Part 1: The Art of Conscious Contentment
I teach a form of meditation that I call The Art of Conscious Contentment and that practice offers a powerful path to spiritual awakening. In this essay, you’ll see how practicing meditation leads you from spiritual practice, to spiritual freedom, to spiritual illumination. If you follow the path of meditation to the end you will enter an open, receptive, and expansive state of consciousness.
The instructions for The Art of Conscious Contentment can be expressed in many ways, but all of them ultimately ask you to do the same thing. That is, relax and let everything be exactly as it is. Let me share some of the different ways you can approach this practice.
- Sit still, be relaxed, and let everything be as it is.
- Sit still, be relaxed, and be content with the way things are.
- Sit still, be relaxed, and don’t make a problem out of anything.
- Sit still, be relaxed, and realize that this is it.
- Sit still, be relaxed, and don’t do anything.
Over the two decades that I’ve taught this practice, I’ve come up with dozens of different ways to give the same basic instructions, but I think these five will give you the idea. Meditation means sitting and doing nothing, or as they say in the Zen tradition, just sitting. It sounds simple, but as you might already have guessed, it’s much more difficult in practice than it sounds in theory.
Why? What could possibly make sitting and doing nothing so difficult?
When you try it, initially it's easy because you just sit there. Thoughts come and go. Feelings come and go. And you don’t do anything. What could be easier.
As you continue, it gets harder because your mind gets active. You start feeling things you don’t enjoy, things like boredom, pain, and frustration. Your mind starts trying to convince you of things like this is a waste of time or you’re doing it wrong. And if you don't stop meditating, your mind mightiest start thinking about other things altogether.
In the middle of all this mind activity, you start to believe that something has gone wrong. You start trying to improve your practice. Maybe you recommit to do nothing or redouble your efforts to ignore thoughts and feelings.
You’ve stopped meditating and have become busy doing stuff.
The only thing to do at this point is not make a problem out of all the mental chatter. Let your mind do whatever it wants. Be content even with a busy mind.
If you can do this, – if every single time you find yourself all wrapped up in your mind, you can relax and be okay with that, you will start down a path that leads to spiritual release and awakening.
Part 2: Spiritual Practice and the First Miracle of Meditation
“You can choose to be content even if your mind is not”
The early part of your practice is the hardest, and unfortunately too many people give up long before they’ve really started. If you keep going through the hard part, you will inevitably discover a life-transforming insight, namely that you can choose to be content even if your mind is not.
We are trained to determine how we're doing by looking at our mind. If someone asks you how you’re doing, you look inside. If you find feelings you don’t like, or thoughts that upset you, you may conclude that you’re not doing very well.
The first miraculous insight of meditation is the discovery that your mind does not determine how you're doing. You can be content no matter what your mind is doing. This is a profoundly empowering discovery. You are now free from needing to have your mind’s cooperation before you can be okay. You are free to be okay no matter what your mind is doing.
This means that you can be okay at any time no matter what is happening. That doesn’t mean that you like what your mind is doing, or you like the circumstances that you’re in. It just means that you accept how things are in the moment and maintain an inner sense of calm and peace despite them.
If you follow the path of meditation this far, your life will never be the same. You’ve discovered the secret to living a more conscious, peaceful, and authentic life. You're on the verge of profound spiritual freedom. But if you stop here, as miraculous as this is, you will not have gained all of the benefits that meditation has to offer.
Part 3: Spiritual Freedom and the Second Miracle of Meditation
“You've always been content even when you thought you weren’t”
Once you’ve discovered that you can be content even if your mind isn’t, meditation becomes very easy. Now all you need to do is sit and let everything be as it is. And what you notice is that nothing really changes.
Your mind keeps thinking the same thoughts. The same feelings keep coming and going. You experience the same frustrations, fears, pains, joys, and realizations. The only difference is that now you are content with everything that happens.
Sitting in meditation is easy now. All you do is sit. You might even be tempted to think you’ve mastered it and stop. But if you keep going, an even greater discovery will dawn on you. You will slowly begin to realize that you were always OK even when you thought you weren’t.
As you sit in meditation perfectly at peace with the way things are, you’ll see that your mind keeps trying to convince you that something is wrong. However, now you don’t believe it. You realize you’re fine, even if your mind thinks you’re not.
Now when you sit in meditation, you feel deeply relaxed because you know that you are okay no matter what your mind is doing. Nothing can rock you. You are free. And it starts to dawn on you, if this is true, if you really are okay – even when your mind thinks you’re not – how were you ever not okay?
It starts to become apparent that you have always been okay, even when your mind thought that you weren’t. You start to see that you are not defined by your mind. You are free.
I remember very well when I experienced this for the first time. It was a profoundly liberating moment. Suddenly I started to question so many assumptions about myself. I felt light and free. The fullness and beauty of life became so obvious. I realized that I was okay because life is good and nothing my mind does, has ever done, or could ever do, can change that.
Part 4: Spiritual Illumination and the Third Miracle of Meditation
“Beyond what the mind can know is a universe of possibilities to explore”
At this point in your practice, you’re experiencing a sense of spiritual freedom that is very rare. You’ve made one of the most profound discoveries ever described in mystical traditions the world over.
You haven’t just discovered how to be content when your mind is not, you’ve actually discovered the part of yourself that has always been content even when you didn’t know it.
But don’t stop yet. The practice of meditation has one more miraculous insight in store for you.
Sitting in meditation now is pure joy. You just sit and rest in peace no matter what your mind does. You sit and effortlessly float into the direct realization that you are always already okay.
You see your mind doing exactly what it always does, worrying, fretting, analyzing. You see the same feelings arising repeatedly, fear, joy, elation, anger, frustration. The mind keeps going and the whole time you’re just watching it, perfectly content.
Then something very interesting happens, you lose interest in your mind. You stop paying attention to it. But where does your attention go when it’s not focused on the activity of your mind?
You are now on the verge of the third and most magnificent insight that meditation has to offer. Your awareness can slip out of your mind.
Awareness beyond the mind can’t really be described because words always fail to accurately convey what is encountered there. What I can say is that you become aware of a vast expanse of reality that can be experienced, but not known.
Your meditation becomes timeless. You sit without any sense of time, and no idea how long you’ve been there. You encounter things that can best be described as subtle energetic stirrings. Cascades of insight and realization wash over you. It feels as if the mysteries of the cosmos are revealing themselves.
A journey of awakening has opened up to you. As you continue to allow yourself to be taken, you will discover more and more about who you really are and how reality actually works. Now when you sit, you just sit and sometimes you are swept up into another mysterious journey beyond the mind. You return with insights, realizations and a deep sense of having been to a place like heaven.