without deception, can we let go of harmful patterns. "
“Just continue in your calm, ordinary practice
and your character will be built up.”
― Shunryu Suzuki,
Although there is still a taste of green in the maple tree outside the window, most the leaves are now yellow and brown -- and many of them lie strewn across the grass. There is no doubt about it. Fall has fallen upon us here in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.
There was a time when that realization would have immediately brought on a stream of troubling images. My shoulders would have hunched up alongside my ears and a feeling of deep dread and discomfort would have emerged with the thought "WINTER is coming!" (string of expletives deleted...)
Nowadays? Not so much.
Being Present to what actually is, is usually a whole lot more fun. The scene outside the window at this very moment is Just Perfect as it is. For that matter, so is the scene inside the window. So are the letters dancing across the screen of this old beat-up MacBook.
I blame the Practice for that.
I am extremely grateful to have come of age in the rarefied atmosphere of the late 60's and early 70's, when the spiritual teachings and practices of the the world's religions became so widely accessible. It was an era when even this working class kid from Chicago not only had an odds on chance of experiencing altered states of consciousness, he had a chance to quickly learn that they were not just the product of magical herbs and modern chemistry. Mystics, seers, sages an saints had been exploring that terrain for a long, long time -- and some of them kept notes!
Like many of us back in that day, I began the Practice pretty much on my own. Always an avid bookworm, I poured through the literature on Spirituality and tinkered with the meditation techniques offered. By my senior year of college in 1969, I was fumbling my way through learning hatha yoga and meditation. Like many of us, it was years before I sat with a real meditation teacher.
Now, years later, after having explored a wide variety of meditation techniques with a number of gifted teachers, attended numerous meditation intensives, lived in residence at a couple of meditation centers, and having experienced a handful of "peak moments"(both on and off the cushion), I've continued to be an avid bookworm.
About a decade ago, I again struck gold. A dear friend of mine handed me a copy of Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are. Although I had practiced meditation for years, I picked it up -- and started. I was soon transfixed by Chodron's teachings. Although I have never practiced with her, it seems that the approaches and practices presented through her numerous books and articles finally have driven home the fundamental point: Meditation isn't about getting High. It's about Being Real! (Another 3650 or so days of regular meditation practice probably helped as well. LOL)
Although I still use a variety of meditation techniques, Pema Chodron's approach to Shamatha Vipashyana (Mindfulness - Awareness) Sitting Meditation has become my bottom line practice. (No anatomical pun intended...)
This practice is not unlike the basic meditation practices of Soto Zen and other Buddhist schools. The act of simply sitting still with some of one's attention (Chodron characterizes it as "about 25%) lightly focused on the sensations of the outbreath and the rest of one's awareness open to notice-- without reacting, judging or assessing -- whatever happens to be floating through the gracious spaciousness of mind moment to moment, works wonders. Through scanning one's body at the beginning of a session and releasing any undo tensions, occasionally directing the attention again to the sensations of the body during the session, and using a mental noting technique whenever one becomes aware that thinking is dominating the landscape of one's mind ("thinking. thinking.) before gently returning to focus on each out-breath, a period of meditation becomes an opportunity to choose, moment to moment, what Pema Chodron characterizes as unconditional friendliness towards the reality of our own experience.
It's as simple as that.
Yet, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy. Although is true that a meditation practice will bring greater ease and calm into our lives, at times the thoughts and emotions that have been consistently repressed, denied and avoided will emerge into our awareness. Most of us have been conditioned to spend our lives escaping from these aspects of our experience. Yet, this is where it gets interesting. It is precisely here that true healing can occur.
The "pith instruction" presented by Chodron is simply to stay. Rather than turn away from what might appear to be frightening or painful or troubling, we stay to face it directly, even "leaning into" those aspects of our experience. Letting go of the narratives that emerge ("thinking, thinking"), we soften and open to the underlying energies. With care, curiosity, and gentle persistence, we stay with it to increasingly embrace the reality of our own experience.
As we do this over time a tranformation occurs. With Practice, we get kinder, more compassionate, calmer and clearer -- and life seems increasingly more manageable. Then, at a certain point, there is a qualitative shift. Reality asserts itself. We see that even with our more than apparent "quirks, flaws and imperfections", we are inherently worthy -- and so is everyone else!
|A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood|
It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it, right?
(This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.)
PS. If your not yet convinced that meditation is worth the effort, maybe Pema Chodron's own take on it will help. The woman's got a way with words.
Five Reasons to Meditate by Pema Chodron, Shambala Sun, September, 2013