(I’m only one chapter into this book and already I’m getting a lot out of it.
I’m hoping it will help me learn how to better support our sangha members dealing with trauma.)
This morning, I was googling meditation images. I was looking for one to accompany a quote I came across this morning in a new book I just started reading (see pic above), which I was posting on our sangha’s Facebook page: Be Here Now Community. Turns out, when you google meditation images, you kick up a lot of hoaky, woo-woo stuff.
Here’s the quote from the book I posted:
The practice of meditation is not a passive, navel-gazing luxury for people looking to escape the rigors of our complex world. Mindfulness and meditation are about deeply changing ourselves so that we can be the change that we see needed for the world.
– Larry Yang
Based on the images google showed me, it seems our collective understanding about meditation involves heightened experiences of transcendental bliss and ecstatic swells of elation. Apparently, if we practice sitting meditation, we should seek out such places as mountain tops overlooking the Himalayas, tropical beaches, or on a rock next to a waterfall. According to the images I came across, we would also be well served to meditate half-clothed – preferably in a sun-drenched locale – with well-defined abs.
Geese. No wonder so many people are cynical about it or don’t stick with it once they try it. Unrealistic expectations much?
I wound up ditching my efforts to find a decent image of someone meditating to accompany the quote I was posting and used instead a calligraphy pic from Thich Nhat Hanh. I’m not interested in furthering misunderstandings about what meditation is through the usage of some romanticized/idealized image. So, here’s what I used instead:
Deer Park, Day Nineteen
(written on Wednesday January 29th)
Today was much like yesterday in that it was an open schedule in order to continue preparing for TET. New Year’s Eve is tomorrow night. After breakfast there was optional working meditation where I volunteered to clean a few bathrooms. When I was done cleaning I put a few finishing touches on the tearoom. My lay friends have been telling me how much they enjoy the new look and I am so happy that everyone is benefiting from the fresh atmosphere.
I saw Llora as I was on my way to clean the bathroom behind the dining hall and she told me that my roommate Lorna had left. She was intending to stay until Sunday so I was very surprised. Right away I figured something must’ve been wrong to cause her to leave so suddenly. I asked Llora if everything was OK, because she happened to run into her as she was leaving, and she said that Lorna was doing well and it was simply time for her to go. Lorna left a note on the board in the dining hall saying good-bye and she left me a note in our room next to some art supplies she left for me as a gift, which included calligraphy brushes, ink, paper, and some watercolors. The note said that she was terrible at good-byes and then thanked me for my presence and my smile. Sometimes, despite our best-laid plans, it is simply time to leave.
Nothing is permanent. Everything is subject to change. Without change life would be impossible.
I talk a lot about first seeing teachings on an intellectual level until our practice evolves further and we can transform our surface understanding into deeper levels of clarity and insight. This first step is not arbitrary and should not be under valued. It’s not only necessary but crucial for self-transformation to occur. It is human nature for our intellect to get involved first. Over time, with active practice, our experiences begin to color in the black and white outlines our intellect created and bring the teachings to life.
Our intellect is like an instruction booklet and our practice is what comes to form when we follow the step by step directions. For example: let’s say we have an instruction booklet on How to Make a Clay Bowl. We read through the booklet and gather the materials necessary. Then we set out to learn techniques. Once we put the time and effort into working with the clay hands on we can create a beautiful bowl. That bowl is the product of our attention and diligence. Just as our authentic experience of the Buddha’s teachings are the result of our intellectual understanding. One cannot replace the other. Both are needed equally to bring about transformation.
It is easy to say, “yeah, yeah, change is part of life,” but not yet fully get in touch with what the teaching of impermanence has to offer. When we practice to embrace change we practice to embrace the present moment. When we get stuck in our expectations, ideas, and stories we are caught in either the past or the future. Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) has a saying: Go As a River. This simple saying is directly related to impermanence. To go as a river is to flow with the present moment just as it is. When we fight to swim against the river, which is to say the flow of the here and now, we are railing against change. When we think to ourselves, “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” we water the seeds of thinking that everything should forever remain unchanging.
To cultivate a comfortability with impermanence is also to practice the beautiful art of letting go. Due to our want, and expectation, for things and people to stay the same we become ill equipped to skillfully handle differing life situations. We needlessly create more drama and suffering for ourselves. When we can begin to see that every single thing that happens, from a stranger giving us what we think is a dirty look to getting a flat tire to getting injured or sick, is a part of life and not separate we start cultivating the deeper lessons of impermanence. When we turn away from the simple truth that all things are subject to change we’re not altering the outcome of anything, all we’re doing is looking in the wrong direction.