Personal Meditation Journey

When a friend talked of learning meditation in my first year at university, my reaction was immediate and unequivocally positive. The idea of focusing on and exploring the mind in order to find peace was compelling. I was instructed and told my mantra by a TM instructor in rooms above a butcher's shop in Pimlico, London in 1971. Two years later, my undergraduate psychology research dissertation focused on skin resistance during meditation and comparison conditions. I completed a Ph.D. on the psychology of meditation in 1977, publishing a number of research papers over subsequent years. The practice of meditation was an anchor in my troubled seas during those years when I went from student to coal miner to university researcher and father. I practiced with varying regularity out of both a faith in the practice and because the "still completeness" of the meditation was both refuge and stability.

There was an enriching shift in 1984. A group of psychologists with a shared interest in Buddhism and meditation formed, including John Crook and David Fontana (sadly, both have died), Guy Claxton (a dear friend since), and Sue Blackmore (a leading consciousness explorer in the UK). We met regularly for weekend retreats in John's primitive farmhouse, Maen Llwyd, in wild mid-Wales—now a center for Western Chan Fellowship, which follows John's teachings. There I began to practice zazen ("just sitting") for hours, relishing the clear simplicity and directness of the practice. This pure awareness sitting remains the mainstay of my practice.

The group staged a wonderful conference on Eastern Approaches to Mind and Self in 1986 at the University of Wales, attended by both inspirational academics and teachers from a variety of meditative traditions. And the following year, I edited, and Oxford University Press published, The Psychology of Meditation—the precursor to this volume. Over the following three years, I attended diverse retreats at Tibetan Buddhist centers in the UK and France. In a time of personal turbulence, the practice again provided both challenge and refuge.

For the next 20 years, I practiced meditation with varying degrees of commitment over the course of a busy career, rich family life, and extensive travelling. Meditation is now core to my days. And for the last eight years, I have practiced more regularly, for an hour or more a day. Sometimes this is in separate sittings of 30 or 40 minutes, and sometimes sitting by the pond in my garden for an hour at a time. I sit in meditation on train journeys and on flights—both valuable opportunities to practice without taking time away from others.

I have occasionally augmented my meditation practice with what Buddhists call Ton- glen or with metta bhavana; both practices of developing compassion for self and others that develop new dimensions to relationships with others and also with myself. Just sitting to cultivate a pure awareness of nowness is the content of my practice at present, along with a gently growing mindfulness, unforced, in daily life of the breadth and immediacy of our existence. Gradually, my awareness has become clearer—of my wild mind, the wayward and depleting journeys of thoughts, of the drive to plan continually, of circular concerns with impression management, and of the constant impulse to entertain the mind.

And awareness of awareness itself has subtly changed the hue of mind and experience. Gradually, ever so slightly, more and more, changing the experience of mind and of awareness. Clearer, lighter, peaceful, contented, tender, and more and more open. And gradually, slightly, but more and more, changing my need to grasp at social approval, to continually find ways to entertain the mind, to judge others, to feel angry, to fuel fear, to pursue success and to be depleted rather than enriched by moments. Awareness of thoughts, impulses, and the underlying rationale for them has become clearer. And the ability to focus in an uncontrived way on the present moment has become stronger, simpler, more stable, and easier. I have experienced too a growing sense of huge privilege in life. Gratitude for the many benefits, opportunities, friends, family, and life itself has deepened considerably.

Having the capacity and the knowledge to practice meditation and to strengthen my practice each day is a precious gift. And I am deeply curious to discover where the journey goes—its landscapes, way stations, and new vistas (editing this book is a station on that journey too). This meditation journey has no destination—the journey is the destination.

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