Meditation And Its Discontents

Anna Silivonchik

Many people think that in order to avoid suffering, they have to give up joy, and they call this “transcending joy and suffering.” This is not correct…Don’t get caught in theories or ideas, such as saying that suffering is an illusion or that we have to “transcend” both suffering and joy. Just stay in touch with what is actually going on, and you will touch the true nature of suffering and the true nature of joy. When you have a headache, it would not be correct to call your headache illusory. To help it go away, you have to acknowledge its existence and understand its causes.

- Thich Nhat Hanh


When we talk about the true nature of mind, when we say “nature,” it means the actual state, the actual situation that the mind is in. It’s simply a matter of recognizing what is there, what is actually there. So sometimes what is tricky for us to understand is that the reason we have not recognized the true nature of our mind is not because it is too profound, or too difficult. It is because it is too simple or too easy. The masters of meditation of the past say that we fail to recognize the true nature of mind because it is so simple that we fail to trust it.

So the true nature of mind is simply what we are right now, it is our uncontrived natural state. Since we are in such a habit of living our lives in contrived states, and states where we are always adding concepts onto things, it’s difficult for us to return to the way we naturally are.

— His Holiness the 17th Karmapa

Krishnamurti talked a lot about “being simple.” What does that mean? Are we too snarled up in conditioned assumptions to notice our inability to observe who we are in the moment? We can remember the past and plan for the future but to actually see who we are being right now seems impossible. Simple noticing without interrupting and correcting ourselves to conform to received ideas seems to require arduous means.

Dedicated efforts to meditate, Sufi dancing, prayer of all kinds, even the practice of the arts may open the door to a simpler mind but staying in a state of simplicity eludes us. We have been taught to think and judge but not to see. Looking through concepts obscures who we really are. We don’t notice that process because we assume our conditioning is our true nature. Simplicity remains a mystery.

We keep hearing from the gurus that it’s really very simple to be simple but we can’t stop correcting ourselves and chasing concepts. We keep stumbling over our own mental theater. We elevate those who don’t seem to do this but there are so many charlatans we can easily find ourselves in another wild goose chase more often than we’d like to admit.

Recognizing a thought as a thought, a quantum of ideational energy quite apart from truth, is an unfamiliar process in our part of the world. Intelligence to us is how and what we think, not how we see. The ability to pay attention to the present reality without overriding it with judgements of good/bad can be uncomfortable as soon as we observe that who we are is quite different from who we think we are or want to be.

We actually fear simplicity. We don’t want to be simple. We like the suits we were fitted with growing up. Dropping the costumes of nationality, race, class, religion and hard won “education” is inconceivable. Besides, what are the rewards of simplicity? We worry about what we’ll have to give up.

Simple noticing of who we are and how we function is alert non interference in the present moment of living our lives. You don’t need to do anything other than to simply pay attention. That’s an unaccustomed state of mind for most of us, but if we’re going to see how we have created our own problems we could use a better way to approach the roots of the issues facing us.

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I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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