The First Noble Misunderstanding
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about meditation. In fact, says Karen Maezen Miller, that’s pretty much all that meditation is — the process of seeing how much you’ve misunderstood meditation and everything else.
The First Noble Misunderstanding
By Karen Maezen Miller /

We might be drawn to meditation because we want more out of life and ourselves. We might want to be more centered, for example. More peaceful. More focused. More balanced. More patient. More mellow. More wise. More like my ex-boyfriend who liked to meditate.

These may be all the reasons we are drawn to meditation, but they are not the reasons we meditate. We meditate because there is a six-foot flame dancing on top of our heads. It has made us mighty uncomfortable for quite some time up there. We try to pretend otherwise, but have you noticed? We have a fire on our heads! It keeps crossing the containment lines! The temperature shoots up and we prance about, panicked, frantic, holding our breath lest we stoke the inferno, but it rages anyway. About the time our eyebrows singe, we might heed the call of rescue.

That’s how bad it has to get. If meditation is one of an array of self-improvement options you are considering, you probably won’t do it. By all means, try the ninety-minute massage first! Get the new wardrobe and the hair tint! Meditation is the option of having no other option, no higher goal, and no more righteous intention than saving your sorry ass from a living hell.

Everything happens when you meditate. Whole worlds are dismantled, innumerable scores are settled, grievous deeds are undone, and the entire universe settles at rest.

This is why I was so fortunate to have smacked headfirst into Zen meditation. Because in Zen, you see, we don’t meditate on anything. We don’t meditate on world peace, for instance, or loving-kindness, or forgiveness, or to acquire any of the lofty virtues that we or our dastardly neighbors so glaringly lack. Meditating on something else would just fuel the conflagration up top. We might be reminded — as if we needed reminding — of what we don’t have, how we don’t act, what we don’t like, who said what to whom and how lousy we feel because of it. We meditate instead to quench the flame on our heads, to quiet the torment and silence the roar. That alone brings salvation, peace, love, and forgiveness. How? By itself. We have a wellspring of all that within us, a deep and eternal aquifer of fire retardant, when we give ourselves the breathing room to find it.

That’s what we do in Zen meditation, or zazen. Breathe. Simply breathe, attending to our own breath as it rises and falls, fills and empties, counting it from one to ten and all over again just to give our brilliant brains something to do. We do this with our eyes open, looking at a wall or the floor in front of us. It’s easy to think we don’t know how to do it, and easy to think we’re not doing it right, but this is the way to see that thoughts like that are just — oh yeah, look at that — thoughts, and we start counting again.

“Imagine that your nose is two inches beneath your navel,” I read in one set of instructions. That may not be an appealing picture in your mind, so don’t picture it in your mind. Don’t picture it, and you’ll immediately learn something amazing about yourself. Just by hearing the words, you automatically release the cinch in your belly, and your breath instantly deepens and slows down. For all the wayward searching for truth and authenticity in our lives, breathing is the most original, authentic, and autonomous thing we do. You know how to breathe, and only you can do it.

“I feel dignified,” I wrote after my first solo attempt at sitting still. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt a breeze waft over my head. The breeze was my own breath. The breath was my own life. The dignity was my birthright.

Meditation is misunderstood because it doesn’t look like anything happens in those torturous few minutes of motionlessness. But everything happens when you meditate. Whole worlds are dismantled, innumerable scores are settled, grievous deeds are undone, and the entire universe settles at rest.

Most of us say about ourselves: “I have a hard time letting go.” Exhalation is the most complete expression of letting go, and we do it without thinking thirty thousand times a day. You know how to let go, and only you can do it.

Meditation is misunderstood as something you envision in your head, when in fact it is something to be seen with your own eyes. What you begin to see is that the place where you thought your life occurred — the cave of rumination and memory, the cauldron of anxiety and fear — isn’t where your life takes place at all. Those mental recesses are where pain occurs, but life occurs elsewhere, in a place we are usually too preoccupied to notice, too distracted to see: right in front of our eyes. The point of meditation is to stop making things up and see things as they are.

When I give meditation instruction these days, I ask students to lift their arms up to eye level, wiggle their fingers, and see for themselves. That’s where your life is, that’s where your life has always been, in front of you, and now you know how I got mine back.

From Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, ©2010 by Karen Maezen Miller. Reproduced with permission of New World Library.

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Inside the Invisible Government: John Pilger on War, Propaganda, Clinton and Trump
John Pilger · 10,355 views today · The American journalist, Edward Bernays, is often described as the man who invented modern propaganda. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psycho-analysis, it was...
F*ck That: A Guided Meditation for the Realities of Today's World
2 min · 9,229 views today · Just acknowledge that all that sh*t is f*cking b*llshit — you're here now, in this place, with your inner stillness. Take in a deep breath ... now breathe out. Just feel the...
Free Trade Explained In An Excellent Comic
Michael Goodwin, Illustrated by Dan E. Burr · 5,938 views today · The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) are the latest in a long line...
Democracy in the Digital Era
Birgitta Jonsdottir · 5,132 views today · Our current democratic models are crumbling and outdated. We need to make something more real and meaningful. Activist and politician Birgitta Jónsdóttir points to how it might...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 4,790 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 4,219 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,162 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Open Up - Have the Difficult But Important Conversations With Loved Ones
5 min · 2,696 views today · “The biggest casualty of humanity is the lack of communication, it’s the thing that breaks most relationships. It just feels so much better to talk and get it out.” There is...
Who I'm Voting For...
3 min · 2,532 views today · Prince Ea announces who he's voting for. It's probably not who you think.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise
3 min · 2,222 views today · In addition to her well-known autobiographies, Maya Angelou has steadily written poetry over the years. In this video Professor Angelou recites her poem, "And Still I Rise,"...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,373 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 953 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
25 Mind-Twisting Optical Illusion Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Dovas · 757 views today · The beautiful and mind-bending illusions in Canadian artist Robert Gonsalves’ paintings have a fun way of twisting your perception and causing you to question what in his...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 708 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
'Maritime Graveyard': 2016 Deadliest Year Ever for Refugees Crossing Mediterranean
Deirdre Fulton · 705 views today · "From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88," says UNHCR spokesman
Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change (2015)
11 min · 651 views today · Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping...
#Hypernormalisation - Why Heathrow Plan Is Proof We Exist in a Catastrophic Fantasyland
Matthew Adams · 634 views today · The British government recently gave the green light for Heathrow airport’s third runway. It was heralded by its supporters as a vital boost for jobs and growth – and proof...
The Empire Vs. The People - Police Attack and Arrest Peaceful Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline
6 min · 505 views today · On October 22, just before dawn, hundreds of people, including many families, gathered and prepared to march toward the Dakota Access pipeline construction site near Standing...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 440 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
The Anthropocene Is Here: Humanity Has Pushed Earth Into a New Epoch
Deirdre Fulton · 431 views today · The epoch is thought to have begun in the 1950s, when human activity set global systems on a different trajectory
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
The First Noble Misunderstanding