“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment,
our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be
filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
Amidst the scurry of the past few weeks, dealing with my own body has been no picnic either. With a bevy of eyelid inflammations and infections and appointments, and most every joint in my body making its painful presence known, it's been a long haul.
Slowly moving toward the bathroom, I noticed my whole world was colored in shades of doom and gloom. Images of my inevitable, if not imminent, demise floated through my mind as I limped along. I am almost 73 years old after all. I've got two stents in my heart forestalling the day when this ole body gives up the ghost.
To be honest, there were times in my life that coming out of the starting blocks in that frame of mind and body on a frigid winter day could have led to a serious bout of doom and gloom. A dark mood and dark thoughts would have wrapped themselves around one another and held onto one another tightly -- sometimes for hours, sometimes for days or weeks at time. In fact, there were times in my life that I spiraled down into abject despair and total burn-out.
That was then. This is now.
This morning, like most mornings these days, I peed, brushed my teeth, then wobbled over to the altar in my bedroom, bowed to the four directions, then to the zafu, and then turned around to bow to all sentient beings. Then I Sat.
Within moments, it was different.
There in my little corner of the world, floating on the Breath of Practice, with my body comfortable and upright, I sat and watched as ripples of thought, feelings and bodily sensations emerged and dissipated along the surface of a clear, calm deep pool of bright spaciousness. Just Sitting Still, no longer grasping or pushing away, I breathed, relaxed, softened, and opened. There, in the Gracious Spaciousness of Loving Awareness, I just sat. And sat.
At times I became the pool. At times, I became both the pool and the ripples. At times I became neither.
At other times, the ripples would draw my attention. Without hesitation, my heart and mind would open to the reality that a lot of us old coots are feeling these same aches and pains and sadness, that the universal human condition includes sickness, aging and death. I sat, softened, and opened. At this stage of the journey, this was no big deal.
As I have learned to do in Tonglen Practice, I simply allowed the pain to emerge, and breathed its energy into my heart with the aspiration that myself and others be free of suffering and the roots of suffering. In the expansiveness of each in-breath, with my heart open, the Gracious Spaciousness embraced the pain and allowed it to dissipate and dissolve. My heart's aspiration that we all be at peace rode on each out-breath as it was released into the boundless expanse of the One Love in which we exist.
As Time danced with the Timeless, I sat as the sounds of traffic ebbed and flowed outside the window. The hour flew by.
When the final bell sounded on my iPhone (this is the 21st century after all), I silently recited the Bodhisattva Vows three times as I have done for decades, bowed, then did a brief series of yogic stretches. When I arose, I felt just fine. Energized, I bundled up and headed out for a brief walk in the crisp morning air, before heating up the coffee pot, and sitting down to watch words appear like magic along the screen of this old Mac laptop.
And here's the pitch....
Making The Pitch
Although Jesus, Buddha and a host of other Wise Guys and Gals have proclaimed the necessity of loving one another, due to our conditioning in a grossly dysfunctional, blindly materialistic, capitalist society, most of us grew up too freakin' neurotic to actually love ourselves and one another well enough to cooperate and work together toward a sustainable future. Most of us are often stressed out as we scurry through our days, bouncing off one another (even our loved ones), feeling unfulfilled and angsty -- unless we are plugged into a screen (or another drug). Lost in the Matrix of the mainstream cultural madness, we know something ain't quite right. Yet, many of us just shrug our shoulders and think "what can ya do?"
IMHO, there is something you can do. in fact, I honestly believe that a regular meditation practice may be essential to getting calm enough and clear enough to figure out what you can do to really help get us outta this mess.
Playing for the hOMe Team
|The Woodstock Festival in 1969|
With or without drugs, the Truth became self-evident: There is a palpable Spiritual Dimension to life. We also learned that cultivating a deep and more consistent Connection with that level of Reality takes Practice. Through the gates of Hatha Yoga and Zen, I learned to meditate in 1969.
Now, nearly half a century later, I begin most every day with a an hour of meditation.
Although there are days that the momentum of a mind filled with a daunting things to do list can propel me out the door without meditating, the commitment to sit with others regularly means that I spend time most every day in formal meditation.* More than anything else, I believe that the establishment of a regular Mediation Practice is responsible for my increasing ability to sense the Sacredness of each moment -- and to respond with kindness, compassion, and clarity more often than not to the events of everyday life
This didn't happen overnight. It didn't happen without Commitment, Effort, Courage -- and Grace! (I didn't create Love. The One Love just Is!)
It's Simple, but Not Necessarily Easy
I would say that 90% of the folks who have wandered into one of the Mindfulness Circles I facilitate have already tried meditation. Comparing notes on Practice, most of those folks have expressed that there was an obvious improvement in the quality of their consciousness --and in their lives -- during the times in their lives that they practiced. They just haven't seemed to have been able to maintain a regular daily practice.
The inability to maintain a daily practice is, I think, quite widespread. It's fun to see a newcomer to the Circle mention, often somewhat sheepishly, that they hadn't been successful in establishing and sustaining a daily practice. With a grin, I usually ask anyone else who's had that experience to raise their hands. It's usually unanimous. (In fact, many of us are still grappling with maintaining a regular practice.)
It only stands to reason. Creatures of habit, we are individually and collectively awash in habitual patterns of noise, stimulation, and activity. Sit still? Ya gotta be kidding!
Day by Day: Three Tips On Establishing a Daily Practice
The establishment of a regular daily meditation practice may be the key to your being calm enough, clear enough and compassionate enough to help save this planet. At this stage of the journey, I've learned that there are three things that seem to have helped me and others to bring this about. Perhaps, they can help you as well.
1. SETTING YOUR INTENTION
Rather than approaching a commitment to daily practice as another "should," take the time to get in touch with your deepest motivations, the reasons you wish to make the commitment. Consider this: this impetus is emerging from your Heart of Hearts, that space within and beyond you that is fundamentally Benevolent and seeks Connection.
From that (I call it the One Love these days), emerges the deepest human aspirations. However you conceptualize that deepest yearning, (may I be clear? calm? kind? worthy? real? loved? loving? free?...) bring that into your awareness each morning as you arise as a prayer, a stated intention, a vow. It is helpful to remind yourself. Write it down. Post a version is some form so that you will see it "first thing", next to your clock radio, bathroom mirror, etc. As Practice develops the specific focus and wording of this intention may change as your perceptions deepen, widen, and shift.
2. SETTING YOUR ATTITUDE
Whatever specific meditative technique you are working with at the moment, stay in touch with your capacity to be accepting and forgiving of yourself. There is no "right" experience in mediation, no "bad" session. Aligning ourselves with the qualities of an Open Heart, through Practice we are cultivating Unconditional Friendliness toward ourselves and others by being Present and Accepting. Simply being aware of our experience without judging it, we are gently and diligently cultivating an Open Heart and Clear Mind. Even being open and accepting to how and when we are not open and accepting is the edge of Practice, where the real healing takes place.
3. SETTING YOUR TIME AND SPACE
Create a special place in your home for mediation, preferably a space that is quiet and out the way. If at all possible leave your cushion or chair in position. Many people find that creating an altar helps. Having been influenced by Soto Zen, I sit with eyes open and downcast. (Admittedly I do "cheat" sometimes as songbirds alight in the tree outside the window and I gaze at them. LOL) The objects on my altar are either gifts or natural items of I've gathered that remind me of Love, the Beauty of Creation, and Spirit.
Meditating first thing in the morning is often recommended. I've found that meditating early, before you and others are swept up into the busyness of the day is quite helpful. Putting "first things first", melding intention and action at the beginning of the day can be especially powerful and help launch you into a day in the proper frame of mind.
Set a specific time for the duration of the session and use a timer if you have one. (Digital clocks, on-line timers, iPhone apps, etc., are widely available.) Tying your mind up in deciding when enough is enough , or even watching the clock, can be distracting. Although 20 minutes is a widely proclaimed minimum, in the beginning even allocating 5 or 10 minutes will be productive and establish a foundation to build on. One of my teachers said that just "assuming the position" each day, even for a moment or two, was helpful.
I've found that taking "mini-meditations" during the day is also helpful. This can be as simple as remembering to be present as you open each door during the day, or during daily activities like walking the dog or washing the dishes. I used to set an egg timer on my desk at work, flipping it over occasionally, I'd take a bit of time to be conscious of my breath and body as I watched the sand flow downwards.
Above all, remember that it is all Practice. It is common to set ourselves up for continued failure by experiencing a missed meditation session as a failure. It's no big deal. If you miss a morning session, just begin again the next morning! (Of course, you do get extra points for remembering a mini-meditation that day. LOL)
The bottom line?
Establishing a regular daily meditation didn't happen overnight. I had to "begin anew"many, many times. Yet, at this stage stage of the Journey, I can say with confidence: At a certain point, it Happens! Meditation takes on a life of its own. It does you more than you do it.
It just takes Practice.
*A commitment to sit with others can be really helpful to support one's Practice -- even if only once a week.