A DISCIPLINE OF FREEDOM
I’m going to talk football. Stay with me. Please! It’ll be ok.
I love football. When I was growing up in Scotland, at a time when we were actually quite good at it, football was pretty well considered the highest achievement of the human race. Watching a great game was like watching the Bolshoi Ballet or a Shakespearean drama or a Hollywood blockbuster all rolled into one. Parkhead, Celtic's ground, was my Chartres cathedral, my Mecca, my place of worship. It had everything; drama, farce, intrigue, artistry, ritual, sorrow and joy. But one game stands out. Most of all, I was lucky enough, at 15 years old, to have been able to witness Brazil win the 1970 world cup. On our old black and white telly we watched the greatest team of all time score the greatest ever goal. You know the one; Tostão started the move on the edge of the Brazil penalty area, there was some individual magic from Rivelino and Jairzhino before the ball was passed to Pelé. He stood there, on the 18 yard line, for just a fraction of a second longer than seemed sensible, before he rolled the ball with perfect precision into the path of Carlos Alberto who was charging down the right wing. Bang! Four, one. You had to feel sorry for those Italians. But it was a thing of beauty. The great thing about it was that almost every Brazilian player was involved in the build-up. Each one seemed to have a supernatural awareness of where each of his team-mates was on the pitch. They were the perfect team. Talented individuals, of course, but collectively they were so much more than the sum of the parts. They played with supreme confidence, absolute freedom and extraordinary skill but it was the way they played as a team that took the breath away.
Why do we meditate? Is it to relax? To be happier? To gain some insight into how our minds work? To become more spiritual people? Why do we do it? After all it’s hard work a lot of the time just to get ourselves on to the cushion. It can be really boring and sometimes, just plain uncomfortable. And it needs discipline to maintain a regular practice. Lots of it. However I think I know why we do it; we want to be aware. Deep down we have a sense that, if we are not aware of our lives in the here and now, we are not really alive. Now, if you want to meditate in order to relax or deal with unhappiness and so on, that is absolutely fine. No problem there but I would suggest that these things are the beneficial side effects of the freedom we get from being aware in the midst of our lives. If we are aware we have the freedom to make choices, we’re no longer trapped in the prison of our own reactivity where we do the same old thing, over and over again whenever life throws a challenge our way. Meditation is therefore the discipline of freedom. Do you think Pele’s inch-perfect pass to the feet of the onrushing Carlos Alberto just happened? Of course not. It was 28 years in the making. To play with freedom like that requires a lot of discipline and a lot of practice. But it’s more than just skill; the difference between a good player and a great player is the degree of awareness that can be brought to the game. It’s the same with our meditation practice. Whether you meditate for 10 minutes a day or for hours, you need to exercise the same discipline. Mindfulness practice takes a lot more effort than we expect when we first start out, which is why so many people are discouraged and stop practicing. This is a shame because just a few small adjustments in most people's lives can make a huge difference. Try to sit at the same time every day if that helps. Joining up with other meditators as often as you can, is incredibly helpful because you can enjoy the support and companionship of a community of fellow travellers. And finally, if possible, make it the most important thing you do every day and take what you learn, away from the cushion with you into everyday life. Be patient, of course; we can’t rewire our brains overnight but it will happen. And just in case you were thinking that the aim of practice is to be able to meditate as expertly as Brazil played football - well no it isn't; we just want to broaden our awareness, make it more spacious, more inclusive. But it's important to remember that mindfulness is more than just awareness; that would render it as a purely passive acivity. It involves action as well. If I am fully aware, for instance, I can see how my actions or thoughts affect my mood, my relationships or the world around me, and as a consequence, I can change them. Awareness allows us to make choices. With awareness comes freedom. Doesn’t that make it all worth while?
So in the meantime, if you are in need of a bit of inspiration you could do worse than to check out the world's greatest goal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5HbmeNKino. It’s a work of art.