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​Beneath Behavior: A Closer Look At Meditation

Posted on February 11, 2016

By Kate Green Tripp

I like to think of my time on my meditation cushion as a vacation. A vacation from the rapidly ticking mind, a vacation from the conditioned, habituated ways I respond to challenges or emotions. My time in silence takes me underneath these layers to a very simple place where observing breath and feeling my way into quiet spaciousness are the only tasks at hand. Tasks is not exactly the right word, as that elicits a sense of obligation which isn’t accurate or reflective of the experience. More so than tasks, these realities simply unfold when I close my eyes and sit. Some days, when internal background noise or the pull of external distraction is particularly acute, they can be hard to access. Other days, they are right there, peacefully waiting to receive and welcome me, as soon as I settle into position.

In her book, Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron writes that “As human beings, we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux.” How terribly true. What’s more, the collective leading edge of technology, efficiency, modernity, and connectivity conspire at times to make us feel as though we might just be able – with enough tools and tricks – to scramble hard and fast enough to beat back or balance the flux. So we race, we try, we tire, and inevitably, we fail.

Since no one ever seems to learn from anyone else’s mistakes, it often requires a series of failures – or a monumental collapse of some element of what Chodron calls our ‘fixed identity’ – to prompt most of us to consider the option of not scrambling. What might that look like?

For me, not scrambling takes the form of breath awareness and meditation. And let me be clear: I am no master. There are plenty of days when my habituated response mechanisms take over and old ways of handling, or attempting to conquer, stress win out. In other words, I don’t always remember to not scramble. Quite often, I feel the flux and I react. Usually with anger or fear.

But on the days when I don’t, and instead I practice fueling this other peaceful pathway, I feel something remarkable. I learn, in small doses, that I don’t have to fight or run from my stress. I don’t have to swallow the fairy tale that little old me can balance or fight back the flux. I get – in those moments of calm simplicity – that the flux is what it is all about. The flux is the very nature of being alive. Ultimately, the only way forward is in learning to ride its edge.

This takes me back to the metaphor of vacation. When we pull out of our daily rituals of work, responsibility, habit, and schedule, we often gift ourselves the opportunity to feel a little deeper into ourselves. It is often on vacation that we notice where we’re growing, where we’re stuck, or what we’re yearning for. Beneath the daily repetitive behaviors and habits of life, we find self.

For more on developing a personal meditation practice, we recommend Tara Brach’s Talks for Beginners.