Recently I was contacted by Jason at Howlarium. He was reaching out to fellow writers to share their thoughts in his online Q&A. He sent me what I considered to be a curious question. I say curious because it was not something I could immediately resonate with – despite the fact that it held elements that have and do touch my life. Namely meditation, writing and compassion for others. Jason’s emailed question included information on the subject in the form of a truncated quote asserting that meditation and writing for the ‘ignorant person’ are just ways for people who have not gained any knowledge or understanding to withdraw and leads to an increase in ignorance, which has no compassion in it. Then the question …
Can we express compassion for others through either our meditation or writing practice?
At first, because of the topic(s) of the question, I thought I might be able to answer it with some ease. That was not the case. After several days of letting the question just live in me, and with a first stab at a response, I didn’t feel close to an adequate answer. In fact I felt conflicted. I think part of that feeling was to do with my attitude towards compassion. I feel that compassion, along with kindness and do no harm, are inherent in being a good human. I’ve always strived to be a good human and honestly feel I do include an attitude of compassion and kindness in my approach to life in all the ways that’s possible.
Clearly, both meditating and writing can be seen as selfish, self-centred activities. The meditator appears to separate herself from the world and everything in it. The writer has to do the same in order to get the words on the page. Where’s the compassion for others in that? When does the inward-looking activities of either writing or meditation manifest as compassion, care or kindness for someone else?
I first attempted meditating over 30 years ago. Early on I explored Transcendental Meditation. Later it was Vipassana, including two separate 10-day silent retreats. In between was Buddhist practices of mindfulness at various classes across London, as well as personal development and therapeutic approaches. I’ve sat with gurus and saints in silent communion. After all those attempts, and many years later, I eventually confessed first to myself, and then to the greater world if anyone cared to ask, that meditation and me don’t fit. Freeing myself from the mental bondage to the idea that I should meditate, that meditation would make me a better person, I became a more authentic and better human. To me that alone is compassion in action – being authentic and true to what is, rather than squandering my time and energy on something with which I just don’t match. In effect because I was constantly trying to squeeze a triangle-shaped me into the round hole of meditation, or rather what meditation might offer me, the approach was never going to work.
What did work was finding peace when I accepted I would never find peace in meditation, which obviously allows me to have greater compassion for anyone who does and does not meditate. There is no better.
To not meditate is no worse than to formally meditate. Because in our everyday lives there are many moments of informal quietude. Meditation can certainly foster a better day-to-day attitude to the self and to others. However, if you already have that attitude, meditation doesn’t necessarily enhance one’s daily experience. Conversely, I would often get frustrated that I didn’t ever seem to meditate the way I thought I should – never regularly enough, never still enough, never peaceful enough. Just never enough. I also assumed my unquiet, seemingly never-empty mind was in peril because I didn’t meditate properly. I was in a no-win situation. When I saw the truth of that for me, acceptance flowed in and with it the longed-for peace I’d been seeking so long.
Now I write. I write because that was what unfolded for me. Something about writing called to me a long while ago. I ignored that call for some time until I decided, back in 2009, to start exploring what it meant to write, to discover what was involved in getting great words on the page that meant something. I’m still learning and discovering, but gradually I improve. In many ways writing feels, and appears to be, another selfish activity. What hubris to think my writing is worthy of being anything other than some gibberish journal entry. But somewhere in the writing practice I have achieved what I never did in all the years of struggling to meditate well – I find peace. I also find frustration and struggle, maybe because that’s part of this personality called me and mine, but more likely because that is part of the writing process. Loving and accepting all of it is what’s important. Some would say meditation would provide that love and acceptance. Maybe. But I prefer writing. Let me at the writing.