The Meditator’s Mission Statement

Just believing that the world is a riddle with no answer and then getting on with life does not remove the ache.

My attitude towards meditation is that enlightenment is possible. Do not worry, I know how that sounds. But perhaps you misunderstand me.

Consider the question that cropped up in your mind when you saw your grandfather’s dead body. Or when your favourite pet died. Or when you travelled and you saw for yourself the suffering of the truly poor.

Faced with this question in my early twenties, I at first tried to ignore it. I got around as though concussed for a few months until the question faded and then I returned to my normal life.

But maybe you realised some time ago that you are growing older and more frail. Or that you will be dead for a much larger stretch of time than you are alive. The question keeps cropping up. It goes something like: if I am born to die, what is the point in suffering?

Touché, NASA.

Albert Camus, French philosopher of the mid-twentieth century, begins his startling essay The Myth of Sisyphus with the statement “There is but one serious philosophical question, and that is suicide.”

It seems likely that there is no answer to this question. And for slightly fewer people than ask it, that is enough. They become good at ignoring the question; they suffer its concussion, and when it fades they return to the many details of daily life, and the opportunities in front of them.

Despite my great wish to do so, I cannot accept this. Because I will still attack others when I am upset. I will still over-indulge to escape the endless hunger of that question. No matter how many times I read philosophy or write these articles or tell myself that all things are connected, just believing that the world is a riddle with no answer and then getting on with life does not remove the ache.

I am much more deluded than that.

It is the seeking of refuge that creates the need for refuge in the first place. Today I can write that sentence, but as soon as the shit hits the fan, you bet I will forget all about it and the habits will take over.

Siddhartha Gautama — the Buddha — taught those like me a technology to come out of the delusions that grip us in the heat of these moments. But many human beings have unravelled their delusions before the Buddha himself. Many others have done so since. His true brilliance was that he discovered a way to repeat the process in others. If those others are willing to put in the effort and do the work.

That work is vipassana.

Vipassana practice can take us beyond the question, beyond separate mind and separate matter to a place where all experiences are tathātā.

People use this word to describe a way of seeing the world that occurs after enlightenment. It is neither learning to ignore the question of suicide, nor is it my delusional way of constantly questioning life either. It is the Middle Way. It removes all resistance to life and in so doing, the question becomes meaningless. Not just meaningless, but a source of compassion and potency.

Any day now 🙂

This attitude informs my approach.

I don’t have a religion. I’m not a believer.

Posts about Secular vs. Religious Buddhism

Buddhism for Non-Believers - Flinching away from religious ceremonies may be a good thing for meditators.
Secular Enlightenment Part One: Tools of the Trail - Using intense and deliberate sustained attention to examine our minds debunks many illusions we previously suffered about the world in which we find ourselves.
The Meditator’s Mission Statement - Just believing that the world is a riddle with no answer and then getting on with life does not remove the ache.
Secular Enlightenment Part Two: Defining Characteristics - There are as many ways to talk about enlightenment as there are people striving for it. It is doable for most of us with a little forbearance and hard work.

Thoughts on Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep

My paternal grandparents promised to love and cherish one another until death.

Confined to sex
We pressed against
The limits of the sea
I saw there were
No oceans left
For scavengers like me
I made it to
The forward deck
I blessed the rambling fleet
And then consented
To be wrecked
A thousand kisses deep
from A Thousand Kisses Deep by Leonard Cohen

I hope they took the spirit of the full vow, because after fifty years my grandfather passed away, leaving Grandma alone.

The phrase “until death us do part” is one of the few times in Christian ritual where death is acknowledged without recourse to eternity. There is no talk of being reunited in Heaven. And although there was plenty of that at Granddad’s funeral, I hope that Grandma was beyond wanting a gauzy veil by the time he left. I don’t picture her holding Geoffrey in her mind as as an angel reborn, but as the frail, vulnerable man overtaken by death as we all are due to be.

These days we know the certainty of death, and yet a cultural imperative has arisen to say “forever”. Walt Disney and the pop music industry have a lot to answer for in my book, because we can only ever mean “for now”.

We sail beyond sight of land to the deep, blue water, with only memory as a compass, and we swim together for a while … and then we sink into our own death or we drift apart. Neither outcome need be so shocking, except we were raised with modern images of “happily ever after”.1 It’s self-indulgent and dishonest.

Granddad’s final dissolution, premature as it could only ever be, was in the eyes of pop music a betrayal. His death was, of course, an abandonment. But it was also a tender illustration of the humanity that we all loved about him in life.

Thankfully the 20th Century also gave us Leonard Cohen, poet and mystic.

I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat
You see, I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet
Who loved you with his frozen love
His second hand physique
With all he is and all he was
A thousand kisses deep

I hear their voices in the wine
That sometimes did me seek
The band is playing Auld Lang Syne
But the heart will not retreat
There’s no forsaking what you love
No existential leap
As witnessed here in time and blood
A thousand kisses deep

He rethrones contradiction as the very heart of love; he tenderises adoration’s inevitable betrayal. Rejecting smugness, he edifies the paradox of giving ourselves to a person, to love, to duty, and to the world, knowing that one day it must all be lost beyond the horizon. In doing so, he restores love to its true grandeur, beyond the sickly packaging of a Broadway song and expresses the fatal human yearning to both experience all of life and yet to escape its ending.

And now he has led the way in death, as he did in life.

In Memoriam
Leonard Cohen
1934 — 2016
~ you win a while and then it’s done, your little winning streak ~

Note: The poetic content of A Thousand Kisses Deep has changed numerous times. This video differs from the one on the album.

  1. Authentic Russian and European fairy tales end with “happily until their deaths” or “and they lived long and happily”.

Mantra #1

Sing me, pain
your sweet ache
breathes a turning softness
into lossful love

sing me, loss
endless end of all
your edgewise pulse
keen blade of breath

sing me, song
cloth’s connecting thread
your little death
inflicts love and life

“I am” is the mantra of Consciousness.
I sing and I am song, I am Sung.
I love and I am love, I am Loved.
I am and I am that, I am One.