Meditation and Fundamental Ambiguity

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In my previous blog I quoted Pema Chodron’s thought that we desire stability and foundation while living our life which is a dynamic, changing process. I claimed meditation was what we needed. How does meditation help? Meditation is a tool which allows us to challenge our thoughts.

Our thoughts control our emotions. On page 12 of Living Beautifully Pema discusses how an emotion, like anger, only lasts ninety seconds. What keeps it alive after the ninety seconds is that we focus on it and won’t let go. We keep replaying our memory of what made us mad. It’s so automatic we don’t consciously realize what we are doing. We get caught up in the problem.

In contrast, after we’ve been practicing meditation for a while, our mind sees the thought, the attached emotion, and our unwavering attention to the problem, and it shouts, “Time out!” We stop the automatic replay of the problem. During the time out we have the opportunity put things into perspective.

Unless you meditate already, you can’t appreciate how meditation changes the functioning of your mind. So let me share an experience. In the early 90’s I regularly attended Tuesday night meditations taught by Buddhist monks from Thailand. When I learned they were having a three day weekend retreat I immediately signed up. All we did for the three days was listen to talks, do seated meditation and do walking meditation. As I was getting ready to leave Sunday afternoon I felt disappointed. I hoped for a more significant mind change and I didn’t see it. Maybe I wasted my time.

I got in my car and pulled out on to the nearby highway to head home. Whoosh! A car passed me so fast I wondered what the guy was thinking. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Three more cars sped past, one beeping his horn. I was thinking of showing them a sign of my displeasure when I glanced at my speedometer. I laughed. I was in the left lane going 30 mph in a 55 zone. I moved over, gradually increased my speed to a respectable 50 mph, and made it home safely.

Meditation won’t change you after one session. It will change your thinking slowly and surely over time. It will give you the ability to call your own time outs. It will help you feel at ease in this fundamentally ambiguous existence.

The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human


I’m reading a wonderful book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun. I’m reading it because I’m going through changes. It doesn’t matter what they are, just that they are changing, that’s always the scary part.

Chapter One is titled The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human. Pema notes we are focused on attaining things which will give us a sense of stability and foundation: a new job, a little house with a white picket fence, our soul mate, wonderful children, and the opportunity to live ‘happily ever after.’ Those are my words, not hers. They are memories I focused on. I use them, not as recommended goals, but as personal examples.

There is, however, a problem with that focus. I had many jobs in my career, some good, some not so good. I’ve had many homes, five in the last sixteen years. My wife, Marilyn, passed away. My children, whom I love dearly, weren’t perfect and are now adults. How’d they mature so quickly? And  what about happily ever after? I’ve lost my hair, my arthritis bothers me, and I’m now a senior citizen. I quit wearing my glasses when I shaved because I hated seeing my wrinkles. Well, I had to put the glasses back on because I was missing those thin white hairs that are hard to see but obvious to casual observers. Sometimes you can’t win.

Don’t reach for the Kleenex yet. My point, and Pema’s point, is we strive for those items which will become a solid foundation in our lives. Yet the greatest constant in life is (take a deep breath and type it) change. Life is a dynamic process, not well suited to our building block philosophy. That is the fundamental ambiguity of being human. So what is the solution? Meditation. More on that subject in my next blog, hopefully tomorrow.