Why does a sitting meditation practise help us to develop?
By Diane Musho-Hamilton
How does the practice of sitting meditation contribute to being able to DO something differently. Mediation helps to unwind the nervous system, develop focused attention, and relax the tight grip of self-identification. But while It may support individual well-being, it is hard to see how in the middle of a tense or confusing meeting, the practice will help us act in a fresh way that makes a difference to others.
In Chinese, there are two hexagrams that represent the word Zen. The first means to “realize;” the second or “manifest” or “enact.” The practice of zazen, or just sitting, suspends the powerful discriminating mind – the analytic function that divides this from that, black from white, up from down, good from bad. Instead, sitting deeply embodied, present, and still, one recognizes or “realizes” the inseparability of all things. It becomes abundantly clear that everything is, indeed, one seamless whole, and all parts arise in relation to this wholeness. This is referred to in the tradition as wisdom.
We can think about this, but we must experience it; we must feel this complete continuity in our own body. A facilitator steeped in meditative discipline is fully present to this wholeness, fully aware in here and now, and foregoes the deep habit of judging everything that happens as good or bad, right or wrong. Instead, we allow the space for what IS to actually happen.
This produces an ability to include more in awareness; to attune (if you will) to our own feelings and thoughts, to the felt experience of the participants, to the vision of their goals and aspirations, as well as the burden of their obstacles, unspoken issues, and power struggles. Everything is revealed as it is, and our open, spacious awareness gives room for it all to be here. In a facilitator, this capacity is quite relieving to participants. To be in the company of someone who is at ease with how things are, and isn’t compulsively editing out parts of their experience or denying the more unpleasant aspects paves the way for ease, efficiency, and creativity in the group.
Moreover, the capacity to be at ease with whatever arises is what underlies mastery. Most of the time, in learning how to work with challenges like conflict and emotionality, we must discover how to relate to these experiences differently. It isn’t about making them go away. Yes, methods for negotiating or skills for soothing a heated moment are important. But our ability to use those skills well depends first on our ability to stay present to the challenging situation, to name it, and to make it explicit to others. If we practice an openness, curiosity and willingness to be with even the most uncomfortable of situations, we can respond from a place of choice and creativity. This is the source of true mastery.
Wisdom changes how we see and compassion addresses how we respond. The facilitator’s awareness functions as an instrument of wholeness, and their actions are a form of compassion. After all, what is compassion except a warm, sensitive, and generous response to things as they are? Meditation gives a nimbleness, curiosity, and flexibility in the mind, and the heart naturally turns towards the well being of others. Our communications will naturally reflect this disposition. We are able to reflect and reshape meaning in our words, or take actions that maintain or restore harmony and balance in group dynamics. Because a facilitator is willing to be truthful and present with everything, that includes being open to the feedback that inevitably results from our communications and actions. The Tibetan meditation master, Choygram Trungpa Rinpoche advised, “Be yourself — the world will give you feedback.” This is invaluable for a facilitator because the immediate feedback is always instructing us on what to do next.
Finally, without corrosive, habitual judgements in the mind, the meditative facilitator embodies freedom of expression and movement. We can actually be straightforward, saying things that, perhaps, others might not. Mindfulness teaches us to simplify our message, to be straightforward and immediate in our contact with others. Usually we discover this messaging has more impact. We can behave spontaneously, taking risks, changing the plan, trying out new approaches to problem solving. We can occasionally place a challenge to our groups, asking them to do more or differently and even better.
It is also true that the practice of sitting involves the practice of allowing things to come and to go more readily. This is a great source of freedom. It is essential when working with groups to keep letting go of our ideas about what should have happened, and instead, allow for what IS happening. This ability to let go enables a facilitator to be light on their feet in the service of the group.
When we talk about the value of presence for engaging with complex challenges in our world (and facilitation is certainly a complex challenge), we are speaking about the source of our creativity and skillfull means. When standing up in front of a room, let alone stepping out our door each morning, anything can happen. From the meditative perspective, preparedness isn’t about acquisition. Rather, what prepares us to act is the practice of relinquishing what obstructs our ability to engage clearly, wisely, and compassionately.
By Diane Musho Hamilton, Zen Practioner