Monday, May 21, 2012
Emptying the Trash
Today's Zen Toon is a reminder as to why I should meditate every day. It has as much to do with the practicality of life as it does with any spiritual practice.
See all that stuff pouring out of this dude's head? Banana peels and soup cans and fishbones? I'm toting around bags of that stuff.
While I am still hit or miss with my decision to sit everyday, come what may, what has changed for me is how I look at the practice itself. I usually greeted the cushion with one of the following mindsets:
1) Look at me. I'm meditating. Yep. I'm pretty cool. Got my shit togetha!
2) Aw, crap. I can't focus at all. I don't just have a monkey mind. I have a monkey jumping on the backs of wild horses in the middle of a stampede mind. I suck.
I am pleased to say that I have - at least for the moment - made progress with these trappings. It's been a long road to let go of some of the ego that makes me want to make myself feel important for meditating, or make myself feel rotten for not doing it well.
Ego - in Buddhist circles - is not necessarily thinking too much OF yourself, but rather thinking too much ABOUT yourself. It's not conceit as much as self-absorption. Too much looking in the rear view mirror - for beauty or imperfections - and you miss a lot of lovely scenery...and you just may well run off the road.
The lesson I've finally come around to, after years of on-and-off practice, is that anything you grasp is holding you back: pride, judgment, mental inventory, guilt.
Sitting is just sitting. You have a thought, you label the thought, you let it go and you go back to the breath, which is just a methodology for keeping the clutter out and being simply present.
So now, when I sit, I don't try to stop the floodgate of thoughts, and God knows I don't try to analyze them, because that would be messier than asking a 3rd grader to explain Joyce's "Ulysses".
Here, for example, is where my head went just yesterday during a brief part of my AM sitting at the Shambhala Center:
"Breathing in, I am aware I am breathing in. Breathing out, I am aware I am breathing out. Breathing in, I am a...did someone just come in and sit right behind me? I wonder if I know them. Don't look. Doesn't matter. But they are right behind me, and I'm sitting on my knees. That means they have to sit with my bare feet right in front of them. Sorry. Oh well, their choice. Plenty of places to sit. I should go to Kroger on the way home, we need lettuce. Not romaine, but iceberg. Or maybe the Farmer's Market, but not on Sunday, I mean geez. But their pimento cheese is so dang good. We need more of that, too. But that place is nuts on the weekend. Weekend...week...week. What do I need to do this week? I've got speeches to write, and a conference call with Blue Cross tomorrow...did I put that on my calendar? Calendar...we've only got a short time before vacation and we've got so much to get done. I really like "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat". How did I miss that Dylan song all these years? Why do people say he can't sing? His voice is really well suited to his music. Not saying he's Pavarotti or anything, but...I should tell Grady the Braves held on to first place. And he's got a game today. What time do I need to get him to the park? Aw, shit. Meditate, dude. Breathing in, I am aware I am breathing in..."
That's a stream of consciousness mess that would've made Spalding Gray gasp for air. But here's the difference. I used to think any meditation session that included that kind of mental meandering was a disaster. Now I see it as real progress. Some days you sit and have the kind of clarity and focus that perhaps opens a door or two. Other days, you're simply emptying the trash. But given how much trash clutters up our minds - mine, at least - that's all one needs to ask of the experience. The more you do it, the sooner you are able to lasso those wild horses and rein them in again.
For me, it's meditation. For you, it might be prayer, running, knocking the ever-lovin' crap out of a punching bag, or just a stroll through a nature preserve. We all have our way of clearing our minds - we just have to commit to it.
Whatever empties the trash.