Meditation is a form of stopping. It stops the racing mind. It puts on the brakes when automatic thoughts take over. With meditation you can stop reactivity. It can stop destructive emotions from arising, or accelerating. When you can simply stop, a range of possibilities opens up. Otherwise whatever is arising dominates and you become it. Not only doesn’t that feel good, or contribute to your day, it isn’t what you are. You are not the hyper mind or the afflictive emotion.

Let’s go back to stopping. Most people only stop when they’re asleep. You attempt stopping on weekends, vacations, trips, etc. The trouble is that these timeouts go little beyond basic relaxation. Relaxation is fine, it’s a good thing. Relaxation alone doesn’t create awareness. And often that special weekend turns into a fight, feelings get hurt and the whole thing is ruined. This is because the conditioned mind and unhealed emotional content have not been put under the lamp of awareness.

Putting on the brakes is crucial. It’s only then you have a chance to actually notice where your triggers are. In meditation you learn about yourself. It’s hard to learn about yourself in the rush hours of life. Your awareness isn’t exactly free or clear for self-study. Your awareness is trapped by your to-do list, hunger pangs, a concern about your child or friction with a co-worker.

Using the brakes of meditation to just stop is a very good beginning. It allows a distancing from the habituated self, the one that runs on automatic impulses and ego needs. This distance is vital. Without it you remain a story. With your mask on and story intact you remain the status quo. Drop both and you’re transformed.

Once awareness is liberated and honed with regular meditation practice, it pervades daily life. It becomes a continuous and ever-deepening resource. Awareness which is foundational to the mind and its real nature, reclaims its place, giving you strength, solidity and spaciousness. As you continue meditating, awareness also transforms reactivity and destructive emotions so you’re triggered less often and for less amounts of time. You understand that your true nature is peaceful, joyful and whole.

Why meditate? Sometimes I wonder why we need to ask this question. Nobody who admires a talented artist, or pianist and would like to become one would say, “Why should I train? Why don’t I just go on stage and play Mozart?” However, when it comes to the basic human qualities that we might admire and hope to acquire—altruism, inner strength, inner freedom to deal with whatever comes our way, emotional balance, not being swayed by hatred and craving and jealousy— we think that they come up just because we want them to, without any training. Or we think that they are fixed, permanent, and that we can’t change them. It is absurd to think that we do not need training to nourish these kinds of positive qualities.

 

We have the potential to be more kind, to practice mindfulness, and to experience well-being, but we only use a small fraction of the potential we have. So that’s what meditation is about: to cultivate the qualities that we have the potential for but that remain dormant, latent, unused, and to develop them to the best of our own potential.

 

— Matthieu Ricard


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Put the Brakes On with Meditation

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