In meditation, sometimes we chase after a particular type of “feeling.” The thing is, in life, everything comes and goes, even nice feelings. Meanwhile, while we are chasing after these temporary feelings, we miss the opportunity to really pay attention and learn about life as it is (as opposed to as we want it to be). Stuck in this chasing loop, we miss the chance to develop our prajna–our wisdom. This post is about how to use meditation to gain wisdom about life instead of to chase after a particular temporary feeling.
A Zen student had travelled to India and had become overwhelmed when he gave to beggars there. On the one hand, he had an intention to help in the world. On the other, he wondered if he was incentivizing begging. I did not want to give him “advice,” but instead to offer an approach to decision making that does not depend on the concepts and stories we tell ourselves but that instead arises from our True Self. The approach involves trusting our intuition and then adjusting our actions over and over as we get new information.
In addition to my group work, I work with many people on an individual level. Some are coaching clients, some are Zen students, some are people I mentor. Sometimes I correspond with the people I work with and answer their questions. Recently, one of these spiritual friends wrote to me about having a hard time and feeling very down on himself for it. This post is my reply.
Not knowing is the fundamental human condition. There seems to be something holy or sacred about it. Maybe this is why so many of the faith traditions abhor idolatry; our ideas or representations of reality are not the same as reality. If we react to our stories of the way things are instead allowing ourselves to react to the way things really are, we find ourselves fighting ghosts and have planted the seeds of future violence.
Those of us who want to build better lives that also help the world tend to be suspicious of optimism. Being optimistic causes you to sit on your butt and do nothing about world problems, right? We need anger, fear and desire to motivate us, no? But what if I told you that the science shows that a 20-minute optimism exercise can actually help you be more effective in building a better life for yourself and a better world for others?