TAKING A CHANCE ON LIFE

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TAKING A CHANCE ON LIFE

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TAKING A CHANCE ON LIFE
March 1, 2016
By Michael Erlewine (Michael@Erlewine.net)

Sometimes we just have to take a chance. As I liked to joke to myself, I can decide to go and meet my maker, rather than be hunted down by fate. I am reminded of a time, long ago, when I had a kind of awakening experience. It was 1967. I lost all fear or shyness and I wanted to know what others were thinking or doing. I could play too! So, I would make appointments with famous people or just walk into their office unannounced. Now, for sure, many of these folks were too up-tight to allow someone they did not know to address them directly, but others were open, as I was.

I remember one time when I just decided to take the train to Chicago to see my hero, history of religions expert (and practitioner) Mircea Eliade. I had spoken with him on the phone. Of course, I never called ahead, and that day he turned out not to be there, so I ended having a heart-to-heart talk with philosopher Hannah Arendt.

Or, one day in the middle 1960s I walked into the office of the famous economist Kenneth E. Boulding. I had no appointment and had never met him. He welcomed me and took me into his private office where we laughed and cried together, and even read each other our poems. The thing that he told me that I most remember was that we have to learn to fail successfully, referring to old age and death.

My point here is that every once in a great while we have to throw caution to the winds and just roll the dice. Believe it or not, in my opinion, learning sitting meditation is like that. Meditation training is not the benign practice that it is often made out to be. Far from it! Deciding to learn sitting meditation as the Buddha taught is like throwing down the gauntlet, inviting the challenge of our own limitations to confront us, what the esotericists call directly invoking the ring-pass-not.

I am reminded of Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune,” in which the huge sandworms (Shai- Hulud) are called forth by setting down a “thumper,” a device that pounds the sand to create a sound that draws the worms. If you can, please hear me when I say that attempting to meditate is like that.

Our goal may be to allow our mind to rest (or whatever we made up or imagined), but before that can happen, we have to learn to deal with everything that has prevented our mind from naturally resting up to that point, i.e. all of what we have ignored or denied.
Attempting to meditate, no doubt, is asking for it. It is the “thumper.”

This is why I can’t say much when someone tells me how blissful they feel from their half hour on the meditation cushion. Whatever they are doing in there is not the meditation that the Buddha taught, but rather some form of relaxation therapy, which I have no quarrel with. I like to watch movies for that.

However, formal Buddhist meditation is not initially relaxing, but just the opposite. There is a reason that the Buddha’s teaching is called the “Lion’s Roar.” To the exact degree that we attempt to learn meditation, an equal and opposite force will arise to challenge us, usually in the form of thoughts, distractions, interruptions, and so on. We can’t “try” to meditate. According to the Buddhists, we can’t even meditate. We can’t even try to stop trying, so to speak. We just have to let go. Get my point?
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