Meditation 4: Meditate till the neighbours complain….

Rowdy crowd

“You migglers seem a rowdy crowd!
You argue, cuss, and laugh out loud,
You seldom chant or bend a knee

Gilded effigy

Before a gilded effigy!”

Thus  begins the three stanza jingle I composed as part of a joint poetry spree with other participants at an early stage in the development of the society.    Although I experienced the ‘spree’ as fun, I had an inkling that it was also a serious exercise, intended as a marker for the direction of Middle Way Philosophy  as real-life practice, rather than as a distraction from real life (as traditional Buddhism sometimes seemed);  or as an intellectual take on life without actually engaging with it, as some Buddhist writers and teachers convey.

Writing of poetry as an integrative tool, Robert M Ellis* suggests that to write it is the best way to use it, especially if the writer can delight in her creation, which she produces for its own sake, and perhaps for the sake of others, acknowledging her imperfect motivations in doing so.  My own motives are still under examination, and as I read and re-read the words I strung together then with pleasure and a real sense of accomplishment and pride, they are beginning to reveal more layers of meaning than I might have imagined at the outset, and a presentiment of more to come.  Not all my notions are comfortable ones.

In developing the verses I envisioned and my lines suggested a slightly taken-aback observer of a group of migglers, plucking up courage to be forthright in his opinion of what they were about,  speaking to them directly, and with a hint of rebuke.  “A rowdy crowd”, seemingly.  At least that leaves room for a counter-argument, but not much.  The evidence in support of that judgement?   People arguing, ‘cussing’ and laughing out loud.  Immoderate and uproarious, in other words.  Irreverent too, and individualistic to the point of being “bolshie”.  Perhaps untroubled by the idea of breaching etiquette, or even of giving offence.

One can see plainly that in this verse I am setting out my own stall, or planting my own flag on the small mound of migglism, and that the poem is a rallying cry, summoning allies to my cause: to dissent, to discrepancy, to contrariness, to cussedness, to iconoclasm, and even to ridicule, or at least to the ridiculous, the absurd, and the plain silly.  For some of these give me delight, and I enjoy the sense of delight that comes with the freedom to dissent, to be silly, and I love to share my delight with others, and have them share theirs with me, and with their others.  Which you do!

In my several years of association with Buddhism, and my contact with Buddhists, it hasn’t been my experience that delight has figured at all strongly, and possibly not at all.  On the contrary, there’s been hardly any fun in it, let alone delight, and my overall impression has been of unremitting dreariness, with an apparent striving after piety, contrived seriousness, and apologetic self-effacement.  Some of this may well be authentic, but it gets lost (or so it seems to me) in an ocean of other-worldliness, with a fierce competitive edge (like a basking shark).  Do you know any really funny Buddhist jokes?

I’ve always wondered why meditation has been so drearily characterised in the literature, and by some teachers.  On the occasions when I wonder if I’m taking an extreme view, I recall an incident in a meditation hall when I witnessed a senior monk roughly push a meditating  novice off his cushion because he was sitting so close the senior’s exalted seat that it incommoded the latter’s stately progress, hands folded and eyes downcast, towards it.

I think I understand meditation to be an important ‘limb’ of the three-limbed  practice that Middle Way Philosophy proposes, a practice conducive to the incremental integration of desire, meaning and belief, and a means to dogma-free, non-authoritarian, and ethical life.  And I conceive of the possibility of  – and maybe the necessity for – a wide range of meditative practices in which freedom, creativity, enjoyment, non-conformity, fun, delight and ecstasy are vital constituents; and can be happily shared, experimented with, joked about, laughed at, and giggled over.  Practices that bring a flush to the cheeks, a glow to the eyes, a smile to the face and beyond it, and even an occasional  complaint from the neighbours.

I’m going to make my this starting point, and I want to enlist others to the cause.  So how about it?  All together now!

chant and be happy

 *  Ellis R M (2013) Middle Way Philosophy 3: The Integration of Meaning, Lulu (Publisher) Carolina, USA.

About Peter Goble

I am an Englishman aged 77 years, married with 3 adult children. I am retired from professional life which was in mental health and teaching. I have been a (sort of) practising (sort of) Buddhist for about 30 years, and was active in the hospice sector, and more recently served as a Buddhist chaplain specialising (sort of) in mental health. My wife and I now live in north-western France (Normandy).

4 thoughts on “Meditation 4: Meditate till the neighbours complain….

  1. Hi Peter,
    I can see in theory how delight, fun, non-conformity etc. can be a part of any integrative practice, but I’m wondering how this applies to meditation in particular. Meditation can be non-conformist (in the sense that one can play around with practices and extemporise) and delightful when one makes a breakthrough, but I suppose my experience is that it mainly involves a fairly sober (though preferably balanced) effort at attention. Can you suggest any specific ways of making it more fun and delightful?

    I also feel that the example of pushing a meditator off his cushion because he was too close to the senior monk is not very representative of Buddhism in the West as I’ve experienced it. Perhaps it is representative of the traditional schools at their worst and most dogmatic. In around twenty years in the Triratna movement I never saw anything remotely like this. Nor was Triratna short on fun and delight. There was plenty of light banter to go with the serious stuff – often rather too much for my personal taste.

    I think I’d also like to point out that fun, delight, and certainly rowdiness have a negative side: they’re associated with groupiness, and the tendency to accept other people’s judgements immediately due to social pressure. Often non-conformity requires space for reflection rather than rowdiness – and that’s why I find it difficult to imagine meditation as ‘rowdy’ in any sense. I enjoy bantering interactions when I feel that they are authentic on all sides – but more often I feel that they’re a subtle way that the group brings others into line.

    1. Hi Peter,
      Your delight in writing poetry matches the pleasure I have while painting, especially when it flows quite well or when a tricky problem like composition or colour combination is overcome, each poem, like a painting, requires a certain amount of concentration and energy, searching for the right word or the correct emphasis for example. Sometimes meaning is hidden to us at first, we don’t know what we mean until we write it, didn’t Alice in Wonderland use a similar phrase? Unconsciously an idea or feeling surfaces. Would you agree that there is a purpose underlying such creativity, whether light hearted or serious? We reveal our inner feelings using symbols, sometimes too rawly for comfort. Your blog has reinforced my knowledge of the imbalance that existed between my having fun and being too serious, I have had to teach myself how to have fun, now I find delight in tiny things.
      My experience when meeting Buddhists has always been benign, so I agree with Robert. Studying since joining the Middle Way Society, trying to get a grip on the subject, has been at times difficult, as much as I enjoy a challenge, I realise that there is only so much I can do to improve, I could easily become too pre-occupied and neglect other concerns, I will find a balance, meditation will help. But that said, I’m all for enjoying being a member of this society, not a ‘joiner’ as a rule, here I feel at home and will be a happy miggler.

      1. Hi Norma

        Thanks for your observations.

        Do I think creativity has a purpose? I don’t know, but acts of mine which I interpret as ‘creative’ (“coming from left field” as the saying goes), often seem to have served a purpose after the event. But because my extricating the purpose from the act always has an ‘after the event’ feel to it, in that sense it’s something I’ve constructed, I’ve over-laid it with purpose, there was no inherent purpose in it, as far as I can see.

        I’m not sure that I would set out to have fun, although I can see that my blog may have been open to that interpretation. Perhaps there’s nothing quite so awful and cringeworthy as the invitation, “Let’s have some fun!” But I have sometimes formed the impression that Buddhist practice (especially in its institutional and organised forms) is deliberately calculated to cast a pall over the emergence of any spontaneous levity, disinhibition or ‘fun’ that may emerge when people meet.

        So if people allow themselves to experience levity, it is self-consciously reined in, and becomes what Robert describes as “banter”, arch, slightly contrived, and precious. I’ve experienced that myself, and it’s not very pleasant.

        I’m not entirely on sure ground here. I’m not advocating rowdiness; indeed, in my verses I put the word “rowdy” into the mouth of a notional critic, to describe the special quality of freedom that I believe migglism holds out to us, but not in any preconceived form or manner, least of all any recommended by myself. Let’s continue to share, and explore our versions of what things mean to us, individually and collectively.

        In doing so, I hope that, like salt, those who taste it (freedom) will know it for always.

    2. Hi Robert

      I value the accounts of your experience of meditation, of the culture of Buddhist groups you’ve met with, and your questions about my own.

      I should add that I didn’t intend that anyone should take the incident of the senior monk at meditation to be representative of all my experience, just salient in my recollection. I was also struck at the time by the fact that, although everyone saw this happen, no-one mentioned it afterwards.

      In some quarters it would have caused a riot.

      At the end of my blog (which is one of a series intended – to some extent – as a capricious counterpoint to your own), I referred to glowing cheeks or some such. I’ve experienced and participated in sufi meditations of the “whirling” kind, including some adapted to group use. Although these are physically vigorous, the ‘energy’ acts as a vortex around a very still centre, like a whirlpool or (perhaps) a spiral galaxy.

      I would hope that migglism might be open to exploring meditative practices from further afield than Buddhist meditation halls. Drumming comes to mind, from my experiences of Africa, although I’m not a drummer and have no pretensions to expert knowledge or skill.

      I’m interested to see how this, our collaborative treatment of practice, develops and where it may lead us; and I hope others will be too.

      Again, thanks.

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