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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 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.

J