There have been periods in which meditation has felt stale, unfocused, lifeless, and boring. As if I’d lost my way. My motivation lags. I devise complex equivocations to delay, shorten or skip my sessions. If meditation is part of your life, perhaps this story is familiar.
I recently discovered something lurking at the edges of awareness. In fact, I don’t recall ever previously recognizing this presence. I realized it was enjoyment. I could not remember the last time I had simply enjoyed my practice or felt joy at completion. I’ve felt many other things including satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment and release. I realize the trap that having an objective can easily become. I am practiced in not having an objective at all. But reason creeps into what is essentially an escape from reason. At the same time, the urge to compose and enact an agenda arises repeatedly by stealth and becomes increasingly vexing until it is recognized and dissolved. Yet however many times that cycle is repeated, I don’t recall ever connecting throwing away the agenda with making room for enjoyment.
When enjoyment suddenly became accessible, I wondered how I had managed without noticing that enjoyment had been absent. Grounding, revelation, equanimity, peace—many things arrive, but pure enjoyment wasn’t one of them. There have even been luminous periods of discovery and moments of (seemingly) profound awakening which quickly drew me back to the bench with anticipation and wonder. But even in those times, I barely landed on the unique character of enjoyment. It was always refreshing, awakening, discovering, calming, clarifying, releasing, and maybe a healing leap into wholeness, or even emptiness.
That was—and remains–the object of meditation, to explore emptiness. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing dry about emptiness. It truly is a journey into a brilliant realm of compassion, unity and spontaneity. It’s indelible. Whatever you know of that realm can never be erased. But what is the fruit of practice other than the non-dual view or even an open heart if not also enjoyment?
And it turns out enjoyment is a mere whisper at the edge between being and non-being, appearance and emptiness. Enjoyment has its own distinct qualities, enough to generate an authentic excitement about returning to the bench. But upon noticing all this, the enjoyment I felt was not always tied to the experience itself, but to an observation of the experience by the ego witnessing it. It was tied to an ego judging the quality of the time I spent in contemplation. That is different from discovering a pure enjoyment intrinsic to that state instead of a derivative of it, the identity of me being pleased with myself, congratulating myself for a job well-done.
Having a pleasant experience is certainly OK as long as we recognize the determination of ‘pleasant’ is an ego-state, following directly on the heels of our intention to take a vacation from ego. Indulging in a moment of ego determining whether the time we spend in contemplation is positive or negative seems counterproductive. Someone like Pema Chodron would be the first to say such an indulgence is directly contrary to the cultivation of equanimity, which is knowing that regardless of whether a particular session has pleasant or unpleasant feelings associated with it, that such feelings do not determine the value of that time. To give them any weight is a distraction from our original motivation.
Then what is the quality of enjoyment which is not an ego expression? How is it cultivated, or how do we return to it, even in the darkest of moments? The practice of Vipashyana is where enjoyment lurks, although to go looking directly for it like some hidden treasure is a fool’s errand. The objective of Vipashyana, pervasive or extraordinary seeing, is to establish a non-discriminating, pristine, unself-conscious seeing, learning to look directly at the root of mind itself without any evaluation or analysis. In this case, it is not merely to observe the source of mind, but also to become it. The extinction of the observer would be a great (and unlikely) leap, but it is still possible to observe the activity of discursive mind without being drawn into the drama.
Awareness of awareness is a blank canvas. It has no qualities. It neither facilitates nor impedes the activity of discursive mind: thinking, feeling or sensation. It does not catalogue; it has no preconceptions, agenda or even capacity to invent anything. It simply is. Even without doing anything to sustain this condition, one cannot help but relish it. This is no contrivance, no garden-variety psychological enjoyment; this enjoyment does not derive from ego. In fact, by this view we observe with exquisite bemusement the shifting games by which ego entertains itself, moving through the many games and dance moves attending its survival.
This is enjoyment which does not dispel or hide or overcome emotion. But it can accompany us into any condition, meeting whatever arises, even what we normally consider to be negative emotions, all obstacles, all circumstances of opposition, even the terror of loss. None of these conditions go away just because we are looking from a different vantage point. We are not indifferent to them whatsoever, because, after all, they are us. But neither do they become paralyzing. The very fact that we can experience and know the possibility of having enjoyment in our pocket, regardless of our passing condition, tickling the edges of awareness, is a kind of refuge in itself, essential to our equanimity.