When You’re Not Sure What to Do

I remember the week I first met my meditation teacher.  He came to Canada to lead us in a retreat and enjoy Ontario cottage country.  He had been teaching for many years in England and we had a small group of meditators in Toronto under the care of one of his senior students.  He led some of our meditations, and met with us to discuss our progress.  It was very generous of him to come so far to help us make progress in our meditation.

Central to his teaching is mindfulness.  Mindfulness, or “bare awareness” as he has called it, has many uses.  It has attracted the interest of the medical and psychological communities as a tool for healing.  It certainly can be that.  It can also be a developed skill that helps to detect the arising of mental states like depression, giving people an early warning to apply useful coping skills.

But what about its uses beyond this?  The Buddha taught that it is possible to overcome all forms of mental dis-ease or suffering.  This is done by rooting out the wrong views we have of reality and mindfulness is the tool for the job.

My teacher told me that whenever I’m not sure about what I should be doing in my mindfulness practice, I should watch transience — the arising and passing away of things, particularly in my mind and body.  The more I’ve done this, the more I’ve realized that those things don’t last for very long, and I needn’t get too involved with them.  It’s become easier to accept more things as they are, and I suffer less. 

For many years I’ve applied my teacher’s advice, and have carried it into my recovery.  In AA, we say “This Too Shall Pass” and “Keep Coming Back.”  I’ve learned that many more things in life make a brief appearance and are gone.  I’ve also learned that his advice is like a signal beacon in a storm, showing me the way forward when I might other words continue to be tossed and adrift.  I simply have to steer in the direction he pointed me many years ago.



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