Discipline, Meditation and Asceticism
Written by: Michelle Belanger
When we speak of meditation, the image that arises immediately in most Westerners' minds is that of a monk, seated in the lotus position, looking for all the world as still as a statue. According to all of the Eastern techniques that we've imported into the West, the lotus position is the de facto position for meditation. For those unfamiliar with it, the lotus position requires us to sit cross-legged with both feet tucked up on top of our bent knees. For any Westerner who's tried sitting in that position for any length of time, they will know first-hand that it is by no means a comfortable position, and any time spent in it invariably results in a loss of circulation to the lower limbs and the terrible pins-and-needles affect that this inspires.
I find this position uncomfortable to the point where it often detracts from the actual exercise. The Eastern view on this, of course, is that learning to overcome that uncomfortability is part of the discipline required for following a spiritual path. Long before any actual internal work is done, years worth of exercises are often devoted to simply getting the body accustomed to sitting in the lotus position for periods of four hours or more without any kind of fidgeting or other extraneous movement.
In my opinion, this is needlessly extreme. Aside from the fact that in today's world, it is utterly impractical to spend four hours at a time meditating in *any* position, I think the rigorous demands of asceticism can even detract from the real point of following a spiritual path. That kind of extreme denial of the body actually works against the spiritual principle of balance, and I think we are better off without it. Certainly, there is something to be said about achieving discipline and learning how to bend the demands of the body with the will of the soul and the mind, but every virtue, carried too far, becomes a vice.
That being said, let me conclude by asserting that styles of meditation, like everything else in one's spirituality, are a matter of personal preference, necessity, and choice. The ascetic approach works for some people, and for these it is the best approach. For others, sitting for hours in the lotus position will do nothing but give them aching joints and a sense of overwhelming frustration. The bottom line is we each must find what works best for us and stick with it, and if we have to explore ten or even ten hundred different systems in our search for our best approach, then we must do so, as long as we have the insight and sense to realize when we have hit upon the path we're meant to walk.