Posts Tagged ‘Just Sitting’

5 steps to joy

March 19th, 2018    -    10 Comments

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How do we find joy amid chaos?

I’ve been practicing meditation for 25 years now, and this question tells you why. It’s why I do retreats as a student, and it’s why I offer them as a teacher. Each of us, no matter what the circumstances, can find ourselves in a daily struggle to stay sane. And if not completely sane, at least positive. And if not totally positive, than at least moderately hopeful. There is so much going on. We can’t catch up or get ahead. Even our kids are too busy. Everyone is stressed, pressured, and anxious. The outlook is for more of the same. We may feel an urgent need to slow things down, or a depressing belief that nothing we do will make a difference.

We might think that chaos is a unique feature of our 21st century culture, but that isn’t so. True, technology means that we can work 24/7, and we have our devices to thank for our chronic distractibility. We may lack the support of family and friends, and feel disconnected from meaningful relationships. But I bet that you don’t need to look very far back in your family history to find a time when your own ancestors struggled just to maintain adequate food and shelter, or labored under catastrophic wars, disasters, and economic or social injustice. In short, life has always been hard, and often a lot harder than it is now. The proverbial “simpler time” we yearn for might not have been simple at all.

Contemplative practices such as meditation originated many thousands of years ago and haven’t changed. They don’t need to change. They don’t need to be modernized or adapted to the millennial mindset. They depend solely on oneself. And they work. This is what I have observed in my own meditation practice: stillness and silence bring peace, and from that peace springs radiant joy that you can experience for yourself.

It begins in chaos. Are you troubled, confused, anxious or overwhelmed? You’ve taken the first step to joy.

Enter the chaos

All spiritual practices are born in chaos — the shock of loss, the pain of despair, the sobering certainty of old age, sickness and death — the recognition that time swiftly passes and you are not in control. When the world is moving too fast, we always have a choice: to be tossed about by external events, or to center ourselves in the midst.

Drop resistance

The fact is, you’re upset. Frustrated, disappointed and annoyed. Resentful, regretful or indignant. Uncomfortable, uneasy and afraid. Most of us have developed a hard outer edge: the edginess that comes from resisting the way things are. Once you recognize what you are holding on to, you can drop it. It’s a lot of work to haul that extra stuff around, and it makes you feel terrible.

Exhaust yourself

No longer struggling against anything, you might instead feel . . . tired, very tired, and tender, very tender. Your heart softens, and you feel genuine compassion for yourself and others. Everyone is simply doing their best. This is a key step on the journey, because now you are courageous enough to do the most difficult thing of all.

Be still

A great teacher once said, “The effort of no effort is the hardest effort of all.” Using breath as a guide, meditation draws you into the still center of your being. You can stay, rest, and relax there. Your core of stillness, which is pure presence, is the place where healing and transformation occurs.

Enter the silence

Some people approaching their first retreat think that keeping silent will be the biggest challenge for them. I always remind folks that silence is not a prohibition. It is instead an invitation to enter the silence that is already here. Once the mind is quieted and the heart is calmed, everything is exactly as before, but without the noisy rat-a-tat-tat of our judgments. Inner silence harmonizes with all outer activity.

In silence we find quiet joy and gratitude for our life, and for all those who share it with us.

What a useful thing to bring home from retreat. Perhaps you could find out for yourself.

***

Join me at  Still Summer: A Zen Retreat in Ohio the weekend of July 5-8 in Cincinnati.

I really want you to come

October 28th, 2014    -    8 Comments

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Sunday Morning

By Bobby Byrd

Two old guys walk single file
Slowly and wordlessly around a room.
A white curtain filters the sunshine.
Outside is the hot desert sun.

The two men are shoeless. The smaller,
the guy in front, is limping because
40 years ago in Vietnam a kid in black pajamas
shot him in the head and almost killed him.

The other guy dodged that war,
lived in the mountains, lived in the city,
wife and three kids, drank a lot,
wrote some poems. A candle flickers,

incense burns. The floor is clean
because these two men cleaned it.
Three others were here but they left.
The man in front slaps two wooden

clappers together. The sound startles
the man behind. He takes a deep breath.
The men stop walking. The first man
lights a stick of incense and places it

in front of a statue of the Buddha.
They bow to their cushions on the floor.
They sit down cross-legged and stare
at the wall. Their legs ache. It’s been

three days now. Not much longer.
One of them is the teacher
one of them the student. It doesn’t
make much difference which is which.

***

I’ve been traveling some lately. I’ve been traveling enough that when I sit down in my own living room, I feel like a piece of cheap, soft-sided luggage tumbling out of the baggage claim shoot on Carrousel 4.

When I go someplace, I never know who’s going to show up. A fair number of the people I expect to show up are nowhere in sight, but the empty spots are always taken by the otherwise ordinary folks who walk through the door.

I was about to head over to Las Cruces, New Mexico earlier this month when my host asked me if I could spend a part of the visit sitting with Bobby Kankin Byrd and his sangha in El Paso. “He really wants you to come,” she said, telling me that Bobby Byrd was the “Dalai Lama of El Paso.” Meeting him, I could see why. If His Holiness is the embodiment of the great monastic lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, then Bobby Byrd is his counterpart in El Paso. He’s a rumpled guy with a head of gray stubble and a giant smile, a fellow who cares a lot about many important things but who is never more than half-serious about himself. He’s a poet, a publisher and a Zen priest, which must be the holy trinity of lost causes, especially when you do them in El Paso. He and his wife Lee are the founders of Cinco Puntos Press, a small and very independent publisher of artfully rendered and lovingly cultivated books. They treat their books like you would your children if you adored your children every minute of the day. He sits with a group of die-hards every Sunday morning in a zendo about the size of a toolshed, a magnificent toolshed I should say, in a blooming backyard. I came because he asked me to and I liked it there an awful lot. I liked the people very much.

Bobby gave me the latest book of his poems, Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary. This poem came from it. It tells you exactly why I will haul myself off to the next who-knows-where to sit with who-knows-who happens to be in the room that day. One will be the teacher and one the student. It doesn’t make much difference which is which. What matters is that we come anyway.

***

Poem excerpted from Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary ©2014 by Bobby Byrd. Printed with permission of Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso.

 

I’ll be here

January 13th, 2013    -    3 Comments

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The future lays before me like a bejewelled carpet, a glistening tide.

Golden Gate: A Weekend Retreat on the Marin Headlands
Saturday, June 8 at 9 a.m. – Sunday, June 9 at noon
NatureBridge at Golden Gate
Sausalito, CA

Registration open.

An introductory Zen meditation retreat for all levels of practitioners. Includes instruction in sitting, chanting and moving with mindfulness. One night, three meals included.

Located on the Marin Headlands just steps from the beach, NatureBridge sits amid 140,000 acres of coastal parklands with views of the Pacific Ocean, delicious meals, tide pools, hiking trails and dormitory-style lodging to the sound of the ocean. I’ll be here.

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empty field

November 26th, 2012    -    7 Comments

Women of my age are not asked what they want to do when they grow up. But if I were asked, I would say this.

This is all I want to do.

All I want to do is show people how to sit. All I want to do is sit with them. All I want is an empty field blanketed by the stillness of time.

Maybe you want that too.

If you can make it to Cincinnati in March, I’ll point you the rest of the way.

Cultivating Stillness: A Weekend Meditation Retreat at Grailville
Friday, Mar. 15-Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013
Grailville Retreat Center
Loveland, OH
20 miles northeast of Cincinnati
Registration open for full-time participants

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(pretending to) sit

September 4th, 2011    -    No Comments

At the Art of Mindfulness this weekend in Houston, and all the upcoming retreats, some of us will sit like this. And others of us will pretend to sit like this. Practice is an elegant pretense, and even so, it beats all other options.

I love all the videos by Patrick Burke, starting with this one.

One week before The Art of Mindfulness Retreat in Houston
Two weeks before The Practice of Everyday Life Retreat in Colorado
Four weeks before The Plunge Retreat in Pittsburgh
Five weeks before the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat in LA

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Now entering the motherland

April 12th, 2009    -    11 Comments


Last week I was reminded of one of the most refreshing aspects of an arduous trip to a foreign country: not speaking the language. What sweet relief! Being utterly, absolutely free of language and its insidious effect on me: reading, talking, eavesdropping, writing, judging, second guessing, comparing, competing and then, and then, and then. Last week I didn’t read, blog or bloviate. I didn’t charge ahead. I didn’t fall behind. I didn’t make a list. Here I’m home but for two hours, and the list is already lengthening at my side, the pen squiggling across the lines of my journal even as I fight a reunion with the cherished sleep I missed most dearly.

I’m striving again. We’re all striving. If we’re not striving, we might wonder, what then?

As I rapid-fire clicked through emails and blogs I returned twice to Kelly, who today stands in the nowhere between a very sick mother and a very sick sister:

The most challenging part of all the illness around me is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help anyone get better.

That is the truest thing I haven’t said lately. Being with someone who is sick or dying can seem like being in a foreign country. Or a foreign airport, in my case, in an unmoving line leading to one Lufthansa ticket agent hammering uselessly into a broken computer while the cushiony minutes to takeoff disappear. The most challenging part is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help. There’s no striving. There’s just being. And even though there is no striving in just being, some folks will tell you that there must be a way to steer the being along better. Not just a way to do nothing, but a right way, a good way, to do nothing.

I don’t subscribe to that expertise. We are all amateurs at death; in the same way we are all amateurs at life, although we rarely give ourselves permission. For those of us whose part in dire hours is to sit it out and sit beside, our part is to just sit. Sitting with my mother and my father as they died was the most intimate act I’ve ever known. And while I do not think it more sacred than going nowhere at a ticket counter, it was no less sacred.

You see, when it looks and feels as if we are doing nothing, we’re actually doing quite a bit. We are standing still on one of those slow-motion moving walkways stretching from terminal A to terminal E. We are crossing a threshold all the while, crossing a border whose demarcation is all but imperceptible. We are entering the motherland, the pure land, and in that nowhere else, we are coming home.

A tribute to my mother, and to everyone’s mother, on the eighth anniversary of her death April 13, 2001.

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