I'm sure you're familiar with the saying, "He who has the most toys wins." You might consider it the antithesis of meditation.
Meditation requires nothing more than sitting quietly with yourself and letting go of thoughts, emotions, concerns, worries. You need nothing more than your willing mind and a place to sit.
Ah, but there's the rub. There are "needs" and there are "wants." And those wants are the toys of meditation. I should know. I have a bunch.
When I meditated at a zendo (a fancy name for a meditation hall) there were these terrific flat square cotton pillows topped with this sturdy, solid round buckwheat-filled pillow on which to sit. I found my meditation practice so successful at the zendo that I just had to go out and buy these pillows.
The square one is the zabuton, a floor cushion, and the round one is the zafu. They did seem to be more comfortable and besides, at home I felt they made my sitting a more serious practice than just simply plopping on the floor.
Then I wanted some incense to set the right mood in the room. So many choices. Japanese incense, Tibetan incense. Indian incense. Cone incense. Stick incense. Brass burners. Wood burners. Ceramic bowls filled with white ash to hold your incense droppings.
Then I wanted audio to enhance my meditation. First I bought tapes, later CDs. Rainstorms. Ocean surf. Babbling brooks. Guided meditation. Visualization. Breath count. The sound of a gong at Plum Village. Crystal bowls. Singing bowls
Then I wanted to create my own live sounds of inspiration to begin and end my meditation. So I bought a singing bowl and a mallet to strike it. Then I bought five more with different tones.
Then I wanted something less harsh than the kitchen timer going off in another room to let me know when my meditation was done. So I found an app for my iPod that would strike an instrument of my choosing -- singing bowl, wooden block, tingsha (cymbals) -- after counting down the minutes.
I like all these accoutrements. They're lovely things. But they're toys because all I do is play with them. Despite having these things that I desperately wanted, they didn't add to or extend my practice. It -- and they -- fell by the wayside
I haven't sat and meditated in the past 5 years.
That doesn't mean I haven't found my toys, dusted them off, and gathered them in a corner of my spare bedroom for the start of tomorrow's 28 Day Challenge. I'll admit to having them all at the ready.
What I realize is that having them -- or not having them -- is not going to make one bit of difference when it comes time to sit down and be with myself.
I can see how fundamentally ridiculous it is to have these toys because when I close my eyes tomorrow and let go of everything, they will go too. if I obsess over these things they will distract me from what it is I should be paying attention to -- nothing.
It's ironic that to be mindful and to let go, I once rationalized that I needed to have more stuff. But the truth is I simply wanted the stuff. There was no true need. It was all want.
I should have made do with less, because all I really needed was my wiling mind and a place to sit.
Wants aren't terrible things. They're only terrible when they take over our lives and exclude what really matters. I let my wants turn my meditation practice into a competition which I thought I would win because I had the most toys. Instead, they got in the way because my focus switched from what I had inside to what I lacked around me.
Wants, like stray thoughts during meditation, are nothing more than clouds in the sky. Whether I pay attention to them or not, they will eventually pass.