Monday, March 21, 2011

Really. Just sit.

I've been chanting Aham Prema (I am Divine Love/You Are Divine Love) for Lent. Whenever I change my practice around, adding or subtracting mantras, things pop up that I haven't seen in a while. Sometimes they pass, but sometimes they put on the *whole* show. Last week I was reminded that sometimes sitting meditation takes serious effort. To sit through the mental discomfort of monkey mind and do nothing is not always easy, and to try to befriend that discomfort is even harder.

In my last post I thought I was going to write about the four kayas (about how thoughts aren't born, don't dwell, don't end, how that's just their nature) and I kind of did, but I've found that the thoughts that annoy and confuse are especially useful to observe. I used to try to fix them, but somewhere along the way my view of reality shifted and I saw through them to the way I perceive reality. I was able to stay aware in my confusion. Whereas before I would catch myself after I'd shut down and closed myself off from the discomfort, I came to be able to stay open through it, which is to say that I was able to see *through* the thoughts, but also able to *see* through *them*.

Someone commented that they've NEVER had any success with meditation but might try it again after reading my last post. I heard the same thing last week from a workshop participant. I hear it a lot. Many people have a hard time with sitting meditation. Me too sometimes. My friend Sue commented: I know my early efforts at meditation were difficult because I am not used to "doing nothing." It takes effort to "just sit." But it's worth it. I agree, it's totally worth it, and the only way through is through. For what it's worth, here's what I do: I sit down, chant for as long as it takes to get my mind as quiet as the day will allow, then I just look, and try not to analyze; to be present, but not to hang onto anything, neither the bad nor the good, not even the realization that there's nothing to hang on to.

A thought is not always the same as it was the last time I had it. It's like reading a favorite poem: I am not the same person I was the first time I read it, and often a different passage speaks to me, but each poem is being read over and again because it has spoken to me before and may do so again - hopefully in a way that will lead me toward a more compassionate and open-hearted way of being.

The relationship I have with my thoughts during meditation has changed over the years, and although I have ways to bring myself back to the breath and to an experience of resting in equanimity, the mind is a wily critter and uses subtle trickery that I can only see through if I continue to look and listen, even at things I think I've already seen and heard.

Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child's?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.

Tao Te Ching, by Lao-tzu, Trans. Stephen Mitchell


  1. Thank you, Ana, this is good. Three things I just remembered: 1) A meditation guide once told me this and I found it very helpful. If there is sound distracting you, concentrate and you can find a place of silence (I locate it around the sides of my head) where there is another area of silence outside of the sound. 2) For fun read the book "Breakfast With Buddha." 3) For help staying in the Now read Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth." Thanks again, Joan Mistretta

  2. I find a Dzogchen practice effective. I learned of it years ago and am only now trying it out (!): When you catch sight of a thought, open out to the vast space around it. This is similar to what Joan does but I take it even further and invite all that space in (including what's behind your head, according to Tsoknyi Rinpoche). Once I remember all that other space that I am normally not aware of, then I can see the thought as a minuscule part of everything rather than something that fills my mind.