This is the twelfth in a series of blog posts 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.
For another project I am working on, I have been writing a lot about the concept of contemplation. While contemplation can take many forms, my own contemplative practice is meditation. I use meditation to unpack the thoughts that are taking up space in my mind. I do not clear my mind, instead I flit from one thought to another to my breath, then back off to another thought again. While ultimately, I believe the goal of meditation is to flit less and less, this way of practicing has yielded some really great insights into my personal narrative.
What I mean by narrative is the story that I tell myself about the events in my life. When I sit down, I have a view of my street, and as I see snow clouds rolling in, I am likely to think, “Can you believe it, snow again, what an inconvenience!” This is a natural response. Another way of approaching this thought, however, is to look for the way I am telling the story: These clouds are a problem for who? For me. Why? Because they don’t give me the weather that I want. I am inconvenienced, the injustice! So, I take it kind of personally. If nothing else, I find my mood souring, or I begin thinking about all the things I am missing out on because of the selfishness of weather patterns.
Either way, I am telling the story of disappointment. I am let down. I am not getting what I want.
These sentiments are now going to affect the next thing I do, and the next. Usually, this can go on for quite a while. Usually, there is a cascade of emotions depending on how I have written my own story. What meditation has done, however, is allow me to engage in a contemplative way with my emotions.
By unpacking the narrative, the flavor of the story, I can become far aware of my own effect on my day. I can instead choose a narrative that supports growth and happiness. I can choose to say, “More rain clouds, I guess that means I work inside today!” or “That’s the weather for you, what can you do!” The difference, though subtle, is noticeable if one is paying attention.
Spring arriving has me thinking about how we tell our stories. It is a time of growth and renewal and, naturally, the end of winter. In each season we see how the cycle keeps moving forward: growth, life, death, birth. We often get stuck in our preferences - like a preference for personal/environmental and spiritual growth - or get preoccupied with our fears - ones surrounding stagnation, change and death - and this flavors all the other aspects of our lives. As Maezumi points out, each of these states serves as a teaching point. None are intrinsically good or bad – they offer us a perspective through which to see events as they are presented to us:
“So what is life? What is sickness? Who is getting old? Who is dying? What are these different perspectives teaching us?
It is not a matter of four kinds or two kinds of perspectives as such. Each one of us has a different life and yet the same life-the life of birth, illness, old age, and death. How do we best live this life…?”
For me, contemplation and meditation are about answering Maezumi’s question. How do we best live this life? Do we taint our experience with (often unconscious) obsessive insecurity and fear, or do we take the lessons, realize that we each have the same life and work to unpack our thoughts one day at a time? My practice has allowed me glimpses of the stories I tell myself, and I look forward to learning many more. This week, consider your own stories. What are they tell you and what perspective does that bring?
Be well, friends.