Why meditate?

As I mentioned in the last post, Améry’s On Aging explores how we experience time, our bodies, and our selves as we get older.  I find it somewhat paradoxical, however, that he probes deeply into these aspects of aging but right from the start seems skeptical of meditating on them.  For instance,

Time is the form of an inner sense, that is, the form through which we we perceive ourselves and our condition. … The outer sense was the sense of our senses: what took place in space was discussable. But what happened with the “inner sense” left little of itself to communicate, and those who dared to go inside themselves to look for its traces and its objects found no reward for their courage and were threatened by an intellectually desolate nothingness.

And later, he adds:

So obviously there really is such a thing as a natural feeling for time, one that goes beyond conventions that are operationally necessary. But to meditate about time is not natural and is not intended to be so. It is the work of human beings who are horrified, who are no longer at peace with themselves …. The human beings who give themselves up to this dismay, even during a short hour of meditation about the time already gathered up in them, have in any case already partly left the space in which they remain a bit longer. While their time passes by in the twinkling of an eye, they are still only creatures of time. Each of them say ‘I’ and means ‘my time.’ And more and more they are becoming strangers to others—to those who simply let time tick away, and to to those sharp-headed others who impose upon the time the order of their well-functioning minds.

As someone who endured Nazi prison and torture, I think Améry has little patience for people who wallow in themselves. He probably identifies as one of “those sharp-headed others who impose upon the time the order of their well-functioning minds.”  But he’s more concerned here with the dangers of narcissistic self-absorption which isolates us from others.  I take his impatience as a caution to pay attention to why one meditates, not an absolute rejection of meditating.

I became interested in meditation as an anger-management practice. As I’ve described elsewhere, after Laura died I did some “magical thinking” about reaching present-moment awareness through meditation.  Currently, meditation provides mental exercise in watching my mind wander all over the place and my body generate itches, aches, and other distractions, watching but not becoming absorbed in either.  It’s interesting that out of this practice I sometimes surprise myself with sensitivity to other people.

Truth be told, I’m also sometimes aware of a deeper motive: to see into the heart of things.  The Pali for this insight, yathābhūtaṃ, is usually translated “as it really is,” or “truly.”  But literally bhūta is the past participle of bhavati. So the phrase should be “as it’s become.”  Not some absolute truth about the way things are, but a glimpse into a moment of experiencing becoming.



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