Wk5, Day4: Today’s Walk

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Just the water winding downstream, through the rocks and the pebbles.

Just the wind blowing the willow’s branches, and its leaves lightly rustle.

Just the chatter of a young girl as she takes her mother’s hand and they make their way home from school.

Just the solid sense of each step as the foot falls, of each breath in alignment.

Each moment, arising then falling away.

Just perfect.

Wk5, Day3: Washing Away the Day

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Some days it feels possible to be so present in the shower that I experience the residue of the day’s events washed from my system as the soap circles its way down the drain. It’s a fall day that’s unseasonably lovely. Low- to mid-70s. I choose a cool-to-warm temperature, more cool than warm, which surprises me at first until I realize I like it.

The cool water hits my head and back, and I tense slightly at the shock, noticing the urge to make myself relax and instead stay with the startle for a moment longer. My muscles gradually decide to release on their own. I grab my favorite shampoo, the same brand a high school friend and I used to “waste” (in our mother’s minds) our babysitting money on. As then, tonight the scent lifts me with its mimicking of fresh air and lilac. How do they do that?

Showering has an order for me, and I allow myself the routine as a container for tonight’s meditation. As on retreat: we walk, we return to the sitting room, we listen, we sit, we walk, we return to the sitting room, we sit. In the shower, we shampoo and wash the face, ears, and neck, we rinse the hair face, ears, and neck, we brush in the conditioner and wash the body, we rinse the body, then the conditioner. We dry. The routine provides a container for the monkey mind, which is soothed by the process of knowing what to expect. Procedural tasks like this access implicit memory, no conscious thought is called for. I give myself permission to not be conscious in the movements so I can be conscious of their effects.

Each new washing is a point of contact with myself. How gently can I attend to this being in this moment? An image comes to mind of an infant on a viral video being cradled in the caregiver’s palm and forearm and she is immersed in warm water for a bath. What is it like to move in the direction of that level of tenderness? To that level of new mind, welcoming this experience that has never happened on this day, at this time, under these circumstances, ever before and that will never happen as such again? Some days this feels possible.

Wk5, Day2: But I Don’t Like It

by Denise Bike 0 Comments

Continuing to consider the first Noble Truth, which I’m approaching as “There is suffering.” I’ve been meditating since 2007. I’ve been meditating a LOT since May, and a lot more since I began this project. I am aware that there is suffering. I am even quite familiar with the regular patterns my relationship with suffering tends to take. I have also learned to be open to becoming aware of discovering ways that I did not previously think I was suffering, yet there I was, suffering.

The most recent example emerged in the past few days. Reflecting on the ways I used meditation practice in the week leading up to the licensure exam last Saturday. I realized I was counting on the practice to alleviate the jitters, the doubts, the sleeplessness in the days before. Additionally, I would take breaks during the test, looking to the practice to provide relief from confusion, frustration, and the urge to give up. In essence, I was trying to change my experience, rather than experience it. Last week, my mindfulness practice could be better framed as the somewhat ignoble truth:

Sure, there is suffering. But I don’t like it.

And I didn’t want it. And I used the practice to try to change it. This seems like a hazard of the trade. The more I meditate—duration over the years, regularity over the weeks, frequency over the course of a day—the less I identify with suffering and therefore the less I suffer. Reactions are slowed, I’m more able to recognize my relationship to them, and I’m less likely to play the games in the mind that might otherwise amplify them. I’ve also become more able to pause in the process and not act on them. This all feels very good.

Meditation has resulted in a reduction in suffering. As a result, I’ve become conditioned to use the practice to attempt to remove the suffering. That, however, is not the practice. In the mindfulness tradition, the practice is to observe and inquire with what is. And sometimes what is is suffering.

I wonder, now, looking back at last week, how much of the struggle I experienced was of my own causing. What would it have been like to sit with the jitters, the doubts, the sleeplessness just as they arose. To welcome them on their own terms. To learn from them—to invite them to tea?

Wk5, Day1: Exploring Dukkha

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After a rich continuation of an ongoing discussion with spiritual friends on Sunday, I’ve become more interested in exploring the Four Noble Truths. The first has conventionally been translated as “Life is suffering.” Several authors I read reminded us that the Buddha did not speak English, though. Synonyms for suffering are offered (stress, uneasiness, dissatisfaction, pain) as an antidote to sometimes strong responses to what may appear to be a nihilistic statement. The term interpreted as suffering, dukkha, does not actually have a direct translation. In effect, any version of the term could strike Westerners as unsatisfactory.

After reading an excerpt of The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, I became more interested in alternatives to the full phrasing (“Life is suffering.”). He explains the First Noble Truth as a form of diagnosing—similar to what might be done with a Western medical doctor. ‘It hurts here.’ ‘Oh, yes, that is suffering,’ the imagined doctor might say. ‘And here…’ ‘Yes that is also suffering.’ ‘And here and here.’ ‘Yes, that as well.’

Reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s story, the phrasing (“Life is suffering.”) shifted to, “There is suffering.”

This phrasing opened up in two ways as I inquired with it. First, I was struck by the conditioned identification with the dissatisfied state. ‘Ow,’ we point out to ourselves, our loved ones, anyone who might listen. As a young child might do, holding up his arm to a grandparent. “Yes dear, there, right there, as you say, is suffering.” Over time, with practice in this manner, the realization that the suffering is there, over there, not a part of this being, emerges. “I am suffering; I am hurt” learns to shift to “there is suffering.”

I am here. Over there, is the suffering. Being observed.

Practice with that perspective unearths a second realization. Regularly de-identifying in this way, the ubiquity of the condition appears. Over there is suffering. And there…and there. Oh, and there it is as well. Wow, there really is suffering.

Suffering exists.

Existence is suffering.

Life is suffering. There it is.

Absent of its initial appearance of nihilism, the phrasing opens up as merely a pointer to what is taking place, to what is present to be observed.

Wk4, Day7: The Month in Review

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Wk4, Day7: The Month in Review

Wow! It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole month since this project began. Meditating an hour each day, once in the morning and once at night, has had incredible impact on my life. I thought today would be a good day to recapitulate.

Extending to an hour, I realized early on, makes the commitment real. I have to be intentional about making sure I’m in bed early enough the night before (having already meditated) to wake early enough the next day to begin the day with an hour-long sit. Meditation has long been a priority in my mind, and now it has priority in my life.

An hour also gives me time to sink deeply into the meditation. I discussed this previously and it remains true. It takes about 15 minutes to become present (shaking off the day’s effects), 15 more to observe what wants attention, 15 more validating it, and 15 more in a deeper inquiry about it. In practice, it’s more of a loose internal calculus, but you get my drift.

Overall, I’m just calmer and happier. This is interesting, given that the practice began with a week of metta. (May you be happy; may you be peaceful and content.) Around week 2, I realized I was suddenly laughing so easily, from my gut at how much fun life is. Did my life suddenly become more fun in two weeks? More likely my perspective has shifted.

Apparently I am now pretty. Weeks two and three, three separate people (a friend and two strangers) suddenly remarked, “You’re really pretty.” This may not seem like much to a fit 20-something, but for an overweight 47-year old (morbidly by medical standards), it is out of the ordinary. Times three. My sense is they detected I was present, and there’s something attractive about that.

I’ve become less tolerant of making choices that do not match my true values. This seems cyclical—as I sit and digest each day or prepare to start it, what I hold dear becomes clear. As I sit, I am aware of the discomfort caused by compromises to what I hold dear. In some key areas, I’ve been making new choices. Some have been effortless (I’m hungry; I think I’ll have a vegetable smoothie); others have required more intention (giving up television).

I’ve begun walking for an hour a day, four to five days per week. And I love it. Many of the pictures appearing recently at the tops of the blogs come from these walks. They were also great times to listen to studying tapes for the now-thankfully-forgone licensure exam. I can start listening to music now!

I’m more at ease around new people and events. Re-reading the past month’s posts, I’m quite surprised at how many groups I’ve joined and outings I’ve gone on. They looked interesting, so I did them. I forgot to give a thought to my story of being highly introverted. I just went out and did them. In part, the regular longer practice must be soothing my nervous system. In part, sitting with the mind helps loosen its grip on my reality, allowing false sense of self (am I highly introverted?) to gently fall away.

“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.”

~ Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness

Moving into the last two months of this experiment, I am considering adding 30-60 minutes midday. Maybe 30, which I can add to eating during a lunch hour. I’ve found there’s something about a formal sit that naturally initiates a slower, more mindful pace throughout the day. But the stretch between morning and evening leaves me wanting a more formal pause halfway through the day. It could be a time to check in about how the day is going and be more intentional about how I want to approach the afternoon and evening (which I sometimes feel like I’m just trying to make it through). I won’t decide to add more meditation time just yet, though. I’m still sitting with the decision. Maybe after a second month. We’ll see.

In all, it’s been a great four weeks, and I’m excited for what the next eight hold!