When I first learned meditation back in 1971, it was motivated more by despair than devotion to any ideal. I was born into an unusually unhappy family, and by the time I reached my teen years it was obvious that I had to do something different to avoid suicide or going crazy — both of which had run in my family. I checked out psychotherapy, which involved a lot of talking back then, but quickly discovered that most of the therapists I could find were just as disoriented as the people they were trying to help.
And then I found meditation. I withdrew four British pounds from my bank account, and armed with flowers, a new white handkerchief and an orange, I went along to an inconspicuous suburban house in England. An hour later I had my own personal mantra. I meditated with that mantra conscientiously throughout my teen years, and after university I went to India to dive even deeper in. I’ve tried almost every kind of meditation imaginable in these last 40 years, including using sex, running, fasting, eyes open, eyes closed, eyes rolled back, forget the eyes, focus on the breath, deep breathing, shallow breathing, alternate nostril breathing, forget the breathing feel the body, focus on pockets of pain, seek out bliss, welcome thoughts, ignore thoughts… I’ve also had periods, perhaps understandably, which I call my “screw this” periods, where my “meditation” became whatever I happened to be doing anyway.
Meditation has somehow or other been a component of all of my adult life. I’ve been through loving it as a zealot and resisting it as a rebel, but it has never drifted further away than the next room, where it waits patiently for me to return to my senses again.
This Christmas Chameli and I read Sally Kempton’s new book, Meditation for the Love of It, published by Sounds True this year. Whether you are a long time meditation dabbler, like me, or just succumbing to the allures of the journey on the cushion for the first time, this is a great, GREAT book. Unlike many other books of its kind, this is a meditation guide written with humility as well as authority. Sally has been meditating and teaching meditation for more than 40 years, and she is fully aware of every triumph and pitfall you might encounter along the way. Her book is entirely realistic about what you may encounter: endless thoughts as well as occasional peace, troubling emotions as well as moments of bliss, and days or weeks of boredom and resistance as well as breakthroughs to inspiration and connection.
There have been many books written about meditation which have tried everything to appear “mainstream.” Results and research are cited, the ease and simplicity are emphasized. Here is a meditation book that takes you seriously, makes no promises of premature immaculation, but at the same time actually deeply inspires you to take up the discipline of a daily practice.
And then there have also been many meditation books with a specific method to promote. They tend to want to package meditation as THIS very specific one things right HERE, and not all those other rather dubious things over there. This is meditation-gone-dogmatic. Sally’s book is many things, and dogmatic is certainly not one of them. It is trans-lineage. Meditation as a way to melt into emptiness? Right there in Chapter Two. Meditation as devotion to God? It’s in Chapter Nine. Setting intentions, releasing emotional or physical pain, invoking a Guru, its all here, together with very specific instructions and exercises. She covers a variety of suggestion on how to prepare for meditation, how to sit during meditation, and how to come out of meditation and integrate with your day. All in a way that embraces and honors the Buddhist, the Christian, the Hindu and the agnostic.
But perhaps the greatest strength of this book is that it presents meditation as an endless exploration, rather than a path to a predefined goal. She emphasizes that once the meditation energy ( or shakti) is awake, it starts to guide the meditator from within. This book weans you off itself before you are done, so you are left with meditation as your teacher, and the book left behind like a banana peel after the feasting is over.
So far, this gets my 2011 best book award, and I highly recommend you read it yourself. You will, without doubt, feel inspired to meditation, whether you are a beginner or a veteran. You will have very precise, unambiguous instructions that you can take to the cushion today. And you will, like us, probably feel an energy awakened within you that is your own teacher, talking from the inside, inspiring you to deepening.
I have invited Sally Kempton to be my guest on a free tele-seminar this Thursday, March 31st at 6pm PST to talk about Meditation for the Love of It. She will take your questions live on the call. If you can’t make it, use the same link to listen to the replay.
Photo Credits: markuso, Sally Kempton