When you sit, sit forever

Building up my daily practice, and feeling optimistic about it: noticing new or clearer aspects of experience every time is very encouraging, even if this period doesn’t last.

It isn’t that meditation has become blissful. It’s more that the gentleness that I’m trying to bring to life in general as part of sila practice is feeding into the pañña, further showing how the Three Trainings are compartmentalised only for conceptual ease and not because they are truly separate. Last month it was all anxious feelings in the chest, corresponding dull states as my mind tried to hide, and twitchy kriyas as I got some of the suppressed stress out. Now, there’s more a sense of boredom, or low-level craving and aversion.

While my sitting practice has been shocking for years, I have done a lot of retreat, and so if anything sitting down on a cushion without moving for half an hour doesn’t seem like a huge request to my body and mind: I’m used to it being an hour or more on retreat, and so if anything it seems rather brief once it’s over. At the time, though, I am not wrestling quite as much out of a desire to have a nice time on the cushion to make up for life stresses- and so there is in fact a sense of boredom. It isn’t hugely irritable, like the heavy, cloying boredom I used to experience but don’t seem to anymore, but it is pervasive, and I’m savvy enough to know that this is the next thing to accept. I highly discourage new practitioners from doing any form of clock watching, indulging thoughts about it being over soon, or in any way trying to ‘race to the end’ in movement meditations such as Tai’Chi; these thoughts and impulses are normal, especially if you are new to practice, but you can set resolution not to indulge in them for the sense of control,  comfort and agency they bring. What are the opposites of control, agency and comfort? The three characteristics of impermanence, not-self and dissatisfaction: the aspects of experience that the practice is meant to investigate. Time on the cushion, I feel, should not involve any kind of self-soothing, when I’m doing pure insight practice. That would be giving in to craving and aversion and reinforcing reaction to them on the cushion, i.e. not actually doing the practice in its purest, strictest sense. When you sit, sit as if you’re sitting forever.

It’s all about metacognition at the moment. I can’t stop my ping-pong of reactions as my mind wanders, I realise it’s wandering, and then tell myself off for it and frantically dive back into the body. That’s a result of evasion as a habit in life in general, and on the cushion specifically as a desire to get enlightened asap. These are both unfortunate and largely self-reinforced habits, but I can have the mental posture to relax around these; not self-inflicting the second dart, as the Buddhists say. I am very, very hot on positive psychology at the moment, and I believe that as much as bad habits are semi-consciously reinforced and pervasive, intentional cultivation of good habits is more powerful. It’s simply having enough of those intentional moments to override the habitual behaviour, and making it a central aspect of my life with some more humility than I’ve had before seems to be doing the trick at the moment.

To mention the Unconditional in a way I haven’t for a while (because that is what we are attempting to contact regardless of how indirectly): I can’t in the final analysis take any credit for all of this. There is the sense that I am in control of some actions, but the will and courage to make that choice and override habit is something I have had to pray for. Even the sense of causality – ‘I prayed, I got what I wanted, I used it, credit is due me’ – isn’t really evidenced by anything. It’s just a flattering achievement narrative that puts me in the centre. The Unconditional doesn’t change, and it’s wise for me to remember that. But, and this is the pragmatic part, it is fine for me to feel happy about the progress that is occurring, it is healthy for me to be grateful about it, and it’s nourishing for me to feel that I prayed for something blameless and it came to pass. In as far as I perceive that I have control, I have responsibility and agency. It’s an illusion, but it’s one that I trust will diminish.

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