Sunday, February 15, 2009

Around the Next Corner

This week's journey has been a continuation of last week's, with a certain amount of awakening added to the mix. I was much helped by discovering a reflection in the Insight Journal by Joseph Goldstein about the journey of his life:

(speaking of meditation......) "The idea is not to stop thinking, but to see the difference in your own experience between being lost in thoughts and being aware of them. Be mindful of the difference between when you are lost in thought and the moment of waking up from being lost.
That moment is critical. Most people awaken and say "Oh, I was lost again, what a terrible meditator I am." They just get involved in self-judgment, which is simply being lost again - such judgment is really useless. We all get lost in thought many times a day, but insights arise when we highlight that moment of waking up. Delight in it. Honor it. You are already aware in that moment. And as many times as we notice we are lost, that many times do we awaken."

Or in another tradition, Fr Thomas Keating once answered a woman who was distressed that she must have had "a thousand distractions" by saying: "How wonderful. A thousand opportunities to turn back to God."

These reflections are about the process of meditation, but it wasn't about meditation that I heard what I needed, it was about the related process of being realistic and gentle with myself. I don't know if you caught the subtitle of last week's post - I didn't catch it myself until Thursday of this week. The subject was the process of getting back into the monastic rhythm of life, but the subtitle was judgment. I judge myself negatively because it takes time to get used to our rhythm after being out of it for a while. Like Joseph Goldstein's meditator, I have been thinking: "Oh what a bad monk I am. I can't hit the ground running. Here it is two weeks later, and I'm still not settled into my routine and the sort of openness that I can usually manage. I must be doing it wrong." Both Goldstein and Keating are surely right in pointing out that that sort of judgmental state is useless. Far more productive would be to just look and see: "Oh, it really takes a long time to switch gears. What can I do while the gears are still switching?" Who knows, I might have found something really productive.

It all comes down to being aware, doesn't it? And there seems to be no bottom to this pool. No matter how my awareness of myself, and my situation, and my brothers and the situation in the community, and the guests deepens, there seems to be another depth of unconsciousness there waiting to manifest itself. I know I have been told over and over again that enlightment doesn't mean coming to the bottom of the pool. It's much more discovering that the process is the real point. We can welcome the moment when we become aware that what we are doing is really useless, and delight in that moment and honor it. Then the possibility opens up of doing something that might be really useful.

To give myself some credit, I actually did a bit of that on Thursday. When the moment arrived, in church at noon, when I finally came to the moment of realization that I'd been living with a lot of frustration just because I was getting in my own way. Getting used to another rhythm of living takes a while, and this time it has taken a long while. That's a fact. Trying to ignore that reality doesn't make it any less of a fact. I was actually kind of tickled to make that discovery. "Oh", I thought, "maybe now I can be a little gentler and more skillful about how I handle this." I obviously can't force it to happen on my schedule. It's going to happen on its own schedule. But maybe I can cooperate with the whole process. If nothing else my guilt level is less, and I have some more awareness that trying to force this process is futile, and I'm not trying to do things that are bound to frustrate me.

Jose, the teacher of the meditation group that I regularly attend, is always saying: "When you become aware that you have been lost in thought, just bring yourself back. And do it firmly and gently and without recrimination." The first time I heard that I was thunderstruck. Without recrimination? What would be the point if I couldn't accuse myself of being a bad meditator? I am a specialist in crimination (if there is such a word.) I criminate and recriminate. Abandoning this path of accusing myself because of my short-comings is a big change. It is a genuine conversion, and like all conversions there is both joy and regret involved, and often some fear. Nor does it happen all at once.

So I can see at least one reason why people abandon spiritual paths so often: they can't make it happen on their own terms. Waking up to what is going on requires some flexibility and some humor. One can see that trying to make my mind behave or my life behave is pretty hilarious.

And the journey is a little lighter now and I'm a little further down the road and I tread the path towards God with fewer burdens and more expectation. Who knows what will be around the next corner?

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