Friday, August 19, 2011
The Seat, One More Time
Monroe park is a few blocks away from the office, just a long enough walk to help me let go of all the stuff happening in my head before I get there and take a seat on a park bench.
The One Seat.
My breath begins to slow as I bring my attention to it, and the thought stream, the waterfall mind, fades to the background. I feel annoyed, briefly, that it won’t go away entirely as it used to. I notice the annoyance and file it with the rest of the thought-stream, a minor rivulet in the cascade of thought. And I make a negotiated peace with the thought-stream: You can stay, just don’t get in the way.
There are kids playing on the swing and I can hear their small kid voices. There’s a utility truck behind me, its huge diesel engine idling. And there’s a man shooting baskets, the ball thumping and swishing. These sounds become my mantra for the day, timed perfectly to slow my breathing down to a therapeutic level.
Out, kid voices, truck idling, basketball sounds.
And so on. Lightly noting just these three things while breathing out keeps me here, keeps the waterfall of thoughts at bay, and keeps my breathing at a rate that will create a profound change, now and over time.
Normally, in mindfulness meditation, I don’t do anything with the breath, except observe. So this isn’t truly mindfulness meditation. But my anxiety level lately is so high, my reactivity so intense, that I need something more concrete to hold to. For now, this works, and I can feel the changes coming on, not the least of which is the daily urge to keep on doing this.
And I can feel the changes tallying up. I still have the intense reactions to the stuff that happens at work, with other people in my life, with all of it. Still have that horrible adrenaline rush that starts in the pit of my stomach and goes all the way down, and all the way up, a terrifying body high. But lately, it doesn’t last as long. Lately, the reaction ends sooner and the event seems to matter less.
Sometimes now, driving home, or walking by the river, I wonder why it all used to matter as much as it did. As my sense of place in myself increases, I find I can let go of other things with much more readiness. Things still matter, but they matter in the right way now.
The practice feels like an old home, long missed and returned to at long last. Even in this simplified version, my attention grows daily. Even from this little taste, I find myself wanting more. I find myself longing for tomorrow’s session.
Long ago, when I was new to practice, I heard teachers say that no effort was ever wasted, no insight ever lost. I did not believe them. But now, as the practice returns, as the One Seat becomes home to me again, I realize that all the efforts I ever made are paying off now, in every session, every day. I also realize that losing my practice was part of my practice. Now I’ve experienced having no practice, having one, losing it, and getting it back.
As it was many years ago, I find myself thirsting for the jhanas, the mind-states in which annihilation is experienced, or loss or awareness, in exchange for awareness of a deeper, more immediate reality. The body, the breath, the thought stream, can and do all evaporate, in due time, with due practice, and in their place, there is a soft, brilliant whiteness, there is a place in which all things radiate their own light, a place where only joy is known, and that joy is known to be you.
All of these states beckon to me, as they did 17 years ago, when it was all new. The tastes of them that came to me verified what the teachers said. They told me then not to believe them. They told me then to sit, and experience it directly for myself. It still works.