Now is the time of the year when thousands of Buddhists across the world undertake the heroic New Years resolution to meditate every day. Time to get back to business. Nothing will stand in our way. This is where my father would say something like, “You’ve made a New Year’s resolution to sit on your ass and do nothing?” Exactly. So how hard could it really be?
There are a number of traditional bad habits that I trip over. The number one bad habit is staying out late. This stumbling block is naturally reinforced by friends. (“You’re no fun!”) Even if I’ve been really good about meditation, I’ll crawl back home late past midnight and tell myself, “I’ll just meditate tomorrow.” We all know what happens tomorrow. Or rather, what doesn’t happen.
But there’s one foe that I haven’t yet learned to conquer: sickness.
I blame it all on my friends and coworkers (and my unsanitary habit of rubbing my eyes). They brought colds back from London, Connecticut, Kansas and Oregon. I smugly worked away while they dropped like flies. Now it’s my turn.
The first physical sign of this cold was some scratchiness in my eyes. The first mental sign of was my loss of concentration. I’ve noticed these harbingers many times before, so it was with little surprise that this morning that I started sneezing and… well I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the distractions of today’s meditation were out of the ordinary.
When I try to meditate through sickness, my ability to concentrate plunges like the stock market. Even at work, I find myself distracted by the most trivial thoughts, so that tasks that should take a few minutes instead consume half an hour. Then the white flag of surrender begins to rise: “I’m sick. I need rest. Why not just sleep instead of meditating? I can always meditate when I’m better.”
Rest, sleep and nutrition are all very important when you’re under the weather. Medication is great too. The physical and mental problems together really make meditation a hard slog. Why bother?
These distractions are the point of my meditation. I sit down and close my eyes so I can see the defilements of my mind. It may be difficult, but it’s in the face of little difficulties like a cold that test the strength of our practice.
Even when I think it’s too hard for me to sit, just the recitation of my morning prayers gives me the incentive to plot my butt down for ten or fifteen minutes. These lines in particular are enough to remind me why I’m on this path to begin with (translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu):
Idha tathagato loke uppanno araham samma-sambuddho,
Here, One attained to the Truth, Worthy & Rightly Self-awakened, has appeared in the world,
Dhammo ca desito niyyaniko upasamiko parinibbaniko sambodhagami sugatappavedito.
And Dhamma is explained, leading out (of samsara), calming, tending toward total Nibbana, going to self-awakening, declared by one who has gone the good way.
Mayan-tam dhammam sutva evam janama,
Having heard the Dhamma, we know this:
Jatipi dukkha jarapi dukkha maranampi dukkham,
Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful,
Sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful,
Appiyehi sampayogo dukkho piyehi vippayogo dukkho yamp’iccham na labhati tampi dukkham,
Association with things disliked is stressful, separation from things liked is stressful, not getting what one wants is stressful,
Sankhittena pañcupadanakkhandha dukkha,
In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful,
Form as a clinging-aggregate,
Feeling as a clinging-aggregate,
Perception as a clinging-aggregate,
Mental processes as a clinging-aggregate,
Consciousness as a clinging-aggregate.
Dharamano so bhagava,
Evam bahulam savake vineti,
So that they might fully understand this, the Blessed One, while still alive, often instructed his listeners in this way;
Evam bhaga ca panassa bhagavato savakesu anusasani,
Many times did he emphasize this part of his admonition:
“Form is inconstant,
Feeling is inconstant,
Perception is inconstant,
Mental processes are inconstant,
Consciousness is inconstant,
Form is not-self,
Feeling is not-self,
Perception is not-self,
Mental processes are not-self,
Consciousness is not-self,
Sabbe sankhara anicca,
All processes are inconstant,
Sabbe dhamma anattati.”
All phenomena are not-self.”
Otinnamha jatiya jara-maranena,
Sokehi paridevehi dukkhehi domanassehi upayasehi,
All of us, beset by birth, aging, & death, by sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs, beset by stress, overcome with stress, (consider),
“Appeva nam’imassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa antakiriya paññayethati!”
“O, that the end of this entire mass of suffering & stress might be known!”
Please forgive me for being even less coherent than usual. (I’m going to blame that on the cold!) I wish you all great health and tranquil minds! If you happen to have any suggestions about how you keep up your meditation practice through sickness, I’d love to hear it.