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Buddhadharma : Spring 2016
spring 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 27 lama Willa miller is the founder and spiritual director of Natural dharma Fellowship in Boston and Wonderwell mountain refuge in New hampshire. She is a lineage holder in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and a visiting lecturer in Buddhist ministry at harvard divinity School. also one of the most difficult practices to successfully cultivate precisely because it is so simple. We are naturally complex creatures, prone to taking a simple moment of experience—a sensory experience, a thought, or a feeling—and spinning a web of concepts around it. It is a real challenge, for example, to simply observe a thought without get- ting involved in its orbit. We tend to follow, resist, or judge our thoughts. Pretty soon, what started as a simple thought becomes a complex network of concepts and ideas accompanied by a swirling eddy of emotion and reactivity. The same goes for our relationship to medita- tion. It is challenging for us to take a simple instruc- tion such as “meditate on the breath every day” and just do it. Instead, we get involved in a vortex of thinking about the practice, framing the practice, resisting the practice, and comparing and judging our practice against a perceived ideal. Sometimes we even create a new identity around meditation prac- tice. Whereas before we called ourselves a nurse, a teacher, a barista, or a jogger, now we are—in addition—a meditator, with all the self-concepts that accompany that label. Meditation, in other words, is not only a prac- tice; it is also a conceptual construct that carries weight in our life. That construct may have sur- prisingly little to do with the practice itself, yet we bring it with us as a subtle companion when we sit on the cushion. The practice of non-meditation hastens recogni- tion of this kind of conceptual baggage. It helps us see that concepts about what we are doing can sometimes inhibit the actual practice. When we drop the very thing we think we should be doing, suddenly the weight of everything we’ve been carrying becomes apparent. Ideas, we discover, can be heavy. The instruction “Don’t meditate” invites us to shine a light around and through the construct of meditation. As we explore non-meditation as a way of being, we might even suspend our meditation practice for a while and cease to live by its rules. Meditation is a doorway to freedom, but it will always be a doorway, not the destination. When we drop the project of meditation and suspend alle- giance to a construct, we can rest in our immediate experience, just as it is, free from the filter of inter- pretation. This is important, because immediate experience holds the key to our freedom. Non-Meditation Practice The first time I heard the term “non-meditation” was in 1987, in a packed room near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, when Kalu Rinpoche intro- duced the “Three Gates to Liberation,” three key instructions on how to practice Mahamudra. They are not instructions for what to do but rather for what not to do. The practice, he told us, was this: Do not fabricate Do not meditate Do not be distracted In essence, Rinpoche explained, authentic prac- tice is discovered when we let go and stop trying so sharonaJacobs