The Buddha said: “Truths cannot be acquired from words out of other people’s mouths. Before truths can be internalized, they must come from one’s own realization and practices. Through a lifetime of personal practice, human beings are capable of revealing all the secrets of the cosmic essence. You are your own best judge.”
So, people tell me this meditation thing is good. “Go sit!” they tell me. Even the Buddha tells me “Delight in meditation,” in the Dhammapada. People tell me it makes them more stable, more sane, more clear. Even scientists show links between meditation and cognitive function, attention span, and stress reduction. They tell me it is necessary to achieve enlightenment. They make dathün a prerequisite for seminary. Meditation is beneficial, they say.
I don’t get it. I have maintained a stronger sitting practice than ever before these past two months. I don’t see it. I don’t feel calmer, clearer, or more in touch with the present moment. Hell, I’m a raging intellectual for crying out loud. An intellectual is “given to study, reflection, speculation, and to the creative use of intellect, which is the power of knowing as distinguished from the power to feel and to will.” (Merriam-Webster Online) I keep studying, reflecting on, and speculating over meditation while in the mean time I am attempting to know the benefits experientially through practice. I don’t get it, and yet…
I commonly experience states which have been described to me as part of meditation practice, but not in sitting. One of my favorite spots here at the mountain center are the benches in front of the breezeway in the downtown courtyard. I like to just…sit. I watch the people come and go, when there are people, and the birds chase each other around, when there are birds, and the clouds drift by, when there are clouds. Sometimes I read, but mostly I just…sit. I don’t even particularly think. My arm stretched across the back of the bench, my coat behind me for padding, my foot swinging in a soft rhythm, eyes unfocused, breathing soft, I don’t pay attention to anything at all, not even my breath. It’s good. I feel calmer, clearer, and more in touch with the present moment.
I can sit like that for an hour or more. Sometimes before meals, sometimes after, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, but never at any specific time for any specific reason. Things come and go, people, birds, cats, clouds, leaves, thoughts, but I don’t hang on to any of them. Sometimes I say hello and I smile, naturally, spontaneously, without thinking about it first. I like it. I do it a lot, naturally, not matter where I happen to be living, long before I had even heard of meditation. Ironic, huh?
But this formal stuff, I tell you! I’m not sure formal meditation is for me. I think it is the discipline. I never really took to schedules or routines, at least not those of other people’s making. I never liked doing anything just because someone else said I should. It didn’t work when I was five, so I don’t know why I think it should work now.
Plus the whole idea of dedicating a half our of my time to intentionally do nothing just bugs me. I could be doing something useful, like saving the world. I could be doing something fun, like reading a book, or napping, or talking with friends. Or sitting on the bench watching the world go by. Oy! It really all is in my head, eh?
In the staff shrine room for a half hour every day I fidget, I rage (mentally), I judge, analyze, tell stories, berate myself, tell myself to stop berating myself, I stretch my stiff neck, my aching back, my tingly feet, I fixate on tiny details of the clothing and hair of my fellow meditators, I whine, complain, giggle, sigh, fall asleep, and silently beg for the umze to ring the damn bell already. And I really don’t think its good for me.
I’m better at the physical act of sitting. I can go longer without fidgeting or adjusting my posture. I don’t avoid it as much as I used to. But I can say the same about brushing my teeth or doing the dishes. The difference is that I can clearly see how those things really are good for me to do. I have an interview with my meditation instructor tomorrow. I’ll see what she says. I am having serious doubts.
What’s so great about sitting on my ass?