Can Meditation Change the World?

I was recently introduced to a new meditation technique known as Shamata Vipassana. It begins conventionally enough, with a cross-legged seat and a tall spine. But then, the twist: in Shamata Vipassana, your eyes are to remain open, cast down about 45 degrees toward the floor. The intention is to stay connected to exactly where you are in the present, including whatever sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and otherwise that happen to be in the present with you. (Side note: although this isn't really the point of the post, this kind of meditation was SO HARD for me! I top out at about 10 minutes of sitting in meditation to begin with, and the addition of eyes open gave me a strange, wide-awake claustrophobic feeling. My mind was rattling the bars of its cage and howling. There was wailing, there was gnashing of teeth. And that was probably the first 3 minutes. Things actually improved after that, and I intend to continue this practice of watching my mind run wild.)

So we are sitting together, 12 women in community (I'm exploring this technique at a postnatal yoga training), and the instructor says something that I love. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist is "You're not shutting out the world so that you can meditate. You're letting the world in and still choosing to meditate." This idea that we don't have to wait for the right conditions to feel peaceful, joyful, or calm really resonates with me.

"When I find a room that's truly silent and my job isn't stressing me out, then I'll be able to meditate" is essentially the same as "When I lose 10 pounds, then I'll be worthy of love" or "When I have more free time, then I'll worry about my health." When we set up these suppositions, the long-awaited "when" never, ever arrives. Instead, we can choose to do the thing we want right now, and eliminate the prerequisite we've arbitrarily set that holds us back from happiness.

And then I thought about what it would be like to take this idea one step further. Maybe it's just the dominance of politics in American life right now, but some presidential words came to mind: "Ask now what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

I'm not interested in talking politics in this particular post, but I am interested in talking about our world, the one that we all share together. We've already established that if you wait for the world to quiet itself and create the perfect conditions for meditation, you'll be twiddling your thumbs for an awfully long time. But what if the point of meditation isn't purely for personal gain? What if the benefits go far beyond your individual health and happiness?

What if quieting our own energies through meditation reshapes the world around us? After all, it's people who contribute to (a large portion of) all that chaos to begin with. It's people who collective energy can turn into a powerful, awesome silence or a thunderous, terrifying mob. What if instead of the world contributing to your well-being, your meditation was contributing to the well-being of the world?

Another famous quote (or is it?) sums it up for me: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

xxoo, Kristen