Transforming our lives through meditation
At a group meditation I led recently, I was discussing the importance of properly preparing for meditation by paying attention to the elements of time, place, and posture. Segyu Rinpoche, Juniper’s founding teacher, was present. At one moment, with a playful look on his face, Rinpoche asked me a question. He wanted to know what I had meant when I mentioned the possibility of placing a flower or a candle in one’s meditation space.
I understood what he was asking. I was reluctant to share details about my meditation practice, and I knew that Rinpoche believed it was important for me to break that resistance. As he smiled in the background, I took a leap. I described the care I put into my own meditation space—the way I look for just the right flower in my garden, or the perfect orchid at the local market, the attention I pay to making sure the area is clean, and the feeling I experience when I light a candle and imagine it radiating to my family, friends, and others.
I had confessed to my ritual. Later, at the end of the meditation, I said to the group: “You see how Rinpoche was playing with me earlier. It’s like a dance. He prompted, I followed. That’s the dance of meditation, the dance of moving ourselves inwardly.”
Dancing is a beautiful metaphor for the richness of meditation. More than an exercise to focus the mind, it is a transformational journey inward, a means to know ourselves and refine our way of being. It is an art, full of rhythm and beauty, crescendo and quiet. It can be moving, light and joyous. Like removing kinks from a hose, it propels us to overcome our resistances so the best in us can flow.
Sometimes the step onto this dance floor seems like a large one. We don’t want to learn the moves; we’d rather have something quick. We don’t want a relationship with a dance partner; we’d prefer to go it alone. We don’t want to look inside; we want to stay as we are, only freer, happier, and wiser. But freedom, happiness, and wisdom may not arise from merely staying as we are.
The genius of the Buddha—the Indian prince Siddhartha—and many who followed him was the realization that the mind is not static. It is living, breathing, evolving. Because it is the medium through which we experience our lives, there are immeasurable benefits from refining it, sharpening it, and discovering its potential. Therefore, sometimes we have to push ourselves; we have to learn some steps that might at first feel awkward but soon become second nature.
To do this dance takes two sides. On the one is our own effort to grow and refine our way of being and experience. On the other is a partner—a teacher or guide to show us the steps and keep us moving. This requires teachers who know how to transmit wisdom not as ancient knowledge but as living tradition. It calls for a community of individuals, born out of local culture and united by the idea that the inner journey—the dance through which we learn to live fully and freely—is a deep and beautiful way to engage life.
At stake here is not just our own well-being. We live in a time when our narratives are increasingly about what is broken in our world: how the institutions charged with running it are brokers of self-interest and power; how modern governments work for corporations and the wealthy; how media is in an ever-increasing arms race for control of our preferences.
Look for the root of these problems and we end up at the mind—its greed, fear, and craving. If the mind is the root of the problem, then solving the problem—crafting a humanity in which our leaders are stewards of a peaceful, noble, and just world; in which individuals give full expression to their talents and creativity; and in which each person feels relevant and important to the whole—will only come from a change in mind. For this, we have to do the dance that will move us inwardly.
These ideas are not new. A long time ago the Buddha realized the immeasurable benefits to be gained from refining the mind. He also implored his followers not to turn his teachings into dogma but to have the courage to examine the reality we are in right now and to become the best we can be in it.
So we invite you to dance. To do the dance where East meets West, where the best of both worlds come together to forge a positive, hopeful vision for humanity, where we work on ourselves to be of greatest service to one another. This is not about fixing the world. It is about freeing our minds to build a better one.
Tricycle and Juniper Foundation invite you to participate in Juniper’s home meditation course, Let’s Dance: The Path of Meditation. Registration ends on June 9, 2014.
Lawrence Levy is cofounder of Juniper Foundation and has been a student of Segyu Rinpoche for over 14 years. The former EVP and CFO of Pixar Animation, he lives in Palo Alto, California, and regularly writes about and teaches meditation.
Photograph by Travis Magee