I have been a student and practitioner of meditation for thirty years. I still find it difficult—at times boring and at other times confrontational. And I still find it valuable—nourishing, expansive, and illuminating. Sometimes I meditate every day; sometimes I go months without ever sitting on my meditation cushion. I have taken short meditation courses and spent most of my time waiting for the evening or weekend to be over. And I have gone on long, solitary retreats and surrendered to the practice, emptying myself of worry, falseness, restlessness, and complaints. Without hesitation, I can say that meditation practice has made a remarkable difference in my life.

People are attracted to meditation for a variety reasons, including these:
  • to relax, physically and mentally;
  • to keep the heart open and soft;
  • to accept life on its own terms;
  • to feel more alive, connected, and content;
  • to find inner peace; and
  • to make contact with other realms of consciousness, what some call the divine or God.
Meditation can help us achieve any of these—but only over time, and with dedication and work. We come to meditation feeling that parts of our life are difficult and that perhaps a meditation practice will make them less so. We want relief now. But that is not how meditation works. The desire for peace and happiness is noble; the expectation of instant results is unreasonable.

Meditation is a matter of slow and steady experience. It is not a cure. It is not a set of moral values. It is not a religion. It is a way—a way to be fully present, a way to be genuinely who we are, a way to look deeply at the nature of things, a way to rediscover the peace we already possess. It does not aim to get rid of anything bad, or to create anything good. It is an attitude of openness. The term for this attitude is mindfulness.

Buddhists call mindfulness meditation maitri practice. Maitri is often translated as "unconditional friendliness." Meditation is the practice of unconditional friendliness toward whatever is happening in the moment—the moment during which we sit in meditation, and all the other moments of life, whether things are going well or falling apart. Meditation helps us and an internal witness with which to view external events. This might sound like a small, easy matter, but it is not. In fact, discovering and developing an inner witness may be the most important act of our life. Being able to observe ourselves honestly, with acceptance and friendliness, trains us to do the same with others at home, at work, and in the world.
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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