Chapter One from Meditation for Starters
Think how many things you do with the hope of attaining a condition of rest, once you’ve done them.
You think, "Let me buy that zippy red sports car, or that shiny white compact model, or that beautiful big station wagon for the whole family. I’ll never rest until I get it!"
Or perhaps you think, "I’ll get that new house with the shaded porch and the large master bedroom; that calm, spacious dining room so we don’t have always to eat in the kitchen with the cucumbers; that sunken living room. Oh, once I have all that I’ll be able to relax at last!"
Usually, our mental image of an attained ideal is like a framed painting: static and never changing. It is an end in itself, not a passageway toward further beginnings and further challenges. Even when we see our goals as means to other ends, our vision of the future carries us to a time where rest becomes truly possible at last.
Peace is the natural condition of the soul. People sometimes speak longingly of the peace of the grave as in the term "requiescat in pace" even if they imagine death as a descent into unconsciousness. The loss of consciousness itself seems to them, evidently, an attractive alternative to the ceaseless struggle of human existence. Meditation, however, poses an infinitely more attractive alternative, one that lifts the mind into a state of superconscious peace which, once attained, can be maintained through even the psychic upheaval of physical death.
Peace can never truly be found outside ourselves. What passes for peace is a temporary lull, merely, in the battle of life. That new car, once you’ve bought it, will be only a prelude to new pursuits and fresh challenges. That lovely home will turn out to be an invitation to new responsibilities, further involvements, and perhaps even stronger attachments.
What happens is that, in the process of pursuing one thing after another, forever in the hope of getting everything finally just the way you want it, you become accustomed to looking for things, for more and more ways of helping you to rest better. Someday, surely (you think), you’ll be able to enjoy life completely. The irony is that, in the very process of pursuing rest, you gradually lose the ability to rest at all. And in the process of pursuing enjoyment, you lose the capacity really to enjoy anything.
Our very enjoyment of life begins with the simple ability to relax. The ability is simple: That is what makes it so difficult! Since our birth, our life-force has flowed outward to the five senses, and through them to this world of endless complexity. It isn’t easy, now, to reverse that flow.
The more you seek rest through doing, the more restless you become. The more you seek happiness through the senses, the less happy you will be, for the simple reason that sensory enjoyment drains our capacity for happiness: It doesn’t nourish it.
Why wait? Why wait for peace and happiness to come to you eventually? Will they come to you even after you retire from work? Hardly! If, having become safely ensconced in that rocking chair, you resist the tendency to keep on doing things no matter how unproductive, you’ll very likely die of boredom.
Everyone, no matter how busy he is, needs to devote some time every day to practicing the art of doing things restfully. You’ll never find peace until you make peace a part of activity itself. Peace should be part of the very creative process.
Hence the importance of meditation.