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.


90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 3 - Noticing What Comes

This is the third 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 a excerpt that stuck with me from the week.

Another week has passed, another seven days of sitting, and another string of learning, growing, and slowing down.  This week I noticed a few things came up for me:  The first was timing.  As work and life gets a little bit busier, I am finding that I must be more flexible in the way and time that I approach meditation.  I am a creature of habit, at least when I am successful.  How this translates to meditation is that I like to sit in the same place, do the same things, and roughly at the same time each night. 

Because of this, I must admit, I missed a day of practice this week…

…which is ok. 

It is ok because I am learning to practice compassion with myself.  To be in this moment and not belabor the past or think about catastrophic futures.  I have a tendency to think that if I break a “streak” then all the work before was for nothing.  This is just simply not true, and luckily, one of the more memorable excerpts this week speaks to just that idea:

"So mere sitting is not enough. You must reveal this wisdom in the way you live. How can we live this realization? Just living in a realized way is still not enough. We must share it together, with each other. How can we share it best with everybody, so that all of us can live the enlightened life?"

As this reflection indicates, our practice is not simply on the cushion.  It is in our actions, how we live with one another, and how we show compassion.  I chose to sit twice the following day after I missed my practice, but I also was able to remind myself that I am trying to live the practice as well.  In my interactions, I aim to be more present, in my work, I aim for vulnerability and authenticity, and in my self, I aim to show some compassion – to understand that a ‘missed’ day is just that.  There is always the opportunity to recommit, sit, and breathe.  There is nothing compassionate in beating ourselves up – especially when we are talking about presence and living mindfully.

Another thing that came up for me was an intense desire to return more and more to the cushion.

The more I sit, the more I crave sitting.

I wrote this after wandering over to my meditation space a few days ago in the middle of the day.  My space is not fancy: I have a singing bowl, which I use to chime me into and out of practice, I have my cushion, a mat for the cushion to sit on, and some sage.  There is something comforting and homey about burning sage, so I find the fragrance in the air a nice addition to my meditation practice.  Occasionally, I will just sit on my cushion, morning coffee in hand, and stare out the window – at trees, or snow, or if I am lucky, a passing bird or fox.  I think this signifies an important movement in my practice, a bodily recognition of the comfort, balance, and release that the meditation space has created for me.  I firmly believe the consistency of practice has led to more of a desire for consistency.  It also helps me plant and ground much more effectively when it comes time to sit and be still.

So – the journey continues!  As my practice and thoughts evolve, I hope yours do as well.  As you move into the next week, remember there are more ways to practice than sitting, and that it never hurts to direct some of your compassion, understanding, and openness to yourself.

Be well, friends.