Tag Archive | meditation calms

When The Cushion Doesn’t Call

Meditating CatWhen the zabuton is stretched out on the floor, the zafu cushion sitting atop, Mario comes in and takes his place, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. At times, he will stay for an hour or more seeming barely to move, content as a cat. Of course, Mario has an advantage in this: Mario is a cat.

Despite knowing that not much ever passes through his brain to distract him from the now, I envy him. Perhaps not “envy.” That suggests ill will which I certainly don’t feel: rather I wish I could channel his ability to stay in the present. Because I, instead, find the “now” almost indecipherable and indistinguishable from the “yesterday,” “tomorrow,” and “forty years ago when I didn’t get invited to the prom.”

Although I love meditation time and my retreat from work and the world, I love it only sporadically. The rest of the time, it’s a struggle and sometimes even a bore. Days go by when I walk into my meditation room–which doubles as computer room–and instead of lighting incense and settling onto the cushion, I slop into the computer chair and meditate only on whether moving the Queen of Spades will give me a win in Solitaire. This I can do for hours.

Boredom leads to frustration which leads to guilt which leads to “Why the hell did I ever think I could meditate, anyway?” And so the cushion sits for days used only by Mario while I try to ignore its presence. Then one day, I’ll walk in the room, laugh at my own presumption as the thought changes to “Who the hell am I to think I can’t meditate? How much better than the Buddha do I think I am? Why, he could beat me at Solitaire, too, I bet.”

Back to the cushion I go, not displacing Mario but joining him and if I start to feel, as I inevitably will at some time, boredom or restlessness, I remember what Jack Kornfield said about naming the feeling and then “If you feel you’re so restless , you could die, well, just go ahead and do it! Look to the sky and say ‘Just take me now I’m so bored.’. . . And then go back to the breath.”

My Breath; My Enemy

In. Out. Follow theGreen Wave breath. Abdomen rises, falls. Pause at the top; pause at the bottom. Like waves on a shore.

Yes, but…

During meditation, keeping the mind still and in the present is the greatest challenge for most and while that’s true for me as well, what really brings me up short is my breath. My short breath. I’ve always been a shallow breather, not that I’m proud of it. At the doctor’s office, I’d be told to “take a deep breath in” and without fail would next hear “no, a deep breath.” Sorry, doc, but that was my deep breath.

Over the years I’ve been doing meditation and Qi Gong, my breath has lengthened and moved downward from my lungs to my diaphragm. A little. But breathing–breathing deeply, fully, into the lower Dan Tian, the lower abdomen–is still not natural, not comfortable. My inhale gets stuck at the sternum or my throat tightens. Sometimes I feel that my abdomen is expanding just fine but that no air is actually being drawn in. Pantomime breath that looks good from the perspective of my teacher or my students but isn’t doing a damn thing for my lungs or moving oxygen in, carbon dioxide out.

Sometimes the frustration leads, as expected, to even shorter, shallower breaths and there I am right back at the beginning, apparently in perpetual fight-flight mode. Why does it matter? Because without breath, full breath, I’ve never been able to sing, blow out all the candles, inflate a balloon. And never feel fully engaged in the now, sinking into the present moment in calm, quiet ease. I’m the Don Quixote of breathing, fighting the imaginary enemy, never able to rest under the bodhi tree, connected to earth and universe.

I’ll continue to offer my hand in friendship to my breath. Perhaps one day my breath will answer in kind, letting me feel the cool swirling at the nostrils, the natural rise and fall, the pause at top and bottom. Like waves on a shore…

Watching Your P’s And Qi’s

“Full lotus, now, everyone.”

Meditation calms; qi gong relaxes; studying the Tao enlightens. So, why does this lead to such bad behavior from some practitioners?

Some brief etiquette reminders:

1. You are not the Dalai Lama (unless you are the Dalai Lama, in which case, OMG, the Dalai Lama’s reading my blog!!!). Spending an hour a day doing tai chi, yoga, or reading the Tao Te Ching may teach you a great deal. But it does not make you all-wise and all-knowing. Kenneth Cohen talks about how in studying Taoism, students often hit a point relatively early on where they suddenly “see” what the point is. Or what “a” point is, in reality, which they take to be the whole point. After this, a certain “Eat my karma, buddy” sets in. You can tell just by looking: the person walks around looking humble and superior at the same time–the “head bowed smirk.” Think of it this way: you wouldn’t learn to play chopsticks and then look down on someone who could only play “Doe A Deer.” You’ve learned something; but “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

2. Don’t push. Don’t push me into full lotus when my hips can only manage half. Don’t expect me to be able to lay my forehead on the floor in forward bend. Yes, it would be lovely to be as flexible as you. I’m not and many others are not, as well. The same can be true of more mind and spiritual practices. Maybe you really can visualize your body rising on wheels of fire out of your lower Dan Tien. But if someone else can’t, there’s no point in trying to nag them into it. When they get there, they’ll get there; and if they don’t but still feel great trying, well how cool is that.

3. Keep it real. If you want to live on a mountain top, alone and undistracted, that’s fine. If you don’t have kids, a partner, a job, a full life. But if you do have responsibilities, don’t use your mind/body studies to absolve you of them. I’ve seen people shut the world out when the baby needs changing, the dishes haven’t been done, the cat’s tail is on fire: “This is my meditation time.” OK.  But I suspect the great Tao masters put out the fire first.

4. Live your practice but realize its and your limitations.

5. And above all, be nice. It’s kind of what these practices are all about, right?