In life, as in music, the pauses make all the difference

September 30, 2009

These words — “in life, as in music, the pauses make all the difference” — floated into my mind a few weeks back. I tweeted them on Twitter and started a post about them. The post has been saved as a draft since then, barely started and abandoned. Checking in with my drafts today, the words were quite welcome, as I am in a place where I need to pause. There have simply been too many things going on and my mind and body need a break. Reading these words was a good reminder, since everything in our culture demands that we constantly do, do, do, and then do some more.

We think that when we pause — whether for a brief break or a week-long retreat — we are losing time that could be used productively. We think we’re making progress when we’re in motion — moving forward, as it were, on our way to our goal. In reality, it’s often when we pause that the most progress is made. It’s common wisdom that discoveries are made and insights come when we stop working on something and let it go. Inspiration and insight spring from deep within. They can’t be reached through mental focus, thinking and logic. They are accessed when the mind is relaxed and creativity can flow.

Pauses refresh and renew, hence they actually contribute to our productivity. But even more important, they bring balance and an enjoyable rhythm to life. We can’t live at all without the long pause of sleep or even the tiny pause between the breaths. Pauses give life. Why not honor and allow ourselves to relax into them completely? Today, instead of lamenting the fact that I need to take some time off, I’m relishing the hours ahead. And when I’ve had enough r and r, I’ll relish plunging back into work.

In music, it’s the pauses that make the rhythms. It’s in the pauses that the notes settle in and have time to reverberate in our hearts. It’s in life’s pauses that we find the silent background of our being. Today I shall delight in pauses!

On the “Effortless Effort” of Meditation

September 17, 2009

Usually the term “effortless effort” is associated with Taoist philosophy and its concept of “Wu Wei”. It has to do with how we act, or experience action, in daily life. I like the Wikipedia description of Wu Wei as “natural action” giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing it.

I like to use “effortless effort” when talking about how to meditate. It’s indicates that the art of meditation is not one of following instructions. It’s the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.

I often tell people not to take what I say in my meditations too literally. Sometimes I am asked what I mean by something like “not minding thoughts”. It’s impossible to answer those questions. The words I use aren’t meant to be instructions to follow precisely. The words are more like confirmations of the correct experience. Quite naturally the mind will start relaxing into a state of “not minding thoughts”, and if there is some resistance to that happening, words can give you permission to let go. My words are more like “reminders” to gently prompt the mind to let go of effort. But that letting go is an effortless effort!

How can effort be effortless? It’s a paradox. The paradox happens because in guiding someone in meditation, we pretty much have to use words. You can’t demonstrate meditation like you can dance, because it’s an internal process. Although music alone can sometimes induce a meditative state, more often than not some verbal guidance is necessary. And yet, using words and phrases to guide that process is full of pitfalls. The meditative state is actually something that the mind falls into, not something you can make happen through following instructions. The instructions can only set up a situation where the mind can slip into that state.

Meditation is a state of effortlessness and sometimes a phrase here and there can help us to let go of effort. For example, I might say “let thoughts go”. The idea isn’t to actively let them go, like when you open your hand to drop a ball, but rather hearing the phrase “let thoughts go” may help the mind let go. That’s because the mind is naturally drawn into a meditative state when given the opportunity, and there may be some resistance to that happening. The words can help dissolve the resistance. Letting go is not an active doing. No words or concepts can tell you exactly how to do it.

No one can teach you to meditate!

September 8, 2009

Learning meditation is like learning ride a bicycle. Someone can demonstrate how to ride, tell you where to put your feet and hands and so on, but ultimately you have to get the hang of it yourself. A meditation teacher can give you a few pointers about how to start, how to focus your attention, how to handle thoughts and so on; but like bike riding, you ultimately discover how to meditate yourself.

Of course, there are many different kinds of meditation, and this might not be true for all of them. But this is true for meditation styles that induce a deeply relaxed, meditative state. It’s a natural state. It happens spontaneously at times. Perhaps you will initially follow some instructions, but then a time comes when you close your eyes and there you are. With repetition it can become automatic. A skillful “teacher” can only guide you to your own discovery.

Actually, I think it could be said that no one can teach you anything. When I was teaching in the healing arts, I was always amazed at how people heard and learned things that I never remembered saying or teaching. People learned what they were ready to learn, and I just provided a catalyst for that learning. If you are using our guided meditations or have taken our Online Course, it is because you were ready to discover something in your own awareness and these tools provided a catalyst.

A teacher is sometimes someone who passes on facts or know how. It might be tempting in that case to feel the teacher is actually teaching you, but you have to be able to absorb the information you are being given and access it when needed. You have your own understanding of the “facts”. You have to apply what you’ve learned in your own way. Two people using exactly the same recipe produce different results. It may seem like a paradox, but ultimately I’d say someone can learn, but no one can teach.

What do you think? Do you feel someone taught you to meditate (or play music, draw, cook or…)? Do you feel you learned it totally on your own? Or has your experience been something in between?

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