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Lions Roar : March 2019
HOW MEDITATION WORKS (IN MY LIFE, ANYWAY) Practice along with Buddhist teacher KATE LILA WHEELER on her journey to becoming “a tender, flawed, slightly braver human being.” S OMETIMES I IMAGINE THE END OF MY LIFE, asking big questions: Did I use my time well? Was I kind? Was I tender with the limitations of others, of myself, of my life? All these questions seem to boil down to whether I paid attention—deeply enough, in the right way. Look around. What is near you? Appreciate any visual objects. Next, listen into space. Any sounds you notice? Let sounds be purely sounds. Sense any silence around them. Just now, I am alone in a room, fingers tapping out this sentence while echoes of a recent conver- sation thrum faintly in my upper chest. My intel- lectual mind reaches into the unknown, like an inchworm wavering atop a blade of grass, wonder- ing what to say. My heart, as I am now comfortable calling it, wants to connect most usefully with you, dear reader. Perhaps a mix of theory, practice, and my own journey as a meditator? What good is meditation? How do we do it, and why? There is no “God’s eye” answer, because subjective experience is where meditation practice starts and ends. That’s our human, common sub- strate—as living beings, we know and feel our own, differing lives. This is the raw material we work with in meditation. How amazing that we can. If you feel safe enough, close your eyes for a moment. Feel your body. Notice its wholeness, its different parts and areas. Perhaps you feel coolness or warmth on the skin. A soothing darkness behind the eyes. If some areas are spacious, with less sensation, it’s fine. Invite tightness in the jaw or shoulders to relax. When I first plunged into a two-week silent Vipassana retreat at twenty-one, I was astonished to learn that the immediate present deserved atten- tion at all. But I discovered that life came alive in turning toward experience. What had sounded true in books and Buddhist teachers’ words now felt real. The experienced-ness of life amazed me. I still believe this is why the Buddha said the first noble truth of conditioned life is suffering. Being alive is experiential—we undergo and feel things. At any time, anybody’s life can glow neon red with pain. The future Buddha recognized others’ suffer- ing before he saw his own. It’s said he was moved by an old person, a sick person, and a corpse. His less privileged chauffeur (or charioteer) told him to count himself amongst them. Appalled, the young man ran off to seek an exit from this suffering. After trying many strenuous techniques, he gave up, sat under a tree, and paid simple attention to breath. An ancient path, he said, rediscovered: the experience was already there. Feel how your body is resting on firmness beneath it. Invite your body to accept support; relax and accept as much support as you would like. Sense any spa- ciousness around the head and upper areas of your body. If your eyes are open, see spaciousness too. After my first meditation retreat I was on fire for the next. My life was chaos: working nights at a newspaper, in love with a married man. By the time I had vacation days, I felt as if I was crawling up the steps of the dharma center, to be put back together. The capacity for suffering implies a need for ethi- cal behavior: compassionately remembering (or acting as if you do) that every living being wants happiness, including you. But how could I be ethi- cal when my heart and mind were so wild? KATE LILA WHEELER is a student of Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism. She is co-leader of the Teacher Training program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and is currently working on Red Lotus, her second novel. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 61