Most of my early meditation education happened in the shade of a tree. But in place of lotusly postures, I was sprawled, my legs some variety of akimbo. My body was emanating wavy lines in the summer heat, and I was covered in painful yellow cartoon lightning bolts.
I had just experienced my first yoga class. My car was a mile walk up a steep hill, and I was not going to make it.
I wouldn’t meditate in a serious way until a year later when I went to university, but the first day of laying in a destroyed heap was an underline beneath the lesson I would learn over the coming months: breathing mattered. Read more
If I hadn’t made a stupid resolution to post at least once every month, I would not be writing this post tonight. I would be meditating—because I didn’t meditate this morning. But that’s still no excuse for not meditating.
The most consistent challenge I have to face in my daily practice is dealing with the limitless excuses that bubble up—the excuses that tell me I really don’t have to meditate. I don’t have enough time today. I can meditate better tomorrow. I don’t need to meditate every day. It’s so easy, so tempting to just go and sleep or check the news or eat or shop… But the truth is, I always have time to meditate. I always have ten minutes to squeeze out of my schedule.
For me, inspiration isn’t as much of a problem as is discipline. I am well aware that the biggest lie I tell myself is that meditation is not a priority. So here are some techniques I use for days like today—long days tucked between nights of less than four hours’ sleep.
So I realize that many of my past posts have been about the negative portrayals of Buddhism or Buddhist images in mainstream culture, particularly in the media. I guess in a lot of ways, I find the negative much more interesting to message about.
But just this past Tuesday morning, I heard on the radio a report on Alabama’s most “violent and mentally unstable” prison inmates practicing Vipassana meditation. They’ve seen positive results in the inmates that participate in the program. Yet, the most interesting part of the story for me is the intercultural implications of having a program derived from Buddhist practice in a dominantly Christian state.
The Vipassana technique, though secular, is based on the teachings of Buddha. Soon after it started at Donaldson about a decade ago, the prison system’s chaplains expressed concern that it might not be in keeping with Christian values. The state put an end to the program.
But Hetzel, the warden, saw the dramatic results and brought it back.
It seems a bit ironic that of all places to see a positive, religiously relevant mention of Buddhism in the media, it appears under the context of a prison. Go figure.
You can listen to the whole report on KQED Public Radio’s website here.
Bhante Sukha Sambodhi of TTVMC in Riverside, CA, found an odd quirk among many of his American born practitioners. He mentioned this to myself and two friends while we were spending a weekend meditating at his meditation center. The quirk was in the ordering of the teachings, which were reversed from the MO of Buddhist practice in his native Burma. Precepts always came first before people committed to sitting. Instead, many of Bhante Sukha’s American students dived right into meditating without a solid teaching and experience with the precepts. This has been variously noted by other meditation teachers as well.
I myself have not formally taken on precepts, my own reasoning being that I may inevitably take life, steal, philander, lie, or use intoxicants and would be unable to hold myself to that standard of conduct. If after finding a community of practitioners close enough to home and heart, I may consider otherwise. They could keep me honest. This attitude however, could be to everybody’s detriment.
A community of Buddhists who hold precepts up high would help its own members hold onto their precepts, perhaps for dear life. The example of shunning has been used in other groups with mixed results. Good results being that more of its members could stand straight in line, and bad being a simple, inflexible and hard-line brutality towards complex actions in life.
My own practice would be put at jeopardy as well. I could be the best sitter in the group, but would do little more than vegetate if I depended entirely on others for my own ethics and well-being. And maybe that is what it comes down to: my own well-being. Rather than being a sole object while meditating, breathing while sitting would provide but one more distraction from dealing with past negative actions and would do little to prevent future transgressions. Maybe some restraints aren’t so bad.
A wonderful post by Karen Maezen Miller has been circulating in my ring of friends, and it still puts a huge smile on my face.
It’s the time to reach for a tonic.
For fatigue: Be tired.
For impatience: Be still
For inflammation: Chill.
For despair: Empty completely.
For fear of getting nothing done: Get nothing done.
For having no time: Take time.
For lack of love: Love.
For disappointment: Dance.
For inadequacy: Give.
For no reason: Be unreasonable.
For others, pray.
For these and all other symptoms, exhale.
Robert Wright’s piece on the New York Times’ Happy Days blog has been an immense hit in the Buddhist blogging community (see here, here, here and here). I appreciate his approach of speaking positively about meditation from the perspective of the “converted outsider” (If this sounds crazy to you, you should hear how crazy it sounds to me. I’m not the weed-hugging type, I assure you.)
But it was his mention of a song that struck the deepest chord with me.
Yes, the payoff was huge. But it’s unlikely to be as big this time around. It’s famously hard to replicate the rapture of your first meditation retreat. Last time, during the first half of the week, my apparently prescient unconscious mind kept filling my head with that old song by Foreigner, “It feels like the first time, like it never will again.” I’ve never especially liked that song, and during those first few days it joined the list of things I hated.
On my last retreat I had this song stuck in my head for the first six days. Don’t ask me why (I don’t know!) but Day 7 was truly amazing.
All the windows closed and the fan turned on, I tried getting to sleep. Then I heard that high frequency humming of a mosquito in my ear, and now I’m up again. This usually isn’t a problem I have in California.
When I was younger in Paris, mosquitos would fly in whenever I left the window open. I’d hear that sharp insistent buzzing by my ear, swipe at the air and roll over. But it would always come back. Never mind the precepts, it was tempting to catch and kill the bug. But my uncle had placed a statue of Guan Yin over the bed, and that was double the reason to not send the sucker onto a better life.
I usually get to bed well before midnight so I can wake up at 5am, meditate, and go to the gym before work. But tonight a friend called me around 10:30pm, and we talked for about half an hour, after which I wasn’t able to fall back asleep. Next to my bed was a copy of Don’t Look Down on the Defilements by Sayadaw U Tejaniya, a gift to me from one of his Dharma brothers.
I sat up in my bed and started reading through it. It’s a good book, and I especially appreciate it’s simple and friendly style of writing. Of course, I decided I wanted to post about it. Online, I found that Sayadaw U Tejaniya has his own website with many of his teachings and in multiple languages. You can also find Don’t Look Down on Defilements there too. He even posted his interview from the Tricycle Winter 2007 issue.
Some recent blog posts relating to race and meditation.
A recent post by Scott Mitchell lists “several concerns with the meditation-centric rhetoric of contemporary Buddhism in America.” One of them was written with a sharpness that perhaps only the Angry Asian Buddhist could love: the rhetoric of “meditation is practice” but chanting and other Buddhist practices are “just ritual” perpetuates the notion that white folks are doing something unprecedented in American Buddhism while Asian folks are simply carrying around their cultural baggage.
On the New York Times, I saw a post titled Being and Mindfulness, and I don’t know why I read it, but I’m glad I did because it wasn’t all about what I’d feared. I had feared another presentation of Buddhism filtered through the New Age lens. There is that, but more to the point, Judith Warner writes:
For one thing, there’s the seemingly unavoidable problem that people who are embarked on this particular “journey of self-exploration,” as Pipher has called it, tend to want to talk, or write, about it. A lot. But what they don’t realize — because they’re so in the moment, caught in the wonder and fascination and totality of their self-experience — is that their stories are like dream sequences in movies, or college students’ journal entries, or the excited accounts your children bring you of absolutely hilarious moments in cartoons — you really do have to be the one who’s been there to tolerate it.
For the truth is, however admirable mindfulness may be, however much peace, grounding, stability and self-acceptance it can bring, as an experience to be shared, it’s stultifyingly boring.
Finally, someone said it!