Doing Nothing, Dissatisfaction, and Learning to Be with What Is

The more I practice, the more it becomes clear to me that it is not skillful to practice in order to have certain kinds of experiences. Instead, it is best to practice in order to develop a kind and welcoming attitude regardless of whatever experiences you have

If this is the case, then I'd like to suggest that the kind of  meditation practice that you have is irrelevant to the end goal of the practice. At least if you, like me, meditate as way of becoming less reactive. If so, the point of the practice is not to change the nature of our experience, since our experience is what it is and, crucially, can only be what it is. An anxious thought is an anxious thought no matter how much we want it to not be so. 

While we cannot change our experience, we can train ourselves to become less reactive to experience. One way of becoming less reactive is to learn to stay still and quiet in the midst of all sorts of different experiences. 

By doing nothing, we learn to react less. This is the reason why it doesn't matter whether when you meditate in this way your mind tells you that "you're doing something instead of nothing". You may think that what you're trying to "do" is "nothing", but what you're really doing is simply being still and quiet with what is. 

Once we understand the practice this way, we realize that we can be still and quiet with what is even when what is here is "something" rather than "nothing". Even when what is here is incessant mental chatter instead of deep inner silence. Don't move, don't speak. That's all this practice requires of you. 

You may ask how does "doing nothing"  do this for us? How does it make us less reactive? I believe it does so by very quickly forcing us to confront all sorts of material that is unsatisfying to us. Oh...your mind tells you that "you're doing something instead of nothing"? Dissatisfying. Your mind wanders and doesn't stay "here"? Dissatisfying. You run through your grocery list in your head? Dissatisfying. You have really anxious, negative thoughts? Dissatisfying. 

What does "doing nothing" teach when we are faced with this endless barrage of dissatisfaction? Be still. Be quiet. By being still and being quiet we cultivate equanimity. By cultivating equanimity, we get less reactive. No magic to this practice. It's a direct route to equanimity, with few detours.  

In a sense, this is also how mindfulness of breath, or any other approach to meditation, works. There's no magic to the breath. Sure, it can get you relaxed. But so does listening to relaxing music. I believe that what's really going on in anapanasati behind the scenes is that it presents you with dissatisfaction. Your mind gets distracted from the breath? Dissatisfying. Your mind is agitated and there's a lot of noise in the background as you try to focus narrowly on the breath? Dissatisfying. You get sleepy and drowsy when following the breath? Dissatisfying. You can't sense 13 different sensations in the in breath? Dissatisfying. You can't reach single pointed attention effortlessly? Dissatisfying. You get single pointed attention, but nothing happens and there's no stream entry experience? Dissatisfying. You get stream entry, but can't get past 2nd or 3rd path? Dissatisfying. 

By endlessly focusing on the breath - or whatever other practice you do - you eventually end bumping up against dissatisfaction. And eventually you see that dissatisfaction cuts right to the core of life, being and existence. Having realized that there's no way out of dissatisfaction, you give up. Having given up, you realize that there is no choice other than learning to be with what is. Having learned to live with what is, you realize that you didn't need to spend years on the breath to get there. You could've just done nothing and you would've ended up in the same place.     


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