Saturday, February 4, 2012

Philosophy and Meditation.... by my Uncle Gene

The word "philosophy" comes from two Greek words, "philo," the love of, and "sophia," wisdom. So philosophers are simply "lovers of wisdom." Philosophers are not necessarily wise, but, if they are deserving of the name at all, they are at least in pursuit of wisdom. Socrates' reputation as 'the wisest man in Athens," was rooted in the fact that he knew he was not wise! It is not uncommon, in any survey of the history of philosophy, to find philosophers who give up on the use of words altogether, because they cannot find the words to express their most profound perceptions. (I cannot tell you what it is I am trying to say, but if I had a piano here, I could play it for you." -Gabriel Marcel) It is not unknown for philosophers, lovers of words though they are, to turn to the experience of meditation, or to turn to the comparative silence of contemplation. 

The Dalai Lama is a person of the most profound wisdom. His new book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, is a distillation of the wisdom he has been espousing for half a century. While the theme of the book is his expression of a "secular" ethic to which everyone in the world could subscribe quite apart from their religious convictions, for me the most relevant chapter in the book is entitled: "Meditation as Mental Cultivation." The Dalai Lama's hope for peace in the world is based in his hope that some form of meditation might become universal, and the fruit of this practice might be the anchor for global peace breaking out all over. 

The Dalai Lama's summary of the practice of meditation is brief: Set aside some time early in the morning when your mind is freshest and clearest. Begin by setting aside ten or fifteen minutes, and reserve for yourself a couple five minute interludes later in the day. Find a position that is comfortable, and begin by simply focusing on your breathing. Even a few minutes a day will help you overcome any tendency toward excessive worrying, useless obsessions, or anxiety about having more to do than you have time for. It may be helpful to focus on a flower, or a painting, or some object of religious devotion, "or you may imagine looking down from a mountaintop where you have an unimpeded view in every direction." It may be helpful to focus on compassion, or patience, or tolerance, or forgiveness. His own words offer the best summary:

"In a typical session, we begin by settling our mind through breathing. We then choose our object of meditation and focus our attention on it. When we notice our mind wandering, we gently bring it back to our object of meditation. When we wish to end our session, we can do some deep breathing exercises once again so that we finish in a relaxed state of mind." 

Meditation is a very simple practice. It can help us overcome our negative emotions, it can promote greater wakefulness, and it can help us cope with the predictable and unpredictable stresses of everyday life. Strangely enough, by emptying ourselves of our negative feelings and our inclination toward self-centeredness, we can become more ourselves. Meditation is an essential ingredient in the pursuit of wisdom. The Dalai Lama has led a tempestuous life, yet he has come through all his adversities unscathed. His capacity for meditation has been a major ingredient of his success, and probably of his good health. Improve your capacity for meditation, and, who knows? You may become the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama! Short of that, your daily life may be much improved...

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