"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Friday, November 15, 2013

Some Serious Fun

“Discipline is important. When we sit down to meditate, we are encouraged
to stick with the technique and be faithful to the instruction,
but within that container of discipline, why do we have to be so harsh?"
--- Pema Chödrön, Shambala Sun

Tuesday morning the world turned white in the foothills of the Berkeshires. In the crisp pre-dawn air, with the cracking of a small woodstove in the simple meditation hall of the Valley Zendo as a soundscape,  I caught my first glimpse of winter.   As I turned the corner during the first walking meditation of the morning, there it was outside the window.  I was awestruck, surprisingly joyful.

That came and went, of course. The day unfolded as I continued Sesshin with Reverend Eishen Ikeda, the Soto Zen teacher in residence at this simple, rustic center in Rowe, MA.  In the style of Antaiji, where Ikeda had practiced with the late Kosho Uchiyama Roshi in his native Japan years ago, a day of the monthly five day Sesshin begins at 4:10 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. I had entered sesshin with my friend Peter the day before at 3 p.m. and was committed to sitting the final day which ended at 5 p.m.  It was "easy duty." I was only facing ten hours of meditation that day.  Except for the meals and clean-up, each hour consisted of 50 minutes of sitting and ten minutes of the slow walking meditation known as kinhin.

I can't really say with any degree of certainty at this point why I was drawn to travel out there to face the predictable physical discomfort and the entire gamut of feelings that would emerge during that day and a half.  Yet, I can say with certainty that I felt it to be valuable.   I'm now thinking of doing this a monthly part of my personal Practice.  I think it may have something to do with exploring the nature of discipline. A full day of Sitting can likely involve moments of "not wanting to do it."

What then?

For good reasons, I think most of us have a difficult relationship with the whole idea of discipline.
In our society, there is a harsh, maybe even violent set of experiences in our history as we were conditioned to do the "right thing" by our parents, our teachers, our bosses--even our friends and lovers.  Internalizing this, we can be extremely aggressive with ourselves--or rebound the opposite way to resist any attempt to make a consistent and lasting commitment to anything except what "feels right" at that particular moment.  Unfortunately, what feels right in the moment often emerges from the conditioned cluster of habitual patterns that have always--and will continue to--produce suffering for ourselves and others.   In those moments, we end up appearing not to want to do what we said we want to do!

Therein lies the rub!

Yet, as time goes on, it seems to get easier.  We learn to relax with ourselves, as Pema Chödrön says, "to lighten up"  more readily.  As we devote time to Practice, as our "time on task" accumulates, it seems to get easier to re-connect with the Heart of Commitment.

Although some of us come to Practice through curiosity, some as an attempt to escape the suffering of a life crisis, there are moments when it seems most of us have experienced, if even in glimpses, a resonance with the notions that kindness is better than cruelty and that true gentleness has great strength.  In our heart of hearts, something rings true there, if ever so softly.

The echo of that ringing persists.

Sometimes, it seems that it may emerge as a simple sadness, an aching, a yearning to bring more heart, warmth, softness and ease into our lives and into the lives of those around us.  Sometimes it emerges as  a clear, maybe even joyful "Duh! If we human beings were just able to be kind, everything would change!"

Whatever way we experience it, at some point, it becomes quite obvious. We are hooked. We have committed to Practice.  It flows from our Heart of Hearts.

It then gets to be some serious fun!


Chris Hakurei Kulp said...

Nice. Yeah, that feeling comes up, I'm sure, for everyone involved. Being a young father with a lot going on at home, I don't really have the time to take in a 5 day sesshin during the holidays in December, but I'll take a couple days. I always do the urban sesshin in the summer, usually totaling about 3 days. Even as I type this, there is a child crying after finishing his bottle of milk. I guess the time for more action will come, but for now I give what I can.

But yeah- "What then? What now?" I once asked a question in 'combat,' in regards to a koan: "I understand now. So, why must I continue to sit?" And the answer was simple: "When I am sitting, I am just sitting. We sit to sit." Of course, the practice deepens as we do so, but lots comes up in that time. Many times, usually on the first morning of a sesshin for me, what comes up is discomfort, feelings of boredom, panic, and maybe even nausea. Either way, every time I go into it with this frustration and discomfort, I always realize the point of it when I work through all of that...then I feel the time was too short on the last day!

Lance Smith said...

Hey Chris!
Yup. Ain't nothing like Sesshin, having a chance to see most of those old movies play themselves out as you hold your seat.

At Zen Mountain Monastery I had the opportunity to do a week-long Sesshin each month of my 6 months of residency. It was a hoot!

Now, I feel Grateful to have had the opportunity to finally weave a day and a half into my schedule!

But, who's counting??
One Love,