With the Mindsight Intensive fast approaching, I hope these reflections will facilitate the way students and teachers are going to embark on this most unusual journey. These ideas apply not only to the more advanced students in the Mindsight Intensive, but also to beginners who are enrolled in the MBSR-X or MBSR-CC, or to those taking the Mindful Self-Compassion program. What I write here is personal, an expression of my own intimate meditation experiences that have shaped my own path, and that as best I can, I try to live by.
The Greek word ‘charisma’ means ‘favor’ or ‘gift’, derived from the verb ‘charizesthai’ meaning ‘to favor’, which in turn comes from the noun ‘charis’, meaning ‘grace’. Originally used in English within a Christian context to refer to a divine gift or power, we all know its current use to refer to social, rather than divine grace. ‘Grace’ is the operative notion here, complete with its sense of compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. The power of grace is originally understood to be divinely conferred, which within our context translates into the vast world of energetic processes that drive us and are too subtle to be aware of. Isn’t it surprising to speak of attractiveness and charm in meditation? Think of it this way: Without passion life is like food eaten without taste buds. Passion is thus as crucial to meditation as it is to a life lived with a sense of meaning. The attractiveness and charm of grace come to life when we learn how to wisely and efficiently meet our minds, and mindfulness meditation is all about that. The charisma that flows from it includes the elegant grace with which we meet our inner world with all its limitations and foibles, and through that the compassionate kindness we bring to our relationships with others.
Mindfulness meditation training begins by fostering a trajectory of consistent, intelligent practice that eventually leads to an enormously crucial point we can look forward to – the sudden realization that the process of meditation has become our very own, and not anymore something that we do because of someone else’s encouragement or opinion that we should do it for benefit. This fundamental shift towards owning our own authority over the meditative process is immensely empowering, but also a source of charisma. It creates an internal psychological reorganization with profound effects on our way of showing up in the world, including how we can then later transmit the sense of grace to others. We become self-motivated, or even more deeply, the natural instrument of our own awakening and healing. We embody deep respect for the immeasurable vastness of energetic processes we cannot possibly ever become aware of, and the humility of Being that comes with it. Then, the passion for wisdom takes hold of us and becomes our raison d’être.
On the way, we must first develop a meditation technique strong enough that it becomes invisible during the act of meditation and seamlessly weaves itself into the fabric of mindful Being. We then don’t have to think about it anymore. Our head, heart, and viscera are in unison, able to just creatively explore our mind’s complexities without having to think about meditative techniques or how we do it. Technique becomes instinctive and allows us to be competent and free in our observations of experience and how our organism creates our sense of reality. This is the hard practice journey that requires the guidance of a good teacher, who does not let us get away with nonsense and mistakes. This slow and arduous examination of every minute detail of observation and experience eventually allows meditation to become ‘automatic’ (not in the lack-of-awareness sense) and appear easy. There is such a thing as virtuosity in one’s ability to navigate the unpredictable seas of the everchanging mind. Such virtuosity manifests as charisma.
Then, in the next step, we try to discern and make sense of what is involved in our observed experience, differentiating between fact and fiction, reality and delusion, truth and distortion. We try to listen to what our newly observed reality is trying to say to us and by implication to others, while at the same time modifying the energy flow as needed.
Finally, and the most difficult step of all, is to learn how to be simple. This is possible only when our internalized techniques are strong enough to guide our vision towards embracing complexity, rather than staying stuck in compartmentalized rigidities that give us a simplistic view of reality. Simplicity comes easily to very young children and becomes the obvious path towards ease in very experienced meditators; in between, a long way of apprenticeship is necessary to master it.
My own teachers had the wisdom to know that the quality of a good teacher is to teach the student how to teach him- or herself, and not interfere with what the student naturally gravitates to. We must learn to attune to our inherent deep wisdom that is already active deep in the fibers of our organism, albeit at times quite buried under the rubble of distorting conditionings. Teaching ourselves does not imply a free-for-all of just doing whatever we want. The meditative process confronts us with the boundaries of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and spirituality that determine how our organism works. These boundaries of reality must be respected, otherwise, our practice becomes troubled. We must learn to master effective techniques that allow us to best meet upcoming challenges and untapped potentials the mind is capable of handling. With my students, you will therefore see me interfere in cases of significant procedural, physical, emotional, or conceptual errors in technique or attitude that are bound to occur during this journey. Ultimately, we want to learn how to be as natural as possible in the practice of meditation.
Whatever we do is an expression of who we are, and who we are results in part from gathering knowledge and experience, and developing presence. The more we can do that, the richer our life and the beneficial effect on others will be. With this all-embracing interest in our nature, accompanied by a constant, insistent curiosity, we have to be unwilling to accept anything as a final fact, knowing that knowledge is always tentative and evolving. Meditation is driven by a powerful human need for freedom to search, look, and try without fear of failure. The skill to give this exploration full rein does not come easily. At all times we must have a fire in our belly. Without this driving desire that no matter what, we must do it, something is missing.
The mind is constantly evolving, and its scope needs to constantly be widened and enlarged. The larger it is, the greater our ability to have both, objectivity about reality and what we are doing, and subjectivity in believing in what we are doing. There is a constant duality and tension between doing and observing, being and learning, being experienced and naive, satisfied and dissatisfied. Living in the midst of that tension is the name of the game, making for interesting human beings in any field. We must relentlessly not be satisfied with anything less than total devotion to truth. The ultimate truth, which we call love, appears at first in the form of a realization that what we can know is forever precious little, and then second with the insight that even that is uncertain. In this humble truth of uncertainty lies hidden the deepest of experiences we can have: The experience of mystery. This mystery cannot be argued, thought about, debated, or rationally understood; it can only show its true and inescapable existence through instinct and intuition, imagination and creativity. It is the source of wonder that fuels our passion for life, and with it the quiet assertion of love as what’s most important in life.
The mind’s patterns are there like the musical score for musicians. It provides a silent scaffolding that requires interpretation to be enjoyed. Even just playing the notes won’t do. What matters is how in the spaces and silences between the notes one moves from one moment to the next. That is where charisma comes in. This is similar to meditation: Although of some importance, the content of experience is not what most concerns us. What we must focus on is how in the stillness, nothingness, or chaos between those patterned contents we move from one moment to the next. In the process, we notice where we have been, we are aware of where we are, and we wonder about what’s coming – all at the same time. That is called being in the moment since the moment is never a dimensionless point in time, but a meaningful space of energy flow encompassing past memories and future anticipations as they emerge in the now of the lived present. At all times, we must know and prepare for difficulties that will arise. We must know how to navigate them, and be aware of the bigger picture and the wider context as we surrender to the steady stream of nonverbal personal involvement. We don’t verbalize the flow, but navigate it, knowing that at any moment our conditioning will interfere with our meditation practice and mindful presence.
To meditate we must love, and we must also love the meditative process of finding out the hard truth of our lives. Meditation is part of the inwardness of being human, like holding our child or embracing our beloved partner. It is the process of deep connection to and resonance with our fellow human beings. It is the quality of touch and feeling, the experience of ecstasy in the sense of standing outside the petty entanglements of conditioning. Because we can never completely stand outside, there is a constant tension between full presence and mindless monkeying. We deal with that very simply by learning to live with it and trying our best to embody decency, knowing that this tension will always be there. That is training in equanimity at its best, resulting in the elegance of simplicity of the awakened mind at peace with ‘chopping wood and carrying water’ (Zen). Acceptance of the inevitability of that tension of imperfection is the ultimate liberation from suffering, soaking our Being in humility as we rejoice in this small act of huge consequence – noticing improvement. Noticing improvement is simultaneously all there is, yet also everything, the energetic motor that fuels our passion for the arduous path of awakening. Without that tension of imperfection, the aliveness of the moment would be lacking, and love would be impossible.
Being nervous and disturbed is an intimate and inevitable part of meditation. This makes it even more imperative to not shy away from propagandizing the value and necessity of meditation to society. We all have strong feelings about certain ideals and standards humans need to follow, certain actions we believe humans must take to stand up for the rights of others in the way we think is most effective. However, we cannot act as a herd ‘en masse’ without dire consequences like the buffalo herd that stampedes off a cliff. History could almost be defined as the tragedy of ‘en masse’ herd behavior – just look around at what senseless mass movements are in vogue today! Instead, we must act as individuals together. Being individuals means at its best to have the capacity for personal integration that ensures resonance with our fellow humans. Meditation well done ensures our individuality. ‘Well done’ means that it must be liberal and democratic to be creative, healing, and effective, and cannot be in the service of a narrow ideal or creed of any kind. We are never as important as nature, the creator of life, but giving that creation a wholesome and healing form that comes to life through wise practice is where we as meditators and concerned humans come in.
When through meditation mindfulness becomes our internalized authority, we must use our ability to transmit our charisma to our listeners, standing there freely, and like the bird singing its song, making it clear that one has something to say. To say “I am here, I am about to express an idea, a thought, and now you are invited to listen”, is an important act of self-confidence in one’s capacity to be the conduit of love and wisdom. This cannot be done proselytizing, evangelizing, intellectually or self-consciously, as it would appear fake. It has to be steeped in the humility of awe of the present moment, instinctive, natural, and unabashedly creative – which we have called charisma.
Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.