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. (more…)