Dear Still Water Friends,
“What are the benefits of practicing meditation?” a newcomer asked at a recent Still Water orientation. Later, I thought of an answering question to understand better where the speaker was coming from, “What are you wanting from the practice. What is it you are longing for?”
When I first started coming to Still Water Thursday evenings at Crossings, I was already meditating but was longing for a deeper sense of community support around my practice, an affirmation of belonging to a larger whole. I had no idea what that might look like. I definitely did not consider myself an early morning person, and had no interest in the morning groups. But a friend talked me into trying the one in Takoma Park. It was a stretch, but I started to go once a week. Things changed when I decided to go to the Blue Cliff Retreat last summer with Thich Nhat Hanh.
I started going regularly to three or four morning sits a week as a steady way to “get in shape’ for the Blue Cliff retreat so I wouldn’t be exhausted that week. At first, I always felt grumpy and sleepy getting up to practice. I learned to welcome and be with a lot of internal resistance the whole time I was sitting! Over time the resistance began to dissipate so that even after I attended the retreat, I continued to sit regularly in the morning with a group or on my own.
Since then, I notice that while I still have ‘up’ and ‘down’ days, I enjoy watching the quality of the morning light shift as the seasons change. I feel quietly excited to be with my fellow practitioners and more open to their presence. Even when I practice alone now, I feel a deep sense of being connected with my Sangha. I am recognizing that I have received much of what I was longing for originally, even though it has come in a different form than I imagined.
In a Still Water newsletter from April 4, 2013 on ‘Reasons to Meditate," our Senior Teacher, Mitchell Ratner, writes about his experience coming to meditation:
“I was drawn to meditation because I experienced myself as hollow and incomplete. Though outwardly moderately successful, inwardly I suffered, and I didn’t understand why. I had an intuition that spiritual practices, especially meditation, might help. I moved in that direction — I read about it, took university classes, and visited temples and meditation centers — however, it took many years before I sat on a cushion and had a glimpse of what settling the mind really entails.
Once I had that glimpse my life changed. Until then I had relied only on my intellect, on thinking, to understand the world and guide me through life. Now I also had the tool of wordless awareness. I found that if I could bring myself into the present moment with mindfulness and concentration, the storminess of my life calmed. My experience of being fragile and empty lessened.”
This Thursday, after our usual sitting and walking, I invite us to explore and share our insights about our personal benefits and discoveries from mindfulness practice. If you are new to practice, what is it you are longing for as you begin this journey? If you are a regular practitioner, what would you have liked someone to tell you when you were new? What’s changed in the quality of your life experience? Your presence in the circle is welcome, whether you share from your heart this time or hold a quiet space of deep listening.
You are also invited to join us this week for a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Follow Mitchell’s blog as he travels to Scotland and Plum Village here.