In its simplest sense, to meditate is to develop your capacity to be on better terms with yourself. The intention, therefore, is to empower a harmonious and authentic relationship with one’s psycho-physical organism. Meditation is a friendly activity directed towards oneself.
Similarly, regardless of whatever you’re doing the rest of the time, while you are meditating you are neither engaging in nor intending to harm anyone or anything else. Meditation is, even by this minimal measure, a friendly activity towards other beings.
But the ethical dimension of practice goes much deeper. When we pay close attention to our experience, we invariably begin to discover more about the many shades of our mind, some of which are not so bright – the selfish impulses, the harsh judgements and distasteful prejudices that trickle through it and, indeed, cloud over it.
Guilt, shame, animosity, resentment, fear and hate… Oh yes, the whole toxic emotional cocktail resides within! Can we be honest, at least with ourselves, about that? Can we be on friendly terms with it all? Being honest and being friendly are what this practice patiently demands of us.
Cause and Effect
The intimacy of meditation can bring into stark profile the confusion, not to mention moral ambivalence, of the average human mind – all those “should I or shouldn’t I?” questions that nibble at the conscience.
As we pay attention, we begin to see and feel how certain movements in the mind, or the recollection of past actions and styles of behaviour, create mental disturbance in the here-and-now. We can experience this presently and directly in meditation.
The paradox is that such an experience is liberating. We become more attuned to cause and effect – how the way we act affects our mind, and vice versa. This leads to making healthy, skilful choices or, at least, to minimizing the painful impact of selfish, ignorant ones. We might already know, in our heads, that it is difficult to have a peaceful meditation practice if we are heavily invested in lying, stealing and abusing others. But to know that in our hearts is revolutionary.
In this way, the influence of mindful awareness extends from the solitude of formal meditation to quietly effecting change in the world. Behaviours adjust naturally towards the benign. Minds gravitate naturally towards the skilful. We come to realise, beyond doubt, that acting in friendly, fair and compassionate ways is better for everyone, including ourselves.