I had an interesting exchange yesterday on my Facebook page when a reader responded to the entry I had posted there as well as here, in the Buddha Diaries, expressing fear about the coming Tr*mp inauguration. Noting the title of my blog, he wrote that I could “obviously” not have been practicing meditation if I was experiencing the feelings I expressed.
Well, he had a point. In my short essay, I had mentioned being “riddled with anxiety” and had confessed to “losing sleep” over the prospect of the chaos I foresaw. But in fact I have been following my daily meditation practice, as I have done for now more than 20 years. I have not yet achieved perfection. As I see it, the purpose of the practice is not to get to a place where I no longer experience those human feelings, but rather to be able to observe them as they arise, to be aware, if possible, of their source, and then to let them go. In this sense my critic was right: if I’m riddled with anxiety and losing sleep, I’m obviously not letting go.
The skill of letting go, as I practice meditation, consists in first observing what arises in the mind, whether thoughts, feelings, judgments or physical sensations; and then allowing them to dissipate by bringing the attention back gently to the breath. These things tend to come and go of their own accord, if we let them. The trouble starts when the mind begins to cling to them. That itch on the scalp, for instance, will surely disappear without my scratching it unless I happen to get hung up on it. The same with thoughts and feelings, which come and go like clouds.
So meditation does not teach me to ignore, condone or excuse what I see to be harmful actions in the world. Indeed, as I see it, my mind becomes a better and more focused instrument in observing the world about me as well as the world within. In addition, the wonderful practice of metta—sending out thoughts of compassion, and loving-kindness, particularly for those I dislike or distrust—allows me to process the most troublesome of my judgments, acknowledging the toxic habit of holding on to them and releasing the toxins by converting them, consciously, into goodwill.
Writing, for me, is simply another way to release the stuff that bothers me. It’s another way of letting go. Yesterday, in my post lamenting the approaching elevation of a man I distrust to the most powerful position in the world, I was able to convert the unskillful feelings that threatened to do me inner harm into what I hope were skillful words. It’s my hope that my words allowed others to join me in that effort.