The 8th Century Indian Buddhist philosopher and monk Shantideva once wrote, “All the joy the world contains has come through wishing happiness for others. All the suffering this world contains has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.”
I understand the spiritual path as having two inter-related purposes: to free our hearts, and to help others.
Meditation is a powerful process of transformation. But on its own, it’s not enough to heal our broken world. In times of need, we must also act out of compassion.
The more we help others, the freer our hearts become. Helping another, we let go of our pain, fixations, and doubt. Wishing others well through kind words and loving action, we gain perspective on our sorrow and joy. We come to understand our fundamental interconnectedness with one another, and this insight frees the heart from isolation, fear and constriction.
This means that our meditation practice can be directly supported by acts of service. It also requires a more complete and nuanced understanding of how we engage the techniques of meditation. Just paying attention to the breath mindfully may not yield the transformation we seek. We must also bring a host of supportive qualities to the fore: kindness, wisdom, energy, and renunciation, to name a few.
So how do we know if our meditation practice is on track? Here are three key questions you can ask yourself to ensure that you’re practicing properly:
- How am I relating to what’s happening right now?
- What’s needed?
- What am I learning?
The first question helps broaden our focus beyond WHAT we are doing to HOW we are engaging the mind. This expands the field of practice from the objects of attention to the process of living. The second question invites our intuitive wisdom to the fore, while the third supports us to continually reconnect with a sense of purpose.