Sunday, 11 December 2016

A Christmas story

When I was a child we used to put up a Christmas tree every year. For reasons of space it wasn't in the same room as the television. From time to time, when my siblings were watching tv or out doing other things, I would take the opportunity to just sit on my own in the room with the tree. There would be no light except for the fairy lights on the tree, and I wasn't reading or listening to music or having a conversation. I'd just sit in the peace and quiet and sort of soak up the Christmas atmosphere.

Most people would think it weird if a child wants to be alone. They would suspect something is wrong. But the truth is I enjoyed these moments (and they were just moments: I didn't spend most of my time avoiding other people). I didn't know anything about meditation, and no-one told me this was something one should do. It just sort of happened naturally.

Years later I studied meditation and spent a long time on retreats and attending the Buddhist dojo. I read all kinds of philosophy, heard many dharma talks, and spent a lot of time on a cushion. And I honestly think I haven't learnt a thing that I didn't already know as a young kid, hanging out by myself with a Christmas tree. It was all just the continuation of that simple childhood instinct, which I followed without even knowing of the word "meditation".

Meditation is nothing more than being still and quiet, with nothing to do, in a place where there is little noise or outward distraction. We can learn many techniques and philosophies and rituals, and these things have their value, but in the end meditation is simple and natural. So simple a child can do it with no instruction. So natural that a child will do it, without being told to. If we forget that, we get into trouble.

Here is the thing: most of us, when we meditate, want something. We want peace, or healing, or a sense of fulfillment, or self-realisation. That's okay, it's fine to want things. But, as I child, I had no idea that being still and quiet and alone was for anything. I had no expectation that it would achieve anything. I just did it, from time to time, because it was fun.

These days I know that meditation can bring peace, healing, fulfillment and realisation. But I try to forget that I know that, and just sit for no reason. Before, eventually, getting up and returning to the fun and games that is the rest of life.