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I have been practicing, studying, and learning about Buddhism for more than seven years now. It was appealing because it offered an invitation to relate differently to the psychological suffering I had encountered since I was a teenager. For a long time, I treated meditation as another tool in the productivity kit. But I was missing the point, and I would like to explain to you why…
I hold to be true that meditation educates your focus, helps to decrease emotional reactivity, and opens up a space to create further awareness of mental patterns. It is also true that many researchers have published papers arguing for the benefits of meditation in well-being and productivity (though it remains to be seen how consistent there will be over time). It cannot be only pure coincidence that the conceptual framework is so similar to other eastern lines of thought like Hinduism and Daoism, as well as Western schools of philosophy like Stoicism. They all have arrived at equivalent conclusions when seeking the recipe for a life well-lived.
Still, considering doing meditation because of the reasons above is to miss the most important and relevant part of the practice. The whole purpose of studying the Buddhist doctrine and practicing meditation is to break out from the matrix, to find enlightenment momentarily through the realization that you can stop being a slave of the contents of your own mind. These include opinions, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and root beliefs. Such contents are the collection that creates the illusion of a self, or as you might know it, the ego, which ultimately divides you and the rest of the world.
While Buddhism speaks about the realization of suffering (not hard to debate), the big revelation is that there is a path to cease that suffering. However, it is not through the conceptual grasp that will conclude that the contents of mind mentioned above are in themselves the authors of our psychological torture. Such a claim has to be experienced by yourself to really be taken seriously. Meditation (as well as any contemplative practice) provides a vehicle to notice that suffering comes not from the events themselves but from the clinging to our own preferences (mostly, but not uniquely, pleasurable experiences) while keeping an attitude of rejection towards the rest. Additionally, our interpretation of events and our presumptuous need to be in control is what keeps us hitting the same wall over and over again.
As a by-product of long-term commitment and consistent intention to gain mastery of the mind, the inner chatter gets quieter, and observation becomes stronger. This is the ground for a state of egolessness, where we can access a more transparent and unedited look at reality. Looking at a beautiful landscape, being present at the birth of a child, taking psychedelics, or getting in the “zone” when engaging in creative work are alternatives to creating the same state of oneness with what is happening. It pushes us to be right here, right now.
If it is evident that this approach makes us miserable, how did it get so wired in us? As much as we know, humans seem to be the only mammals that possess the curse of carrying the knowledge of our own mortality. But it isn’t all negative. The ability to project and design using the power of imagination is advantageous in planning and creating the tools and systems that guarantee the best possible chance to survive. In fact, that was what it was needed to dominate over predators that were bigger and more equipped biologically to outwit us. By studying the history of society, one would not find it surprising that eventually, humans will develop the technology and understanding to hack the reality of aging, illness, and death (of course, if we don’t extinguish the species or the planet before).
However, it is worth pointing out that the rejection of the impermanence of being is the attitude we grow accustomed to for the sake of coping psychologically with the knowledge of our mortality. Ironically enough, every day, we are exposed to a realization that every end is a prerequisite for a new beginning to emerge. But the desire to play the roles of gods in its totality is what makes us resist and fight back circumstances at the expense of condemning our psychological well-being. Evolution shaped us to survive and reproduce, not be happy, or find self-actualization.
I do not expect you to trust my word blindly (or, for that matter, trust more than 2,000 years of tradition). However, I do implore you that if you commit to this exploration, don’t do it because it is useful. Nor because it makes you better at avoiding anxiety or makes you more productive. On the contrary, do it to experience what is to break the spell of being lost in thought. Do it to know what it is to surrender to everything beyond your control. Do it to awake from the oppressive “dream” of past and future. Do it to grasp how insubstantial and changing is the environment and your identity. Do it to nurture more skillful states of mind towards yourself and those around you. Do it to glimpse beyond the illusion of separateness between you and others. Do it to examine the sources of the stories we accept around the topics of fairness, justice, and purity. Do it to appreciate with fresh eyes the beauty of the mundane. Do it to step away from what your survival mechanisms or the cultural pressure demand from you. Do it to break free from the matrix.
With all love,
Santiago Barragan Noguera
Coach & Educator — Artistic Polymath
Copyright © 2021 Santiago Barragan Noguera. All rights reserved.