Currently in the Patheos Book Club, we're discussing Sally Kempton's new book, Meditation for the Love of It. Read the Foreword to the book by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love, followed by Chapter One below. Download a PDF of the excerpt here.
Foreword by Elizabeth Gilbert
The thing about me and meditation is that I do it pretty much all the time. If meditation is devotional, focused, one-pointed concentration on a single thought or notion or feeling . . . well, turns out I'm really fantastic at that. Would you like to know what I was meditating about this morning, as I walked my dog in the lovely summer woods? I'd recently had a quarrel with a friend of mine, and I was meditating on how unfairly he had treated me. With devotional, focused, one-pointed concentration, I got my meditation boiled down to a single word, echoing endlessly throughout my head: unfair, unfair, unfair, unfair, unfair. . .
So that was a successful, enlightening way to spend a few focused hours.
But that's not my only accomplishment! Sometimes I also find myself lost in this deep old meditation: tired, tired, tired, tired, tired . . .
On other days, it's: stressed, stressed, stressed, stressed, stressed . . .
Or: hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry . . .
And although such meditations are, of course, deeply uplifting, after a while you do start to wonder if perhaps you could be putting your mind to better use. You start to wonder if this is all you are—a constant singsongy litany of complaint, of want, of indignation, of frustration, of weariness.
Is this really how you want to spend your one miracle of a human life? In a clanging mental cage of never-ending blahblah-blah . . . ?
Yeah, me neither.
This why, over the years, I've made efforts to replace my bouts of accidental meditation with a practice of deliberate meditation—which is to say, I have been striving to learn the art of replacing the mundane din with a mind full of quiet wonder. What I really want (what we all want, I believe, deep down inside) is the ability to choose my own thoughts, rather than living forever in the sometimes whiny, sometimes angry, sometimes lethargic, always chattering monkey-hut of my unfettered human brain.
My journey began over ten years ago, when I started practicing hatha yoga because of a physical ailment, but found myself strangely transported by the short (but powerful) episodes of guided meditation that followed each practice. My curiosity about that feeling—the absolutely unaccustomed sense of peace and well-being that meditation fleetingly brought upon me—led me to seek out true teachers, who could help me learn how to master this practice. Luckily for me, my search led me to Sally Kempton, whose writings on meditation were beyond helpful to me; they were lifesaving.
The wonderful gift of Sally is her utter lack of pretension. She is not only one of the best meditation teachers in the world; she is also one of us. She manages to fearlessly explore the outer reaches of the universe without ever losing the warm voice of your dear friend from just around the block. Most generously of all, Sally is honest about her own shortcomings. She is unafraid to share her own disappointments, her own frustrating episodes where meditation lost all its joy for her and became inaccessible, dry, or a chore. And then she shows us how she got it all back again, how she stubbornly forged her way once more to the source of all enduring sweetness. And then she shows us how we can get there, too.
Sally's groundedness—her supreme approachability—is a gift beyond measure in a field of study that too often turns teachers into imperious, droning despots of obscure esoterica. Simply put, a patronizing perfectionist is not what you need when you're learning the bone-rattlingly difficult practice of meditation. You don't need somebody who will make you feel even worse about your very natural human failings. Instead, you need real warmth and compassion, patience and empathy. Sally has all this.
Not to mention, of course, that she is an encyclopedia of utter wisdom. Meditation for the Love of It is like a precious road map, generously handed over from a seasoned and experienced pilgrim. Think of this book as the most important travel guide you'll ever encounter, written by a true nomad of the mind—one who has faced down every demon, investigated every trick door, unburied every mystical hidden village that Consciousness has to offer—and who now offers to show you the way.