The difficulties in our lives tend to make us self-centered. It’s my pain, my worry, my distress. In these states our minds tend to ruminate on the past (If only I had…) or project into the future (rehearsals, planning). The first thing that leaves is a sense of generosity. How can I give anything to you when I’m in so much pain?
This is really the paradox of meditation. People often start sitting with the idea that it’s going to give them peace, or send them into a space where they won’t have to be bothered by those pesky feelings anymore, but what is uncovered via the technique of staying with the breath is a sense of ease. This ease is behind the scenes all the time; it’s not something that has to be achieved or earned.
The more we practice, the more our ego becomes porous. We watch it operating from moment to moment, puffing up like a ridiculous old-world air balloon and then deflating, and we embrace it. And then you become one with your ego, which is not even yours. And then you see what your life is. You stop insisting: Cancer is not my life. Anger is not my life. The years I spent in prison are not my life. Well, yes it is, all of that is your life, and mindfulness practice is aimed at the parts of your life that you don’t want to recognize, let alone embrace.
The reason we deepen formal practice, of meditation, pranayama, asana, or whatever it is for you, is so that we can really work with the emotional states and turbulent thoughts that make us suffer. So that inside there’s something real going on, that you can then use to effect change in the world around you. So you can be one with cancer, your prison cell, your depression. That’s yoga, in the biggest, most intimate sense. Yoga just means not trying to be one with something other than what’s right here. It’s being fully yoked to your life. And the openings you offer to yourself become a new sensitivity and tenderness as you open to the suffering of others.
This is my life: loneliness. I can be one with that. This is my life: loud construction work at the corner. This is my life right now: hunger. I can be one with hunger. This is my life right now: so excited for the weekend. It’s the last day of the week, I can’t wait to have a break. To be one with that, to feel happy, to be joyful. And then to watch as every sensation passes. Meditation is about stopping whatever I think should be going on (how my life is supposed to be) and arriving at the way that it is right now.