For several years I have had my hair cut by a lovely man named Keith, in his apartment. I had noticed that he had a small shrine in the living room, but I’d never mentioned it. Maybe I found the subject potentially embarrassing or I thought he might end up proselytizing me on behalf of his guru, or I was just reluctant to engage, like the New Yorker I am. But yesterday after he finished cutting my hair, we were sitting around chatting and I asked him if he had a meditation practice. He does. Sometimes he’s better at sticking to it than other times. But he is absolutely persuaded of its rewards. Do it 20 minutes twice a day, he said, and your life will change. First, you will gain compassion and after that, fearlessness. And still more benefits will follow those. It’s OK to have thoughts during meditation, he said, just don’t BE the thoughts. “Be the space in between the thoughts.” I recognized this as the same message from Sharon’s guided meditation, of letting the thoughts float by like clouds in the sky. “The clouds aren’t the sky,” Sharon says. I once heard someone else suggest that you imagine the thoughts as having beaks and tails and flying across your mental sky like so many migrating birds.
Three different ways of describing the same idea -- which is something that you really have to experience for yourself to understand. I’m struck by how inadequate words are to capture the essence of the thing – yet words are what we have. And some of them work better for me than others. I once listened to a meditation tape that invoked imagery like Moon goddesses and rainbows and lotus blossoms. Somehow it made me think of My Little Pony and I ended up very cross. But I imagine that the state that is beyond words is very similar, no matter what words we use to try and summon it up.