“There is no reason for us to huff and puff,” he (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) says, “when we can just breathe.” Finding pleasure in our meditation practice is essential if we are to continue sitting with any regularity. So, with book in hand, sit back, pay attention, and breathe!” ~~ from James Shaheen in Commit to Sit.
I can remember the first time I sat for a full day. Wow. What torture I put myself through. I had been meditating for some time already and thought I was ready to sit with a group.
I was nervous about being there. I was looking for a community. Looking for instruction. Looking for a place to belong.
Maybe that was a lot to ask for.
I think that it was a daylong retreat and we started with a short session the night before. I had driven 3 hours to get there. Had to find a hotel and check in. Find the center. And then deal with my nervousness.
What was it going to be like? I knew about this tradition but not about the topic of the retreat. Was I going to be able to handle it being with strangers?
I remember being a few hours into the meditations the next morning and I had so much pain. . . my back, my shoulders, my neck. . . I had never experienced that at home. I didn’t see then that I was trying so hard. I wanted to be the perfect meditator.
Think about what the instructions are… sit down, get comfortable, relax, keep a straight back with an open heart, and follow your breathing… what could be more simple?
But no… not me… (does this sound familiar) I had to do it right. Maybe they would like me or talk to me during the breaks if I did it right. Maybe they would see I had mastery over all this. . .
A round of walking meditation and creaky cold feet on an even creakier wooden floor. Could I be any more self-conscious rather than being present?
Oh no, the bell was invited again and I have to go sit on that cushion again. How am I going to get through the next 45 minutes? It seems like it will never end. Time seems to creep along . . . I notice every twitch, itch, and sigh. . . but not my breath.
And when I do realize that I’m not focusing in on my breath, I start to beat myself up for it, or pity myself, or feel defeated and alone.
All that from just being asked to sit and watch my breath. . . but isn’t that what we do? We create so much drama and cast ourselves as every part in the play.
I think about this experience in relation to my work with grieving people and to my own grief.
When we grieve, we are simply loving. . . just like when we meditate we are simply breathing. . .
We are loving the person who is no longer in the room with us. . . no longer there to hold, to talk to, to ask advice from, to worry about, and everything else that we do when we are in a relationship with someone we love.
There is a fundamental simplicity about grieving. And we add so much more to it. We add a lot of huffing and puffing as Shaheen relates in his writing above.
We don’t show ourselves a lot of mercy. We push away the feelings. We tell ourselves we’re fine. We put on a brave face.
We tell ourselves to be strong for everyone else around us when it is at this exact moment that we should be softening our hearts, our gaze, our minds to the powerful thoughts, feelings, and sensations that accompany our grief.
I wonder what it would be like, in our grief, if we had someone like Tara Brach or Pema Chodron to say to us, sit down, relax, open your heart, breathe, and be present to it? This is what Stephen and Ondrea Levine have done for over 30 years.
If we sat on that cushion with our grief, our missing that person, our broken heart, our bittersweet memories, do you think we could get past the thoughts of doing it right in the eyes of others?
Do you think we could allow some ease to come over us, with time and practice so that we didn’t have the achiness that I experienced during my first daylong retreat?
I wonder if we sat with our grief, setting a timer so that we had a container of time to sit in, and gave ourselves time to sit with our breath, if we could allow memories, feelings, storylines, to come. . .
Could we get to a point where rather than grasping to the past, the minute to minute details of our relationship with that person, could we allow those details to come up for us, wave a friendly hello at them, and allow them to pass without clinging on to them as if it was the last time we would ever be able to experience them?
I think that would be a session I would like to try and sit and I am wondering what about you? Would you try to sit on your cushion, tall, with an open heart and straight back? I am sure that we would start off with achy muscles, crackling joints, puffy eyes, and a stuffy nose. . . but what if we could sit through that. . . what would be there on the cushion for us?
Would we maybe come to find unconditional friendliness and lovingkindness for myself and for all people who were hurting and missing someone?
I wonder if, when you or I find ourselves in the midst of grief again if we can sit and breathe, be present and learn to relax the strained breathing and grasping to find our true nature . . . .
*Photo of meditation cushions from Samadhi Cushions website http://www.samadhicushions.com/Gomden_Standard_Meditation_Cushion_p/c-500.htm
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