Saturday, February 4, 2017
The benefits of meditation are by now widely known and accepted. However, many of us still don’t have a regular meditation practice. The reasons vary – I don’t know how, I don’t have time, I can’t sit still, my mind is too chaotic, it’s too hard, I tried but it didn’t work, and so on.
But underneath all these reasons, I wonder if perhaps there is just a little bit of anxiety. Maybe we think we have to be good at it, and we are afraid to fail. Maybe we are afraid we’ll be successful and something unexpected or even scary will happen. Maybe we think something grand is supposed to happen, and if it doesn’t we’ll be disappointed.
I meditate for the simple reason that my life is better when I do. Not necessarily better each time, but overall. For the most part I meditate every day, but there are days that get skipped, and I don’t freak out about that.
Lately, I’ve been enjoying a meditation practice called in Chinese zuo wang. Zuo means sit. Wang means forget. So the practice is literally sit forget. At my age, this is so easy to do since I forget most things anyway!
The character for sit 坐 combines the character for person 人 with the character for earth 土 . Put together, the character for sit shows two people sitting on the earth 坐.
The character for forget 忘 places the character for heart 心 under the character 亡 , meaning to flee or to lose. Because of the over/under placement, I think of forgetting as something lifting away from the heart 忘.
When you put the characters zuo wang together 坐 忘 , I get the sense of releasing thoughts that just fly away as the heart stays rooted to the earth. Sitting. Forgetting.
As thoughts arise during meditation, and they will, I remind myself to “forget” them, to let them float away like a balloon as my heart/mind sinks gently into the “earth” of my spirit/center. If a thought persists, I silently whisper zuo wang, and the thought detaches and goes on its way. I know the thought will come back later if I need it, and probably even if I don’t.
The benefits of brief times devoted to meditation permeate my life. The line between more “formal” meditation and daily life begins to blur. A Buddhist teacher, when asked about the timing and frequency of his meditation practice, replied, “I am never not meditating.” It reminds me of the encouragement in the Bible to “pray without ceasing.” It doesn’t mean that you should be sitting on your meditation cushion, or kneeling with your head bowed all the time. That's not very practical. It means moving through your day with awareness and reverence. And that, my friends, is very practical.
In Greek mythology, the giant Antaeus was the son of Gaia, or Mother Earth. He was a famed wrestler who could not be beaten as long as he had contact with the earth, his mother. Even Hercules could not defeat him, until, realizing the source of the giant’s strength, Hercules held him aloft and vanquished him.
In chaotic or challenging times, any habitual practice that helps us stay connected to our root, our equilibrium, our inner strength, seems like a good thing. So if you don’t already have such a practice, maybe give it a try. If you have any questions or need some support, let me know in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please share your own practice and suggestions.
Here are some of my favorite meditation quotations:
Meditation is the ultimate mobile device; you can use it anywhere, anytime, unobtrusively. ~Sharon Salzberg
To earn the trust of your meditation, you have to visit it every day. It’s like having a puppy. ~Chelsea Richer
Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day. ~Deepak Chopra
Meditation is offering your genuine presence to yourself in every moment. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
One conscious breath in and out is a meditation. ~Eckhart Tolle
Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated? ~David M. Bader
And my very favorite:
If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent. ~Pema Chodron
[Note: The photo above accompanies a news piece about a school that substituted meditation for detention, and then started teaching all students to meditate, with amazing results!]