Sunday, May 13, 2007

Meditation - Beyond Belief

I was raised a devout Catholic, and Jesus was with me at all times. He was my trusted friend and seemed to be part of me, which, by the way, is an accurate definition of an alter ego! Part of me knew that He wasn't real, just an imaginary friend, but that part of me I never wanted to face. I would have been too lonely and lost without Jesus.

I suppose that if I had been raised in another country, my imaginary friend would have been different depending on the culture, perhaps Krishna, but I was raised here, and my mother, as well as the priests who conducted catechism classes three times a week, made sure that I knew Jesus intimately. I was indoctrinated from the time I began breathing.

It was comforting having an imaginary friend, but one unusual day, when I was a bit older, I began to look at this whole question of religion, and how easy it is to fall into a relationship with an idea. I suppose we all romanticize in one way or another, but this Jesus or God fantasy became increasingly troubling for me, simply because I was never the type to believe anything without proving it true for myself, or at least after a couple of unusual experiences at age eighteen and nineteen.

There is great emptiness when we know that we just can't fake it any longer. It's as if we awaken from a pleasant dream and want to go back to sleep, but can't — the sun is up, and something quite sobering has entered our hearts. It all has to do with facing reality, which many can't do; they fortunately can remain in their warm and fuzzy world of illusions, but those who are forced to face reality, such as I was, well . . . they suffer.

Jesus held off the suffering for many years, and I would never have had the courage to go it alone if not for two amazing incidents — one in college, and one in Lake Erie. In college, I was reading a book that suggested I concentrate my mind for one minute without thinking. I tried it, as a lark, and was surprised that I was able to do it with no thoughts entering my mind whatsoever. It was a very unusual experience, and as I look back, the experience began to change something deep inside.

Not long after this, I nearly drowned in Lake Erie, going down for the proverbial third time when an incredible peace came over me. It was like nothing I had ever experienced, and nothing to do with Jesus or God; just a peace that I could best explain as a total release and an end to all concern and worry. It was a most beautiful thing, so beautiful that I can't describe it.

I was rescued, obviously, and after throwing up for a couple of hours on shore, my life, although moving along much as before, was altered. Something changed, and it has been changing ever since. I have never been able to explain exactly what I felt, or how I began to change, but I just didn't think the way I had before, or how my peers thought. I became a fish out of water and didn't know how to handle it, so I ignored the deep feelings and pretty much went on with life as normally as I could. However, deep inside, every belief that I had ever cherished began to break apart, like the shattering of thin glass.

Twenty-one years later, when through unusual circumstances I ended up in a Zen monastery, those feelings came rushing back. I was floored again, and what caused the feelings were similar circumstances to almost drowning – the mind, during a split moment in meditation, lost all of its content, all of its memories and planning, its thoughts and conclusions; there was only the emptiness, the same emptiness that I discovered when I nearly died in Lake Erie those many years ago.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate the freedom of meditation. Meditation involves no cramming of the mind with someone else's ideas, only an emptying of the mind where that certain wonderful freedom that I felt in Lake Erie can change one's consciousness. I don't know what that freedom is, although many have tried to explain it, label it with this word or that word, even built religions around it, but I prefer not to go there. I prefer to suffer with my unknowing.

But one thing I do know; that this suffering of mine involves an understanding of my predicament in what we call physical existence, and that eventually this special kind of suffering will lead to the end all of my suffering when I again touch that Reality that I have touched so many times before, both in life and in meditation, This I am convinced of in my heart.

And the heart is the most important place.

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