To a spectator, meditation must seem like the most utterly selfish practice imaginable: a group of people, their eyes shut to the world, listening to their thoughts, observing their minds, noting their feelings. How wonderfully paradoxical, then, that when practised consistently it can lead to an marvellous sense of connectedness with all beings, an openness to life, and a delight in generosity.
‘We evolve beyond individualism when we develop our capacity for empathy and by creating diverse communities based not on blood kinship but on our common humanity.’
I found these words particularly moving, and have been contemplating them for several weeks. With last year’s near stalemate in the US Senate and Congress in mind, Utne writes:
‘…social compassion and empathy for others hold the key to what we need to do to get past the polarization and divisiveness that distorts our democracy. Social and emotional intelligence. Empathy. The ability and willingness to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes. This is not the laissez fair, survival of the fittest, Ayn Randian way that currently grips some leaders of the Right.’
So, while individuation was once an evolutionary step beyond group identification based on blood kinship and ethnicity, allowing people to develop unique gifts and abilities, Utne tells us that it is not the end point of human evolution.
Individuation – and this is something that becomes aware to those who meditate – also tends to lead to isolation, alienation, and loneliness. Hence Utne’s point: ‘We evolve beyond individualism when we develop our capacity for empathy and by creating diverse communities based not on blood kinship but on our common humanity.’
Practicing the Buddha’s four tasks, set out in what is known so delightfully in English as his ‘first sermon’, creates a kind of positive feedback loop, so to our surprise we find ourselves practicing not just with gratitude for the teachings but also out of service for others.
Meditation, then, is more than just me and my mind, or you and your mind. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. A regular meditation practice will change your mind, and change your life.