National bestselling author and teacher Steve Hagen strips away the cultural and religious jargon surrounding meditation and provides an accessible and thorough manual for newcomers and experienced practitioners alike. Inside you will find:
- Simple practices to avoid needlessly complicating meditation
- Where most of us get stuck in meditation—and how to get unstuck
- A unique focus on meditation not simply as a spiritual technique, but as a way of living
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About the Author
Steve Hagen is a Zen priest, a longtime teacher of Buddhism, and the author of the bestselling Buddhism Plain and Simple and Buddhism Is Not What You Think. Hagen began studying Buddhism in 1967. In 1975 he became a student of Dainin Katagiri Roshi, and in 1979 he was ordained a Zen priest. Steve lives in Minneapolis, where he lectures, teaches meditation, and writes. He is currently head teacher at Dharma Field Meditation and Learning Center in Minneapolis.
Read an Excerpt
Meditation Now or Never
It's About Coming Back
Meditation is very simple. Yet it requires time, energy, determination, and discipline.
Most people think of meditation as a special, relaxed state of mind—one that we maintain for extended periods of time and, with practice, stray from only occasionally. Meditation, however, as we'll first discuss it in this book, is quite another matter. In meditation, we are aware of the frequent wandering of our mind and bring it back, over and over, to the movement of the breath, to the posture of the body, and to itself. We repeatedly return to body, mind, and breath.
This activity, though simple, is not easy. It takes diligence to return again and again to what is taking place, without falling into distraction or agitation or mental dullness.
We are all human beings with human minds. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the human mind is busy and scattered much of the time. It tends to drift off a great deal, often creating difficulty for ourselves and for others in the process.
Our minds all have a profound ability to package Reality into conceptual models—mental representations of Reality.This conceptualizing mind is a great treasure. Our great art, music, literature, and invention, as well as the scientific exploration of the Earth and space beyond, are, in part, creations of this wonderful, incredible capacity of the human mind to package, process, and represent Reality.
Yet we easily get entangled in our conceptualizing minds—in beliefs, ideas, daydreams, and opinions. And we easily lose sight of the distinction between Realityand our ideas about Reality. In the process we miss the true, vibrant life being lived in this very moment, right here. As a result of our not recognizing this, we suffer.
Meditation is to leave the clamorous mishmash of our conjured-up world and return to the simple and still clarity of here and now.
The distracted mind can be likened to a very shallow river. With rocks, mounds of sand, and plants gathering at the bottom, the water passing over the riverbed creates ripples and vibrations. Our mental obstructions don't allow the experience of this moment to flow through, and we suffer turbulence, confusion, and instability.
In contrast, a mind that is calm and aware, that isn't disturbed by passing images, is like a deep river where the water runs smoothly and steadily. The riverbed far below does not disturb the water. In such a mind there is no grasping, and its activity just flows through tranquilly.
The undisciplined mind is easily agitated, nervous, wanting, fearful, preoccupied, distracted, scattered, and confused. In meditation we can begin to see just how busy and distracted our minds really are. We can learn to observe, without judgment, how our minds constantly go this way and that, lunging toward the things we want, and away from the things we loathe and fear. We also begin to see the pain and dissatisfaction that is none other than this leaning mind. And we return to this moment, where sanity, patience, confidence, and openness await—again and again, over and over.
This isn't to say that the leaning of our minds is bad or wrong or dysfunctional, or that we have to root it out and destroy it. There's nothing wrong with our human minds. It's just that we don't usually handle them properly.
In meditation we can see that our thoughts—for all that they obsess us, tease us, distract us, and disturb us—are insubstantial. And with patience, we can learn to hold our thoughts very lightly, like the phantasmagoria that they are.
In meditation we slow ourselves down and observe the activity of the mind. We then see that much of this activity is an incessant monologue of mostly inane chatter. We see that many of the things we obsess over, and that keep us preoccupied, have no consequence whatsoever. We see that much of what we worry about passes away within minutes; indeed, after a few minutes more, we have forgotten what we were so worried about and have moved on to the next temporary obsession.
In meditation we learn to break this pattern. We learn to take care of the mind by observing its dynamics without grabbing at, interfering with, or rejecting anything that comes up.
In meditation we begin seeing what we usually ignore—the vibrant Reality in which we all live, all the time—which is to say, right now. We begin to loosen our fixation on the thoughts that continuously come up in our minds, like clouds of smoke or bubbles in a glass of champagne. In time we learn not to grasp at the ungraspable.
Meditation is also an expression of faith—not faith in what you believe or what you think, but faith in direct experience itself. Meditation expresses our confidence in our ability to see for ourselves the root of human suffering and our trust in our capacity to bring it to an end.
Thus meditation is not something you need to ponder. Meditation is something you do. To truly take up this practice is none other than the actualization of freedom, right here, at your permanent address.Meditation Now or Never. Copyright © by Steve Hagen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“A lucid, no-frills introduction to Buddhist meditation …[and] a timely reminder of what meditation is all about.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book has 36 short chapters. I read perhaps a chapter a week. Each chapter is easy to read - ten or fifteen minutes is surely enough. I often took this book along to the video store to read it while my sweetheart looked for something to watch. It was not difficult to read even with all those distractions. Reading a chapter and then waiting a week to read the next, that is probably a good way to read this book. This kind of teaching is deceptively simple. I imagine one could read the whole book in a single sitting - but get very little out of it. By allowing time to absorb each chapter, each next chapter just keeps the thread flowing, connecting through one's life. This is meditation instruction, meant to be practiced, to permeate one's whole experience.This book is essentially focussed on shikantaza, cultivating awareness with as little formal structure as possible. It's a very curious puzzle, whether this practice is effective, or how often is it effective, under what circumstance. Hagen defends it, arguing that formal structure introduces distractions. That is surely true, I will respond, but sometimes a distraction can actually enhance awareness. With a practice of simply letting go, there can be an opportunity to quietly slip little knots of confusion under the carpet. Really letting go entirely just might require first picking up the carpet and shaking it. Another metaphor is that of soap. To let go of dirt, it can be more effective to add extra material first, it that extra material not only rinses easily, but dissolves dirt too and allows the dirt to be rinsed away more easily.The kind of very straight clear sitting that Hagen teaches here is an exquisite jewel and surely plays an essential role on the path to liberation. Hagen provides a wonderfully clear explanation and inspiration. This book reminds me a lot of Sunryu Suzuki's classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Hagen's book I think is a little simpler, a little easier, and therefore perhaps has a little more temptation to letting one think one has grasped something - it's a bit less elusive. The argument against structure, paradoxically enough, is just part of that simplifying structure that makes the presentation graspable, surely a sword with two edges.Anyway, this is a great book, well worth reading for any practitioner. Read it, experience it, and then just let it go, too!