“Don’t focus on finding a man,” old self-help books used to advise husband-hunting women. “Instead, get involved in something: take an evening course, join a bird watchers group, volunteer. And when you least expect it, the love of your life will appear.”
Lately I’ve been coming across similar advice, albeit on topics other than finding a man.
Like everyone I know who has tried to meditate, I often feel frustrated at my seeming failure to get anywhere. What is the point, I wonder, of sitting day after day with aching hips and knees while my mind compiles grocery lists and resurrects old forgotten gripes? When will I finally see results, find peace of mind, achieve even a dumbed-down version of enlightenment?
Here is Thomas Merton on how to approach meditation (which he refers to as contemplation): “[A] law of the contemplative life is that if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or worse still, happiness, you will find neither. For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced.” (Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience, p. 2)
As with finding a mate, it looks like the only way to reach a meditative or contemplative state is not to go at it head-on, with focus and singleness of purpose–not, in other words, in the way that we were taught at school. Rather the trick seems to be in a sideways approach, not looking the thing directly in the eye but waiting quietly for it to come to you, sort of how you might entice a wild animal.
Speaking of wild animals, I found an astounding example of this “pursuit by indirection” in a Nature documentary about the rare, elusive, and endangered Siberian tiger.
Sooyong Park, a Korean photographer, lived five years in the far eastern forests of Russia filming the tigers. He spent as long as seven months at a time in complete solitude, hunkered in a four-foot hole he had dug in the ground and roofed with planks, or up on a tree blind. He subsisted on rice, nuts and salt, in -30F temperatures, as he waited endlessly for the tigers to appear.
At one point, having gone eighty days without even a glimpse of a tiger, he became entranced with the beauty of the falling snow and started filming that instead. And that is when not one but three tigers—a mother and her cubs–appeared.
Towards the end of the video, a biologist who is also hoping to film the tigers asks Sooyong Park for advice. Here is Park’s response:
“Don’t think about tiger!
feel the Nature.
And then maybe tiger come….”
We each long for our own tiger. But perhaps, instead of crashing through the forest after it in the time-honored American way, we could try waiting patiently, focusing on our daily tasks, and paying attention to what is before us.
And then maybe tiger come.
(Park’s five years in the forest, which left him so weak and wasted that he could barely walk, yielded unprecedented footage of Siberian tigers in the wild. You can see it here.)