Boredom and meditation

I’ve been rereading Ani Tenzin Palmo’s Reflections On A Mountain Lake, my favorite example of contemporary Buddhist thinking. Tenzin Palmo went to India from England at age 19 in the early sixties after discovering Buddhism, in particular Tibetan Buddhism, which she immediately intuited was her way. She found a teacher, spent several years in India and then became determined to do a retreat in the Himalayas in a cave. After twelve years of consecutive retreats including a final three year stretch in which she saw no one and meditated constantly, she returned to civilization and founded a Buddhist nunnery in India.

You might think a Westerner who followed this extreme path would be a little on the whacko side. Reflections On A Mountain Lake is a series of lectures she did on Buddhism and her experiences. They took place during the nineties and early 2000s in the West, often in front of Zen groups- as they are the most common Buddhist practitioners in the West. The lectures are largely improvised based on requests from her hosts. She covers the basics of Buddhism, the two forms of meditative practice: Shamatha or mindfulness and Vipashyana or insight practice, women’s issues in Buddhism, materialism and the relation of the Dharma to Western life. The lectures are wonderfully pragmatic and to the point.

She goes into some detail regarding boredom, which she says illustrates what happens when you let your mind and ego rule your thoughts. With the clarity of simple sitting meditation, where you let your thoughts appear and disappear without letting them take over, boredom becomes more and more impossible. We have the entirety of life within us so there is hardly time to be bored.

Boredom is something I struggle with frequently. As I grow older learning is less interesting, at least the learning I’ve engaged in most of my life. There is only so much information we need and I suspect that I’ve reached that point. But meditation offers the key to going beyond all that. If it offers a respite from boredom, I’m in.

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