Monday, January 11, 2010

Went a-meditating in Ventura on Saturday. A local Zen Buddhist practitioner and professor named Kevin leads a free community gathering once a month that includes: 30 minutes of sitting, walking meditation, 30 more minutes of sitting, a chat, and Japanese tea and snacks (his wife is Japanese). We practice shikantaza style, or just sitting there. The only instructions are to sit straight, focus on a drishti (focus point) at a 45 degree angle, and be as present as you can with your being. After some years of practices, including yoga, in which I tether my mind to various tasks, not having to do anything at all seemed liberating. And yet I rebelled.

You would think, with all that freedom, that I could manage to follow 3 simple rules, but even those my wild mind raged against, especially the drishti point. First my eyes wanted to glaze over. Then close. Then I became manically obsessed with finding the perfect drishti point that was perfectly centered and perfectly distinct from the rest of the carpet I was staring at. Then I found myself becoming annoyed with this one limitation. I could almost see my mind pouting like a child. So I gave it some sympathy. "Aw, poor mind, you do not want to do this work? But this is good for us!"

And then I got my reply, a reply that explained much more than my drishti-commitment issues. As soon as my mind 'obeyed' me and focused on a drishti point, I felt sad. Somehow I realized that the drishti had become a symbol of the future, and by focusing on it I had to let go of my attachments to the past. The fog of thoughts in which I'd been lost yet comfortable momentarily revealed itself as a barrier to my growth. It's Change that I am against. Afraid of. Every yes means not just a no, but infinite no's. Doesn't being in the present mean a kind of forgetting of the past?

The drishti is simultaneously too intense and too boring. My mind is an expert at arguing against anything that is going to be good for me, especially meditation and yoga. If I've defeated the notion that the drishti and therefore living in the present will be too emotionally intense, then my mind will switch tactics and tell me, how borrrring. Why, Ashley, Why would you stare at the carpet when you could be so productive with this thinking time? Mentally write your next blog, for example (that can be a dangerous one)! Or make a pro and con list of growing out your bangs. Etc.

It is hilarious, frightening, and comforting all at once how quickly I can go from feeling like I'm going to explode with meditative discomfort to spacing out and thinking about my bangs. The mysterious, fascinating experience of being. Somehow I come out of this wild ride feeling calmer and more energized. For about 5 minutes.

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