Whichever, or neither, the day after I asked (and answered) "Is meditation different from simply living life?" I came across a great little book by Steve Hagen that addressed the same question.
I found "Meditation: Now or Never" in a Malibu metaphysical bookstore. My wife and I were spending a few last hours shopping in the Malibu Country Mart after a pleasant weekend of granddaughter-visiting and beautiful people-watching. (See here.)
I've enjoyed Hagen's other books, "Buddhism Plain and Simple" and "Buddhism is Not What You Think." When religiosity is stripped away from Buddhism, I find it pretty darn appealing.
We experience the world through our minds, not directly. Sometimes our experiences are pleasant; sometimes our experiences are miserable. It makes sense to figure out what mental states produce our better and worse moments.
Yesterday our plane home was supposed to leave at 4:50 pm from Burbank. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Way plenty, it turned out.
Because twenty minutes after we'd checked our bags, an email notice from Alaska Airlines popped up on my iPhone. The flight had been delayed an hour. Which turned into an hour and a half.
At first I thought, "Damn. I want to get back home to Oregon. Waiting around an airport sucks." But then I settled into: "Delays happen. It's no big deal. Anyway, there's nothing to do about it. Might as well relax and go with the late flight flow."
When I was thumbing through Hagen's book in the bookstore, this was one of the passages that led me to buy it:
"Quiet, please, I'm meditating" is a contradiction in terms. In meditation, we allow, without judgment or control, whatever appears, whether it boils up in our thoughts or wafts in through the window. If, as you sit in meditation, a car alarm goes off, a lawn mower starts up, or a crowd of loud boisterous people decide to have a conference outside your window, simply let it all be part of the experience.
Don't try to block it out. Don't get all worked up about it. Don't even think about it. It's not necessary to leave off with meditation as if you're supposed to do something about it. What is there to do?
This morning, back at home, before I meditated I read the first few chapters of "Meditation: Now or Never" and found that when Hagen talked about things mistaken for meditation, he had my past approach to meditating nailed.
In most trance meditations, you turn inward and tune out awareness of your surroundings, your body, and your mind. Your attention becomes filed down to a very narrow, still point, which can feel temporarily blissful.
But every trance is itself temporary. When you come out of it, you're back to all of the problems and confusion that were there when you went into it. There's no transformation.
Gotama, the historical Buddha, mastered various trances in his early spiritual training and came to this same conclusion. He realized that if he entered into a trance while confused, he'd come out of the trance still confused. He realized that if he was going to wake up, trance meditation was not going to help.
So what would help? Well, I need to finish the book to learn Hagen's take on this. Here's some hints from his first chapter.
As long as we insist that meditation must have some use or purpose or meaning, or fulfill us in certain ways, we fail to understand it. As my teacher (and many other teachers before him) used to say, meditation is useless.
...Here is why meditation is useless: meditation is, finally, just to be here. Not over there, in some other place called peace or freedom or enlightenment. Not longing for something else. Not trying to be, or to acquire, something new or different. Not seeking benefit.
...Meditation doesn't mean anything but itself -- full engagement in whatever is going on.