Chogyam Trungpa: “In the practice of sitting meditation you relate to your daily life all the time. Meditation practice brings our neuroses to the surface rather than hiding them at the bottom of our minds. It enables us to relate to our lives as something workable.”
Meditation is not escapism. In fact one could argue that burying ourselves in daily activities with no time set aside for reflection is a classic escapist activity. When we meditate we’re thrust into an awareness — often a very challenging awareness — of exactly what’s going on in our lives. There’s no escaping who we are: as we sit, thought after thought, emotion after emotion, wells up inside of us.
When we’re busy rushing from one task to the next there simply isn’t time to process our thoughts and emotions, to put things into perspective, to think things through. Our hopes and fears end up being, as Trungpa puts it, hidden at the bottom of our minds. And so we need time out: time to re-collect ourselves, time to let the hidden parts of ourselves begin to show themselves. These experiences that we have in meditation are aspects of what’s been going on in our daily lives: the fears, hopes, annoyances, dreams, and desires to which we’ve given rise but to which we all too often pay little attention.
Some of those hidden parts do start to reveal themselves very quickly indeed, although others can — because we’ve become well-practiced in keeping them hidden — take much longer to emerge. But as, in their own time, they emerge we begin to give them our attention and respond to them appropriately.
Sometimes all we have to do is acknowledge them as we watch them pass by (perhaps just a stray thought about something we forgot to do). Sometimes we need to meet them head on, as when a major volley of ill-will arrives and we respond with a counter-blast of lovingkindness. Other times we need simply to sit and explore our experiences in a kind and patient way, giving them space to reveal their stories, reminding ourselves that it’s alright to experience discomfort.
So in these kinds of ways we deal with our “stuff,” working with each thought and emotion as it arrives, and in an appropriate way. And in so doing we start to notice that the quality of our lives has improved: there are fewer conflicts with others, we’re kinder, we’re quicker to let go of grievances and less prone to take offense, and we’re more relaxed.
Often the best way to work with our lives is to take a step back and sort out what’s inside of us first. One we’ve started doing that, life seems to take care of itself.