“You wanna get through this? Do as I say.”
– Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
I’ve been trying to find a way to bring the Road Warrior gimp with the double-necked flaming guitar into my meditation teaching, and I think I finally have it.
Imagine a post-Apocalyptic landscape filled with careening hot rods, all kitted out with various high performance stylings, and all of them moving in the same direction. Let’s call this direction “human fulfillment,” a rather vague notion that of course will look different depending on the person, but is nevertheless there for many of us as a kind of loose aspiration.
In this metaphor, our armada of vehicles represent the world’s contemplative and personal growth practices. They are all, roughly, about personal and collective freedom, whether they focus on ultimate ends, or on immediate challenges and opportunities. They are also all quite beautiful in their freakish diversity and exoticism. Can we celebrate them?
Yes we can.
We have the fire-breathing Namaste monster truck, with flowing red streamers and a team of flexible yogis up top, mooning the landscape with their downward dogs.
We have the spooky Zen hover craft, floating high above the action, occasionally dispensing a brisk keisaku thwack when its driver gets sleepy.
We have a Sufi flying carpet (undulating with devotional dervishes), a Catholic chain of bubble campers (strung one behind the other like a line of rosary beads), and, lest we forget, the boring Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction delivery van (no colourful decals; but it does get decent gas mileage).
There are dozens of these traditions, and, if we parse them out by technique, the number of vehicles expands into the thousands. We can also include Western humanistic, artistic and psychotherapeutic traditions, all of whom are interested in the question of the good life, and all of whom have their own thoughts and procedures and protocols.
And actually, we can expand this number even further, because, in a sense, every human being is really their own practice tradition in waiting. That is, there’s a way of taking exactly who you are and what you love and turning it into a deliberate customized practice, with all the benefits and insights practice can confer. There are endless ways of committing ourselves in this strange adventure called life.
So … what is your vehicle? If you’re not sure, no problem – you can build one. You just need the right parts.
There are many potential ones, obviously – we are complex creatures with many proclivities and capacities. I’m interested in three in particular: a steering system, a windshield, and good old-fashioned engine grease.
The steering system is concentration – our capacity to stay with an action or direction, which leads to more absorption and flow and stability.
The windshield is clarity – the skill of discernment, of bringing new subtleties into experience, which leads to insight and awareness.
Finally, the engine grease is equanimity, the skill of frictionless non-interference, which allows us to be present to the world exactly as it is. Equanimity is the precondition for real connection and grounding, to say nothing of intelligent and effective action in the world.
When all three of these parts work together, we create the groundwork for love, the ultimate emergent part that ennobles all vehicles. I’ve written a little more about these parts in a companion essay: “What is a Practice, Anyway?’
The claim I want to make in this post is that, insofar as any practice technique is successful in a deep sense, it will always have at least two of these pieces (the steering system and the grease), and often all three.
The vehicles themselves may look wildly different – one might look like meditating on your breath, another like feeling “energy” in a Qi Gong sequence, and a third like looking through a telescope at the stars. Endless forms most beautiful. And form does matter – in all kinds of ways, particularly in matters of taste. But we are more concerned with function here.
When I encounter a practice – when I encounter a practitioner, of any kind, from artist to meditator to philosopher – these are the parts I wonder about. Where and how does this person build concentration, and clarity, and equanimity?
This is the backbone of what I teach, and the direction I’m heading in a new workshop and book, co-authored with my pal Julianna Raye, provisionally entitled How to Teach Meditation: A Guide for Everyone.
The book’s thesis is not that everyone should either have or teach a sitting meditation practice. It is, rather, that everyone should have a rudimentary understanding of the role of concentration, clarity and equanimity in both practice (whatever vehicle you build), and in life. Just as every human being – every parent, caregiver, teacher and friend – should have a rudimentary understanding of the value of a healthy diet and physical exercise.
So it’s about unpacking the central skills of meditation, in order to help people find a way not only to apply them to their unique nervous systems, but also to help others do the same. When we do the latter, not only does our own practice accelerate, but we begin to lay the groundwork for a world where everyone cares for everyone else’s mental, emotional and spiritual health. That’s a world I want to live in.
This can be done in a way that’s sensible and inclusive and fun, without any precious ‘Behold I Am the Teacher’ vibe. It can even be done with a flaming double-necked air guitar of existential radness – because, well, why not? Air guitar is a practice too. With enough equanimity, you may learn you’re actually playing for everyone.
PS – My vehicle is a pedal bike.
And speaking of kids, I’m having a fun time writing and voicing imagination-infused meditations for youngsters aged 6 – 12, with my communications guru pal Kirsten Chase. You can listen to some here. We want to make a YouTube channel for them, and are looking for smart partners and investors to make it happen. If you have ideas, contact Kidevolve here.