I think about death a lot. It all started for me when I was about ten years old. I was sitting on the bottom of the stairs in my house and it hit me like an awakening that one day I would not exist on earth anymore, and that time and people would continue to go on without me as I lie buried below. It terrified me, and this terror remained within me until recently. A more than two and a half-decade long knot in my stomach that I couldn’t make peace with.
I can keep up with the best of them when it comes to navel-gazing, to a fault, I’ll admit. This almost childlike self-centered obsession and involvement with self is something most people tend to grow out of once they enter into adulthood, but I think I was absent from class when the teacher was passing on this wisdom. I have remained on a broken record cycle of self that ruminates through my mind into a place of deep suffering, and little else. I think that is one of the biggest reasons why I’ve found some solace in the practice of meditation.
After years of intellectual stimulation through higher education, religious practice, and self-help analysis, my mind has become hardwired for introspection. While the adage of “an unexamined life is not worth living”, sometimes it leaves you far too separate and isolated from the masses, and this disconnect creates far too much space for the devil to exercise in my mental garden, dancing through the blindspots of my mind as I narrow in on my neurosis and life’s nuances.
If I have learned anything from my many years of 12-step recovery, it’s that I relish serenity. It is a luxurious commodity that is ranked so highly on my priorities list in life. It does not come naturally or easily for me. For most of my life, I have been directed by a core belief that the world around me is very unsafe and I should always be on the lookout. While this is surely a result of trauma, it still seems to influence my decision-making more often than not. It’s a sad acknowledgment of self, but it is the truth.
When the mind is choking me off from life in rumination, my only refuge sometimes is the small amount of space I can experience while laying down on my mat and dipping into the gap so to speak. Meditation is a lifeline resource for me. Very few things have worked for me over the years, but meditation remains steadfast in its efficacy. While it is a time-consuming, and evolving process that must be nurtured, I can now say I’m totally sold on the benefits. For someone who has never practiced meditation, please consider that I have pushed and pulled and struggled deeply with my practice for about four years now. It has not been easy.
I can now more regularly than not get through a meditation that is approximately an hour in length. When I started to dip my toes into the practice I began with two minutes, and almost doubted people who claimed they could meditate for an hour or more. I sat in total disbelief because it seemed impossible to me and my mind was shut off to the idea that I too could learn and change. There isn’t really anything mistic or special about getting to a place where I too could meditate for an hour, except for hours upon hours of practice. It is grueling when I think about how much energy and time I have invested into something that rewards me with emptiness, but to me, it is the sweetest nectar.
How would the ordinary person experience this emptiness?
It actually might be terrifying. It might even be like someone has pulled the rug out from under you. Not exactly a pleasant experience. There is a big misconception when people think about emptiness and spaciousness when they hear about meditation. People probably think it is blissful and they will be joyful, but it is more like coming home, and when the door closes behind you nobody is home and you can’t see a damn thing. You could experience a feeling of loss in this spaciousness, not to mention fundamental panic. It’s so foreign and obscure.
I remember about a year into my journey with meditation, I came up against tremendous fear and panic. I think even one time I was brought to tears because it was a scary experience to go into this unknown territory. It’s so personal and I wish I’d had a teacher with me to guide me and help me digest what took place for me every time I took the time to sit. I really did need that reassurance and encouragement to go deeper.
This may be a tough read for some of you, and maybe even a deterrent for others, but let me leave you with a taste of the nectar that I was talking about, because it could be something that you too are struggling with revolving around death. For the first time in my life, I’m almost at the point of making friends with death due to the curiosity of was lays beyond this life. Even writing that out discombobulates my mind, but when you get deep into the gap you want more and more of it. The tangible life around you when you’re not meditating can seem trivial compared to the vibrance experienced in deep meditation. That too was hard for me to read over as I wrote it, because I feel disingenuous since I’m not that rob wearing guru sitting in contemplation high in the mountains, nor do I feel any desire of going to Tibet. I still very much feel like a newbie when it comes to meditation, but it is nonetheless my truth on the matter.
Let me act as a cheerleader of encouragement for you in your own practice, or as you begin your investigation into meditation. I can’t promise it will bring you the joy and peace you might be seeking, but I will sit with excitement on the vast possibilities of revelation that may come to you.