Henry David Thoreau once said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that we have frequently experienced that sense of desperation. It is a very uncomfortable feeling that undermines the myths by which we live our lives. Most of us, when we feel that sense of quiet desperation engulfing us, immediately distract ourselves by turning on the TV, picking up a book, calling a friend, or going to our church or therapist. We run from our desperation back into the safety of our world view, which gives us a sense of meaning and importance in our lives. But sooner or later, perhaps in the dark and quiet hours of the night, the feeling of desperation returns.
If we have the courage to be honest, and if we take the time to just be with ourselves without any distractions, we will find that most of what we think we know about ourselves and life in general we really don’t know; that in fact we have just accepted the beliefs and opinions that have been handed to us by whatever authority figures we have had in our lives. And on some level, we are aware that they don’t know, either. With this realization, our desperation grows. If we don’t know and they don’t know, who does know? This open-minded and courageous inquiry into the truth of our lives is the beginning of true meditation. We don’t know. And this needs to be recognized.
What most of us do is seek the answer to the big question of our lives in some outer arena. We turn to a book, a guru, a new age prophet, or the latest authority on love, life, and enlightenment. We search for a remedy for our desperation. And occasionally we find some novel idea or teacher that soothes us for awhile. But when the novelty wears off, the quiet desperation returns and we are off running in all directions looking for another path, another belief sophisticated enough to drug our intellect, another remedy to the emptiness and meaninglessness of our lives.
We don’t know. And this needs to be recognized.
The beginning of meditation is the end of our outer search for the remedy. It is the recognition that we have only one problem in our lives and that problem is ourselves. Meditation is the end of hiding in our hobbies, religions, food, alcohol, drugs, etc. In meditation, we give up the search and finally just sit with ourselves with nothing else to do. We are simply present. And for most of us, this is a horrifying experience. Few of us are able to just be present with no distractions or fantasies for more than a few moments, because our minds begin to go wild as our egos are exposed. We begin to see how we constantly create the melodrama of our lives.
Now we are sitting quietly, doing nothing but being present with ourselves. And we are thinking. The mind is flooded with thoughts. And as we watch our thoughts, we notice that we always have a favorite subject to think about…ourselves! We are truly self-obsessed! We carefully filter all our experience in life through our mantra of “I, Me, Mine.” We are self-obsessed, and yet we honestly do not have a clue who we really are. Whenever we begin to talk about who we think we are, we are in fact reciting programs and scripts we have received throughout our lives as human robots. The fact that we don’t know who we really are is the source of our desperation, and yet at the very same time, to recognize this fact is the beginning of our true awakening into life.
As we sit in meditation, our mind attempts to figure it all out. Like a complex computer, it scans every experience, every belief, every scrap of knowledge, attempting to find the missing link. And the desperation remains. Our mind, which is who we think we are, is incapable of truly knowing who we are. Because who we are is not our mind nor the beliefs, opinions, concepts, attitudes and prejudices that are the programs of our mind. Our mind grasps and struggles and tightly holds onto itself. It is enchanted with itself and is very dear to itself. But one day, if we continue meditating regularly (to exhaust the mind, if for no other reason), this neurotic process of the mind suddenly stops, at least for a moment. And then something absolutely profound and unbelievable occurs that can never be described in words because words are of the mind. We get a glimpse of who and what we really are beyond the mind, beyond the mind’s song of “I, Me, Mine,” beyond our self-obsession. We see or, more accurately, recognize the Truth. Not my truth or your truth or even their truth, but the Truth, beyond any form and belief. And then we know who we are and what our lives are about. Our quiet desperation melts away completely into an unshakable peace and joy that is the very essence of being. We realize that which we had been seeking, we were all along. And we are not our mind, no matter what our mind may think. We are not our personality nor our beliefs. What we are is unborn and unthinkable — and free!