As the days grow longer and the wind begins to whisper “spring,” our thoughts naturally turn toward renewal. Inspired by the earth’s rebirth, we to wish to make ourselves and our surroundings new again. Seeking freshness and rejuvenation, we clean our houses, start or re-establish relationships, and get more active. Spring: the very word connotes lightness as both illumination and as the opposite of heavy. People take stock of their closets in spring because they want to generate a feeling of lightness and spaciousness.
Spring is an important season in religious traditions because it offers the chance to reawaken spiritual potential. Indeed, spring is a perfect time to begin or deepen a spiritual practice that can provide a perpetual source of inspiration and mental refreshment.
All the strategies that we employ to create for ourselves a feeling of buoyant openness have their value, but there is no better method for generating such an awareness than the practice of meditation. The ancient wisdom of Buddhism maintains that the source of happiness is the mind. From a Buddhist point of view, conditions external to our selves—our jobs, relationships, possessions, etc.—have no capacity in themselves to produce happiness. This is because feelings of well-being and joy are created by the mind that experiences them.
Therefore, if we truly wish to find the joyful lightness that is the promise of spring, we need look no further than our own minds.The ancient Greeks maintained that virtue was its own reward, and practitioners of Buddhism understand this as well. The notion is that a person’s positive, good thoughts, words, and actions actually produce happiness for her or him. Most everyone probably believes this to some extent, because everyone likely has some experience of the simple pleasure of being kind and helpful to others. But most people have trouble maintaining a positive mental state, even if they have some intention to do so. This is because people have great familiarity with negative states of mind like anger, jealousy, or resentment, and because they have little experience with deliberately controlling their thinking. Meditation, then, is a method for sharpening people’s ability to choose what their minds do.
While some people believe that the purpose of meditation is to clear the mind of all thinking, in Buddhist practice, the meditator is actually trying to fill her mind with beneficial thoughts. Typically, the meditator calms and stills the mind for a few minutes, often by focusing the attention on the breath as is enters and leaves at the nostrils. Then the meditator engages her powers of analytical reasoning about a given topic—for example, compassion for others. At some point during this phase of the meditation session, the value of cultivating compassion becomes clear to the meditator. When this happens, the meditator holds this awareness in her mind as steadily and as clearly as possible for as long as possible.
In recent years, western science has become interested in studying the effects of meditation practice, and thus there is strong documentation for the benefits, both physical and psychological, of meditation practice. Virtually every doctor today recognizes the connection between stress and illness. As meditation calms the mind and helps the practitioner to maintain a positive emotional state, it reduces tension and fosters conditions that can support health or enable the body to heal. Moreover, when people let go of negative emotions, they often find they have a lot more energy. They can also expect significant improvements in their relationships with others. In other words, renewing the spirit through meditation brings benefits in many other areas of one’s life.
Glynis Kinnan is a student at Vajrayana Kadampa Buddhist Center, which offers a range of meditation classes suitable for the beginner or the more seasoned practitioner.