This is the tenth in a series of blog posts (I took week nine off writing) aimed at capturing my experience following the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care’s 90 Day Commit-to-Sit challenge. Each day, I have been sent an email that contains an excerpt from Maezumi’s Appreciate Your Life with a brief reflection afterwards. My intention is to share my experience each week to foster discussion, illuminate the process of working on a practice, and reflecting on an excerpt that stuck with me from the week.
My practice is my refuge. Even though my mind always ends up distracted, obsessive or wandering to some degree or another, I find that in the moments I sit, I feel like I am all there is. This is an important aspect of meditation for me as I am the kind of person who can become easily overwhelmed by the current events, day-to-day minutiae, and simple inconveniences of life. I can find myself lost in the stories of suffering worldwide and right at home. At times this manifests in an overarching sense of hopelessness – what can I do, how can I do it, is it even worth it?
In Buddhist philosophy, this sense of hopeless can be likened to a feeling of scarcity. Scarcity is the idea that we cannot have enough, do enough, or be enough. That we are so afraid that the danger/sadness/travesty/change to come will overtake us, that we stockpile everything possible to see out the storm. But the truth is there will never be enough “things” to make that feeling go away. Scarcity is an internal need that cannot be fulfilled by external material objects. My process has been one of identifying when and why the feeling of scarcity occurs, and look instead for the intrinsic abundance I carry. So I sit.
My practice has helped me carve a safe space to simply be in the moment. It allows me to step back from the cataclysmic thinking of future-me. To stop grasping. It reminds me that thoughts can become runaways, forging their own adventures, triumphs, and defeats without ever leaving my head. I become aware of the waves of emotions that these possibilities can hold and I acknowledge them and bid them farewell. If they can happen when I am sitting and intently listening, they must also be happening when I am busy, distracted and not listening.
The interesting thing is this; the more I listen, the more my thoughts tell me about myself. The flavor of my thinking tells me what I am afraid of, where my insecurities lie, what I think is important in life, and where I feel scarce – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I believe this is why people really shy away from meditation. Movies, music, activities and our phones provide convenient and effective ways to not look at our inner workings, the constant dialogue of our subtle thoughts, the “darker” side of selfhood. It is easier to buy the things we think we need and ride that good feeling all the way until we sleep. When that high ends, we find something new - a new toy, relationship, job, or even some new inter-personal drama.
This week I am reflecting on this sense of scarcity and its opposite, abundance. Scarcity causes a clinging - so that we don’t feel, fear, or fret. To cling is to hold on, to brace for impact, to gather everything possible because it feels like the house is burning down around you. To stop letting go.
Maezumi talks about the innate abundance of self, of knowing that what we really have is our own being:
“...Know how to be satisfied with the things that we already have. When we think about this, we see that we truly have enough. We have this life. To some degree, we can say that the less we have, the more abundance we have. When we don't own anything at all, we have the abundance of the entire universe.”
I am clearly not a monk. I am not going to give up my worldly possessions and sit with the notion that to have nothing is to have the entire universe. However, I think there is a watered-down version of this that we can all work into our daily practice. We can learn to be satisfied with what we have. We can sit (or lay, or walk) and contemplate the abundance of living, in its losses as well as it’s boons. We can take stock of our own existence and be satisfied with the fact that we have the ability to take stock. In my years of teaching psychology, there is one thing about the human condition that has always stood out to me: we survive. We adapt to circumstances great and terrible and find ways to make the most of them. We sing songs, form friendships, face adversity, and love one another.
Sitting to meditate reminds me that all of those things are possible right there on the cushion. That the new toy or TV show or game is just more stuff to be had, but the meaningful connections, hope, and change are all intrinsic to being human. This is how I interpret Maezumi’s quote: Having less allows us to focus more on the abundance of self and each other.
This week, I invite you to ask yourself where your feelings of scarcity come from. Is it possible to wrangle a sense of abundance with the things that you already have? Maezumi believes this abundance is found as much in sickness, death and grief as it is in happiness, health, and joy. The common denominator is you.
Be well, friends.