Finding your answer: a meditative exercise

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“At the center of your being, you have the answer.” – Lao Tzu

You may have noticed this quote at the top of my website. It’s there because I need that reminder, as most of us do. We doubt we have any answers, so we look everywhere or stop asking.

Forty years ago, I casually asked myself a “why am I so screwed up about ____?” question. And luckily, instead of refocusing my attention on what I had to do that day, I lolled a little longer, letting my thoughts run free. Within five minutes, three different memories came up of minor but hurtful events in my life I’d forgotten because they seemed best forgotten. I wondered why I was thinking about them now. And then I remembered I had posed a question, and these memories together created a pattern that gave me a clear answer! I found it astonishing that something within my brain was ready to answer even a question so casually posed. All I had to do was relax and pay attention. Today it would be like realizing that Siri or Alexa was idly standing by, waiting to be asked. But this wasn’t a series of factoids from the internet. These were events retrieved from the deep recesses of my private memory bank. Yikes! Yet it wasn’t creepy at all. On the contrary, it was exactly what I needed to gain clarity in that area of my life.

You can see why, when I discovered Buddhist insight meditation at Spirit Rock, it felt so natural. We quiet down and stop struggling and chasing after elusive answers. Instead, we cultivate space for our innate inner wisdom to provide insight. While we don’t usually start with inquiry in meditation practice, we certainly can. In that safe attentive space, answers arise.
But, as the Buddha was known to say: Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself!

Pose a brief question in writing, then put that question away during meditation.
Here are some prompts if you need one:

  • What should I do about …?
  • Why am I so …?
  • Why can’t I let go of …?
  • What’s the best way for me to…?

Once you have your question written, put it away and forget about it. I know that forgetting about it may be easier said than done because whatever came up is compelling. But this is good practice in releasing and letting go of thinking. And if you have trouble sleeping, this training will come in handy tonight.
Here is simple guidance for basic meditation. The instructions are under eleven minutes, but you can set aside as much time as you want at the end to rest in the inner silence cultivated.

Meditation for releasing tension and focusing attention

After meditation
Though meditation practice is not a place to work out things or think things through, it creates a space for answers to naturally arise. So now, having quieted the mind, look at the question you wrote before meditating. Then relax and allow whatever comes up to flow. If it comes in words, feel free to write it down. It may feel like automatic writing. It might even use the ‘you’ form rather than ‘I’ as if you’re being given the gift of wisdom.

If words are not forthcoming, don’t worry. This wisdom comes in many forms, not just the written word. It may come in images, long forgotten memories, as if in a daydream. Let go of expectations. Let go of striving. Instead, just stay open throughout the day. Your answer might reveal itself in a moment of synchronicity, in the shape of a cloud, in a book that seems to jump off a shelf into your hands. It might come in the words of a friend you run into, someone who contacts you ‘out of the blue,’ or perhaps someone you think to reach out to. Give naturally arising positive impulses free rein. And stay present with the senses whatever you are doing. Enjoy the felt sense of being fully alive at this moment.

When we train our attention to stay present, it stops getting entangled in the thick, knotted veils of thoughts and emotions that block the light of wisdom. This is Wise Effort, one aspect of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. In the same way that walking becomes easier and more pleasurable, the more regularly we do it, the muscles of awareness become stronger with meditation. Being present feels more natural. 

When I started meditating, I would have moments of awareness, but as soon as I noticed it, I’d get so excited I would grasp, cling, and claim it. And snap! It was gone.

It was such a challenge to be present. It seemed like I was trying to balance on the head of a pin. But with dedicated practice, that head of a pin grew and grew. It became more stable. And if I fell off it, I knew the way back through meditation. Awareness is not some unattainable goal on a distant horizon that never gets closer. It is here and now if we make the wise effort to train our attention to be present.

Being present, we see more clearly. So we can see when any of the Three Poisons, Greed, Aversion, and Delusion (G.A.D.), get activated and how they entangle our attention in the form of memories, judgments, grudges, desires, fears, anxiety, head-fog, confusion, the need to be right, the need to be seen as knowing everything, and all manner of unskillful reactivity to whatever is happening right now. Exhausting, right?

You may wonder, if an answer to your question comes up for you, how do you know you can trust it? How do you know this is inner wisdom and not just one of those three poisons at work? You can feel the difference energetically. Misinformation is loud, strident, urgent, and caffeinated. Wisdom is calm, quiet, spacious, easeful, and kind, with no agenda. That’s why we have to quiet down to hear it.

Both my books, Tapping the Wisdom Within and Asking In, offer guidance in accessing your inner wisdom. Find out more.

I’d love to hear if you tried this exercise and if you received an answer that has meaning for you. Of course, you don’t need to share personal stories, but it would be helpful for others to know how the process worked for you. And, of course, I welcome questions.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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