By Cil Richards
Cil Richards is a professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University. She has a committed meditation practice and teaches and leads a weekly meditation group at Aloft Studios. Here, she shares thoughts about meditation and shares why she meditates.
In this politically charged election year I have been thinking a lot about views and how much trouble they can cause.
View plays such a big role in what we believe, what we think about, and what we experience. It’s easy to say that we should drop our deeply held views and assumptions but that won’t make it happen. Fortunately meditation practice is a means to help us see those deeply held views and their effect.
When we meditate do we really open up to what is there or do we make assumptions about what we are experiencing? “I’m tense, I’m sad, I’m not good at concentrating. I’d be able to meditate if I wasn’t so hot.” Persistent investigation reveals the holes in these assumptions about experience. Anyone who has sat and watched their mind knows that it’s a madhouse in there. Thoughts and moods come and go like crazy. Things are constantly changing. And although sometimes that can be a little disconcerting, it’s a good thing. The fact of change means there is opportunity, possibility. I’m not sad, or angry, or hot. Those states come and go. Further investigation can reveal under what conditions these states arise and the patterns of behavior that play out over and over. For example, when I am stressed I often find that there is also some craving or aversion present. By looking closely we begin to see that we often fabricate our own reality based on views. Accompanying views are associations and memories that the mind uses to solidify and manufacture a way of viewing experience.
A helpful analogy from the physical world is a rainbow. We have all seen rainbows. No one would argue that they don’t exist, but we have all discovered that you can’t catch a rainbow, can’t touch it, and there is, alas, no pot of gold to be had. But what is a rainbow really? Is it a thing? Isn’t it really a process? One that happens when certain conditions are present? The recipe for a rainbow includes sun, rain, and an observer (you or me). Take away any one of these three and you don’t have a rainbow. The rainbow observed depends on where the observer is. That is, no two people ever see the ‘same’ rainbow. There is no ‘true’ rainbow. The rainbow ‘exists’ in relation to the sun, the rain, and the observer. Viewpoint matters.
We all hold some mental model of how the world works. Most often, when confronted with information that violates that worldview we ignore it or deny it. By doing so we miss an opportunity to learn. Through meditation if we really look at what’s really happening we see many things that challenge our worldview. If we can loosen our grip on our views and allow a new way of seeing then the possibility of transformative learning or insight arises. Letting go of views and allowing for different ways of seeing and views is an important part of meditation practice.
In my own practice through the years I have let go of and loosened many of my views. This has not been easy since as a professor I have certainly suffered from the ‘know it all’ disease. However, letting go of knowing how it is and seeing how it really is has really opened up my mind and practice.