Dear Still Water Friends,
As often happens in the beginning of autumn, I’ve been thinking about how to re-inspire myself and invigorate my practice. I find that the more my practice deepens, the better it supports me in stressful moments, like staying centered in the midst of tumultuous world events, or working through relationship difficulties with family and friends. Beyond a sense of having an emotional safety net, stretching myself in my practice encourages me to look deeply into my outworn habits of mind and keep asking myself, as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends—“Are you sure?”
I spent much of early adulthood paralyzed by the inertia of depression, unable to move through a sea of overwhelming, unprocessed feelings. Over time, with the help of Mindfulness practice, I’ve integrated difficult emotions and released old stories of victimhood, moving forward with my life.
I remember the rush of enthusiasm and delight I felt after my first silent retreat with Still Water. The dedicated space and time to practice brought up uncomfortable, long-buried emotions. Once I’d taken the time to be with and work through these emotions, the sense of release and energized focus helped me start a consistent daily sitting/walking meditation practice. After that, I was drawn to participate in a Five Mindfulness Trainings study group which further realigned how I approached my practice. Making the commitment to practice the trainings in my daily life shifted my perspective yet again.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in Beyond the Self:
If we continue to be imprisoned by the habit energies of the past, we will never liberate ourselves, nor can we liberate the thousands of generations of ancestors and descendants in us. But if in our daily lives, while we are washing up, cleaning the vegetables, driving the car, working in the garden, or watering the plants, we use that time to truly look at ourselves and each other to see our true nature and the true nature of others, we can gradually get out of the ropes that bind us. Our fear, our sorrow, our complexes are all born from our discriminating ideas of coming and going, self and the other. Looking deeply in our daily life like this is the true work of the practice, the cream of Buddhist teaching.
When we first come to Buddhism, we can immediately experience mindful breathing and it makes us feel better. There’s a tendency to grasp hold of this and think, “If I can breathe, if I can smile, if I’m able to follow my breathing when I feel a bit angry, then that’s enough already.” This kind of thinking stops us from going deeply into the deep teaching of nondiscrimination that brings us to fearlessness, to the insight that helps us break through all our fetters. That is the greatest gift and the greatest fruit of the practice. If we’re caught in ideas, caught in sorrow, caught in the way other people treat us, then that is a terrible waste of our lives.
Thay’s quote reminds me how easily we all get stuck in the emotional morass of familiar fears and habits. Since Fall is the season for many of us to “get organized” in our lives, it seems an ideal time to look deeply at our practice, stretch our horizons, and ask ourselves, “What next?”
This Thursday night at Crossings, after our regular sitting, we will share our thoughts about deepening and expanding our practice.
- What inspires you to look deeply in your daily life and practice?
- What’s next for you in your life and in your practice?
You are warmly invited to join us!
As is our tradition on the first Thursday of the month, we will also offer a brief newcomers’ orientation to mindfulness practice and to 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three Ways To Approach Sitting Meditation Practice.
From Smiling Like A Buddha by Mitchell Ratner
This chapter has offered many ways to practice the fourth establishment of mindfulness, the observing of objects of mind. One way of approaching these different ways is to compare our sitting to three ways of attending to the mail that might come to our house each day.
Most of the time when I sit, I am sorting the mail, looking through today’s delivery. In Japanese Soto Zen this style of sitting is known as Shikantaza, “Just sitting.” I am aware of what is present for me right now. Whatever arises, I become aware of it, and let it pass. I use my conscious breathing as an anchor, so as not to get caught in the train of thought that can easily arise once a sensation, emotion, or thought is recognized. In this context, the Four Establishments of Mindfulness help us develop a greater sensitivity to phenomena that arise, just as a course in graphology might help us to notice subtleties in the handwriting on the letters we might otherwise miss. We open our awareness to our bodily sensations, feelings, heart-mind states and mental formations, and objects of mind. The practice of sorting the mail especially develops calmness and stability.
A second approach to sitting is similar to selecting a letter, opening it, reading it, and reflecting on it. Basically, this is what we are doing during a guided meditation. Instead of focusing on whatever might come up, we purposefully direct our attention to a physical or mental object. For example, in the body scan we directed our attention to our shoulders. A good part of the Discourse on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness consists of just these sorts of guided meditations.
When I sit by myself and want to look more directly into something, I begin by establishing calm and stability in my body and in my mind. When I have settled myself, I bring up the meditation object (the letter) and hold it in my mind. For example, the object of my meditation might be a part of the body that is causing pain (a tension headache), a problematic state of mind (I seem to be a little depressed and I’m not sure why), an issue in my life (a difficult relationship), or a concept (impermanence). I become aware of it and sit with it for a time, aware of my sensations and reactions. I use conscious breathing to steady my mind, and when it drifts, I gently bring it back to the meditation object I have chosen. This practice of maintaining and reflecting on an object especially develops insight into our individual lives and the world we live in.
The third approach to sitting practice occurs on days when regardless of how I want to meditate that day, there is a strong meditation object pushing its way in. It is as if the doorbell is loudly ringing and there is a letter carrier at the door with an express-mail envelope. Once I realize this is occurring, I figuratively get up, go to the door, get the letter, and open it. Perhaps it is a strong emotion all by itself, such as sadness or fear (or maybe unconstrained joy), or it could be a problem in my life about which I am feeling very upset or very preoccupied. In any case, it needs attention and understanding. Rather than trying to ignore it or being angry at it, I embrace it. I sit with it. I calm it. I might gently ask why it has come and what it can tell me.