated from these opposing forces?
I’m enchanted by exposed brick, arched ceilings and passionate discussions about the nondual nature of existence. The magical space I’m sitting in, this sweet July afternoon, is the cellar of Castello di Titignano, Orvieto. Its shade and air circulation offers respite from the intense Italian sun. I’m grateful. And cool.
Barrels of fermenting grapes from nearby vineyards are replaced with pop-up chairs, projector screens, speakers. A colourful poster for SAND Italy 2019 reminds me of how far I’ve come. 12:35pm. It’s my turn to present at the Science and Nonduality Conference:
Welcome to the Age of Re-Enchantment: Magic Transforming Mental Health and the World.
Here we goooooo! Months of visualising, mind-mapping and soul searching has come to this.
We are told to be aware, to pay attention, to create space. Yet conscious engagement with thoughts, with the intention to change them skillfully, has immense benefits. Although counterintuitive, it boosts the ability to be mindful and accelerates spiritual growth.
Maturing the ego and cultivating a skilled, self-serving intellect, is just as rewarding as the transcendental elements of spiritual practice. But the message in the West is often black-or-white; the ego is all bad, the solution to troubling thoughts is always being in the Now.
Living in the present is simple and impossibly hard. The complexity of mind distracts in a multitude of ways. Neglecting the quality of thoughts makes presence much harder; if your thoughts work against you, the task is greater. Yet it’s rare to see spiritual guidance on techniques adjusting the thinking mind.