By James Vernoit
There is a view in the west that a meditation practice is very self-absorbed practice and has little link with activism and participation in the world. Images easily spring to mind, when thinking about the archetypal meditator, of someone who is rather tepid, of someone who is smiling but rather sedate, of someone who is rather withdrawn from this world and is rather indifferent to what goes on around them. But this is a terrible misunderstanding of meditation. It is so so much more than that. Indeed, it seems to me, that there is no healthy alternative [to meditation] if one really wants to be active and effectively participate in this world. And in this article, I will explain why.
One thing that is clearly vital in order to be active and to be able to effectively participate in this world is energy. There has got to be energy that is really aroused; that is up and running; that is really flowing; buzzing; sparking; and really happening. And furthermore it has got to be energy that is flowing into really skillful, constructive, and creative activity. In other words, one needs Vīrya, which is a sanskrit word (an ancient indian language) and means energy in pursuit of the good. Because without such energy, you cannot make any spiritual development and you cannot effectively participate in this world.
So there is a need for a very engaged energy in both the personal life and your life in relationship to the world. And that’s because compassion is powerful energy; wisdom is powerful energy that makes a difference to yourself and makes a difference to others .
My meditation teacher once said that he thinks that most of us are only operating on about ten percent of our energy. In other words, we have loads more energy available to us which is locked up in things like negative emotion, cynicism, doubt, and indecision about what we are doing with our lives. So we need to address this issue of energy and how we can arouse it and how we can stir it up. And the way to do that is through inspiration.
But where does this inspiration come from? It comes from having meaning, purpose, and vision. A lot of people don’t have energy because they do not have vision, because they do not have meaning, and because they do not have purpose, and in a way they do not have hope. And this typically presents itself in the form of cynicism about themselves and about the point of life, which is not at all surprising given the pornography of endless terrible news.
The antidote is to expose ourselves to a positive vision. And the most positive vision we can have is the true extent of our own potential. Because the truth is that the true extent of our own potential is vast. Just as an acorn has the potential within it to transform into an oak tree, humans have the potential within them to transform to the same degree into something truly wondrous. But if this energy which can transform the human psyche does not find an outlet, not only is this a tragic lost opportunity, it will actually go bad, and it will become negative because we are not doing what we really want to do. And I know this all too well – it’s the times when I’m not doing what I really want to do, when I have not said what I should have said, when I am sitting on my positive energy, are the times when I can get bad tempered. So we have to live according to what we really want to do in order to stop this energy going bad.
The practice of meditation is the great vehicle for allowing these more positive, inspired, creative energies, which we are all sitting on, and are desperate to find expression, to have an outlet. So the benefits of meditation are two-fold – it stops this energy within us from festering and going bad; and it allows this more incredibly positive energy to come to the surface of our existence, which radically transforms every interaction that we have with this world. From this basis, we can fully operate in this world as the creative, outward looking, positive, forces of energy that can radically transform this world. And meditation is the keys to unlock our potential and to make it a reality. So practice meditation, get in touch with what you really want to do in this life, and at the same time transform your mind, and then go out and transform the world.
James Vernoit has been practicing meditation for five years. He lives at the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green where he helps the centre to run. He is also one of our lovely receptionists and works on Tuesday afternoon/evening and Friday afternoon/evening and so feel free to ask any questions about meditation when you see him.