July 09, 2007

Sitting On My Ass

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?


greenfrog said...

Plus the whole idea of dedicating a half our of my time to intentionally do nothing just bugs me.

The bugging sounds like a place to start. When I feel that way, I just notice the bugging, the parts of my mind that are annoyed, agitated, grumpy, whatever.

Then I remind myself of this from Kabat-Zinn: Have you ever noticed that your awareness of fear is not afraid even when you are terrified? (More of that passage is here: http://inlimine.blogspot.com/2006/09/kabat-zinns-take-on-mindfulness.html)

Just re-discovering that crack between the world of dukkha and the awakened one sometimes helps me advance my meditation.

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.

All true. For me, meditation only became a good idea when I saw the need for it. I doubt I could have successfully brow-beaten myself into discovering its value. What value? Its ability to dispel some of the delusions that composed and contorted significant parts of my world; the way it reconnects me to fresh experience; the way its clarity enables me to align my mind and heart with existence.

FWIW, it seems to me that those things, in turn, enable me to do more and to do more effectively than I did before.

Sharper axes cut better.

john said...

Trust your instincts. If something seems pointless after examining it for months, it probably is.

Didn't the Dalai Lama say that the best meditation was sleep?

Stuff said...

I am often wrong, but I think it's like this - there's a lot more going on in your mind than you realize, but you won't notice it until you calm the surface (thoughts).

Also, the analytical meditation can be great - pick any topic you aren't sure of, and think about it, from as many different angles as you want, turn it over and over - and it's true that you don't have to sit to do that - but often you don't do it any other times.

If you can think about the topic continuously without drifting to another, then great! But if you can't, then that's what the calming and concentration meditations are for . . .

Nick said...

Insight means you have a vision, an insight into reality. Stopping is also to see, and seeing helps to stop. The two are one. We do so much, we run so quickly, the situation is difficult and many people say, "Don't just sit there, do something." But doing more things may make the situation worse. So you should say, "Don't just do something, sit there." Sit there, stop, be yourself first, and begin from there. That is the meaning of meditation. When you are in the meditation hall or at home or wherever you are, you can do that. But you have to really sit. Just sitting is not enough. Sit and be. Sitting without being is not sitting. Be stopping and seeing.
-Thich Nhat Hanh

I Am Not Trying To Ruin Your Day said...

Think of this... Imagine looking at your reflection in a pool of water or a pond. If the water is disturbed, waves are created and you won't be able to see your reflection... Your mind is the water, thoughts are the waves and the reflection is your true self.

Monica said...

Nick, thank you for the quote from Thich Naht Hahn. I also find him a wonderful source of guidance.

Not Trying, I have heard of the water & waves metaphor before, but not the part about the reflection. I am skeptical of anything labeled "true self," or "the real me," or "my identity," etc. Would you can to elaborate or reference you comment?