It Takes Work but It's Worth It


Stories From Meditators

LB, a young adult living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, shares his reflections on both the effort and the benefits of maintaining a regular passage meditation practice.

I began meditating in the summer of 2008, when I was 23. I had had no prior experience of meditation, but I was eager to deepen my spiritual awareness. The previous eighteen months of my life had been some of the most spiritually and emotionally difficult I'd ever known. Depression had often drained my passion for life during that year and a half, and my recent marriage had already suffered some heavy blows, due largely to my own seemingly intractable selfish attitudes and behavior. Fortunately, during the spring of 2008 I experienced a powerful breakthrough as a result of some work I had done with a spiritually-focused group dealing with addictions, work that paved the way for my introduction to meditation.

One day, a friend in the group who knew I was seeking a method of meditation suggested I read a book by someone named Eknath Easwaran. The book was called, simply, Passage Meditation, and I ordered it online soon after my friend mentioned it to me. When it arrived, I opened it with the same giddy anticipation I always have when I receive a new book. It was small and clean, with a glossy cover and a subtitle—A Complete Spiritual Practice: Train Your Mind and Find a Life that Fulfills—that told me I was on the right path. Before I opened the book I told myself that, because I knew nothing about meditation, I would approach Easwaran's words with open-mindedness and a willing spirit, seeking to follow as closely as I could the instructions he presented. (Thankfully, the spiritual group I had been a part of placed great emphasis on these qualities of openness and willingness, so I was well-prepared in that way). I opened the book, and discovered in its pages a voice that has become very dear to me on my spiritual journey; it was, and is, the voice of a wise and encouraging friend, a voice as full of light and humor as it is of deep sincerity and clay-footed practicality. Perhaps most importantly for me, it was a voice of unshakable certainty built on direct, personal experience — not on theories or dogmas or speculation. Here was one whose statements about the spiritual life could be trusted, and who offered practical guidance to those like me who lived an active life in contemporary society.

The first instruction that stood out to me stressed the importance of daily meditation. As Easwaran puts it: “There is only one failure in meditation: the failure to meditate regularly.” Reading that, I resolved to be faithful and consistent in my practice, and through some mysterious mixture of effort and grace I have been able to meditate every day without lapse for a little more than four years now. So what does my daily practice look like? Most mornings my alarm clock goes off at 6:15. Within a minute or two I am out of bed, slipping on a sweatshirt if it's cool weather. Grabbing my keys, I slip on some shoes and head out the back door into the faint light of early morning. Still a bit bleary, I stroll down the driveway, glancing at the morning paper lying in the grass, and go for a short walk down the street and back. In the past, I would have simply rolled out of bed and gone straight to my meditation corner. But after many, many groggy, half-conscious mornings I decided, at the suggestion of a fellow passage meditator, to begin the day with this short walk to wake me up and get some blood flowing. The birds are up with me, and I listen to them sing as I walk. Sometimes the neighborhood barred owls call across the tree tops, hooting from their invisible perches. Returning to my driveway, I grab the paper and head to the backyard to see about my three chickens. I let down the ramp that keeps them closed in at night, gather the eggs from the nesting box, and go back inside.

Putting the eggs and newspaper on the counter (taking a minute to scan the headlines), I pick up my cell phone, which I use as a timer, and make for my meditation corner. My meditation bench, along with a small soft blanket, leans against the wall where I placed it after the previous morning's meditation. Rolling out the blanket, on which I will rest my knees, and unfolding the legs of the meditation bench, I find a comfortable position near the window that looks out onto the front yard. Once I am settled, I grab the little notebook into which I copy passages I want to memorize for meditation along with a copy of Easwaran's God Makes the Rivers to Flow, a diverse collection of inspirational passage suitable for memorizing. I spend a few minutes reviewing the passage (or passages) I plan to use for that day, plus any new passage I am trying to memorize, then setting the books aside, I set my phone for thirty minutes, close my eyes, take a breath, and begin silently repeating the passage in my mind. Before long, distractions commence, followed by diligent recollection of the passage. This pattern continues for the duration of the half hour. When the alarm sounds, I open my eyes, silence the alarm, say a few short prayers, and put away the bench, blanket, and books until the next morning.

LB's meditation corner

A few words on making progress in meditation: one of the best pieces of advice I've received from the writings of Easwaran is that progress should be measured not by startling interior visions but by the ability to be peaceful, loving, and tolerant; not by whether I can hear the cosmic sound, but by whether I can listen to my wife (or friends, or parents. . . ). From this perspective, I can easily see I have made much progress, though I've never had a vision nor heard any sound during meditation but the barking of the neighborhood dogs and the singing of the birds, along with the occasional roaring motorcycle or thundering airplane. An equally important bit of advice is that the rate of progress is a matter of individual needs and abilities and should not be used as a point of comparison. As Easwaran puts it in his three-volume collection The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living: “We should never ask ourselves why there is this difference between people. It is good to be content with the speed at which we are able to go because it is in accordance with our dharma.” When I remember that my path was tailor-made for me, crafted to teach me exactly the lessons I need to learn in this life, the need to compare myself with others falls away, and discouragement and despair are replaced by hope and serenity.

During the last nearly five years I have experienced wonderful spiritual growth (at my own pace, of course), and meditation is at the core of a host of practices that have contributed to this development. I continue to participate in the group that helps people with addiction, and my involvement offers me abundant opportunities to give my time and energy in service to others. I have learned that working for the benefit of other people without any desire for personal gain is an essential part of my spiritual program, keeping me from becoming too inwardly focused and giving my life a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose. My zest for life has returned with interest, and I now take great pleasure in everyday activities like cooking, eating, hiking, reading, and spending time with family and friends, in addition to getting involved in a few of the many worthy efforts to restore balance and harmony to our relationship with the earth. Most importantly, my capacity for patience, kindness, forgiveness, peace, and happiness has grown. My wife, who spent her first few years of married life with a distant, self-obsessed, judgmental spouse, has recently remarked that having me in her life has made her a better person. If that is true, it is only because of meditation and the other spiritual disciplines that others have taught me, which is to say that purpose, peace, passion, and joy are available to anyone willing to put in the effort.