January 25, 2009

Mood Swings in Nirvana

My back hurts like a bitch, I’m cold, tired, and I want to go home. Other than that, it’s all nirvana. Right?

I’ve been thinking about my so-called practice this week. I don’t sit. No matter how many times I’ve tried or renewed commitments I’ve made or how far I think I’ve come. I no longer hate meditation. From time to time, I even enjoy it, but I still don’t do it. I read a lot. I have a half dozen Dharma books I’ve read half way through and a couple I’ve bought but not made it past the first chapter. I have better luck with the memoir and anecdotal ones, the ones with both plot and Dharma. I tend to finish those. I read the blogs and the magazines. I write a lot, but have had very little direction lately. Even my many book projects have languished.

So what exactly is this “practice?” I can tell myself that every moment is practice. Every moment is an opportunity to be mindful. Which is certainly true, but also something of a cop out. Every moment is practice, so I don’t really have to have a structured ritual, do I? So actually, nothing about my life has to change. I can stay safe in my everyday habits.

I still don’t have a teacher. I’ve been thinking for years that I probably need one. I’m just not much good at kicking my own ass. Yet the sought after teacher has not emerged. Not that I’ve been doing much active seeking, mind you. I’ve just sort of been waiting, going on as I have been and figuring that sooner or later my karma (or hell, just random luck, if such a thing exists) will drop what, or who, I’ve been looking for right into my lap. Maybe I need to take a more active role, but how does one go about doing that? Send out applications?

Every once in a while I start to feel antsy like this, as though I’m not making any progress. So I pack up and head off to some center or another to take some class or other and I learn a lot and I connect with people, even if I’ve yet to really feel that connection with a particular teacher. For a while I feel good about myself and fulfilled in my practice and then slowly, inexorably, I fall back into my habits. In the end, very little ever changes.

Well, so reading books doesn’t do it. Practicing in every moment doesn’t do it. Dharma vacations don’t do it. What does that leave? Hmmm….sitting? Actually practicing? Maybe with some chanting thrown in for good measure? And getting serious about my vegetarianism? And maybe giving a real shot at letting go of my tendency to procrastinate? I suppose it’s worth a try, right?

*Sigh* This wheel just keeps turning. How many renewed commitments can I make until I just chuck in the towel? I’m probably just cranky because my back hurts, I’m cold, tired, and I want to go home. If all else fails, I can blame it on hormones.

Who knew nirvana came with mood swings?


Frank said...

don't despair. i tend to be in the same situation, too. i've been practicing for years (or is it now a decade-plus?), and i still am trying to sit every day and find a teacher. last october i went to a 5-day residential retreat, my first, and it gave me the kick in my pants to start sitting daily, but now i do it with compassion towards myself: i sit 15 minutes on weekdays, and i don't worry about weekends. i used to think that i needed to sit for 30 mins or more every day, but i just couldn't work it in. 15 mins is something i can do, apparently, and if i can't do that on a day, i'll at least take time to go stand silently in my meditation spot and bow to my buddha statue.

Jack said...

You're still much more "together" with your practice than I. I applaud you.

Jayhoo said...

Yes sitting. Yes teacher. All that you wrote sounds so familiar. I was a non sitting, or occasional sitting Buddhist for a full decade or so. Then I found a center in my town and struggled through another 10 years of hating/loving/ignoring it and the teacher. Then I read Dharma Punx and went to a retreat to meet Noah. He told me to sit for a year everyday...maybe six months. I did. It changed everything. I realized that I had a teacher, several, and I connected with them in new ways. My vajryana practice really sunk in. I still don't sit everyday, I have a four year old, a full time job, a romance, and a grad program...but even 5 minutes counts.

One day I sat with a Zen group in town. In the second round of sitting I realized, oh this is it, this all you do, you just sit and stop worrying about anything. I smiled. I don't always get there but I always remember that I can sometimes.

sit. its for you. you deserve it. look at all the little things you waste 15 minutes on trying to make yourself feel better. you don't even know who you are.

and your teachers can be through books...but you must meet them.

jeff said...

I think this is a ubiquitous sort of thing. Even Pema Chodron talks about having this problem sometimes.

I'm still new to meditation, but I've been able to cultivate sitting 10 minutes a day in the morning. If I catch myself trying to get out of it, it's easy to think, "It's only 10 minutes!" The times (so far) that I've tried to extend it, I've found myself in your situation, so I just go back to 10. Just food for thought.

Jayhoo said...

So jeff I just realized in all this is sangah...community. Even if it is just one other person. When my practice has been most solid is when I have felt that I wasn't alone in it...that other people were crazy enough to be struggling along same path. Do you have sangha where you are...even one you don't "like?"

Teacher Jim said...

And while you still look for a teacher and a sagha, you've got us. I've found that with blogging, there are those who will pick you up when your struggling, and others will give you a little dose of reality if you get a little to high on the horse. And, really, everybody are both your teachers and your sangha.

From a guy who was born in Oklahoma, lived most of his live in Kansas City, who became a Buddhist 3 years ago, and now doing volunteer work as an English teaching at Buddhist center in Mongolia. Yee haa!!!

kitano0 said...

There is a Zen Center in Omaha. That's not that far away. But a teacher is not as necessary as regular sitting. Sitting is the root practice. If you beleve what Dogen taught us, you must sit! Start at 15 min a day, moving up to at least 40 min. a day! I don't mean to sound doctrinaire, but if you are a Zen Buddhist, you must sit!

Monica said...

I'm not Zen. Does that mean I don't have to sit? :-) Just kidding! I don't know that I've ever actually read Dogen, so I can't say I particularly believe what he taught. I have a suspicion it's a lot like what every other Buddhist teacher out there says: sit! Unforetunately, words like "must" just raise my hackles (damn, those habitual patterns!) and only encourage me in the exact opposite direction just to see if I can prove them wrong. I don't really figure that's likely, though, eh?