AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE
By Lloyd Ratzlaff
Learning to meditate, someone has said, is the best gift we can give ourselves in a lifetime. Although I know from experience the importance of meditation, I still remain the world’s worst offender when it comes to practising what I preach, and reminders to myself are always timely. So here goes again.
Where the biblical Psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God,” one
Oriental proverb noted, “A fast mind is sick, a slow mind is sound, a still mind is divine.” It seems every great religion has regarded meditation as essential to a spiritual practice. The English words meditation and medicine obviously stem from the same root. Why might this be so?
First, our minds left to themselves run away with us. We’re very fond of believing that we are in control of our thoughts, yet the moment we sit down to meditate we see how obstinate minds can be. Within a minute of clock time we’ll have had some old memories, several leaps into the future, regrets over certain things we’ve done, itches and pains, a craving for something to eat or drink, resentment toward someone who’s offended us, surges of lust for some body, and a couple of stray lines from a popular tune. We pretend to be in control of our minds, but in fact are like the proverbial one-armed rider on a blind wild horse. Meditation begins by bringing this truth firmly to awareness.
The second step entails a change of metaphor: “Muddy water let stand becomes clear.” A common idea of relaxation is simply to recline on the couch with a drink to watch some favourite television until we doze off. This can give us a bit of mental reprieve and physical rejuvenation, no doubt, but does nothing whatever to bring the mind under control. So we endure the tension and pace of existence until we peter out, then drift into unconsciousness, and wake up to all the old frenzy, our minds galloping off in every direction and our bodies going through the paces until we drop again, and so on and on, for some perhaps to the very end of life. But if once we experience the poise and tranquility that comes with a deliberate stopping of mental busyness, we transcend the Mad Hatter’s tea party that the outer world often is. Adepts at the art of meditation say that in a way it’s like deep and peaceful sleep, but with one crucial difference: we remain fully aware — and this awareness creates a centredness and invulnerability about which the daytime ego knows next to nothing.
Then we find a new sense of trust being born — trust that life knows what it’s doing, that it’s bigger than we are and it knows how to carry us. At this stage of meditation we gradually learn to know ourselves as part of the river that begins in the infinite sea, and finds its way back again quite effortlessly, without fretting over the past or the future. In St. Paul’s wonderful phrasing, we become reacquainted with the “Source, Guide, and Goal of all that is.”
According to Karlfried Graf Durkheim, “All hypertension is a lack of trust in Divine Being.” This is betrayed in the most common things of everyday life: posture, breathing, and levels of tension. Rigid stances, shallow or erratic breathing, muscles tied in knots, these are symptoms of self-protection and signs of resistance to the flow of life. Meditation teaches us that acceptance is transcendence, and it restores our capacity to accept life rather than fight against it.
I suppose this is why the old renegade Osho once remarked, “Whatsoever you will say is the problem, I will tell you that the solution is to meditate.”
Ratzlaff is the author of two books of literary non-fiction, The Crow Who Tampered With Time and Backwater Mystic Blues. Formerly a minister, counsellor and university instructor, he now makes his living as a writer in Saskatoon.