A life less ordinary

This article was first published in Salient magazine in 2002, author and New Zealand Sri Chinmoy Centre member John Gillespie asked to contribute to a series entitled "My Life," presenting people with unique lifestyles and beliefs, alternative approaches to life and the world around us.

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

You could say that people who meditate are different. For them satisfaction not in the material and emotional goals of so many; they choose not to be limited by outer form or convention, in lifestyle and in thought.

Few are those who shun the paths well-trodden, established traditions and norms; fewer who choose a way of living neither notorious or "exciting," of short-lived pleasure, self gratification. Meditation isn’t a glamorous lifestyle, not as commonly defined; the benefits and rewards it reaps are invisible to the outer eye.

But is meditation so different? Is it a pursuit exclusive and unusual, mysterious and accessible not? Of quiet monasteries and caves, lonely beaches and mountains far; not the here and the now, the practical and the applicable? Meditation perhaps is a rare pursuit, not practised widely, yet, and thus not well understood, but in its aims and its goals it is anything but unusual; meditation is a road to happiness, a peak which we all seek to climb.

Unless you knew precisely what you were looking for, you would probably fail to pick a person who meditates from a crowd. More than likely you would ignore them, dismiss them upon first meeting, their appearance unremarkable seeming. The simplicity and peacefulness of the meditator can be misinterpreted as conservatism or even dullness, by those uninitiated in the realms of consciousness hidden.

What would you notice about a person who meditates—stereotypical saffron robes and lotus position aside? A cheerful and poised manner is one sign, someone prone neither to over-excitement or depression. A glowing, sunny face, the hallmark of inner peace and joy, is another. A subtle air of detachment, manifest as indifference to pressing issues and worries—not to be mistaken for a lack of concern; another sign. And a respectfully maintained conversational minimalism, tactic deployed when the meditator would politely prefer not to respond, questions or comments detrimental to inner poise discreetly skirted.

The most salient characteristic of the life of meditation however is happiness. Simply put, if meditation is not making you happier, then you are not practicing it properly. Rather than self-torture or austerity, regular practice of meditation brings a profound sense of happiness, a sense of happiness unconditional—founded neither upon circumstance nor possession. Meditation is the true definition of freedom, freedom from the frustration and limitation of seeking happiness in sources external to ourselves.

Like the meditator themselves, the practise of meditation is simple. Through a variety of techniques one attempts to focus, concentrate and eventually silence the mind. Techniques such as repeating a phrase or mantra, breath control, visualisation and concentrating upon an object are all equally effective to this ends, silencing the mind so that one can enter the state of meditation proper. As experienced in meditation, a silent mind means the cessation of worries, doubts, anxieties and confusion; and the emergence of the positive, illumining qualities of the spiritual heart: joy, peace and love.

Like with anything in life, regular practice of meditation leads to qualitative results—a gradual lessening of our negative qualities, qualities most commonly associated with the mind, and the permanent establishment, or perhaps more accurately strengthening and reinforcement, of positive qualities, like the emergence of the sun from behind a cloud, the radiant glow of the spiritual heart, felt in time throughout the entire being.

Sound too good to be true? Something in this world that costs nothing, requires neither qualification nor degree, can be practised for only fifteen minutes a day, and is able to be learned relatively quickly, as a solution for all of our ailments and problems? Fortunately so, and the evidence is as simple as practising—quantifiable and empirically measurable in the smallest details of your life.

All systems of meditation are based upon the premise that there is more to this existence than our physical reality. Most commonly found in the major schools of eastern philosophy, but not only there, such metaphysical beliefs assert that we and the world around us are composed of an intermingling of physical and spiritual realities—the finite mixed with the infinite if you will. Admittedly impossible to quantify through the narrow lens of science—although the positive results of meditation very much are—the practice of meditation is its own proof and evidence; the gradual transformation of consciousness from a physically bound awareness to one spiritually free, the subjective experience of a reality in truth objective as well; awareness enlarged from the narrow confines of body and mind to a vaster, universal identity.

I myself started to meditate while a first year student at university, both as remedy to despondency and frustration towards the world and myself, and more positively, because of the captivating, inspiring appeal of meditation and its positive fruits—happiness, and an enhanced, deeper experience of reality. With over a decade now of regular practice, meditation has transformed my life in ways that I simply could not have imagined when I began, and definitely for the better. It is not that meditation is a radical overnight change; rather that it takes the positive qualities that already exist in your life, and then adds to them, a thousand times over in time.

Meditation is perhaps a more demanding life than that many are used to; it requires self-discipline, will-power, dedication and perseverance; but it is also a more satisfying life, a life with a sense of meaning and possibility. It isn’t a quick fix, but it is a permanent solution.