So What Good is All This Mindfulness and Meditation Stuff Anyway?

(I’ll be on retreat for the next 10 days, but wanted to share something to support the excellent discussion you folks keep having here)

I was talking with my meditation teacher friend Shinzen Young earlier today, and one of the topics we touched on was what was a bottom line on mindfulness and meditation practice, what good could it do for a person?

Yes, you learned to stay calm and clear and focus in formal practice in quiet places like meditation halls, but how about in real life, when the proverbial shit hit the fan?

I realized that I had a real life example from a couple of nights ago. I couldn’t get to sleep because of a bad headache – I’ve gotten a lot of headaches all thru my life – and got up to take some medication. While waiting for it to take effect, I thought I’d do a crossword puzzle. My cat Elliot had a different plan though – why waste a good human lap with a book in it when it could be occupied by a purring cat? I agreed, and we were sitting there in the dark when we both heard a funny, thumping sound from out in front of the house. When it repeated, I unceremoniously dumped poor Elliot from my lap and got up to investigate. Turning on the porch light, I saw a man in dark clothes pushing on one of my garbage cans. Very odd, as he was reaching over one garbage can to push on the lid of another, finally he pushed it over so it fell into the yard. I couldn’t get a good look at him, his head was hanging down. I live in a quiet neighborhood, vandalism is very rare. He could have been someone really strung out on drugs, or very drunk, or just crazy, but my feeling was this was someone who was in bad shape. I went out on to the porch and tried to talk with him, cautiously standing right by the door and ready to jump back inside if he turned dangerous. He didn’t respond to my queries about what he was doing or who he was, just stood there with his head hanging down, long, dark hair concealing his face.

I went back inside and called 911. As I continued to watch, waiting for a police response, the person slumped down to the ground and just lay there. This was bad – it was in the 40s outside, the ground was quite wet from recent rain, this was the road to hypothermia. I called 911 a couple of more times, telling them this person probably needed medical help, while he lay on the ground.

It seemed like forever, but a cop was there within 10 minutes. Turns out it was a very drunk teenage boy. More cops came, they got his name and home phone and called his parents to come pick him up. I’m glad the cops responded quickly: if he’d lain there on the cold wet ground all night I might have found a dead body in the morning. I’d thought he had on a black coat when I first saw him, but it was actually just a T-shirt.

In retrospect, what amazed me, I told Shinzen, is that even while I intellectually knew it could be dangerous to go outside to try to talk with this stranger, I was perfectly calm and focused the whole time.

So after 50+ years of spiritual seeking and practice, while God hasn’t dropped by to say “Good job, Charley!” I’m very pleased to have been able to stay so calm and focused in a difficult situation.

Happy Holidays to All!

One comment

  1. Dr Tart,

    I’m not much of a spiritual seeker, and I certainly haven’t been meditating 50+ years. (I actually haven’t been alive 50+ years, at least not in this body.) But meditation has helped me so much. It hasn’t even been a whole year since I first tried it. I’m not the most dedicated meditator, although I find myself going back to it every time I’ve quit because it is helping.

    I don’t crave a cure for spiritual experiences anymore. I still don’t understand such experiences, but I don’t approach them with fear now. I’m more functional than I was before I started meditating. That’s a wonderful gift.

    It was a recording of one of your workshops that got me started meditating. I liked it because it wasn’t new agey or intimidating. It was well within my comfort zone. Thanks for making meditation OK for me.

    Merry Christmas!!!

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