When I teach meditation, I bring a box to class with quotations and poems chosen for their relevance to meditation and contemplation. I ask each person to choose one, sit with it, then share it with the group. Without fail, one of the shortest poems, by the Chinese sage Seng Ts'an, creates a big stir:

Don't keep searching for the truth; Just let go of your opinions.

Inevitably some members of the class will take umbrage at the poem. One person will say, "My opinions about injustice in the world are what drive me to do good work." Another will ask, "If I don't form opinions, how will I know what is true and what it false?" Like many mystical poets, Seng Ts'an had a sense of humor and liked to overstate the case, just to get a laugh. He knew that opinions are not necessarily evil. He just wanted us to loosen the grip of our judgments, even for a few minutes, and give the whole truth a chance to reveal itself. Meditation is an opportunity to do exactly that.

As you establish a meditation practice, remind yourself every now and then why you are doing it. It is easy to fall into a rote form of practice or, even worse, to feel self-righteous or trendy just because you take a few minutes out of your day to cultivate a quiet mind and an open heart. Remind yourself that you are practicing so that you can be a peaceful person, so that the truths you discover in meditation become the way you live your life. After a while your practice will show up everywhere—from driving the car to reading a bedtime story to your child. Meditation is not separate from life; it is practice for mindful living.

One warning about meditation: Do not use it as yet another way to judge yourself. Meditation can be difficult. While it hones some of our better qualities, it also holds up a mirror to some of our worst. This is one of the reasons we do it: to see ourselves clearly; to love ourselves, warts and all; to crack through the hard crust of the personality until the gem of the self is revealed. Let your resolve to meditate spring from your longing to break open into life, not from enmity toward yourself. Let go of the burden of self-judgment by returning, over and over, to your most basic self, just as you are, with an attitude of forgiveness. Soon you will and yourself forgiving others, and forgiving the world itself.
Excerpted from BROKEN OPEN: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Reprinted by arrangement with the Random House Publishing Group.  


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