Friday, July 8, 2011
The One Seat
Seven years ago, I lost my practice. For all of those seven years, I’ve grieved the absence of my practice as one would grieve the departure of a dear friend. Many times, I’ve “taken the one seat,” as one of my teachers called it, only to find I couldn’t sit still long enough to experience the magical and healing state of mind called Vipassana. It has been very humbling to live with this loss. And to see people seeing me as a person who is not the person I was.
Today, I walk on the river path, in summer sun, sleep deprived, stressed out, but just a little bit okay, just for now. My usual,for the last seven years. And for the nth time, I decide to try a sit. Even thinking of trying brings a tinge of desolation to my mind. I’m afraid of failing, again, and of the humiliation and defeat that failure will bring to me, again. It’s tantalizing, the state is so close, and so, so beautiful. All you have to do is sit still for five minutes, bring your attention to the breath, to water, to your hands. To anything, and just allow it to rest there.
A narrow path leads off the wide, paved path, and down to a tiny clearing next to the water. It’s an inviting place, whether I sit or not, and so I go down, picking my way carefully. I find a wide, smooth stone to sit on, just inches from the water’s edge. Get comfortable, sitting with back straight but relaxed. And just look out at the water flowing by.
There’s a little eddy current here, where the river seems to run backwards. In reality, it’s running in a circle, upriver past my feet, then back down further out toward the main channel. The water is slow here, and flat, in contrast to the rapids about a hundred yards away. Ironically, I can hear the rapids in the background. In the foreground of my attention, there are tiny lapping sounds, as the eddy current passes by next to me. Brilliant yellow points of sunlight bounce off of tiny wavelets in an expanse of water spread before me. At first glance, they appear to be static.
But when I look closer I realize, they are constantly changing their location. Just as the water flows and ripples, the sunlight flows and ripples on the water. It has to, because it depends on the high points in the water for a reflection surface. Both are in constant motion, and interdependent.
Now I am aware of my breath, coming and going. The rhythm is choppy, but I do not try to change it. I just watch it come and go. And I realize that for a few minutes, all of the discursive thought that usually plagues my mind is not sticking. It’s still back there, chattering away, but I am not engaging it. It is merely flowing by, as I watch. And it has become the background. My breath, the water, the sunlight, are now center stage.
I’m there. I’m in that most beneficial and joyous state of mind, where attention rests lightly and impartially on the events that are happening here and now. A duck paddles by, a small female Mallard. She looks like a baby, maybe only hatched this year. I’m sitting so quietly, she doesn’t even notice me, only a few feet away from her. Oblivious, she paddles aimlessly by while she pulls bits of water plants from the river to eat.
People go by in rafts way out in the channel, and from afar, I can hear them giggle as they fall down the rapid water. I can hear them talking about their lives. All in the background, all behind and beneath the sound and sensation of my breath as it comes and goes.
My belly rises and falls, and I find I can literally taste the air, if I open my mouth a tiny bit on the in-breath. In my nostrils, I can feel air go in, cool and smelling of summer. And I can feel it go out, warm. My mind wanders to a tense interaction I’m having with a friend and I begin to engage, thinking and planning… let me see, how shall I handle this…. How dare she do that to me… why can’t she just…
I notice, and let go, return to the breath, the water, the sunlight. It’s easy to let go, the moment is so pleasant. The one that’s right here in front of me.
I think it might be coming back, this thing I called a “practice.” If there are more sits like this, it will be back. They won’t all be pleasant of course. I’ll have to sit with everything, so there will be hard ones, too. Maybe it’s back though.