As I prepare to write the lessons for the new Hearth meditation class the question, why meditate? is front and center. Many people come to Hearth for inspiration, to lift them up during their day to day challenges as mothers and homemakers. Some come for the company of like-minded people. They come to further their spiritual growth in a form that is friendly to their busy lifestyle, to bring more ease to their lives. Although the very best tool I know of to create more ease and peace of mind is meditation it is surprising how many moms are resistant to creating a sitting practice. I’ve noticed this resistance throughout the years and tried everything I can think of to make home meditation practice attractive and mom friendly. It is this desire that led to the Shrine Room series, Hearth’s very first class. I’ve talked to other Buddhist teachers about this problem of resistance to meditation hoping to find some wisdom that might help my moms develop a positive feeling for daily practice. Most of these teachers have face to face sitting groups so they look at me like, “what’s the problem?” But there is a problem.
When I ask moms how their sitting practice is going I often hear some version of, “I don’t have time to sit in meditation.” Like most moms, I have eyes behind my head and know when there is something not quite right. I wanted to believe that there was no time for meditation, not even 20 minutes a day, but something was niggling away at that belief. The last opportunity to maintain this delusion occurred on retreat with Adyashati this February. He spoke about his teacher who was a student of Suzuki Roshi’s. She had developed her Zen practice in the 70’s while mothering 5 young children. He said that whenever he hears mothers say they have no time for practice he tells them about his teacher. I’ve met other Buddhist teachers who have also developed a deep meditation practice while mothering. Although they had to discontinue a more monastic approach, meditating all day or going on long retreats, they managed to keep their practice alive. My own mother had 3 children, got her master’s in education while we were young, and still had time to meditate in the morning before we awoke. I developed my practice as a single mom with CFS and many other challenges. I have had resistance to a daily practice as well but managed to piece one together. Because of all these cases to the contrary I can no longer believe that the problem is one of time or busyness. We make time for that which we value and 20 to 40 minutes a day is not that much time. If the morning is too hectic we can meditate while our kids are napping or in the evening when their dad comes home or a plethora of other times.
All major religions and mystical traditions have some sort of daily practice that involves turning within and entering the stillness. In fact, meditation is not about religion at all. It is about direct experience of reality. It is the path the Buddha was talking about when he said, “Don’t believe me, find out for yourself.” We don’t find out for ourselves by reading and figuring things out but by direct experience. Meditation is an opportunity to directly experience our own vastness. We get to know what it feels like to be part of something bigger than our everyday cares and concerns. We can then return to our life refreshed and ready to see it from a different perspective. Why, then, would someone choose not to do something that can bring them more ease, greater health and a direct knowledge of reality? It’s clearly not due to a lack of time. What then?
I’m reminded of the joke about a group of Unitarians coming to a crossroads where one sign points to “Enlightenment” and the other to, “Lecture on enlightenment” The group happily follows the path leading to the lecture. Many of us love to keep anything that might upset our apple cart at arms length. A good way to keep transformation at arms length is to hand our spiritual life over to the intellect. In our wisdom we intuit that meditation has the power to derail the limited, but known, system we base our lives on. We combine our need for spiritual warmth and nourishment with our need to not really threaten the straw world we’ve created by approaching our spiritual life intellectually. We love to hear about expanding and settling into silence and the ever-present light and the lotus petals opening and unconditioned awareness but we don’t really believe the opening can actually happen in our life, or fear that it can. The hell we know is preferable to the unknown. Given that when we meditate we are entering the unknown, meditation becomes an act of courage.
Another reason I think some moms avoid meditation is the discomfort created by stopping long enough for the mind to settle and the thoughts and feelings that have been avoided with mental noise rise up to awareness. Maybe we don’t want to face that we have an alcoholic husband, maybe we’re afraid of being alone, or of not being good enough, or have dread that the whole world might just collapse and crumble underneath our feet. Maybe it’s resentments we are afraid to look at least we buy a ticket to Katmandu and leave our families and responsibilities far behind us. Maybe it’s anger or sadness we don’t want to face. We all have our own skeletons in the closet and settling our mind in quiet allows that which we’ve resisted rise up to awareness where it can be viewed. These fears and sorrows are silently running our lives. We give so much credence and power to thoughts and feelings but they are not real. They come and then they go. Where did they go? Nowhere. They’re only images on a screen. They have no substance. We give them faux substance and power by avoiding them. When we sit and allow these feelings and thoughts arise without attachment or resistance or judgment we see them and then they simply dissipate.
I know how challenging being a mother can be and am more interested in unburdening mothers than adding one more thing to their load. But meditation actually unloads stress and creates more ease and space in our daily lives. I am happy if you draw comfort from Hearth, however you do it. I am happier if you develop the tools to draw comfort from within yourself. That you can never loose.