Going Nowhere

Central to my presentation of meditation is an understanding of neuroplasticity, which is defined as “the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.”

In a recent study from Cognitive Science, the researchers found that many people are likely to view mental disorders in the brain as fixed and unchangeable. You get what you’re born with, in other words, and that’s just the way it is. In terms of meditation, insofar as it relates to various psychological measures of stress, anxiety, and depression, not only are we not born with those afflictions, but we are very much able to remove them ourselves firsthand through this practice.

Why is this important? Well, in order to take the leap of faith of meditation and endure the lengthy process of ego dissolution it entails, you’re going to need as much mental fortitude and trust as possible. In the old days, you had to go around looking for a Buddha to provide you with some faith along the path, and they weren’t exactly sitting on every street corner. Today, we have scientific research that plainly lays out the case for taking up this practice.

The brain is not fixed, it is in continual motion and it is being manipulated, formed, and reformed at every instant based on our environment, what we are feeding into it, etc. And we can choose how it gets manipulated, whether in an unhealthy or healthy manner. This can be a very useful reminder, especially during a meditation session that feels like its “going nowhere”.

In fact, “going nowhere” is the whole point. This aspect of meditation is an extremely uncomfortable experience for the brain (the default mode network, specifically) which is constantly trying to achieve, reason, arrive, depart – pretty much anything besides going nowhere. So, the understanding that this difficult feeling of going nowhere during meditation is in fact doing quite a lot for you (as I’ve outlined previously and you can read up on in The Science page of my site if you haven’t already), is of tremendous value.

Meditation is essentially a self-surgery, cutting yourself open spiritually (and physically, via neural networks in the brain) and allowing all the repressed hurts, traumas, triggers that no one wants to acknowledge rise to the surface. This is not for the faint of heart, and every instinct is to run like hell in the opposite direction, back to the comfort of the world and its million-and-one distractions. Only by having genuinely understood both the futility of these distractions as well as the process and science behind the way out of it will someone take up the practice of meditation in earnest. The silliness and childishness of our avoidance of reality has to be concretely accepted before one will endure the pain of the surgery.

And there will be great pain, make no mistake about it. And great peace, then pain, tumultuous ups and downs as the machine of the self gradually has all of its energy removed – something like the spiritual equivalent of self-amputation of a gangrenous body part.

It is like entering a house which nobody has entered for years. You will raise so much dust – and that dust is not simple dust, it covers your wounds. It has helped you to forget yourself. It has made you unconscious of yourself. It is not like taking off your clothes, it is more like peeling off your skin.

But once you succeed, then all the pain seems to be just nothing, because the bliss that descends on you is incomparable; the pain that you suffered looks so tiny and so meaningless. But that is in the end.

Buddha used to say, “My path in the beginning is tremendous pain; in the end, tremendous blissfulness. But patience is needed.”

I told you, in this surgery you are the patient and you are the surgeon both. Remember the English word patient comes from ‘patience’. It is is significant. Why is the sick person called a ‘patient’? He has to be patient, he has to wait. But when you are the patient yourself and also the surgeon, the difficulty is multiplied. But still it is nothing compared to the bliss.

– Osho, From Darkness to Light

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