In sitting meditation one recent morning, a participant shared her breakthrough realization of how her posture of sitting “straight and stiff as a board” came from a long ago childhood incident. She remembered spending the night at a sleep-over arranged by her parents, with a classmate who secretly bullied her. In bed, our meditator was wakeful, staying as quiet and still as she could so as not to bother the bully or attract her attention.
In our morning sitting, the meditator realized that her rigid personality habit of “not bothering anyone” and “being a good girl” was keeping her from being present with herself now and negating her body’s current needs. After I’d asked her permission to tell her story, she added that in her walking meditation she was shifting her focus from “doing everything right” to enjoying the sensation of breathing with each step and kissing the earth with the soles of her feet.
I feel a deep kinship with our friend’s story and am inspired by the delight she is taking in letting go of perfection and embracing impermanence as a positive force. I too would like to let go of a rigid image in my mind of trying to be a “perfect Bodhisattva”. I’d like to balance my desire for self-improvement with openness to discovering and taking delight in myself as I am.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes in The Sun My Heart:
When you were small, you may have played with a kaleidoscope. So many wonderful images are formed by bits of colored glass between two lenses and three mirrors. Each time you move your fingers slightly, a new and equally beautiful image appears. We could say that each image has a beginning and an end, but we know that the true nature of it, lenses and colored glass, does not come into being or end with each new configuration. These thousands or millions of patterns are not subject to the notion of “beginning and end”. In the same way, we follow our breathing and meditate on the beginningless and endless nature of ourselves and the world. Doing so, we can see that liberation from birth and death is already within reach.
Meditation and mindfulness give us space to recognize our judgments and assumptions about who we think we are, so that we can shed outgrown self-images and become curious and alive to what is happening in and around us in the present moment. Acknowledging impermanence can also help us let go of the need to be perfect—as we know, everything in life is always changing, especially us!
This Thursday night, after our usual sitting and walking meditation, we’ll share about our own self-perceived labels and how they help and hinder us. We’ll share our stories, looking deeply into how our practice helps us stay curious and alive to ourselves. You are warmly invited to be with us!
Further reading about impermanence and time from The Sun My Heart
There is a practice called Meditation on True Emptiness in which the practitioner lets go of habitual ways of thinking about being and non-being by realizing that these concepts were formed by incorrectly perceiving things as independent and permanent. When an apple tree produces flowers we don’t see apples yet, and so we might say, “There are flowers but no apples on this tree.” We say this because we do not see the latent presence of the apples in the flowers. Time will gradually reveal the apples.
When we look at a chair we see the wood but we fail to observe the tree, the forest, the carpenter, or our own mind. When we meditate on it, we can see the entire universe in all its interwoven and interdependent relations in the chair. The presence of the wood reveals the presence of the tree. The presence of the leaf reveals the presence of the sun. The presence of the apple blossom reveals the presence of the apple. Meditators can see the one in the many, and the many in the one. Even before they see the chair, they can see its presence in the heart of living reality. The chair is not separate. It exists only in its interdependent relations with everything else in the universe. It is because all other things are. If it is not, then all other things are not either.
Every time we use the word “chair” or the concept “chair” forms in our mind, reality is severed in half. There is “chair” and there is everything which is “not-chair”. This kind of separation is both violent and absurd. The sword of conceptualization functions this way because we do not realize that the chair is made entirely of non-chair elements. Since all non-chair elements are present in the chair, how can we separate them? An awakened individual vividly sees the non-chair elements when looking at the chair, and realizes that the chair has no boundaries, no beginning, and no end.