dharma

90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 8 - Prioritizing this Moment

This is the eighth 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.

Writing this blog has made meditation a big part of my life.  I read, I sit and I write.  It’s a sort of rhythm that runs in the background of my normal daily routines, a rhythm that pervades my interactions, my choices and my internal dialogue. It has made me more aware of the thinking me and is, slowly but surely, helping me prioritize my thoughts and time.

There is a common instruction for meditation:  If you choose to keep your eyes open during the practice, choose a spot just a little in front of you, on the floor and focus on that spot. Your gaze should not be too far, nor too near, when you are practicing.  This instruction is designed to place your focus on what is right in front of you, as you breathe and move with your breath. Too often, both our minds and our thoughts are so far ahead of us they are distorted by the curvature of the earth.  When we focus too much on the future, we stop living right now – we live in a distorted possible future instead of an experiential present.

My experience is no exception.  In the same way that I have found a meditation rhythm that gently plays in the background of my life, I have also found a future-focused rhythm that dominates my weeks.  I start Sunday nights thinking about all the work I must do the coming week.  I am focused on the classes I’m teaching and the clients I’m seeing, I think about my schedule and the work that needs to be done and all my deadlines.  I wonder if I’ve forgotten to schedule or plan for something the following week. I begin to plan my “free time” so as to not lose out on an opportunity for maximizing the space between work and sleep.  Even writing it all down is exhausting.

But then, every week, it all passes and I wonder where it went.  Sometimes on Friday afternoons, I step out of my office and I’m suddenly aware of the present moment.  I have the conscious thought that it is all done, that I have a brief reprieve from the things that I was so worried about.  There is a sense of relief, like a light switch being clicked off.   The difference now is that my meditation practice  has added another thought to this process: “Where was I during the last week?  How did it all go by so fast?  Why does it feel like I was just going through the motions while worrying about getting it all done the whole time?”

This same mindset can be applied to the practice itself.  We can sit down at our practice thinking: When am I going to get it? Am I doing this right?  Did I think too much?  What is enlightenment, anyways?  Maezumi states that this kind of far-gazing is really doing us no favors:

The awakening experience is important, but relatively speaking, it is rather minor. What is more important? This life that we are constantly living minute after minute is most important. Our practice is here! Now! How to do it? In fact, you are doing it.

 He reminds us not to completely abandon our “important” things, but rather see them as a part of a whole.  That the week to come is not to be ignored, but perhaps put into perspective.  The things we feel are of huge importance on Sunday night come and go in the same way as every other moment leading up to and following them comes and goes.

 It is easy, and natural, to get lost in the far-off horizon.  To look for what is to come in order to prepare, worry about, and try to get ahead of it.  However, being in the moment is also important, and you are right here right now.  This coming week, invite yourself to prioritize your moments, giving the present moment the top spot.  How does that change your week?  Is there something to be gained from letting go of the distant future?  What does this minute have to offer, and what are you doing with it?

 

Be well, friends.

 

J

90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 7 - The Fabric of Crazy Thinking

This is the seventh 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.

As I sat down to write today’s blog post, I was a little lost.  I didn’t feel like I had any great insights this week or had experienced anything that was worthy of a blog post.  I was restless and kept getting up from my computer to pace around the house, trying to think up some great lesson or hurdle or experience that I could share.  I was feeling the need to perform, to produce interesting content without sounding too cliché.   The truth of the last week is that I had been practicing, had missed a couple sittings, had “made up” for them by sitting twice a couple days, and just generally struggled with balance and finding time in an otherwise busy-feeling schedule.

The truth, as I expressed it to my partner, was that without that nugget of wisdom, I felt like a fraud.

She asked me why I didn’t just write that?  I couldn’t, I said, it was way too vulnerable.  It would be too much of me, just…out there.

Meditation is as much about personal practice as it is about the practice of a community: as Rumi puts it, a community of spirit.  Somehow, in my feelings of inadequacy, in my need to produce a weekly blog, I convinced myself that vulnerability, openness, and raw experience should be cordoned off. It was a subtle script running in my head: You can be vulnerable only when you feel strong, on-track, and capable.  

I think we all really know that those moments are not when vulnerability yields its greatest rewards.  We like to see the struggle in the other and to know that struggle is universal and normal.  We have enough people that only show us their “good face.” We need to know we are all human. 

So I felt like a fraud. Though strangely enough, as I confess this in the moment, this process is absolving me of that feeling.  I think we can only feel like a fraud when we hide, deny, mask and pretty-up our surface.  When we believe the fraudulent story we tell ourselves – the story that we should obfuscate real emotion, real experiential personhood.

Maezumi has something to say about this too:

"Regardless of what you think, even your crazy thinking itself is nothing but that, do you see? It is no other than the dharma."

What this says to me is that, like everything else, our “crazy thinking” is still the practice.  We are not just taking part in finding clarity on the cushion.  We are exploring the dharma, the Zen principles of living, even in our crazy-making.  Even in my feeling like a fraud, I am practicing the way of meditation as clarity.  To put it simply: Crazy thinking and the associated stories are all you, they are me, they are as much the fabric of our lives as every other thing. 

What a relief! Our stories are all equal in that they are just stories.  Under close examination the fabric of those stories comes undone and unravels. What is left is just your experience, here and now.

As you move through the next week, I invite you to take a look at your stories.  If they were all made of the same stuff – nothing, or everything - how does that inform the way you move through your day, your week, your life?

 Be well, friends.

J

90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 4 - The Complexity of Peace and Learning to Live

This is the fourth 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.

This was one of those weeks where everything just felt like it got away from me.  I sat and practiced -  though my partner was unable to join me a few times - but I went through bouts of feeling like sitting was an obligation instead of a privilege.  I kept feeling rushed to sit. Trying to eek out a little time to just breathe and contemplate the daily excerpts.  I kept thinking of the quote, “If you can’t find 5 minutes to sit, then sit for an hour” and silently beating myself up for not making the time to find space.   I found myself waiting for a majority of my sits to just be done, so I could move on to the next thing I was supposed to do.

I don’t have an answer for this, the truth is, I am still working on the process of finding that balance – I’ll keep you updated.

What I can tell you is that I was taught a lesson about finding peace this week, a lesson about how I was living.  I was taught this lesson from my old, needy dog, Edi.

 First, the excerpt from Maezumi:

"Remember the four steps of practice that we described in the beginning: listen to the teachings, reflect on them, practice them, and finally experience them in your life. Examine your practice. Refresh and encourage yourself. Realize your life as peace itself, your life as it is now. We do not need to expect anything; in a sense we do not need to try to do something about being peaceful. The reason is simple: peace is already here as your life. Isn't it fascinating? Realizing constant change and no fixed self, you yourself are peace. Then being peace, how are you living?"

How am I living? Is a pretty constant question for me.  So, after reading this excerpt, I chimed the bowl, adjusted my body and sat.  As I mostly failed to clear my mind, I thought about this question.  What does it mean to live peacefully, to live as though this moment was the only real thing that I was experiencing, that everything is in flux and change and that stability is an illusion?  Shouldn’t that allow me to just let go of the things that bother me?  The self-criticism, judgement, and go-go-going-ness of my life.  Is there a place in there for the peace that Maezumi talks about?

As I delve into these seemingly unanswerable questions, I hear the familiar tinkling of tag-on-collar.  Edi, our black lab-collie cross has decided to come join us for a sit.  Not just that but she has decided to come and nudge her nose into and under my partner’s arm, creating a force-petting situation.  I open my eyes and look over, and see that despite my partners’ resistance, Edi is winning. 

Her insistence on getting pets is one of her defining traits. 

And here is where I learn my lesson.  Instead of being peace and living my life in the way that I think encapsulates this ideal, I tell Edi to go lie down.  She doesn’t even acknowledge me.  I repeat the command and she responds by panting heavily but holding her ground.  So, in my quest to not be interrupted from finding peace, I lean over and nudge her back, repeat go lie down!  This time she acquiesces, backs up a foot and plops down onto the ground, looking at me, with very cloudy but loving eyes.

I turn back to my cushion, and think How am I living?

The irony of the moment then dawns on me, and I am rocked by it’s implications:  In sitting to contemplate peace, I just separated myself from an animal that has, as far as I can tell, unlimited and unconditional reserves of love.  I feel pretty dumb - my intensity of practice blinded me to the experiencing of which Maezumi speaks.  I sit with that a while longer.

So, this is my takeaway this week.  That we can get so wrapped up in our own stories about living in the now, that we forget that we are connected.  That we can be blinded by our own narratives so fully that the perspective and compassion and interconnectivity of everything is obscured.  That we can literally push love away while sitting and asking how to find it.

I have thought about this a lot since that day.  Edi has gotten a lot more attention, and a few apologies.  I have aimed to live my practice at the same time as I practice my practice. 

As you move through the coming week, I invite you to ask yourself: How can I invite peace into the moment to moment spaces in my day?  How can I move out of my head and into my life in a way that supports and pays tribute to the person I aim to be? How do I experience my practice – How am I living?

Be well, friends.

J